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There's a famous folk tale that the Maharal created a golem, some sort of human shaped creature. The tale has it that he created it using practical Kabbalah.

The gemarra even describes amoraim creating a humanoid using Sefer Yetzira. However, the gemarra doesn't use the word golem.

The Ramban, based on Bereishis Rabbah, says that Adam was created as a golem by Hashem, but obviously that wasn't a man-made golem.

The word, as I understand it, refers simply to a formless mass. It's used by the Mishnah to chastise uncivilized individuals. What's the earliest usage of the word golem to refer to a humanoid created by humans?

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The usage of ‘golem’ referring to a humanoid created by humans appears in a late 12th century-early 13th century commentary to Sefer Yetzirah by R. Eleazar of Worms (Commentary, p. 15b s.v. העוסק) :

ויש לו ליקח קרקע בתולה במקום הרים שלא חפר בה אדם שם, ויגבל העפר במים חיים ויעשה גולם אחד וכו׳

(Disclaimer: Don’t try this at home.)

In a manuscript, published by Gershon Scholem (Kitvei Yad Be’Kabbalah p. 75 n. 26), also belonging to the school of R. Eleazar or R. Yehudah Ha’Chassid (Scholem suggests the former) an almost identical fragment contains the word too, albeit in code. For further reading, see Scholem’s book ‘On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism’ (specifically 174ff.) where he discusses this topic at length (beginning at p. 158).

  • +1 Although note that that he is not referring to the final ‘robot’ as a golem, but instead the unfinished, inanimate humanoid form. – Joel K Nov 21 '18 at 5:31
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The earliest source I have found is in Zalman Zvi Aufhausen's יודישר טירייאק (published in 1615) on page 7b:

אביר אונזרי גולמיים אין דיזן לאנדן מכין מיר ניט אויש ליימן זונדר אויש מוטר לייב ווערין זיא גיבורן.‏

In these lands, however, our Golems are not made from clay, but rather they are born from the bodies of their mothers.

(Translation by (and hat-tip to) R. Dr. Shnayer Z. Leiman in footnote 28 of this article on the Seforim blog.)

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