Are Vampires in the Bible?

vampire bat

The title of this blog post will sound silly to most people who read it, whatever their personal view of the Bible may be. Vampires are a European myth, not a Hebrew one, so the argument goes. And that myth has come to us in its final form from Bram Stoker, a nineteenth century Irish novelist, who mixed folktales with historical characters to create a ripping good yarn, nothing more. So, to expect Dracula in the Bible is preposterously anachronistic and culturally misplaced. 

It’s true that out modern conception of vampires derives almost exclusively from early eighteenth-century southeastern Europe. But it’s also true that there are earlier precursors from Greek Roman myths, and before this, from Egypt and Persia. Hebrew vampiric conceptions derive from Lilith and the shapeshifting estries – female demons who drunk baby blood and seduced men. 

In this blog post, I want to present three of the strongest evidences for vampires in the Bible. Then I’ll follow it up with three other secondary arguments that are more to do with a general theme that specific details. After that, you can draw your own conclusions. 

So, here are the three primary arguments. 

An Insatiable Ghoul 

The Book of Proverbs contains a fascinating and relevant verse. On the surface, it seems to be an admonition against insatiable greed. 

The bloodsucking leech has two daughters – “Give!” and “Give!”

Proverbs 30:15 (GOD’S WORD translation)

Most translations simply translate the word here as ‘leech’ although a few go for ‘horseleech’ and some simply give it the interpretive meaning – “Greed has twins” says the Contemporary English Version. What is somewhat shocking is that the Revised Version gives a secondary, marginal interpretation for the Hebrew word as “vampire”! 

The Hebrew word for horseleech here is `alaqah. This Hebrew word only occurs once in the entire Old Testament. This is what one Bible commentary has to say about the word. 

In Arabic `alaqah is a leech of any kind, not only a horse-leech. The Arabic `aluqah, which, it may be noted, is almost identical with the Hebrew form, is a ghoul (Arabic ghul), an evil spirit which seeks to injure men and which preys upon the dead. The mythical vampire is similar to the ghoul. In zoology the name “vampire” is applied to a family of bats inhabiting tropical America, some, but not all, of which suck blood. In the passage cited the Arabic Bible has `aluqah, “ghoul.” 

International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia

This is not some weird interpretation of the word only made by some far-out scholars. Many of the mainstream Bible commentaries mention the word ‘vampire’ when explaining this verse (some coming down against this connection). These include: 

  • Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges 
  • Pulpit Commentary
  • Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary 
  • Keil and Delitzsch Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament 

The last of these has this to say. 

The most of modern interpreters…suppose that ‛Alûka, from its nearest signification, denotes a demoniacal spirit of the character of a vampire, like the Dakin of the Indians, which nourish themselves on human flesh; the ghouls of the Arabs and Persians, which inhabit graveyards, and kill and eat men, particularly wanderers in the desert… 

Keil and Delitzsch on Proverbs 30:15

A Female Night Demon 

The Book of Isaiah takes matters even farther, and mixes together all sorts of interesting monsters. 

Wildcats shall meet with desert beasts, satyrs shall call to one another; There shall the lilith repose, and find for herself a place to rest.

Isaiah 34:14 (New American Bible)

First of all, let’s just point out reference to satyrs here. Various translations of this word include goat-demons, wild goats, the hairy goat, evil spits, and demons. But when it comes to the Hebrew word for ‘lilith’, things get vampiric! Here ae some of the different translation for it (from the most harmless to the most horrific); 

  • nocturnal animals 
  • night bird 
  • night owl 
  • screech owl 
  • night creatures 
  • night monster 
  • night spectre 
  • night demon 
  • female night demon 
  • Liliths (International Standard Version) 
  • Lilith (Amplified Bible and the New Revised Standard Version) 

I said above these are some of the English translation for ‘lilith’. What I should have said is, the Hebrew word is lilith! This is the only place this word is found in the Old Testament. According to Jewish legend, Lilith was mother of all monsters. The Brown-Driver-Briggs lexicon of the Old Testament (a standard reference for Biblical Hebrew and Aramaic) defines the word as “night-hag, name of a female night-demon haunting desolate Edom; probably borrowed from Babylonian”. 

