Andrei A. Orlov

 Metatron as Sar Torah

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





……It has already been observed that Sefer Hekhalot describes Enoch-Metatron as the expert in divine wisdom. In Synopse §11, Metatron conveys to R. Ishmael that God bestowed upon him “wisdom heaped upon wisdom, understanding upon understanding, prudence upon prudence, knowledge upon knowledge, mercy upon mercy, Torah upon Torah.…”[1] The angel underscores the exclusivity of his initiation, stressing the fact that he was honored and adorned with all these qualities “more than all the denizens of the heights.”[2] In Synopse §13, God himself steps forward to confirm Metatron’s superiority in wisdom when he commands the angelic hosts to obey Metatron’s commands on the grounds that this exalted angel was instructed in “the wisdom of those above and of those below, the wisdom of this world and of the world to come.”[3]

These lofty qualifications, which include references to human and divine wisdom, recall Enoch’s role as the sage and one of his titles, “wisest of all men,” explored earlier in this study.[4] As in these early Enochic designations, the Merkabah text appears to depict Enoch-Metatron not simply as an ordinary wise man, that is, one among others, but as the sage par excellence. Such a role is intimated in the account found in Synopse §80 (3 Enoch 48D:10), where Metatron stands out as the first character in the noble line of transmission of special knowledge, the one on whom the future generations of the sages are ultimately dependent:

Metatron brought it [Torah] out from my storehouses and committed it to Moses, and Moses to Joshua, Joshua to the Elders, the Elders to the Prophets, the Prophets to the Men of the Great Synagogue, the Men of the Great Synagogue to Ezra the Scribe, Ezra the Scribe to Hillel the Elder, Hillel the Elder to R. Abbahu, R. Abbahu to R. Zira, R. Zira to the Men of Faith, and the Men of Faith to the Faithful….[5]

Scholars have previously noted[6] that this succession of the mystical tradition recalls the chain of transmission of the oral law preserved in the Sayings of the Fathers.[7] Although the early traditions about Enoch’s wisdom as the sign for all generations are discernible in Metatron’s primal position, the Merkabah tradition obviously cannot be satisfied with the depiction of its hero simply as the universal sage.

Despite the temptation to see in Metatron’s activities solely the reference to his role of sage[8] par excellence, known from the previous Enochic or Mesopotamian traditions,[9] the allusion to the chain of transmission of the oral Torah hints that one may be dealing here with another particular function of this primary angel, his role in disseminating a very special wisdom, the wisdom of the Torah.[10] Scholars have previously noted that the passages from Synopse §75[11] and Synopse  §7880[12] appear to depict Enoch-Metatron in his role as the Prince of Torah, hrwth r#.[13] These passages specifically assign to the hero the title and the duties associated with this role. The narratives also indicate that the author of Sefer Hekhalot is cognizant of two main functions of the Prince of Torah, attested also in other rabbinic and Hekhalot materials: the function of the revealer of Torah to visionaries, including Moses, and the function of the celestial teacher of the Law to deceased children.[14]  In various Hekhalot writings, the Prince of Torah, who is often not identified with Metatron, acts as the helper to visionaries by assisting them in understanding the Torah and prevents the chosen ones from forgetting this crucial knowledge.[15]  One of these Sar Torah traditions deals with the story of Rabbi Ishmael who experienced many problems in mastering the Torah in his youth. The knowledge of the Torah did not stay in him, and a passage that he read and memorized one day was completely forgotten the next day. According to the story this pitiful situation was finally resolved when his teacher Rabbi Neh9uniah revealed to R. Ishmael the Prince of the Torah. This archetypal Sar Torah narrative is repeated in varying forms in several Hekhalot writings, including Merkavah Rabbah and Ma(aseh Merkavah.[16] 

Synopse §75[17] refers to another duty of the Sar Torah’s office when it depicts Enoch-Metatron as the one who instructs deceased children in the wisdom of the written and oral Torah. This duty of Metatron is also not forgotten in the rabbinic lore including passages from b. Avod. Zar. 3b, Num. R. 12:15, and other rabbinic writings.

