Neviim Tovim, blogs by Gillian Gould Lazarus

Posts Tagged ‘Metatron the angel


The angel Metatron, whom we shall meet in 3 Enoch, does not appear in the Ethiopic 1 Enoch (which we looked at last month) nor  in 2 Enoch which exists only in Slavonic manuscripts, dating from the 14th century to the 18th. 3 Enoch is a Hebrew text, an example of the mystical Merkavah traditions which seem to have originated in the Mishnaic period. The putative author is Rabbi Ishmael ben Elisha, a contemporary of Rabbi Akiva, but attribution to an author from antiquity is the style of Pseudepigrapha. Views on the date of 3 Enoch are: a) Gaonic, ie 7th to 9th century on the grounds that 3 Enoch shows Islamic influences which did not yet circulate in the Talmudic age, b) 1st to 3rd century due to some resemblances to the Talmudic tractate Hagigah, and linguistic affinities with the Babylonian Talmud, c) 5th – 6th century based on a survey of the development of Merkavah mysticism between the first and tenth centuries, d) 10th – 15th century. The controversial late dating is from Milik who perceived Latin and Arabic influences. James Charlesworth gives an overview of the reasoning behind these opinions, dismissing Milik’s arguments, especially Milik’s assumption that it was written in western Europe. Charlesworth is sure the provenance is Palestinian or Babylonian and not post-Talmudic:

…Though 3 Enoch contains some very old conditions and stands in direct line with developments which had begun in the Maccabean era, a date for its final redaction in the fifth or the sixth century AD [sic] cannot be far from the truth.8

Charlesworth points out that the the tractate Hagigah in the Babylonian Talmud attests aspects of mysticism which appear in 3 Enoch; particularly the mystical ascent to heaven of Rabbi Akiva, Ben Zoma, Ben Azzai and Elisha ben Abuyah.9


Peter Schäfer has recently added to the discussion about the possible sources and meanings of the name Metatron. In Greek, Metathronios means ‘behind the throne’ or ‘next to the throne.’ In Latin, a metator was an officer in the Roman army acting as some sort of administrator or guide, and Schäfer points out that metator appears as a loanword in rabbinic literature. Odeberg suggests that the name Metatron might derive from the Persian name Mithras. Gershom Scholem, author of defining works in the mid-twentieth century on the subject of Jewish mysticism, rejected these theories about the etymology of Metatron. There is a view that the name Metatron, like many other celestial names, is a made-up name chosen for sound rather than meaning. Scholem, writing in 1946, said:

The fact is that all these etymologies are so much guess-work and their studied rationality leads nowhere. There is no such word as metathronios in Greek, and it is extremely unlikely that Jews should have produced or invented such a Greek phrase. In the Talmudic literature, the word thronos is never used in the place of its Hebrew equivalent.11

The Content

3 Enoch is also known as Sefer Hekhalot or Ma’aseh Merkavah – The Book of Palaces or the Works of the Chariot. There is a reference as early as the Mishnah to the Ma’aseh Bereshit and the Ma’aseh Merkavah:

The Account of Creation may not be expounded before two or more persons, nor the Chariot before even one, unless he is a scholar who understands of his own knowledge.12

Rabbi Ishmael ascends to heaven to view the chariot. He passes into the seventh heaven where he sees HaKadosh Baruch Hu. Rabbi Ishmael asks God to protect him from certain angels who would cast him out of heaven. God summons the angel Metatron, Prince of the Divine Presence, who leads Ishmael into the Divine Presence, permitting a mortal to approach the chariot because,as he explains, Ishmael is an Israelite and a priestly descendant of Aaron. Metatron tells Ishmael that he has seventy names but that God calls him ‘Youth’. He identifies himself as Enoch the son of Jared who was brought up to heaven where he became a ruler among the ministering angels. The other angels object to Enoch’s elevation and the Holy One tells them that this was the only righteous mortal amongst the generation of the flood. Enoch ascends from earth on the wings of the Shechinah, and God bestows on him supernal qualities of wisdom, Torah, mercy and splendour. God reveals to him the secrets of creation and the natural world and adorns him with a robe, a crown on which are inscribed the letters by which the world was created, and a title: ‘The lesser [hakatan] YHWH’.14 The title sounds somewhat shocking, suggesting Gnosticism or polytheism, but the name ofGod is included in the names of many persons in Tanakh whose names have theophoric suffixes, and the majority of the angels bear names which end in ‘El’. Whereas the name of God is, on the one hand, so holy that only the Cohen Hagadol can utter it, in the holy of holies onYom Kippur, on the other hand, forms of El, Yah and even Adonai are incorporated into personal names. Metatron tells Ishmael the names of the angelic princes who guide the world, eighteen names all ending in ‘el’ and that all these prostrated themselves before himself, Metatron. The Talmud relates that Elisha ben Abuyah, the apostate, entered Paradise and saw Metatron sitting down. The rabbis explain that Metatron was allowed to sit because of his function as the Heavenly Scribe, writing down the deeds of Israel. Elishah ben Abuyah therefore assumed Metatron was a deity and said heretically, “There are indeed two powers in heaven!” 15

At first Metatron sat on a throne at the door of the seventh palace and judged the lesser angels, until he was seen by Elisha ben Abuyah, the apostate, who said ‘There are indeed two powers in heaven.’ The angel Anapiel came at the command of the Holy One, struck Metatron with sixty fiery lashes and ordered him to stand.16

Metatron tells Rabbi Ishmael the names of the princes of the seven heavens – only Michael and Gabriel are known from Tanakh – and the seventy-two princes of kingdoms. He describes four heavenly creatures facing the four winds. These resemble the creatures in Ezekiel’s chariot vision.17 Four Watchers reside above the whole celestial assembly.

