Andrei A. Orlov

 Metatron as the Mediator

[an excerpt from A. Orlov, The Enoch-Metatron Tradition (TSAJ, 107; Tuebingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 2005), pp. xii+383. ISBN 3-16-148544-0.]


…. The previous analysis of Enochic and Mesopotamian traditions referred on several occasions to the multifaceted nature of the mediatorial functions of the seventh antediluvian hero. It has been demonstrated that Enoch can be seen as a figure able to successfully mediate knowledge and judgment, acting not only as an intercessor and petitioner for the creatures of the lower realm, but also as a special envoy of the Deity responsible for bringing woes and condemnations to the sinful creatures of the earth. In Metatron’s mediatorial activities, one can detect the recognizable features of this complex conceptual pattern.

Mediation of Knowledge

Odeberg’s study stresses one of the significant facets of Metatron’s mediating duties when it observes that in 3 Enoch this angel can be seen “as the intermediary through whom the secret doctrine was brought down to man.”[1] This role vividly recalls one of the offices of the seventh antediluvian hero attested in early Enochic and Enmeduranki traditions. As with the Enochic texts in which one of the mediatorial functions of the seventh antediluvian patriarch was his mediation of knowledge through conveying the celestial knowledge drawn from the heavenly tablets to his children and the people of the earth, Metatron also assumes the role of the messenger who brings the upper knowledge to the creatures of the lower realm. His role as the Sar Torah, the one who conveys the perfect knowledge of the Torah to chosen visionaries and helps them retain this knowledge, will be investigated in detail later in this study. This office of Metatron apparently remains at the center of his mediating activities pertaining to knowledge. In this role, Metatron functions not only as the one who assists in the acquisition of the celestial lore by helping Moses bring the knowledge of the Torah to the people, or assisting visionaries in their mastery of the secrets of the law, but also as a teacher, that is, the one who is obliged to instruct in scriptural matters the deceased children in the heavenly academy.

It is noteworthy that, in contrast to the early Enochic traditions where the seventh antediluvian patriarch is often depicted as the terrestrial teacher, that is, the one who was instructing his own children on the earth in various matters including halakhic questions; Metatron’s teaching expertise is now extended to the celestial classroom.[2] 

b. Avod. Zar. 3b depicts Metatron as a teacher of the souls of those who died in their childhood:[3]

What then does God do in the fourth quarter? – He sits and instructs the school children, as it is said, Whom shall one teach knowledge, and whom shall one make to understand the message? Them that are weaned from the milk. Who instructed them theretofore? – If you like, you may say Metatron, or it may be said that God did this as well as other things. And what does He do by night? – If you like you may say, the kind of thing He does by day; or it may be said that He rides a light cherub, and floats in eighteen thousand worlds; for it is said, The chariots of God are myriads, even thousands shinan.[4]

Synopse §75 (3 Enoch 48C:12) attests to a similar tradition:

Metatron sits (Nwr++m b#wy) for three hours every day in the heaven above, and assembles all the souls of the dead that have died in their mother’s wombs, and of the babes that have died at their mothers’ breasts, and of the schoolchildren beneath the throne of glory, and sits them down around him in classes, in companies, and in groups, and teaches them Torah, and wisdom, and haggadah, and tradition, and he completes for them their study of the scroll of the Law, as it is written, “To whom shall one teach knowledge, whom shall one instruct in the tradition? Them that are weaned from the milk, them that are taken from the breasts.”[5]

As in the previously analyzed passages from b. H9ag. 15a and Synopse §20 (3 Enoch 16), the narratives from b. Avod. Zar. and the additional chapter of Sefer Hekhalot are obviously interconnected. H. Odeberg notes that in both passages Isa 28:9 is used for scriptural support.[6] It is also significant that both passages again refer to Metatron as the one who has a seat in heaven, the feature which played a crucial role in both the explicit and implicit portrayals of his scribal duties in b. H9ag. 15a, Merkavah Rabbah (Synopse §672), and 3 Enoch 16 (Synopse §20). This feature may indicate that some talmudic evidence about Metatron might stem from the common tradition in which this angel was depicted as having a seat in heaven. This tradition could have roots in the early Enochic lore reflected in 2 Enoch; there the patriarch was depicted as the one who has a seat in heaven.[7]  

