A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 325: Josef the Golem

Golem 1

Yesterday I posted a drawing I had done that took inspiration from the mythology of the Indigenous people of North America. Today, my chosen subject is rooted in the myths of the Chosen People.

As a Christian, I have to admit that I have been terribly ignorant of the vast store of knowledge, insight, perspective and folklore that comes from the Jewish people. Frankly, for someone that follows a Jew named Jesus, that is a sad state of affairs. In fact, most Christians figure that they read the Old Testament so they have a good handle on what makes someone a Jew. Certainly, understanding the Torah, the Writings, the Prophets goes a long way and is a crucial foundation. But as with other people groups with a long and varied history, full of the great and evil deeds and circumstances that shape a community, there is behind the obvious a gigantic storehouse of things that inform them of who they are.

In the case of the subject of this drawing, “gigantic” is an apt adjective. The Golem is a reoccurring figure in the mythology of Judaism. It pops its rocky and dirt-encrusted head up every now and again in our popular culture. Golems figured into Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, a movie released in 2014 that was totally misunderstood by the Evangelical Christian community who were looking for a direct read of the Flood account in Genesis. What they got was a traditional Jewish midrash, a genre of rabbinical literature that is interpretations of stories in scripture, often with added and even fantastic elements, including Golems: Large, powerful, mute creatures made of rock and soil. When these creatures showed up in the movie Noah, Christians went “Hunh?” and Jews went “Look, Golems!” And thus was displayed the gaping chasm that can exist between the two groups separated by a common Scripture.

As I was drawing with Conte crayons and thinking of the natural earthy pigments that give them their color, I started thinking of these earthy creatures. I did a little research and came upon some stories of Golems in Jewish tradition. I discovered that the Golem is inscribed with Hebrew words in some stories, such as the word emet meaning “truth”. In these accounts, the Golem could be deactivated by removing the aleph from the word leaving met: “death”. My Golem has the Hebrew word for “truth” on his forehead.

My favorite story was the most famous Golem narrative, that of Judah Loew ben Bezalel, a late 16th century rabbi in Prague. In this story, the rabbi makes a Golem from the clay of the riverbanks of the Vitava river and brings it to life to defends the Prague ghetto from anti-Semitic attacks and pogroms. I absolutely loved this story (in fact, I wish someone would turn it into a movie!). The rabbi’s Golem was known as Josef and was said to have been able to make himself invisible and summon the spirits of the dead (seriously, is this not a great movie idea?!).

For my drawing, I’ve given you Josef the Golem, defending the ghetto of Prague. By this I don’t claim to be a greatly informed Goy but just a guy who really likes Golems. And a guy who is still learning – every day – to appreciate the marvelous amount of wonderful stories and incredible imagination of his fellow human beings.

Golem 2

Ronald Kok, Josef the Golem Defends the Prague Ghetto, Conte Crayons, 2017


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