A golem, in medieval folklore and
from Jewish mythology is an animated being crafted from inanimate material.
The name appears to derive from the word gelem, which means 'raw material'.
The earliest stories of golems date to early Judaism. They were a creation of
those who were very holy and close to God. A very holy was one who strove to
approach God, and in that pursuit would gain some of God's wisdom and power.
One of these powers was the creation of life. No matter how holy a person got,
however, the being they created would be but a shadow of one created by God.
Early on the notion developed that the main disability of the golem was its
inability to speak. Having a golem servant was seen as the ultimate symbol of
wisdom and holiness, and there are many tales of golems connected to prominent
rabbis throughout the Middle Ages.
Other attributes of the golem were gradually added over time. In many tales
the Golem is inscribed with magic or religious words that keep it animated.
Writing the name of God on its forehead, (or on a clay tablet under its
tongue) or writing the word Emet ('truth' in the Hebrew language) on its
forehead are examples of such words. By erasing the first letter in 'Emet' to
form 'Met' ('death' in Hebrew) the golem can be destroyed.
Also today the existence of a golem is portrayed as a mixed blessing. Although
not overly intelligent, a golem can be made to perform simple tasks over and
over. The problem is one of control or getting it to stop. Golems are used
today primarily in metaphor either as brainless lunks or as entities serving
man under controlled conditions but enemies in others. Similarly, it is a
Yiddish slang insult for someone who is clumsy or slow.
In the late nineteenth century the golem was adopted by mainstream European
society. Most notably Gustav Meyrink's 1915 novel Der Golem based on the tales
of the golem created by the 16th century rabbi Judah Low ben Bezalel of
Prague. This book inspired a classic set of expressionistic silent movies,
Paul Wegener's Golem series, of which especially Golem: How He Came Into the
World (also released as The Golem, 1920, USA 1921) is famous.
These tales saw a dramatic change, and some would argue a Christianization, of
the golem. Christianity, far more than Judaism, has long had a deep concern
with humanity getting too close to God. The golem thus became a creation of
overambitious and overreaching mystics, who would inevitably be punished for
their blasphemy, very similar to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. The Golem has
also been considered by some to be an early android, further divorcing it from
The word golem is also used in the Bible (Psalms 139:16) and in Talmudic
literature to refer to an embryonic or incomplete substance.