It must be recognized that Metatron’s teaching of humans does not proceed as simple communication of information. Metatron, like the seventh antediluvian hero, teaches not just through his spoken or written word but also through the example of his extraordinary personal story. Crispin Fletcher-Louis notes that “the transformation of Enoch provides a paradigm[8] for the Yorde Merkabah: his angelization was the aspiration of all Hekhalot mystics.”[9] Philip Alexander states that for the Merkabah mystic Metatron was a powerful “friend at court, … the living proof that man could overcome angelic opposition and approach God.”[10]

Mediation of the Divine Judgment

In the previous investigation of the mediatorial duties of the seventh antediluvian hero, this study noticed that Enoch appears to be simultaneously fulfilling two roles pertaining to the judgment: first, the role of the intercessor or pleader, and second, the role of the announcer and witness of judgment. It was established that in his function as the intercessor Enoch was responsible for bringing petitions to the Deity from creatures of the lower realms. In contrast, in his office as the announcer and witness of the divine judgment the patriarch functions differently by assisting God in the announcement and execution of the judgment. These two dimensions of the same mission of the hero can also be detected in the Metatron tradition in which the patriarch’s duties pertaining to judgment appear to be further developed and expanded into Metatron’s roles of Redeemer and Judge.


During my investigation of the Enochic roles found in the Book of the Watchers and the Book of Giants, I noticed that in these early texts the patriarch was often depicted as an intercessor before the Deity for various creatures of the lower realms. It is intriguing that in the rabbinic and Hekhalot materials, the universal character of Enoch-Metatron’s intercessory function received a new “national” reinterpretation. Along with the customary emphasis on the omniscient character of Metatron, this new understanding also underlines his special role as the intercessor for Israel.  Gershom Scholem observes that Metatron often “appears as the heavenly advocate defending Israel in the celestial court.” [11]

Thus, as may be recalled, in b. Hag 15a and Merkavah Rabbah, Metatron is granted special permission to sit and write down the merits of Israel. In Lamentations Rabbah, intr. 24, Metatron pleads before the Holy One when the Deity decides to remove his Shekinah from the temple on account of Israel’s sins:

At that time the Holy One, blessed be He, wept and said, “Woe is Me! What have I done? I caused My Shechinah to dwell below on earth for the sake of Israel; but now that they have sinned, I have returned to My former habitation. Heaven forfend that I become a laughter to the nations and a byword to human beings!” At that time Metatron came, fell upon his face, and spake before the Holy One, blessed be He: “Sovereign of the Universe, let me weep, but do Thou not weep.” He replied to him, “If thou lettest Me not weep now, I will repair to a place which thou hast not permission to enter, and will weep there,” as it is said, But if ye will not hear it, My soul shall weep in secret for pride (Jer. 13:17).[12]

The depiction of Metatron’s prostration before God in this passage recalls the patriarch’s obeisance during his transition into the celestial rank in 1 and 2 Enoch. Here, however, the purpose of veneration is different since it is removed from its initiatory context and combined with the office of the intercessor or, more specifically, the pleader on behalf of Israel. Besides Metatron’s intercessory duties, Lamentations Rabbah also seems to point to his other, more exalted office, his role as the redeemer who is able to take the sinners’ transgressions upon himself.

Joshua Abelson observes that Metatron appears[13] in this passage not only as the pleader for the interests of Israel, but also as the one taking upon himself the sorrow for Israel’s sins.[14] Metatron’s role of the redeemer will be examined a bit later. Here one must note that in some Hekhalot materials Metatron appears to be responsible for intercession not only for Israel as a nation, but also for individual Israelites as well. Thus in Synopse §3 when the angelic hosts oppose the elevation of R. Ishmael, Metatron intercedes on behalf of this visionary, introducing him as one from the nation of Israel:

Metatron replied: “He is of the nation of Israel, whom the Holy One, blessed be he, chose from the seventy nations to be his people….” At once they [angelic hosts] began to say, “This one is certainly worthy to behold the chariot, as it is written, Happy is the nation of whom this is true….”[15]

It has already been mentioned that in 3 Enoch Metatron is depicted not only as the intercessor but also as the redeemer who is able to take upon himself the sins of others.[16] It is not coincidental that Metatron’s lore construes the redeeming functions of the angel in connection with Adam’s transgression, depicting him as the eschatological counterpart of the protoplast who is able to atone for the fall of the first human. In Sefer Hekhalot, Metatron appears to be a divine being first incarnated in Adam and then in Enoch; the latter re-ascended to the protoplast’s heavenly home and took his rightful place in the heights of the universe.[17] Synopse §72 reads: “The Holy One, blessed be he, said: I made him strong, I took him, I appointed him, namely Metatron my servant (ydb(), who is unique among all the denizens of the heights…. I made him strong in the generation of the first man…. I took him – Enoch the son of Jared.”[18] Philip Alexander observes that “Enoch thus becomes a redeemer figure – a second Adam through whom humanity is restored.”[19] This understanding of Metatron as the second Adam does not appear to be a late invention of the rabbinic and Hekhalot authors but can already be found in early Enochic materials, including 2 (Slavonic) Enoch. A detailed exploration of this conceptual development will be offered later in this study.

