Is the creature in Isaiah 34:14 a “screech owl”?

“The wild beasts of the desert shall also meet with the wild beasts of the island, and the satyr shall cry to his fellow; the screech owl also shall rest there, and find for herself a place of rest.” (Isaiah 34:14, KJV)

The creature’s Hebrew name is “לילית (Liyliyth)” or “Lilith.” The KJV translators most likely followed Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra (1089 — 1164) who interpreted this word as meaning “the screech owl” (Rabbi A. J. Rosenberg, Isaiah: A New English Translation, Vol. 2, (The Judaica Press Inc. : New York, 1989), p. 281). The precise meaning of the word has been debated. The New English Translation’s footnote says, “The precise meaning of לילית (lilit) is unclear, though in this context the word certainly refers to some type of wild animal or bird.” The ESV translates the word as “night bird,” which is compatible with the KJV reading since the screech owl is a night bird.

Over time Lilith came to be regarded as a demoness in the Hebrew demonology. However, the demonization of Lilith occurred through the Talmud and Midrash which came centuries after Isaiah referred to the name. Nonetheless, the KJV translators may have acknowledged the possibility of Lilith being a demon by suggesting “night-monster” in the margin. Interestingly, Lilith the demon had close associations with owls. It was believed that she had the appearance of an owl, having the wings and talons of an owl. She is depicted thus in some ancient artwork.