The explanation eventually reached was that Adam had had more than one wife. The woman from Genesis 1 would come to be identified as Adam’s first wife Lilith; formally a Canaanite demoness who managed to make a cameo in the book of Isaiah 34:14. Later the Midrash would add a third wife to the mix in an attempt to explain why Adam needed to be put to sleep before Yahweh could create Eve.
The best known version of the tale of Adam and Lilith comes from the 7th to 10th-Century text called the Alphabet of Ben Sira, though there are several variants. The tale of Adam’s third wife comes from the Midrash. The best known version of the story of Adam and Eve comes from, of course, the Bible’s book of Genesis, though those interested in variants should consult the 2nd-Century B.C. apocryphal Life of Adam and Eve. The following version is my own retelling…
“Adam’s Three Wives”
In the beginning, Yahweh created Adam. The first Adam was a hermaphrodite, an androgynous giant, simultaneously male and female. Equipped with four arms, four legs, two heads, two sets of sexual organs, and two bodies joined back to back. But this arrangement made conversation awkward and locomotion next to impossible. So Yahweh decided to separate Adam into two beings. One male, one female. Adam and Lilith.
Lilith was Adam's first wife. She was not only beautiful, with long black hair, but also powerful and intelligent. She was, after all, Adam’s equal. A mirror image of what he was. All was fine between Adam and Lilith until the issue of sex came about. Lilith insisted on being on top, a position of equality, or perhaps even superiority. When Adam refused this arrangement, not wishing to be ‘below’ to his wife, Lilith left.
She headed west towards the Red Sea, and when she got there…the devil was waiting for her. He made her an offer to become his queen and she accepted, becoming the mother of the lilim, the incubi and succubi who have haunted the nights of the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve ever since.
Meanwhile, Adam found himself alone. He complained to Yahweh who sent three angels – Senoy, Sansenoy and Semangelof – to retrieve Lilith. But when the three angels found her, and all her demon spawned children, and demanded that she return to Adam, Lilith simply laughed at them. Humiliated and thus powerless the three angels failed to convince Lilith to return to her former husband but as consolation promised Adam that should anyone pray to them or hang their amulet above the bed of a mother in labor that they would shield that person from the lilim.
It was then that Yahweh decided to create a second wife for Adam. This wife was made from Adam’s own body. Yahweh pulled a rib from Adam’s chest and formed it into a woman from the ground up; bones, muscle, sinew, blood, mucus, organs, skin, eyes, cartilage, hair, etc… all right in front of Adam. Now, having witnessing this process Adam was so terrified that he refused to go near his new wife, much less name her. Yahweh then saw the error made in creating the wife in front of Adam and did what He could for the woman and destroyed her, though there are those who claimed that she, like Lilith, was permitted to leave the garden though what became of her is a matter of speculation.
Finally Yahweh put Adam to sleep, took a rib from his side, and from it created Eve. Only when she was complete did Yahweh wake Adam and present his new bride to him. Adam saw her finished and perfect and submissive, and took her as his third and final wife. Adam and Eve then lived in the garden until the day that a serpent persuaded them to eat the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, an act which endowed them with the wisdom of the gods. Yahweh was then forced to banish Adam and Eve from Eden out of fear that they would next eat of the Tree of Life, and obtain immortality thus becoming truly divine.
So Adam and Eve left Eden and took refuge in a cave beneath the garden where they carved out a new life for themselves and the rest of humanity.
If you would like to know more about this story and others like it I recommend three excellent books by Jewish folklorist Howard Schwartz: Lilith's Cave: Jewish Tales of the Supernatural (1991), Reimagining the Bible: The Storytelling of the Rabbis (1998) and Tree of Souls: The Mythology of Judaism (2004). Also for those interested in a graphic adaptation of this myth see Neil Gaiman's terrific The Sandman issue #40, also collected in The Sandman volume 6.
At Top: Adam, Lilith (in the tree), and Eve from the Notre Dame in Paris, c. 1210 C.E.
Center: The infamous Babylonian “Burney Relief”, ca. 1950 B.C., often identified as Lilith.