Bearing Testimony

It has been mentioned that early Jewish and Mesopotamian testimonies pertaining to the legal and scribal duties of the seventh antediluvian hero appear to find their logical counterpart in Metatron’s role as a seated scribe and judge. Here, as with the early Enochic materials, the Merkabah tradition again attests to the composite nature of Enoch-Metatron offices. One recalls that in early Enochic traditions the patriarch is often depicted as a legal scribe who writes petitions on behalf of his clients, the fallen angels and their progeny. In the Hekhalot tradition, his status appears to be much higher, since there he is depicted not just as a legal scribe or a petitioner to the judge, but as the one who is elevated to the position of the judge who now has a seat in heaven. The shadows of the previous scribal role are still discernible in this new elevation throughout the references to his enthronement.  Although Metatron presides over a celestial law court in Synopse §20,[20] the key to the connection of this new office to his older scribal duties can be found in the earlier tradition attested in b. H9ag. 15a, in which Metatron “was given permission to write down the merits of Israel.”

It is also significant that in early Enochic materials the patriarch not only intercedes for the creatures, but also brings to them testimonies and warnings about the upcoming judgment from God. Moreover, his remarkable removal from earth can be viewed as a powerful testimony against the sins of the generation of the Flood.[21] The patriarch’s mission as the witness of the divine judgment thus represents another significant dimension of Enoch’s mediating role in the economy of the divine judgment. This dimension does not appear to be forgotten in the later rabbinic and Hekhalot materials about Enoch-Metatron.

Alexander observes that “3 Enoch makes considerable play of the idea that Enoch was taken up as a witness.”[22] In Synopse §5 Metatron explains his removal from earth by saying to R. Ishmael that God took him in the midst of the generation of the Flood to be “a witness (d() against them in the heavenly heights.” [23] A similar tradition is discernible also in Synopse §72, where Enoch-Metatron’s removal in the midst of the antediluvian turmoil is explained through his role as the witness: “I ‘took him’ – Enoch the son of Jared, from their midst, and brought him up with the sound of the trumpet and with shouting to the height, to be my witness (d(l yl twyhl), together with the four creatures of the chariot, to the world to come.”[24]

One must not forget, however, that Metatron’s role as the witness is not peculiar to Sefer Hekhalot. Scholars previously noted[25] that in the Shi(ur Qomah materials, Metatron is portrayed as )twdhs)d hbr )r#, the great prince of testimony.[26] Although the passage from Sefer Haqomah does not provide any specific details about Metatron’s role in the economy of the divine judgment, Ithamar Gruenwald links this title with the important role that Enoch-Metatron played in bearing testimony against the generation of the Flood.[27]

It has already been noted that in his intercessory functions, Enoch-Metatron undergoes a definite evolution that results in his new role as the redeemer, a role which still is closely connected with the previous Enochic lore. A similar transition appears to be discernible in Enoch-Metatron’s office as the witness of the divine judgment.[28] In this latter office, the evolution is apparent from the role of the judicial scribe responsible for recording human merits (and sins?) to the office of the heavenly judge enthroned at the doors of the seventh hekhal. Synopse §20 attests to this transition to the office of the celestial judicator:[29]

At first I sat upon a great throne at the door of the seventh palace, and I judged all the denizens of the heights on the authority of the Holy One, blessed be he.... I sat in the heavenly court. The princes of kingdoms stood beside me, to my right and to my left, by authority of the Holy One, blessed be he.[30]

As has been previously noted, this passage represents a later revision of the tradition found in b. Hag 15a in which Metatron is depicted as the scribe and the recorder of the merits of Israel. In view of the tradition preserved in the Babylonian Talmud, Metatron’s transition from the position of the witness to the office of the judge does not appear to be coincidental. It can be seen as the smooth transition from the position of the legal scribe, a helper of the judge, the role in which Enoch appears in the Testament of Abraham, to the higher judicial position of the one who now presides in the court. Seen in this context, b. H9ag. 15a and Synopse §20 represent one of the rare cases when the evolution of the hero’s office(s) can be traced clearly and unambiguously in the succession of the texts. One can see that the transition to the new role affects first of all Metatron’s profile. The career advancement from legal scribe to judge in Synopse §20 allows for the elimination of any references to the scribal function of Enoch-Metatron; these references are not appropriate for the new elevated profile of the appointed judge whose function is not to write down the merits and sins of the creatures but to deliver judgment upon them.[31]