The word is openly translated as “vampires” in the Moffatt Translation (1922) and the Knox Bible (1950). In case you think this goes too far, here’s what Eliot’s Commentary to say about the verse. 

The English “satyr” expresses fairly enough the idea of a “demon-brute” haunting the waste places of the palaces of Edom, while the “screech-owl” is the Lilith, the she-vampire, who appears in the legends of the Talmud as having been Adam’s first wife, who left him and was turned into a demon. With the later Jews, Lilith, as sucking the blood of children, was the bugbear of the nursery. Night-vampire would, perhaps, be the best rendering. 

Eliot’s Commentary for English Readers on Isaiah 34:13

A Woman Drinking Blood 

There was a bit of Hebrew and translation work in the first two examples. In this example, some New Testament verses from the Book of Revelation, no translation work is required. It’s all, as it were, out in the open. 

I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. And when I saw her, I marvelled with great amazement… And in her was found the blood of prophets and saints, and of all who were slain on the earth…

Revelation 17:6; 18:24

Here is someone drinking blood. What could be more vampiric than that? Drinking blood here isn’t just a synonym for shedding blood, as it might be in other places in Revelation (16:6). And it’s a female rather than male that’s doing it, in keeping with what was noted about Lilith above. However, to be fair, I must note that there may be another explanation possible, as outlined elsewhere. 

“The phraseology is derived from the barbarous custom (still extant among many pagan nations) of drinking the blood of the enemies slain in the way of revenge. The effect of drinking blood is said to be to exasperate, and to intoxicate with passion and a desire of revenge” (Prof. Stuart, in loco). The meaning here is, that the persecuting power referred to had shed the blood of the saints; and that, in its fury, it had, as it were, drunk the blood of the slain, and had become, by drinking that blood, intoxicated and infuriated. 

Barnes’ Notes on the Bible

This connection between drinking blood and vengeance seems to be the meaning behind Jeremiah 46:10, where it is applied to God’s sword quenching its thirst for blood. And the evil magician Balaam compares Israel to a lioness that does not rest until she “devours the prey and drinks the blood of the slain” (Numbers 23:24). 

Here are the three secondary arguments 

Fangs Like Knives 

We’ve already looked at Proverbs 30:15. But the verse before it is interesting too. 

There is a generation whose teeth are swords, whose fangs are knives, devouring the oppressed from the land and the needy from among mankind. 

Proverbs 30:14

Fangs are what the Bible ascribes to the teeth of wild, predatory animals, particularly lions (Psalms 58:6). It compares the teeth of bestial, lion-like men to spears and arrows, with their tongues likened to a sharp sword (57:4). The wicked come against the just to eat up their flesh (27:2), and prey on them with their teeth (124:6), eating them up as if they were bread (14:4). Yes, of course these are metaphors, but so is the literary image of a vampire itself. Vampire-hunters like Job shatter those fangs (29:17). 

Fear of Sunlight  

Both the Old Testament and New Testament tell of a contrast, and in fact a war between the children of light and the day on the one side, and those that belong to the darkness of night on the other side. The works of darkness that are done in secret and at night. Light tests them, and exposes them, making the secret things visible. Those in darkness need to “rise from the dead” and into the daytime of light. (Ephesians 5:8-14; 1 Thessalonians 5:4-7). Malachi even says that when the Sun of righteousness rises – when the Messiah comes – the wicked will turn into ash (4:2-3). 

Blood is Life 

It’s well known that the Jewish people are forbidden from eating certain things, such as pork. They are also not allowed to eat anything that has blood in it. The Old Testament principle is that “the life of the flesh is in the blood” (Leviticus 17:11, 14), and “the blood is life” (Deuteronomy 12:23). But this principle is applied in exactly the opposite way of vampirism. It is given as a reason not to drink blood rather than do so. In the novel Dracula, this is a scripture quoted explicitly by Mr Renfield in an attempt to justify his own practices. He eats living creatures and licks blood from the floor to extend his own life-force. 

Vampiric Conclusion

To look for modern vampires in any ancient literature is a futile quest. But to look for their ancestors and archetypes is a far less futile task. And the literature of the Bible contains much more on the topic of vampires that you might think at first glance. But, given the religious associations within the vampire stories themselves, this is hardly surprising. 

Photo by Igam Ogam on Unsplash

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