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Superman: American Golem, The Jewish Origins of the Man of Steel

Evening Program

Evening Lecture/Seminar

Tuesday, April 19, 2016 - 6:45 p.m. to 8:45 p.m. ET
Code: 1H0132
S. Dillon Ripley Center
1100 Jefferson Dr SW
Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)
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The Golem—a terrifying and invincible stone creature—may have been created by Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel to reassure the embattled Jews of Prague in the 16th century, but its influence spread far and wide. The legend made its way into Grimms’ Fairy Tales, influenced Mary Shelley’s creation of Frankenstein, and eventually played a role in inspiring the comic-book character Superman.

At first glance, linking the superhero from the planet Krypton to Golem of Prague may seem outlandish, but historian Ralph Nurnberger argues there is a connection between these legends. Fans of comic books and superheroes cling to the idea of figures who wield supernatural powers—and both the Golem and Superman were created to avenge evil on behalf of the weak and the powerless.

Writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster, who created Superman in 1933, were the sons of Jews who escaped to America to avoid the pogroms. They, in turn, experienced the anti-Semitism that often plagued immigrants. Nurnberger suggests that the nebbishy Clark Kent’s alter ego as bold protector gives an all-American twist to a 400-year-old legend—a transformation not into a man of stone, but one of steel.

Nurnberger is an adjunct lecturer in Georgetown University’s graduate liberal studies program.