Golem, Mythical Clay Creature Brought to Life by Hebrew Ritual, Center of Berlin Exhibit

“Thine eyes did see mine unformed substance, and in Thy book they were all written– even the days that were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.” Psalms 139:16 (The Israel Bible™)

A golem (Hebrew: Shapeless lump) is a creature formed out of a dust or mud that’s brought to life by ritual incantations and sequences of Hebrew letters on a scroll put into its mouth. In Jewish lore, after it has been brought to life by a human creator, the golem becomes a helper, a companion, or a rescuer of an imperiled Jewish community. In many golem stories, as in the later Frankenstein tales, the creature runs amok and becomes a threat to its creator.

The myth of artificial life – from homunculi and cyborgs to robots and androids – is the focus of an extensive thematic exhibition about the golem at the Jewish Museum Berlin. This most prominent of Jewish legendary figures has inspired generations of artists and writers to this day.

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“Our exhibition presents the golem from a variety of perspectives, from its inception in a Jewish mystical ritual to its role as a subject of popular storytelling in film and its afterlife in artistic and digital realms,” says a museum press release. “The golem symbolizes each era’s dreaded dangers and hopes for redemption. The exhibition uses the golem figure to examine topics like creativity, creation, power, and redemption.”

The exhibition demonstrates the thematic richness of the material, as is apparent from medieval manuscripts, many-layered narratives, and works of art from the last two hundred years. Whether in painting, sculpture, object art, video, installation art, photography, or illustration, the golem is very much alive and, with it, the question of what it means to be human.

The exhibition is being held at the Jewish Museum Berlin’s Old Building, level 1, Lindenstraße 9-14, 10969 Berlin, September 23,  2016 to January 29, 2017.