Andrei A. Orlov

 Metatron as the Deity: Lesser YHWH

[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 investigation has demonstrated that in the Mesopotamian and Enochic traditions, the seventh antediluvian hero often appears in the role of the diviner whose functions are to discern the will of the Deity and make it known to humans. In Sefer Hekhalot, however, when Enoch is elevated above the angelic world and brought into the immediate presence of the Deity, the traditional divinatory techniques have become unnecessary since the hero himself is now situated not outside but inside the divine realm and becomes a kind of a second, junior deity, the lesser manifestation of God’s name.

As noted in the previous discussion, the significance of Metatron’s figure among the angelic hosts can be briefly and accurately summed up in his title N+qh hwhy, the Lesser YHWH,[1] which occurs with abbreviations several times in 3 Enoch, including passages found in Synopse §15, §73, and §76. In Synopse §15, Metatron reports to R. Ishmael that the Deity proclaimed him the junior manifestation of his name in front of all the angelic hosts: “the Holy One, blessed be he, fashioned for me a majestic robe…and he called me, ‘The Lesser YHWH’ (N+qh ywy) in the presence of his whole household in the height, as it is written, ‘My name is in him.’”[2] 

As with Metatron’s other offices, this designation as the lesser Tetragrammaton is closely connected with the angel’s duties and roles in the immediate presence of the Lord. Scholars have thus previously noted that the name the Lesser YHWH, attested in 3 Enoch (Synopse §15, §73, and §76) is used “as indicative of Metatron’s character of representative, vicarius, of the Godhead; it expresses a sublimation of his vice-regency[3] into a second manifestation[4] of the Deity in the name[5] YHWH.”[6]

In his remarks on Metatron’s activities as God’s vice-regent, Christopher Morray-Jones points to the composite nature of this office, which is ultimately interconnected with his other roles and functions:

As the Angel of the LORD, Metatron functions as the celestial vice-regent who ministers before the Throne, supervises the celestial liturgy and officiates over the heavenly hosts. He sits on the throne which is a replica of the Throne of Glory and wears a glorious robe like that of God. He functions as the agent of God in the creation, acts as intermediary between heavenly and lower worlds, is the guide of the ascending visionary, and reveals the celestial secrets to mankind. He is, by delegating divine authority, the ruler and the judge of the world. He is thus a Logos figure and an embodiment of the divine Glory. In his shi(ur qomah, we are told that Metatron’s body, like the kabod, fills the entire world, though the writer is careful to maintain a distinction between Metatron and the Glory of God Himself.[7]

Hugo Odeberg points to the specific attributes that accompany Metatron’s elevation into a lesser manifestation of the divine Name. Among them Odeberg lists the enthronement of Metatron, the conferment upon him of (a part of) the divine Glory, “honor, majesty and splendor,” represented by “a garment of glory, robe of honor,” and especially “a crown of kingship on which the mystical letters, representing cosmic and celestial agencies are engraved.”[8] The sharing of the attributes with the Godhead is significant and might convey the omniscience of its bearer. Peter Schäfer observes that in Sefer Hekhalot, Enoch-Metatron who stands at the head of all the angels as “lesser YHWH” is the representation of God. Endowed with the same attributes as God, Metatron, just like the Deity, is omniscient.[9] Another important attribute that the Deity and the lesser manifestation of His name share is the attribute of the celestial seat, an important symbol of authority. The Aramaic incantation bowl labels Metatron as hysrwkd )br )rsy) – the Great Prince of God’s Throne.[10] He is the one who is allowed to sit in heaven, a privilege denied to angels.

