3.19 Leviathan Created as a Golem like Adam

There are three Biblical passages that indicate that Leviathan was created from the soil of the ground in the same fashion as Adam.  They were both created as golems.  In the Talmud and Kabbalah, golems are artificial men made by powerful rabbis from dust and water and supernaturally animated to life.  The earliest Talmudic concepts of a golem are based largely on observations of how Jehovah created Adam and how the promised seed of the bitter water trial came about.   

The Talmudic use of the term golem to describe Adam’s pre-animated body stems from Psalm 139:16.  There the Talmud holds that the psalmist David is quoting Adam in describing his own marvelous creation.  That the psalm concerns Adam is virtually certain, for in verse 15 what other man was made in secret and finely woven in the lower parts of the earth?  Adam declares that while his body was being formed in secret in the earth, his substance was not hidden from God.  In verse 16 he declares that God’s eyes saw golem’y (“my golem”).  Golem (Mlg – Strongs 1563, 1564) means “to twist”, “to turn”, and hence “to shape.”  Hence, Adam is declaring that God saw his shaped body while it still resided in the earth.  He concludes by stating that all of his twists and moldings were recorded in God’s book on the days of their shaping.  There is “not one” of them that was failed to be recorded. 

Ps 139:14-16 (KJV)
14  I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.
15  My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.

16  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.

Ps 139:14-16 (My Literal)
14  I will praise you; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are your works; and my soul knows it very well.
15  My substance was not hid from you, when I was made in secret, and finely woven in the lower parts of the earth.

16  Your eyes saw my golem; and upon your book all them is written of the days they were formed, and there is not one in them. 

The literal Hebrew of Job 26:13 in Table 3‑12 can support the notion that Leviathan was made much the same way as Adam.  Under one interpretation, the passage states that God’s hand had chullah, or “twisted” the fleeing serpent.  Chullah implies a kneading and twisting, like a potter with clay.  This word brings to mind the twisting and kneading creation of Adam’s golem from the dust of the earth.  The use of chullah in Job 26:13 implies that the serpent Leviathan underwent a creation as a golem similar to that of Adam.  This is what we would expect from the Lilith legend. 

There is more Biblical evidence establishing that Leviathan’s creation is as a golem similar to that of Adam.  The literal Hebrew of Table 3‑15 shows that in Psalm 104:26 God yatsarat (had formed) Leviathan to become a derision in the sea.  Yastsarat is the singular perfect tense form of the verb yatsar (ruy – Strongs 3335), which means to form through squeezing into shape, much as does a potter.  Thus, yastsarat means “you had formed”, and its meaning implies a creation similar to that of Adam’s.  Indeed, the first use of yatsar in the Bible comes in Ge 2:7.  There the passage states that God yatsar (formed) the man Adam from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.  Thus, yatsar refers to the creation of Adam’s golem, before it yet had the soul of life in it. 

There is yet another clue that Leviathan was created as a golem.  It comes in Isa 27:1, which calls Leviathan a “twisted” serpent.  As can be seen from Table 3‑13, the Hebrew word for twisted is aqallathown (Nwtlqe – Strongs 6129).  It comes from the root aqal (lqe – Strongs 06127), which means “to bend” or “twist.”  Thus, the second title of Leviathan as the twisted serpent implies a creation similar to that of Adam as a golem. 

In summary, there is much Biblical evidence supporting that Leviathan was the Serpent Lilith and created like Adam as a golem.  Out of the seven mentions of Leviathan in the Bible, three discuss the nature of its creation.  All three supports the notion that its creation was of similar nature to Adam’s, namely a twisting and shaping of soil from the earth like a potter. 

Golems in Rabbinic Tradition

Based on the Adam and Lilith creation mythos and the rituals of the bitter water trial (see 3.20.3), rabbis came to believe that they could create artificial men by mimicking the means by which golems were animated in the Bible.  Therefore, the rabbis could create artificial men using dust and water and certain animating forces.  However, such efforts were not without pitfalls.  For the rabbis, Adam and Lilith represented the ultimate extreme outcomes from such an endeavor.  Adam was the flawless man created in the perfection of God’s image.  Lilith was the imperfect man, created by a process that had gone awry and created a being lesser than human and not in the image of God.  Because of this, in rabbinic tradition Lilith’s failed creation emphasized the importance of purity for the two main ingredients in creating a golem.  Both the dust used to make the body and the water/breath used as animating forces must be pure.  Lilith was made with defiled waters that animated her with evil spirits. 