The passage from Synopse §20 also shows that the transition to the new role affects not only the description of the main hero but also the social context of his new position. Since Metatron was promoted from the position of a servant to one who now himself needs servants, Sefer Hekhalot depicts this new social environment represented by the princes of the kingdoms who are standing behind the newly appointed judge ready to execute his decisions. In light of these new conceptual changes, it is logical that such servants are absent in the earlier description of Metatron found in the H9agigah Babli.

Mediation of God’s Presence and Authority

Sefer Hekhalot often emphasizes the exclusivity of Metatron’s position; his close proximity to God’s Face appears to create a new mediatorial dimension for the exalted hero unknown in early Enochic materials. In the Hekhalot literature, Metatron not only assumes the usual functions pertaining to mediation in knowledge and judgment similar to those performed by the seventh antediluvian patriarch, but also takes a much higher role as the mediator of the divine Presence.[32] This office of Metatron as God’s secretary is reflected in 3 Enoch and in some other Hekhalot materials which depict him as a special attendant of the divine Face who mediates God’s presence to the rest of the angelic community.[33] In Synopse §13, God himself introduces Metatron as his secretary, saying that “any angel and any prince who has anything to say in my [God’s] presence (ynpl) should go before him [Metatron] and speak to him. Whatever he says to you in my name you must observe and do….”[34]

Furthemore, Metatron’s leading role in heaven as God’s secretary and vice-regent is not confined to his activities in the celestial realm, but also includes the governance of earthly matters. This function is executed through another prominent office briefly mentioned earlier, the role of the Prince of the World, the one responsible for conveying the divine decisions to the seventy (sometimes seventy two)[35] princes controlling the seventy nations of the earth.[36] Thus it seems no coincidence that Metatron is also known to creation through his seventy names: these again stress his role in the governing of the earthly realm divided by seventy tongues…..[37]




[1] Odeberg, 3 Enoch, 1.84.

[2] Grelot, “La légende d’Hénoch dans les apocryphes et dans la Bible: Origine et signification,” 13ff.

[3] A similar tradition also can be found in the Alphabet of R. Akiba. See Wertheimer, Batei Midrashot, 2.333–477.

[4] Epstein, Soncino Hebrew-English Talmud. Abodah Zarah, 3b.

[5] Alexander, “3 Enoch,” 313; Schäfer et al., Synopse, 36–37.

[6] Odeberg, 3 Enoch, 1.83.

[7] 2 Enoch 24:1(the longer recension): “And the Lord called me; and he said to me, ‘Enoch, sit to the left of me with Gabriel.’ And I did obeisance to the Lord.” Andersen, “2 Enoch,” 142.

[8] Peter Schäfer observes that “the only angel in 3 Enoch and several layers of the other macroforms who constitutes an exception and is so close to God as to be dressed in similar clothes and sit on a similar throne is Metatron, the ‘lesser YHWH.’ This Metatron, however, is precisely not an angel like the others but the man Enoch transformed into an angel. Enoch-Metatron, as the prototype of the yored merkavah, shows that man can come very close to God, so close as to be almost similar to him, so that Ah9er-Elisha ben Avuyah can mistake him for God.” Schäfer, The Hidden and Manifest God, 149.

[9] Fletcher-Louis, Luke-Acts, 156.

[10] Alexander, “3 Enoch,” 244.

[11] Scholem, “Metatron,” EJ, 11.1445.

[12] Midrash Rabbah, 7.41.

[13] It is intriguing that the address which Metatron uses in this text recalls 2 Enoch, where in chapter 33 the Lord introduces Himself to the patriarch as the Sovereign of all creations who himself created everything “from the highest foundation to the lowest, and to the end.” Andersen, “2 Enoch,” 156.

[14]  J. Abelson, Jewish Mysticism (London, G. Bell and Sons, 1913) 69.

[15] 3 Enoch 2. Alexander, “3 Enoch,” 257.

[16] Metatron’s role as the redeemer and the possible origin of this concept in early Enochic literature will be investigated in detail later in this study.

[17] It appears that this theological motif of Enoch-Metatron’s redeeming role is already developed in 2 Enoch 64. This tradition will be discussed later.