Several comments must be made about the background of the throne imagery in the Enochic lore. The enthronement of Metatron might recall the Mesopotamian traditions which attest to the enthronement of the seventh antediluvian hero in the assembly of the gods. Enmeduranki’s enthronement, however, is not permanent; he must return to his earthly duties. The early Enochic traditions reflected in 1 Enoch, Jubilees, and the Book of Giants do not directly attest to the fact that the patriarch has a seat in heaven. The imagery found in the Book of the Similitudes, where Enoch appears to be identified with the preexistent son of man enthroned in heaven, is ambiguous and puzzling. An early possible testimony to Enoch’s enthronement near the Deity might be found, however, in the longer recension of 2 Enoch 24:1–2. There Enoch is depicted as the one who has a seat left of the Lord, “closer than Gabriel,” that is, in the location next to God.[11]  This honorable placement of the hero coincides in the Slavonic text with his initiation into the divine secrets which the Lord did not explain even to angels, a motif that stresses the intimate proximity between the Deity and Enoch:

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. And the Lord spoke to me: “Enoch [Beloved], whatever you see and whatever things are standing still or moving about were brought to perfection by me. And I myself will explain it to you.” [12]

This Enochic testimony might constitute part of the background for Metatron’s future profile as the vice-regent of the Deity. Early Enochic traditions, however, never refer to the seventh antediluvian hero as the bearer of the divine name. The possible antecedents of this imagery apparently can be traced to different source(s), among which the lore about the angel Yahoel is often mentioned.[13]

Scholem argued that “Jewish speculation about Metatron as the highest angel who bears, in a way, the name of God, and who is called N+qh hwhy or N+qh ynd) (the Lesser YHWH), was preceded by an earlier stage in which this Angel on High was not called Metatron, but Yahoel; a fact which explains the talmudic references to Metatron much more convincingly than any of the older attempts.”[14] He further observed that the statement found in b. Sanh. 38b,[15] according to which Metatron has a name “like the name of his Master” (wbr M#k wm## Nwr++m) is incomprehensible except when it is understood to refer to the name Yahoel.[16]

In considering the possible date of the appropriation of the Yahoel imagery into the Metatron tradition, Scholem observes that

there can be no doubt, for instance, that the concept of Jahoel as we find it in Chapter 10 of the Apocalypse of Abraham was an esoteric one and belonged to the mystical teachings on angelology and the Merkabah. The borrowings from esoteric Judaism about Jahoel must have been made, therefore, before the metamorphosis into Metatron took place. This bring us back again into the late first or early second century and makes a case for connecting the Hekhaloth strata of the late second or early third century with this even earlier stage of Jewish Gnosticism, one which was striving equally hard to maintain a strictly monotheistic character.[17]

Scholem’s suggestion that the concept of Metatron as the Lesser YHWH originated not in Enoch literature but in the Yahoel lore[18] or some other traditions[19] seems plausible.[20] As we will see later, this hypothesis can be supported by turning to the 2 Enoch materials, where one can find references to such Enoch-Metatron’s titles as the Youth, the Prince of the Presence, and the Prince of the World, but not to his role as the Lesser YHWH. The Slavonic apocalypse in this respect is consistent with the early Enochic lore, which does not identify the patriarch with the divine name.[21]

Scholem’s insistence on the formative value of the Yahoel tradition for Metatron mysticism is methodologically significant, since it again demonstrates that the search for the origins of all Metatron’s titles should not be limited to the Enochic tradition or any other single source. There are undoubtedly multiple streams of traditions which have contributed to the development of the Metatron imagery. Later on I will demonstrate that the majority of the new Metatron titles might have developed as a result of interaction with developments which were external to the Enochic tradition, being borrowed from Adamic, Mosaic, and other mediatorial traditions.

The case of the Yahoel lore appears to be important also for understanding the various streams in the Metatron tradition which do not postulate the human origin of this exalted angel but instead view him as a preexistent being. Scholem proposed that in the Metatron lore one can find two possible perspectives on the origins of this angel. The first one considers him a celestial counterpart of the seventh antediluvian patriarch translated to heaven before the Flood and transfigured into an immortal angelic being. Scholem argued that there was also another prominent trend in which Metatron was not connected with Enoch or any other human prototype but was understood as an angel brought into existence in the beginning of, or even before, the creation of the world. This primordial Metatron was referred to as Metatron Rabbah.[22]  He believed that Yahoel or Michael[23] traditions played a formative role in this second “primordial Metatron” development.[24] Scholem argued that the two streams of the Metatron lore in the beginning existed independently and were apparently associated with the different bodies of the rabbinic literature: the preexistent Metatron trend with the Talmud[25] and the Enoch-Metatron trend with the targumic and the aggadic literature. In his opinion, only later did these two initially independent trajectories become intertwined. Scholem remarked that the absence of the Enoch-Metatron trend “in the Talmud or the most important midrashim is evidently connected with the reluctance of the talmudists to regard Enoch in a favorable light in general, and in particular the story of his ascent to heaven, a reluctance still given prominence in the Midrash Genesis Rabbah.”[26] He proposed that this situation does not indicate that the Metatron-Enoch trend was later than the primeval Metatron trend since the Palestinian Targum (Gen 5:24) and midrashim have retained allusions to the concept of the human Metatron.