The Jewish tradition of the golem is a vast topic upon which many books have been written.  In the Talmud and Kabbalah, golems are artificial men (and in at least one other case an artificial calf) made from dust and water and supernaturally animated to life by powerful rabbis.  These creatures were not fully normal.  Golems lacked the power of speech and had tendencies to go out-of-control on destructive rampages.  This erratic, even demonic, behavior was often fueled by the rabbis’ mistakes in handling the golem, especially in its creation.  The creation of a golem followed very strict procedures.  The overriding principle was purity of ingredients and purity of purpose.  First, the rabbi mixed clay, dust, and pure water, and then fashioned this into the image of a man.  The statue was then animated by placing the written name of Jehovah in its mouth or elsewhere in its body.  The rabbis were also recorded as sometimes animating the golem by placing other mystical Hebrew words or letter combinations upon the golem’s body.  

The resulting golem was a brutish creature, with no soul, and no ability to speak.  It had the ability to hear and obey simple commands from its rabbi creator.  Often golems obeyed these commands in a blindly literal manner, much to the detriment of their creators.  A common feature of golems is that over time they steadily grew larger and more powerful.  Eventually, the rabbi had either to destroy the golem, or be killed by it.  The rabbi could de-animate the golem by removing or erasing certain of the animating letters upon its body. 

The first evidence the sages saw for golems was in Adam’s creation.  The Talmudic Aggadah asserts that after Adam was fashioned by God from the dust of the adamah (ground), but before he became nefesh (soulish) by the breath of Jehovah, he was a golem.  He was aware on a limited level, and able to receive visions from God, but he did not yet have a soul.  In Sanhedrin 38b, Aha bar Hanina said that in the first hour of Adam’s creation the earth was piled up.  In the second hour, Adam became a golem, a still unformed mass.  In the third hour, his limbs were stretched out, and in the fourth, his soul was cast into him. 

The Talmudic Aggadah even goes so far as to say that Adam was created from the dust of the earth on the Temple mount – the same locale from which is taken the dust of the Sotah trial.  The Midrash HaGadol says, “From what is clearest in the earth He created him, from what is most excellent in the earth He created him, from what is finest in the earth He created him, from the place of divine worship [in Zion] He created him.”[1]  Philo wrote, “It is conceivable that God wished to create his man-like form with the greatest care and for that reason he did not take dust from the first piece of earth that came to hand, but that from the whole earth he separated the best, from pure primal matter the purest and finest parts, best suited for his making.”

The history of the golem can be traced back to the Sefer Yesirah (Book of Creation, 2nd century B.C.E. or older).  The book in turn was referenced by the rabbis of the Talmud (4th century C.E.).  Perhaps the most striking example in the Talmud comes in Sanhedrin 65b.  There the creation of a golem by Rabbi Abba ben Rav Hamma (“Rava”) is recorded.

Sanhedrin 65b

Rava created a man. He sent it before Rav Zera. He spoke to it, but it did not answer. He said, “You must have been created by one of my colleagues. Return to dust.”

In Sanhedrin 65b is another related incident.  There instead of creating a man, Rabbis Hanina and Oshaia used the “Book of Creation”, or Sefer Yezirah, to create a calf.   

Sanhedrin 65b

Rabbi Hanina and Rabbi Oshaia spent every Sabbath eve in studying the ‘Book of Creation’, by means of which they created a third-grown[2] calf and ate it.

The Sefer Yezirah is the title of two esoteric books.  The newer (early centuries of C.E.) added extra content to the more ancient version.  The older, used by Hanina and Oshaia, is the oldest and most mysterious of all the Kabbalistic works.  It was also known as Hilkoth Yezirah (Laws of Creation).  Portions of the book may be quite ancient.  However, the completed version has affinities with Babylonian, Egyptian, and Hellenic mysticism and its origin has been placed in the second century B.C.E., when such a combination of influences might be expected (J.E., XII, 602).  According to Rashi, the Hilkoth Yezirah is the same means by which Rava created his golem.  Rashi also claims that all the sources agree that the Hilkoth Yezirah explains how a golem is made.  This is important in that the Sefer Yetzirah is a mystical work, and never describes or delves into literal instructions for making a golem.  The procedure derived from the Sefer Yetzirah is described by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan.  First, the creator should not do it alone, but should always be accompanied by one or two colleagues.  The golem must be made of virgin soil, taken from a place where no man has ever dug.  The soil must be kneaded with pure spring water, taken directly from the ground.  If this water is placed in any kind of vessel, it can no longer be used.  The people making the golem must purify themselves totally before engaging in this activity, both physically and spiritually.  While making the golem, they must wear clean white vestments.  Creating a golem was primarily not a physical procedure, but rather, a highly advanced spiritual and meditative process.  This involved chanting appropriate letter arrays together with the letters of the God’s holy name.  Once the golem’s body was completed, this spiritual potential could be transferred to the clay form and animate it.  This was the process through which a physical golem would be brought to life.  One must not make any mistake or error in the pronunciation of the rites.  No interruption whatsoever may occur. 

To the Sages of the Talmud, the creation of a golem was not in and of itself particularly remarkable.  The Talmud mentions the above episodes in Sanhedrin 65b in passing, during a discussion of other topics.  Anyone who could cleave to God sufficiently would be able to perform such a feat.  According to Jewish tradition, many other holy rabbis and sages also created human and animal Golems, such as Rabbis Channina and Hoshia, Ben Sira, Joseph’s eleven brothers, and the Patriarch Abraham. 

