A Podcast Exploring the Wit and Weirdness of Medieval Texts

MDT Ep. 105: Concerning the Voice of the Golem

We kick of 2024 with a look at humanity’s attempts to recreate itself, first with a dip into the legends of the Golem of Prague, and then an extended discussion of the role of AI in the future of medieval studies and particularly this show.

Today’s Texts:

  • Eleazar of Worms, Commentary on Sefer Yezirah, fol. 15d. In Moshe Idel. Golem: Jewish Magical and Mystical Traditions on the Artificial Anthropoid. State University of New York Press, 1990.
  • Letter from Christoph Arnold to Johann Christoph Wagenseil, printed in Wagenseil’s Sota, Hoc est: Liber Mischnicus De Uxore Adulterii Suspecta, Altdorf,1674, pp. 1152-1234. Munich Digitization Center, digitale-sammlungen.de/en/view/bsb11215591
  • [Anonymous golem-making text from MS Cambridge, Add. 647, fol. 18a.] In Moshe Idel. Golem: Jewish Magical and Mystical Traditions on the Artificial Anthropoid. State University of New York Press, 1990.
  • Phillippson, Gustav. “Der Golem.” Schoschanim: Ein Blick indie Vergangenheit. M. Poppelauer’s Buchhandlung, 1871, pp. 77-81. Google Books.
  • Tendlau, Abraham M. “Der Golem des Hogh-Rabbi-Löb.” Das Buch der Sagen und Legenden jüdischer Vorzeit, J. F. Cast’schen, 1842, pp. 16-18. Google Books.
  • Tendlau, Adam. “Der Golem des Hoch-Rabbi-Löb.” 1842. In Hans Ludwig Held, Das Gespenst Des Golem, Allgemeine Verlagsanstalt München, 1927, pp 41-44. Google Books.
  • William of Malmesbury. Chronicle of the Kings of England. Edited by J.A. Giles, translated by John Sharpe and J.A. Giles, George Bell & Sons, 1895. Google Books.


Image by DALL-E 2.


  1. Kale

    This was a great episode. I’m fairly anti AI myself. I never use it and I don’t intend to. The biggest concern I have (at least in the short term) is just not being able to tell what is real on the internet. Like those voices you used on the show, I’m not sure I would identify those as fake without you saying that they were. As long as folks are upfront (as you obviously are) then I don’t mind AI being used, especially for translation stuff. Just wanted to share my two cents.

    Also I enjoyed the golem story quite a bit. It made me remember an episode of X-Files where someone erased the first letter in that Emet word to defeat a golem. I kinda thought the show just made that up.

    • Patrick

      Thanks for your comment! I definitely remember that X-Files episode, though I haven’t seen it in ages (there’s as a good pseudo-golem episode involving a tulpa made out of landfill garbage). The rate of acceleration for AI getting better at producing more realistic recreations of real things — in photos, in audio, and in video — is pretty eye-popping, and I’m just waiting for the first major bona fide “fake news” item where lots of people are taken in by a fake event. The royal family photos thing was getting close, but it would not surprise me if this year sees someone accused of a crime based on AI-generated evidence or a public panic over a fictional terror incident or something serious along those lines.

  2. Derrick Pohl

    Great episode on AI! Thx for sharing your experience in such detail. One question: can the AI you were experimenting with solve logic puzzles, like the books of one page mysteries for the reader to solve? Or would it give a wrong answer expressed in exactly the way a human would give the corrrect answer? How would it respond to being told it’s wrong?

  3. Derrick Pohl

    Better question: what did it know about you? Did its answers sound exactly like an undergraduate essay because you’re a college prof? Or have a college email address?

  4. Sixel (SmileyBeaks)

    Hi Patrick, long time listener,

    Not here to debate the merits or pitfalls of VC funded generative AI with you, nor dig into how incredible cognitive bias is.

    Instead, a sappy send off :’>

    Though a one sided relationship, your voice and writing have kept me company since 2018. I enjoyed the way you presented and read texts (also the mood setting ambience, the iconic opening theme song, top notch) I stayed and joined the patreon in 2019 when this became my favourite podcast, I wanted it to keep existing.
    I didn’t know anything about medieval history or texts before but you sparked my interest, I wanted to hear more about the “wit and weirdness of medieval texts” and their authors (and translators).
    When the pandemic hit you did a reading of the prologue for The Decameron and I was struck by how people who had lived through these things before seemed to feel the same, behaved in strikingly similar and strange ways to hard times and the unknown. I was really comforted by that and your insights, you inspired me to go out, buy and read a used abridged copy (it was fun! And weird? I loved it)

    Your anecdotes and stories felt humble and charming. The family board games at Christmas, the mouse (mice?) that plagued you, updates that were little windows in time that often set up the episode topics, on revisits they never failed to transport me back to the time of recording.

    I recommended you heartily to friends and family, played episodes in my car on commutes, across the country, on planes across the ocean, on vacation, while I worked, for anyone in my company who’d listen, usually an old favourite (my first episode) Concerning Astronomical Anomalies. My last listen was just after seeing the total eclipse, April 8th, I loved that curated assortment of wonders and terrors that felt somehow connected to my own experience – this is how I’d like to remember your pod.

    All good things must come to an end though, thank you for your time and efforts. It was a weird and wonderful ride that lived up to its name and tagline,

    – an artist

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