Scholem notes that the variation in the Hebrew form of the name Metatron might point to the existence of the two aforementioned streams. He observes that in the Shi(ur Qomah materials the name Metatron has two forms, “written with six letters and with seven letters,” that is Nwr++m and Nwr++ym.[27] He points out that, although the original reason for this distinction is unknown, the kabbalists regarded the different forms of the same name as signifying two prototypes for Metatron. These kabbalistic circles usually identified the seven-lettered name with the primordial Metatron and the six-lettered name with Enoch, who later ascended to heaven and possessed only some of the splendor and power of the primordial Metatron.[28]  

In light of Scholem’s hypothesis, it is possible that the conceptual and literary distance between the two aforementioned understandings of Metatron, which apparently had very early, possibly even premishnaic, roots, might have prevented Yahoel’s imagery from being adapted into the framework of the Enochic tradition as happened with some other roles and titles of Metatron in 2 Enoch. Although some details of the Apocalypse of Abraham indicate that the authors of that pseudepigraphon were familiar with Enochic traditions, Yahoel’s imagery is not linked in that text to the seventh antediluvian patriarch, but instead to Abraham…..



[1] The title can be found in several sources. Ya(qub al-Qirqisani mentions it in connection with the Talmud: “This is Metatron, who is the lesser YHWH.”

[2] Alexander, “3 Enoch,” 265. The tradition found in Synopse §15 recalls the one found in b. Sanh. 38b.

[3] Alan Segal remarks that “in the Hebrew Book of Enoch, Metatron is set on a throne alongside God and appointed above angels and powers to function as God’s vizir and plenipotentiary.” Segal, Two Powers in Heaven, 63. In a similar vein, Philip Alexander observes that “the Merkabah texts represent God and his angels under the image of an emperor and his court. God has his heavenly palace, his throne, and, in Metatron, his grand vizier.” Alexander, “3 Enoch,” 241.

[4] Nathaniel Deutsch has noted that “along with his roles as heavenly high priest and angelified human being, Metatron was sometimes portrayed as a kind of second – albeit junior – deity.” Deutsch, Guardians of the Gate, 35.

[5] Jarl Fossum suggests that the references to the seventy names of Metatron might indirectly point to this exalted angel as the bearer of the “ultimate” Name of God, since these seventy names might just reflect God’s main Name. In this respect, Fossum points to Synopse §4 (3 Enoch 3:2), where Metatron tells R. Ishmael that his seventy names “are based on the name of the King of kings of kings,” and to Synopse §78 (3 Enoch 48D:5) which informs that “these seventy names are a reflection of the Explicit Name upon the Merkabah which is engraved upon the Throne of Glory.” Fossum argues that these seventy names originally belonged to God himself and only later were transferred to Metatron. Fossum, The Angel of the Lord, 298.

[6] Odeberg, 3 Enoch, 1.82.

[7] Morray-Jones, “Transformational Mysticism in the Apocalyptic-Merkabah Tradition,” 8.

[8] Odeberg, 3 Enoch, 1.82.

[9] Schäfer, The Hidden and Manifest God, 141.

[10] Gordon, “Aramaic Magical Bowls in the Istanbul and Baghdad Museums,” 328.

[11] The assigning of the left side to the vice-regent instead of the right one might appear puzzling. Martin Hengel, however, observes that this situation can be explained as the “correction” of the Christian scribe(s) who reserved the right side for Christ. M. Hengel, Studies in Early Christology (Edinburg: T&T Clark, 1995) 193. Hengel points to a similar situation in the Ascension of Isaiah where the angel of the holy spirit is placed at the left hand of God.