The formula for creating a Golem has proliferated over the ages.  However, the original formulas all used clay, dust, water, and empowering words.  The essential ingredients are: 

  • Pure white robes
  • Purified clay
  • Purified dust
  • Purified water
  • Purity of purpose

Creating the golem from clay took several hours.  The creator was to wear the pure white robes during the ritual, and it was important for him to maintain a purity of purpose during the entire creations process, and even for the entire life of the golem for that matter.  The first step was to mix the clay with the dust and water until a slightly malleable mixture was formed.  The creators then used bare hands to mold the figure of the golem from the clay.  Prayers to God were essential for success while forming the clay.  When the body was formed, an animating word of power was given to the creature.  This was usually either the Hebrew word for truth, emeth (tma), or Jehovah’s holy name.  Jehovah’s name was usually written on parchment placed under the golem’s tongue.  Emeth was normally inscribed upon the forehead of the golem, although it was sometimes inscribed behind the ears or engraved on amulets.  The golem could be destroyed by erasing the leading aleph (a) of emeth, turning it into meth (tm), meaning “death.” 

Purity of purpose was an essential ingredient in making a golem.  Rabbi Eleazar of Worms stressed this, and the need for the assistance of others, at the end of his commentary on Sefer Yetzira.  He states that whoever occupies himself with Sefer Yetzira must purify himself and put on clean white clothes.  He must work together with two or with three persons.  He must take virgin soil never dug by man from a mountainous spot and mix it with flowing water, and make one golem.  


(image from www.monstrous.com)

The greatest threat stemming from a lack of purity in the effort was not the failure to animate a golem.  Rather the greatest threat was to create an unstable beast, likely to turn upon it creator and others.  There are many such legends of golems gone awry.  Indeed, most golems at some point seem to go amuck.  This is doubtlessly in large part because of imperfect man competing with God in the act of creation.  One such legend concerns Rabbi Elias, who shaped the form of a man from clay and inscribed emeth on its forehead, thus granting it life.  The golem performed menial tasks for the rabbi.  However, as its life continued it grew larger and stronger.  Elias felt threatened when the golem eventually grew overwhelmingly large.  Elias ordered the golem to lace its shoe, causing it to bend down low enough for Elias to reach its head.  He then destroyed the golem by erasing the aleph from emeth, making it the word meaning “death”, meth.  It immediately reverted to a gigantic pile of clay which toppled over, crushing Elias beneath. 

The most famous legend of golem creation concerns Rabbi Loew ben Bezaleel (1525-1609) in 16th century Prague.[3]  Rabbi Low, also referred to as the Maharal, created a nine-foot tall golem named Joseph from dust and clay.  When he was on the point of blowing the breath of life into the golem’s nostrils, two spirits appeared before him to inhabit the figure — that of the demons Joseph and Jonathan.  Loew chose the former, the spirit of Joseph, because he had already revealed himself as the protector of the rabbis of the Talmud.  However, Loew could not endow the golem with the power of speech because the living spirit inhabiting the Golem was only a sort of animal vitality and not a soul.  The Golem possessed only small powers of discernment, being unable to grasp anything belonging to the domain of real intelligence or higher wisdom.[4]  The purpose of Loew’s golem was to patrol the city streets of Prague and defend its Jewish citizens against the blood libel – the belief that an ingredient in Jew’s Passover matsah was the blood of slain Christian children.  One Sabbath night, the golem went on a rampage after Rabbi Loew forgot to remove from its mouth the tablet upon which was written name of God (thereby deactivating it).  On past Sabbaths he had done so because he feared the golem’s growing power.  He worried that on some future Sabbath, it would become immortal and men might be induced to worship it as an idol.  Rabbi Loew managed to regain control of the golem and vanquish it by removing the name of God within the golem’s mouth.  It was then returned to dust and clay by a ceremony much like its creation ceremony played backwards.  Legend has that the golem’s remains were then placed in the attic of the synagogue, the Alt Neu-schul.  Entrance into the area was forbidden for hundreds of years, and to make sure the ban would not be broken, the stairs to the attic were removed. Recently the synagogue was finally allowed to be explored; no Golem was found.

Figure 3‑1: This statue of the Golem of Prague stands at the entrance to the city’s Jewish sector


[1] On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism, Gershom Scholem, Schocken Books, 1960, p. 160. 

[2] A calf that has reached one third of its full growth.  Others interpret “in its third year” or “third born.” 

[3] This story could be based on an earlier legend concerning the Rabbi Elias in Poland.  In which case it may have been attributed to Rabbi Low sometime in the 18th century.

[4] Professor D. L. Ashliman, referring to Angelo S. Rappoport, The Folklore of the Jews, London: Soncino Press, 1937.