A long-time reader asks “Does a golem need to be made out of clay, or can other materials be used?”
For the purposes of this blog, I’m going to interpret the word “clay” to mean clay, mud, dirt, and all other forms of earth. Maybe that’s not in keeping with the spirit of the question, but you’ll have to forgive me. To interpret the question with clay, mud, dirt, and earth being separate things, I would have to go back to primary sources and that would mean learning Hebrew.
I love you guys, but that’s a lot to ask.
With this question a little bit revised, the answer becomes simple. And complicated.
Yes, the true golem is made out of clay.
Let me tell you why. It’s a straight parallel with the Genesis Creation story. As God made Man out of clay, so Man can make the Golem out of clay. But it also contrast with God’s creation. God can breathe on clay and give it a soul. Man can never do that. When Man ‘breathes’ on clay, animating it using words, all Man with his limited powers makes is a thing that moves around, but doesn’t live. So Man becomes a creator, but not THE Creator.
Kinda nifty, huh?
Now here comes the complicated part of the question. Does a golem have to be made from clay?
No. Philosophically speaking.
See, the guy who wrote the first robot story in 1921 (R.U.R. = Rossum’s Universal Robots), a Polish guy named Karel Capek, denied basing his robots on the story of the golem. But Capek grew up in Prague, and almost certainly would have been familiar with the story of the Prague Golem when he created his tale of mechanical creatures with no souls who did work at the bidding of their masters. If you look at his plot, there are some real similarities–I mentioned in the last post that most golem stories have a hubris theme… well so does R.U.R.
Robots, like golems, are non-living entities that have no souls and do not live. They can’t decide things for themselves. They perform tasks specifically assigned to them. Sound familiar?
So are robots golems? Not traditionally, but they might just be the Golem’s spiritual descendants.