Isaiah 34:14 in the Masoretic Text is the following:

גְשׁוּ צִיִּים אֶת-אִיִּים, וְשָׂעִיר עַל-רֵעֵהוּ יִקְרָא; אַךְ-שָׁם הִרְגִּיעָה לִּילִית, וּמָצְאָה לָהּ מָנוֹח

Here, לִּילִית is supposedly the only known mention of "lilith" in the Bible, but it gets translated to a variety of different things including things like screech owl or Lamia.

How should it be translated? Is there contextual or historical evidence to support one translation over another?

2 Answers 2


The NET Bible translator's notes:

The precise meaning of לִּילִית (lilit) is unclear, though in this context the word certainly refers to some type of wild animal or bird. The word appears to be related to לַיְלָה (laylah, “night”). Some interpret it as the name of a female night demon, on the basis of an apparent Akkadian cognate used as the name of a demon. Later Jewish legends also identified Lilith as a demon. Cf. NRSV “Lilith.”

The definition according to Strong's:

1) "Lilith", name of a female goddess known as a night demon who haunts the 
  desolate places of Edom
1a) might be a nocturnal animal that inhabits desolate places

I don't know if 1) is based on this passage or is an independent definition. It also says that the word is derived from layil <03915> meaning:

1) night
1a) night (as opposed to day)
1b) of gloom, protective shadow (fig.)

Wikipedia doesn't seem authoritative about the word's etymology.

For reference, the passage is part of a judgement against Edom. One English translation is Isaiah 34:14 (ESV):

And wild animals shall meet with hyenas;
  the wild goat shall cry to his fellow;
indeed, there the night bird settles
  and finds for herself a resting place.

Since the word is a hapax legomenon in the Bible and there seems to be no particular significance to its use here except to show Edom as desolate, I would suggest that one translation is as good as another.


Lilith, in Jewish mythology, was the first wife of Adam. She was unwilling to take a subordinate position to him and left, ultimately become a demon who gave birth to countless other evil spirits. However, this myth does not appear in Jewish literature until the the rabbinical period. Nevertheless, the origin of the Lilith myth is very ancient and goes back to Mesopotamian times, where she and her minions both are called "Lilitu.

Around 3000 B.C.E., Lilith's first appearance was as a class of Sumerian storm spirits called Lilitu. The Lilitu were said to prey upon children and women, and were described as associated with lions, storms, desert, and disease. Early portrayals of lilitu are known as having Zu bird talons for feet and wings. Later accounts depict lilitu as a name for one figure and several spirits... Lilu, a succubus, Ardat lili ("Lilith's handmaid"), who would come to men in their sleep and beget children from them, and Irdu lili, the succubus counterpart to Ardat lili. These demons were originally storm and wind demons, however later etymology made them into night demons.

Among the translations given in English bibles are

  • night-owl (Young, 1898)
  • night monster (NASB, 1995)
  • vampires (Moffatt Translation, 1922)
  • night hag (Revised Standard Version, 1947)
  • lilith (New American Bible, 1970)
  • night creature (NIV, 1978; NKJV, 1982; NLT, 1996)
  • Lilith (NRSVUE, 2021)

A clue to how Jews understood the term around the time of Jesus is provided by in the Dead Sea Scrolls. DSS 4Q510, fragment 1 says:

I, the Instructor, proclaim His glorious splendor so as to frighten and to terrify all the spirits of the destroying angels, spirits of the bastards, demons, lilith, howlers, [desert dwellers…] and those which fall upon men without warning to lead them astray from a spirit of understanding and to make their heart and their […] desolate during the present dominion of wickedness.

Here, the term is clearly associated with evil spirts rather than frightful animals. However we cannot be certain whether the term had this meaning when Isaiah 34 was written. If one holds to theory that parts of Isaiah were written during the Babylonian exile, then the legends of the lilitu were likely inherited by the Jews during that period.

Because the indications point to a demonic female spirt rather than an animal, the best translation, in my opinion would be lilith with a footnote giving alternatives such as: night-hag, succubus, or she-demon.

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