The Holy One, blessed be He, does nothing in his world without first taking counsel with them; then He acts, as it is written ‘Such is the sentence proclaimed by the Watchers, the verdict announced by the holy ones.’18

Although this sounds as if it would be heretical, it resembles a text from the Babylonian Talmud:

Why were these [two thrones] necessary? To teach R. Johanan’s dictum; viz.: The Holy One, blessed be He, does nothing without consulting His Heavenly Court, for it is written, The matter is by the decree of the watchers, and the sentence by the word of the Holy Ones. Now, that is satisfactory for all [the other verses], but how explain Till thrones were placed? One [throne] was for Himself and one for David.19

The Watchers and the Holy Ones have their source in Daniel 4:14 and the thrones in Daniel 7:9. Rashi, in commenting on Exodus 23:21, identifies as Metatron the angel of whom God says ‘…My name is in him’ and points out that the numerical value of Metatron is equal to that of El Shaddai (the Almighty): 314.

Behold, I send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared. Pay careful attention to him and obey his voice; do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgression, for my name is in him.20

We can see that 3 Enoch is by no means estranged from rabbinic tradition, Metatron being attested in the Talmud and later in Rashi’s commentary. Metatron tells Rabbi Ishmael:

When the Holy One, blessed be He, sits on the throne of judgment, Justice stands at His right hand, Mercy at His left, and Truth stands directly facing Him.22

At the heavenly court, angels of peace, mercy and destruction stand near the Holy One  who is seated on the throne of judgment; seraphim and ophanim surround the throne, which is born up by holy creatures and, beneath the holy creatures, flow seven rivers of fire. Metatron describes to Rabbi Ishmael of the myriads of angels. some of whom say ‘Holy’ and some say ‘Blessed.’

When the time comes to say ‘Holy,’ a storm wind first goes out from the presence of the Holy One, blessed be He, and falls on the camps of the Shekhinah, and a great storm arises among the, as it is written, ‘Now a storm of the Lord breaks, a tempest whirls.’23 Thereupon, a thousand thousand of them become sparks, a thousand thousand firebrands, athousand thousand glowing coals, a thousand thousand flames, a thousand thousand males, a thousand thousand females, a thousand thousand winds, a thousand thousand blazing fires, a thousand thousand flames, athousand thousand sparks, a thousand thousand hashmalim24 of light, until they accept the yoke of the kingdom of the High and Exalted One who created them all, in dread, in fear, in awe, with shuddering, quaking, anguish, terror and trembling. Then they return to their original state. Thus the fear of their King is kept before them every hour, so that they should set their hearts to recite the song every hour, as it is written, ‘One called to another and said.’25

The author of 3 Enoch depicts the angels singing the Kedushah, as recited in the Amidah, based on the verse in Isaiah 6:

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”26

When the ministering angels recite the Kedushah, the cherubim, ophanim, seraphim, holy creatures and sparks of light respond: Baruch Shem cavod malchuto le olam va ed. Metatron shows Rabbi Ishmael the letters by which the world was created, the waters above the firmament, thunder, lightning, snow, hailstones; he then shows him the souls of those who have been created and returned as well as the righteous souls who have not yet been created. This predetermined view of the righteousness of the soul can be found also in Midrash and Talmud:

With the supreme King of Kings, the Holy One blessed be He, sat the souls of the righteous with whom He took counsel before creating the world.27 Thou hast created Paradise and thou hast created Gehinnom: thou hast created righteous men and thou hast created wicked men, and who can prevent thee?28

Metatron shows R Ishmael the souls of the wicked and the ‘intermediate’ (benoniyyim) in Sheol, where the intermediate souls are purified. He shows him the souls of the Patriarchs, interceding for humanity and all the generations, from Adam all the way through to the Messiah son of Joseph and the Messiah son of David, the battles which Gog and Magog will fight with Israel, and the generations of the future, both Israelite and gentile, till the end of time.29  He also shows R Ishmael the spirits (ruchan) of the stars which also glorify God, the proof text being: The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork.30 When God sees that there is no righteousness in the world, and no remaining righteous intercessors, He will remember His own attribute of mercy and deliver Israel for His own sake. Then the Messiah will appear and bring Israel up to Jerusalem.31

Moreover, the kingdom of Israel, gathered from the four quarters of the world, shall eat with the Messiah, and the gentiles shall eat with them, as it is written, The Lord bares His holy arm in the sight of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of God (Isaiah 52:10); and it also says, The Lord alone is his guide, with Him is no alien god (Deuteronomy 32:12); and it says The Lord will be King over all the world (Zechariah 14:9).32

Peter Schäfer finds that the majority of midrashim concerning Metatron are Babylonian, or in later Palestinian works such as Targum Pseudo-Jonathan and Numbers Rabbah, both containing material later than the seventh century. An Introduction to Talmud and Midrash by Strack and Stemberger33 is a definitive work for offering the date and provenance of a very large number of midrashim, minor as well as major. The first edition, published in 1887, was the work ofHL Strack (1848-1922) , a Christian scholar of Judaism, and it is here revised and updated by Gunter Stemburger, born 1940. Stemberger cites Hugo Odeberg’s opinion that 3 Enoch or Sefer Hekhalot dates to the late third century, mentions Josef Milik’s much later estimate of thirteenth century and the rebuttal of Milik by Philip Alexander, who thinks fifth or sixth century CE most likely. Stemberger includes it in the genre of aggadic works known as Merkavah or Hekhalot texts, which appear to have diverse authors and redactors, and many textual additions, so that it is hardly possible to date them precisely, but contemporary scholars tend to consider them roughly contemporary with the Talmudic period.

Gillian Lazarus June 2012<a href=”

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