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An illustration of a Golem.


In Jewish folklore, a golem(גולם; ) is an animated being created entirely from inanimate matter. In modern Hebrew the word golem literally means "rock," but can also mean "fool," "dumb," or even "stupid." The name appears to derive from the word gelem (גלם), which means "raw material." Alternatively, some sources indicate that it is a corruption of the Hebrew go′al 'enu (גואלנו) our redeemer or our avenger. The most famous golem narrative involves Judah Loew ben Bezalel, the late 16th century chief rabbi of Praguemarker.

History

Etymology

The word golem is used in the Bible to refer to an embryonic or incomplete substance: Psalm 139:16 uses the word , meaning my unshaped form, which then passes into Yiddish as goylem. The Mishnah uses the term for an uncultivated person ("Seven characteristics are in an uncultivated person, and seven in a learned one", Pirkei Avos 5:9 in the Hebrew text, varies in English translations). Similarly, golems are often used today in metaphor either as brainless lunks or as entities serving man under controlled conditions, but hostile to him in others. Similarly, it is a Yiddish slang insult for someone who is clumsy or slow.

Earliest stories

The earliest stories of golems date to early Judaism. Adam is described in the Talmud (Tractate Sanhedrin 38b) as initially created as a golem when his dust was "kneaded into a shapeless hunk". Like Adam, all golems are created from mud. They were a creation of those who were very holy and close to God. A very holy person 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 became, however, a being created by that person 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. In Sanhedrin 65b, is the description of Rava creating a man (gavra). He sent him to Rav Zeira; Rav Zeira spoke to him, but he did not answer. Said Rav Zeira: "You were created by the magicians; return to your dust."

Owning and activating golems

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 one of the names of God on its forehead, a slip of paper in its mouth, or inscribed on its body, or writing the word Emetmarker (אמת, "truth" in the Hebrew language) on its forehead are examples of such words. By erasing the first letter aleph in Emetmarker to form Met (מת, "dead" in Hebrew, when the aleph letter א is cancelled), the golem could be deactivated. Another way of activation is by writing a specific incantation using the owner's blood on calfskin parchment, and placing it in the golem's mouth. Then removing the parchment will deactivate the golem. It is likely that this is the same incantation that the Rabbi recites in the classic narrative.

Origins of inscriptions

The classic narrative

The most famous golem narrative involves Judah Loew ben Bezalel the late 16th century chief rabbi of Praguemarker, also known as the Maharal, who reportedly created a golem to defend the Prague ghetto from anti-Semitic attacks, pogroms.

The famous story of the Golem of Prague created by the Maharal,which is usually considered to be a Jewish folk story from the 18th century at the latest, is considered by some to be a later literary invention.According to this interpretation, the story was created by Jewish German writer Berthold Auerbach for his 1837 novel Spinoza.Some suppose that the story of the Golem of Prague is the original creation of Auerbach which served as a "trigger " to almost immediate explosion in publication for various poems, stories, plays, novels and such and so created a false impression that it is an "ancient folk story" when in reality it was a completely modern invention by a well known writer. This story of the Golem later appeared in print in 1847 in Galerie der Sippurim, a collection of Jewish tales published by Wolf Pascheles of Prague.

In 1909 an account in Hebrew and Yiddish was published by Yudl Rosenberg in Lwowmarker, supposedly based on the found diary of Rabbi Loew's son-in-law, who had helped create the golem; but the authenticity of this manuscript is in dispute.

Depending on the version of the legend, under Rudolf II, the Holy Roman Emperor, the Jews in Prague were to be either expelled or killed. To protect the Jewish community, the rabbi constructed the Golem out of clay from the banks of the Vltava river, and brought it to life through rituals and Hebrew incantations. As this golem grew, it became increasingly violent, killing gentiles and spreading fear. A different story tells of a golem falling in love, and when rejected, he became the violent monster as seen in most accounts. Some versions have the golem eventually turning on its creator and perhaps even attacking other Jews.

The Emperor begged Rabbi Loew to destroy Golem, promising to stop the persecution of the Jews. To deactivate Golem, the rabbi rubbed out the first letter of the word "emet" (truth or reality) from the creature's forehead leaving the Hebrew word "met", meaning death. The Emperor understood that the Golem's body, stored in the attic genizah of the Old New Synagoguemarker, would be restored to life again if needed. Accordingly, the body of Rabbi Loew's Golem still lies in the synagogue's attic, although some versions of the tale have Golem stolen from the genizah and entombed in a graveyard in Prague's Žižkov districtmarker, where now the great Žižkovská towermarker stands. A recent legend is told of a Nazi agent ascending to the synagogue attic during World War II and trying to stab Golem, but perishing instead. At any rate, the attic is not open to the general public.

The existence of a golem is sometimes a mixed blessing. Golems are not intelligent: If commanded to perform a task, they will take the instructions perfectly literally.

In some incarnations of the legend, the Maharal's Golem had superhuman powers to aid it in its tasks. These include invisibility, a heated touch, x-ray vision, the ability to fly, and the ability to use the Maharal's walking stick to summon spirits from the dead. This last power was often crucial, as the golem could summon dead witnesses to testify in Prague courts.

