June 23, 2012

“True Blood” and the reappearance of Lilith the Demon

Posted in Judaism, Pop Culture at 5:05 pm by chavalah

Lilith portrayed as demonic (vampyric?)

“True Blood” has always had a penchant for dissecting whatever American religious and/or political fancy that comes into Alan Ball’s head (I say Ball rather than author Charlaine Harris since I believe the tv series diverged wildly from the books long ago. In fact, Ball said in a recent interview that his inspiration for this season hinged on Rick Santorum, Michelle Bachman and recent rhetoric about America turning into a theocracy.)

Last year I explored the shoddiness of the gay rights vs vampire rights allegory, the inflation of Wiccans and story-created witches, vampire Catholics and human extremists, and my favorite of the religious-based storylines—Godric and Sookie discussing faith and forgiveness in season two. On the whole, issues of spiritual identity is something you have to take with a grain of salt on this show, similar to most else that they bring up. This is no less the case now that season five is dealing with a subject that aligns closest to Judaism—that of the character of Lilith.

The story of Lilith arose from Sumerian myths, according to MyJewishLearning. One quote from the Jewish bible might allude to her in the vaguest sense, but she really gets her demonic reputation from the Talmud. Her most obvious trait of “evilness” is wanton sexuality.

Rabbis have been writing “midrashim,” or interpretations and additions to the Jewish bible since the time of the Talmud. Due to the two creation stories in Genesis, one midrash asserts that Lilith was Adam’s first wife, but things didn’t work out (which was explained in later legends as due to sexual reasons again.) She became associated with the death of infants, perhaps her strongest tie to vampire mythology.

Modern midrashim seeks to rescue the figure of Lilith from all of these negative connotations. Recognizing the sexism in damning a woman for desiring her own sexual agency, writers like Judith Plaskow, Enid Dame and Jacqueline Lapidus try to flesh Lilith out into a more complicated character struggling with her place in the world and her relationships with Adam and Eve. Other writers even imagine the two women as the same person.

Lilith is also the inspiration for Sarah McLachlan’s Lilith Fair and the Jewish feminist magazine, Lilith.

On the show, Lilith is a figure from “the vampire bible,” which apparently pre-dates the Jewish and Christian bibles, as a messiah-like “demon” who gave birth to our blood suckers. A fundamentalist, literal reading of the text asserts that humans are nothing more than a food source to be farmed. The Vampire Authority rejects this notion in favor of “mainstreaming,” but some of their behaviors seem to be confusing tv critics. Bill, for example, is “silvered” when he denies being part of the fundamentalist “Sanguinist” movement, but I think that’s because they’re trying to torture him into a confession. More complicated is the fact that the VA at least believes in some of the old rituals. Eric and Bill are witness to a blood offering to Lilith, which appears similar to a Catholic communion but is spoken in Hebrew or Aramaic. Or so my very infantile knowledge of Hebrew tells me. 😛

I’ll check back in the upcoming months about what the show does with this storyline. In the interim, I think I’ll stick with the modern, Jewish feminist take on Lilith. It’s time to reclaim her from the myth of demons and let her be fully formed.

(For a different—and more offended—Jewish perspective, check out what Tablet has to say on the subject of “True Blood” reinventing the blood libel. I think they’re reading a little too much into it, personally, considering the tone of this show, but there are some good points to be made.)

“True Blood” airs on HBO Sunday nights at 9 pm.


1 Comment »

  1. […] When last we left off, vampire theocracy and violent extremism with Lilith as a demon god were the new kids on the block in “True Blood.” The rest of the season largely continued in that vein, with not-so-surprising Sanguinists taking over the pro-mainstream Vampire Authority, and the ruling party of ambassadors either showing their true colors as power-hungry gluttons or getting killed for toeing the moderate line (though by the end of the season, almost no new vampires, whether guest stars or extras, were anything but goo on the floor.) […]

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