[18] 3 Enoch 48C:1. Alexander, “3 Enoch,” 311. Schäfer et al., Synopse, 36–37.

[19] Alexander, “From Son of Adam to a Second God: Transformation of the Biblical Enoch,” 111.

[20] 3 Enoch 16:7–11: “At the beginning I was sitting on the throne at the door of the seventh hall and I was judging the sons of heaven, the heavenly household, by the authority of the Holy One, blessed be He.” Alexander, “3 Enoch,” 268.

[21] Jub 4:23–24.

[22] Alexander, “From Son of Adam,” 106, footnote 28.

[23] Christopher Rowland observes that this role of Metatron reflects the earlier Enochic traditions attested in Jub 4:23, Testament of Abraham B 11, 1 Enoch 12, and Targum Pseudo-Jonathan on Gen 5:24. Rowland, Open Heaven, 337.

[24] 3 Enoch 48C:2. Alexander, “3 Enoch,” 311. Schäfer et al., Synopse, 36–37.

[25] Gruenwald, Apocalyptic and Merkavah Mysticism, 199; Cohen, Liturgy and Theurgy, 125.

[26] Sefer Haqomah 12–13 (Oxford MS. 1791) reads: “R. Aqiba said: I give testimony based on my testimony that Metatron said to me, [Metatron, who is] the great prince of testimony ()twdhs)d hbr )r#) .…” Cohen, Liturgy and Theurgy, 189; idem, The Shi(ur Qomah: Texts and Recensions, 127.

[27] Gruenwald, Apocalyptic and Merkavah Mysticism, 200.

[28] Hugo Odeberg points to the transitional character of Metatron’s role as the witness. He observes that “…the reason or object of Enoch’s translation was the function prescribed for him of being a witness – in the world to come – to the sinfulness of his generation and the justice of the Holy One in eventually destroying the men of that generation through the Deluge … but the characterization of the translated Enoch is not restricted to describing him as a celestial scribe-witness. The various honors and offices conferred upon him in chs. 7 seqs. set forth in successive stages, progressing towards a climax (in chs. 12 and 48C:7,8).” Odeberg, 3 Enoch, 1.80–81.

[29] In Synopse §73 (3 Enoch 48C:8) the story is repeated by God: “I have fixed his [Metatron] throne at the door of my palace, on the outside, so that he might sit and execute judgment over all my household in the height.” Alexander, “3 Enoch,” 312.

[30] 3 Enoch 16:1–5. Alexander, “3 Enoch,” 268.

[31] In light of this transition it is understandable that Sefer Hekhalot does not contain any direct references to the scribal function of Enoch-Metatron. Instead, in 3 Enoch 18:24, the scribal duties are assigned to two angels-princes.

[32] It should be noted that although Metatron is now depicted as the middle man between the Deity and the whole angelic community, his early mediating dealings with the fallen angels are not forgotten in the Metatron tradition. One such allusion can be found in the Midrash of Shemhazai and Azael, where Metatron warns the leader of the fallen Watchers about the upcoming destruction of the earth by the waters of the Deluge: “Forthwith Metatron sent a messenger to Shemhazai, and said to him; ‘The Holy One is about to destroy His world, and bring upon it a flood.’ Shemhazai stood up and raised his voice and wept aloud, for he was sorely troubled about his sons and (his own) iniquity. And he said: ‘How shall my children live and what shall become of my children, for each one of them eats daily a thousand camels, a thousand horses, a thousand oxen, and all kinds (of animals)?’” Milik, The Books of Enoch, 328.

[33] In this role Metatron is often directly named as the Face of God.

[34] 3 Enoch 10. Alexander, “3 Enoch,” 264. Schäfer et al., Synopse, 8–9.

[35] Jarl Fossum observes that “the notion that Enoch-Metatron has ‘Seventy Names’ is connected with the idea of ‘seventy tongues of the world.’ The meaning undoubtedly is that Enoch–Metatron in virtue of possesing the ‘Seventy Names’ is the ruler of the entire world. Elsewhere, 3 Enoch speaks of the ‘seventy-two princes of kingdoms on high’ who are angelic representatives of the kingdoms on earth (xvii. 8; ch. xxx). The numbers ‘seventy’ and ‘seventy-two’ are, of course, not to be taken literally; they signify the multitude of the nations of the world.” Fossum, The Angel of the Lord, 298.

[36] 3 Enoch 48C:8–9 reads: “I made every prince stand before him to receive authority from him and to do his will….” Alexander, “3 Enoch,” 312.

[37] Synopse §4 (3 Enoch 3:2).