Contents Index

Contexts -- Myths -- Golem

The Hebrew word golem appears in the Bible in Psalms 139:16, where it is translated in the Authorized Version as "substance, yet being unperfect":
Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.
The word is also used in the Talmudic literature, where it implies formless substance or the embryonic.

The golem is a figure from medieval Jewish mythology and Yiddish literature, an artificial being brought to life by a wise man's charm. According to legend, when pieces of paper bearing letters that make up a sacred word or a name of God were placed under the tongue of the effigy, it would come to life. In their earliest forms, the stories speak of golems as servants, but by the sixteenth century -- and particularly in the stories surrounding Rabbi Löw ben Bezulel of Prague -- the golem took on more frightening connotations. In that version of the legend, the creature ran amok; Löw, fearing it would desecrate the Sabbath, was forced to destroy his creation.

The golem legend was given its most famous form in Gustav Meyrink's novel Der Golem (1915), which provided the inspiration for a number of German silent films in the teens and twenties, precursors of the Frankenstein movies beginning in the thirties.