The hubris theme

In many depictions golems are inherently perfectly obedient. However, in its earliest known modern form the story has Rabbi Eliyahu of Chełmmarker creating a golem that became enormous and uncooperative. In one version of this the rabbi had to resort to trickery to deactivate it, whereupon it crumbled upon its creator and crushed him. There is a similar hubris theme in Frankenstein, The Sorcerer's Apprentice and some golem-derived stories in popular culture. The theme also manifests itself in R.U.R. , Karel Čapek's 1921 play which coined the term robot; the novel was written in Prague and while Capek denied that he modeled the robot after the golem, there are many similarities in the plot.

In culture

Prague Golem of clay


The 20th and 21st centuries

In the early 20th century the golem was adopted by mainstream European society. Most notably, Gustav Meyrink's 1914 novel Der Golem is loosely inspired by the tales of the golem created by Judah Loew ben Bezalel. These same tales inspired a classic set of expressionistic silent movies, Paul Wegener's Golem series, of which The Golem: How He Came into the World (also released as The Golem, 1920, USA 1921: the only surviving film of the trilogy) is especially famous. Another famous treatment from the same era is H. Leivick's 1921 Yiddish-language "dramatic poem in eight sections" The Golem. Also notable is Julien Duvivier's Le Golem (1936), a sequel to the Wegener film. Nobel prize winner Isaac Bashevis Singer also wrote a version of the legend. Elie Wiesel wrote a children's book on the legend.

Terry Pratchett's Discworld series depicts golems as described in this article, although they can speak and have sentience. While they are not recognized as people they are allowed to earn enough money to buy themselves—which many do.

In the mid-1960s, the Weizmann Institute of Science named its experimental computer Golem I

David Brin's science-fiction novel Kiln People describes a future where humans make lower quality copies of themselves (dittos or golems) out of clay.After reaching their expiration date, the golem's memories can be reintegrated to the original person or not.There are references to the Jewish legend such as the name of the character Yosil Maharal.

Marge Piercy's novel He, She and It tells the story of a cyborg, Yod, who is deliberately contrasted with the Golem of Prague. Yod, like the original Golem, is charged with protecting a Jewish settlement. Throughout the novel the grandmother of the central character Shira (the "she" of the title) retells to Yod the story of the Golem of Prague. The novel in this way functions both as a retelling of the Golem story and its updating.

DD Barant's fantasy series Bloodhound Files also features golems ('filled sandbags') which are animated through animal/blood sacrifice and color coded depending on occupation. In this fantasy series, golems were used as weapons—and still are—for protection as well as warfare since guns are not part of the parallel world that the main character, Agent Jace Valchek, has been pulled into. These golems act very much like humans and are considered second class citizens.

The X-Files episode Kaddish in Season 4 features a Jewish-centric plot including the manifestation of a golem.

Michael Chabon's 2001 Pulitzer-winning novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is initially set in Nazi-occupied 1930s Prague. One of the two protagonists, an amateur Jewish magician and escape artist named Josef Kavalier, arranges to smuggle himself out of Nazi Europe along with the famed Prague golem in a coffin. Kavalier comes to identify with the golem as a symbol of Jewish resistance against the Nazis, basing his comic book character The Escapist on his own revenge fantasies, and eventually enlisting in US service during WWII. The theme of vengeance against anti-Semites and subsequent regret of such pervades the novel, culminating in Kavalier's own drawing of a modern graphic novel centered around a golem.

The 2002 real-time strategy game Warlords Battlecry II allows the player to build and command golems made of either stone or bronze, if the player is using the Dwarf or Dark Dwarf races.

In the 2009 RPG Dragon Age: Origins from developer Bioware, the main character can recruit a mighty stone golem called Shale to fight alongside the player. Shale and all other golems you encounter in the game are inscribed with dwarven letters on their foreheads. In combination with their corresponding magic rods, the golems can be ordered to do everything their master wishes.

Diablo 2 uses Golems made of different materials as minions of the Necromancer class.

Pokemon may have used the Golem as a base for it's legendary golem trio: Regice, Regirock, and Registeel, not to mention there being a Rock/Ground-type Pokemon named Golem.

The fighting game Soul Calibur features a golem named Astaroth, who wields a gigantic battle axe.

Culture of the Czech Republic

Golem is a popular figure in the Czech Republicmarker. There are several restaurants and other businesses named after him. Strongman René Richter goes by the nickname "Golem", and a Czech monster truck outfit calls itself the "Golem Team".

Golem had a main role in the 1951 Czechmarker movie Císařův pekař a pekařův císař (released in the US as The Emperor and the Golem).

Abraham Akkerman preceded his article on human automatism in the contemporary city by a short satirical poem on a pair of golems turning human.

Composer Karel Svoboda finished his last musical based on the legend of Golem only two months before his suicide. This musical seems to have been a flop due to an overcomplicated plot and a lack of musical ideas in the songs.

See also



Further reading



References


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