Erich Lessing/Art Resource, NY

Eve, meet Lilith. Lilith—depicted with a woman’s face and a serpentine body—assaults Adam and Eve beneath the Tree of Knowledge in Hugo van der Goes’s “Fall of Adam and Eve” (c. 1470), from the Kunsthistorisches Museum, in Vienna.

According to medieval Jewish apocryphal tradition, which attempts to reconcile the two Creation stories presented in Genesis, Lilith was Adam’s first wife. In Genesis 1:27, God creates man and woman simultaneously from the earth. In Genesis 2:7, however, Adam is created by himself from the earth; Eve is produced later, from Adam’s rib (Genesis 2:21–22). In Jewish legend, the name Lilith was attached to the woman who was created at the same time as Adam.

During the Renaissance, Christian artists introduced a new twist to the story when they added Lilith’s face and long hair to the serpent of Eden. The most famous Lilith-serpent is Michelangelo’s, on the Sistine Chapel ceiling; the most disturbing may be van der Goes’s hybrid creature.