It should be noted that, as with Metatron’s other titles, such as the Youth and the Prince of the Divine Face, the office of the Prince of Torah does not belong exclusively to Metatron, but is often shared with other angelic beings. The Targum Pseudo-Jonathan to Deuteronomy 34:6 gives a list of the Princes of Wisdom (a.k.a. Princes of Torah) which includes, besides Metatron, also Yofiel, Uri’el, and Yepipyah. The Hekhalot materials too do not hesitate to designate Yofiel, Suriel, and other angels as the Princes of Torah.[18] Some scholars suggest that “Yofiel” might represent here one of Metatron’s names; it has already been mentioned, however, that the tradition of Metatron’s various names is not always useful in explaining the attributions of Metatron’s titles to other angelic characters.[19]  As with other titles of Metatron, there is a possibility that some Sar Torah traditions originated and existed independently of the Metatron tradition…..[20]



[1] 3 Enoch 8:2. Alexander, “3 Enoch,” 263.

[2] Alexander, “3 Enoch,” 263.

[3] 3 Enoch 10:5. Alexander, “3 Enoch,” 264.

[4] Alexander observes that “the pseudepigraphic Enoch has many similarities to the Enoch-Metatron of 3 Enoch: he is a wise man and a revealer of heavenly wisdom.” Alexander, “The Historical Settings of the Hebrew Book of Enoch,” 159.

[5] Alexander, “3 Enoch,” 315; Synopse §80. The reference to the chain of tradition is repeated several times in the Hekhalot literature. For detailed analysis of this evidence see Swartz, Scholastic Magic, 178ff.

[6] Alexander, “3 Enoch,” 315, note v.

[7] m. Avot 1:1: “Moses received the Law from Sinai and committed it to Joshua, and Joshua to the elders, and the elders to the Prophets; and the Prophets committed it to the men of the Great Synagogue.” H. Danby, The Mishnah (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992) 446.

[8] Steven Fraade’s research provides a useful introduction to the imagery of the rabbinic sage using examples from m. Avot 1:1. S. D. Fraade, “The Early Rabbinic Sage,” in: The Sage in Israel and the Ancient Near East (eds. J. G. Gammie and L. G. Perdue; Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1990) 417–436.

[9] In the Enmeduranki and Enochic traditions, the seventh antediluvian hero is depicted as a primeval sage who starts the line of esoteric transmission continued by the generations of the earthly sages.

[10] On the Prince of Torah traditions in the Hekhalot literature, see Swartz, Scholastic Magic, 53–135.

[11] 3 Enoch 48C:12.

[12] 3 Enoch 48D:6–10.

[13] Alexander, “From Son of Adam to a Second God,” 105, footnote 24.

[14] In the Hekhalot tradition the role of Metatron as Sar Torah looms large. In these materials he is sometimes addressed with specific adjurations as Sar Torah. On Metatron’s adjurations in the Merkabah writings, see: R. M. Lesses, Ritual Practices to Gain Power, 63ff.

[15] Accordingly, in Synopse §77 Yepipyah is named the Prince of Torah.

[16] Swartz, Scholastic Magic, 62ff.

[17] 3 Enoch 48C:12.

[18] Synopse §313; “I said to him: The Prince of the Torah (hrwt l# hr#), what is his name? And he said to me: Yofiel is his name.” See also Synopse §560: “The name of the Prince of the Torah (D436: hrwth r#) (M22: hrwt l# r#) is Yofiel.” Schäfer et al., Synopse, 139, 213.

[19] Swartz, Scholastic Magic, 182.

[20] Michael Swartz’s research underscores the importance of Metatron’s figure in the search for the early date and provenance of the Sar Torah traditions. He observes that “the earliest explicit indications of the Sar-Torah phenomenon, then, date from the tenth century. However, there are other elements of the phenomenon that have earlier origins. The archangel figure of Metatron appears in the Talmud and in the seventh–century Babylonian incantation bowls, although not as the Sar-Torah.” Swartz, Scholastic Magic, 213.