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Zillah: Bible

by Carol Meyers

The genealogies in the early chapters of Genesis are critical in advancing the story of the world from the original population of two (Eve and Adam) to the full global population that becomes the backdrop for the story of the Israelite ancestors. All of these lists of begetters and those begotten (Gen 4:17–26; 5:1–32; 10:1–32) are comprised of male names with one exception, the family of Lamech, an ancestor appearing in the sixth generation after Cain. Lamech has two wives, and the names of both are given, the second being Zillah. In addition, the daughter (Naamah) of Zillah is named along with one of her sons and the two sons of the other wife (Adah).

The unusual appearance of Zillah and two associated females in the male genealogies of Genesis 1–10 may be linked to the special role of the children of Zillah and of her co-wife. In the genealogical sequence, those children are the seventh generation of naturally born humans. In the biblical idiom in which seven represents totality, the seventh generation indicates the beginning of “fully launched” humanity. It is precisely at that point that the civilized arts are said to have begun, represented by the four children of Zillah and Adah: pastoralists (Jabal), instrumentalists (Jubal), metallurgists (Tubal-Cain), and vocalists (Naamah). Civilization is thus portrayed as the product of human creativity and not, as in most mythological beginnings stories, the gift of various gods to certain individuals. The mothers of the persons representing the beginning of civilized arts appear in the text, thus acknowledging that human creativity is inextricably linked to female parentage.

The names of Zillah, her co-wife, and her daughter are all interesting in relation to the Lamech story (Gen 4:19–26) as a foundational tale of the beginnings of civilization. If Zillah in fact does have a musical meaning (instead of, or in addition to, its possible meaning of “protector”), it combines with the meaning of Adah (something to do with adornment or decoration) and Naamah (“lovely one” or perhaps “singer”) to link the female with aspects of aesthetic expression.

Zillah and her co-wife are addressed in Gen 4:23 in their husband’s brief war taunt. This appeal to women in an archaic poem concerning military exploits is probably related to the fact that, in Israelite tradition, the prominent role of women as musicians includes the custom of women composing and performing victory psalms or songs (as by Miriam and Deborah) following an outstanding military victory. The names of the wives and daughter of Lamech, as well as their implied relation to his enigmatic slaying of an enemy, reflect the inherent connection of music and women in this biblical conception of humanity.


Cassuto, Umberto. A Commentary on the Book of Genesis. Part 1, trans. Israel Abrahams. Jerusalem: 1961.

Meyers, Carol. “Mother to Muse: An Archaeomusicological Study of Women’s Performance in Ancient Israel.” In Recycling Biblical Figures: NOSTER Conference 1997, edited by Athalya Brenner and Jan Willem van Henten. Leiden, Netherlands: 1998.

Meyers, Carol, General Editor. Women in Scripture. New York: 2000.

Niditch, Susan. “Genesis.” Women’s Bible Commentary, edited by Carol A. Newsom and Sharon H. Ringe, 10–25. Kentucky: 1992.


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My name is Zhella but my grandma used to called me "zillah" when I was a kid.
I guess my name is modifying form of zillah 😂

I became interested in the name Zillah, after reading Wuthering Heights,because there is a character by that name in the book. As Emily Bronte was a parsons daughter it must have some biblical connection.

This is very interesting. Very to me..

I named my daughter Zillah after reading a few texts in the old testament of the bible. A few verses in Genesis that convinced me to adopt the biblical name "Zillah" with good background stories/ researches that is noted for future references.

I'm a Zillah... and I've never seen any article or research this specific and varied before. Is there any more or any other links into which I can look? Thank you very much.

In reply to by Zillah Glory

Wow, I actually thought I was only person by this Name,I'm happy to see people who shares "Zillah" with me.

This 1583 engraving print by Jan Sadeler depicts Lamech (center), an Israelite ancestor, and his two wives Zillah and Adah, seated at left. It is part of a series of prints titled "The Story of the First Men." Source: The British Museum, via Wikimedia Commons.

How to cite this page

Meyers, Carol. "Zillah: Bible." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 27 February 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on June 21, 2021) <>.


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