[12] Andersen, “2 Enoch,” 142.

[13] Another possible source can be the Mosaic tradition. On the early sources about Moses as a bearer of the divine name see: Fossum, The Name of God and the Angel of the Lord, 90–94; W. A. Meeks, “Moses as God and King,” in: Religions in Antiquity: Essays in Memory of Erwin Ramsdell Goodenough (ed. J. Neusner; Leiden: Brill, 1968) 354–371; idem, The Prophet-King: Moses Traditions and the Johannine Christology (SNT 14; Leiden: Brill, 1967).

[14] Scholem, Jewish Gnosticism, 41.

[15] “R. Nah9man said: He who is as skilled in refuting the Minim as is R. Idith, let him do so; but not otherwise. Once a Min said to R. Idith: It is written, and unto Moses He said, Come up to the Lord. But surely it should have stated, Come up unto me! – It was Metatron [who said that], he replied, whose name is similar to that of his Master, for it is written, For my name is in him. But if so we should worship him! The same passage, however, – replied R. Idith – says: Be not rebellious against him, i.e. exchange Me not for him. But if so, why is it stated: He will not pardon your transgression? He answered: By our troth we would not accept him even as a messenger, for it is written, And he said unto Him, If Thy [personal] presence go not etc.” Epstein, Soncino Hebrew-English Talmud. Sanhedrin, 38b.

[16] Scholem, Jewish Gnosticim, 41.

[17] Scholem, Jewish Gnosticism, 41–42.

[18] In his book the Guardians of the Gate, Nathaniel Deutsch summarizes the parallels between Yahoel and Metatron. He notes that “Yahoel’s relationships with Abraham in the Apocalypse of Abraham is analogous to Metatron’s relationships with R. Ishmael in the Hekhalot tract 3 Enoch. Both figures serve as heavenly guides, protectors, and agents of revelation. Like Metatron, Yahoel is linked with the high priesthood, in this case, via the turban (cf. Exod 28:4) which Yahoel wears. Finally, as emphasized by Scholem, both Metatron and Yahoel were known by the epithet ‘The Lesser YHWH,’ a name which also found its way into Gnostic and Mandean literature.… In 3 Enoch 48D:1 Metatron is actually called by the names Yahoel Yah and Yahoel….” Deutsch concludes that “from the available evidence, it appears that Yahoel and Metatron developed separately but, at some point, Metatron absorbed the originally independent angel Yahoel.” Deutsch, Guardians of the Gate, 36–7.

[19] Gershom Scholem and other scholars point to the imagery of “the Great Jao” and “The Little Jao” found in third-century Christian Gnostic text Pistis Sophia, and in the Gnostic Book of Jêu. See Alexander, “The Historical Settings of the Hebrew Book of Enoch,” 162.

[20] Philip Alexander and Christopher Rowland agree with Scholem’s position. Rowland observes that “in Jewish apocalyptic literature there was the development of beliefs about an exalted angelic figure who shared the attributes and characteristics of God himself, e.g. the Apocalypse of Abraham 10 and 17f. In this apocalypse the angel Jaoel, like the angel Metatron is said to have the name of God dwelling in him (b. Sanh. 37b and Heb. Enoch 12) and is described with terminology more usually reserved for God himself.” Rowland, The Open Heaven, 338. See also Alexander, “The Historical Settings of the Hebrew Book of Enoch,” 161.

[21] Jarl Fossum observes that “Enoch is not said to have received the Name of God when having been installed in heaven as the son of Man, but this notion appears in 3 Enoch, where it is related that Enoch was enthroned as Metatron, another name of God’s principal angel, ‘whose name is like the Name of his Master.’” Fossum, The Angel of the Lord, 297.

[22] Scholem, “Metatron,” EJ, 11.1444.

[23] In Sefer Zerubabel, Michael is identified with Metatron. On this source, see Himmelfarb, “Sefer Zerubbabel,” 73; I. Lévi, “L’apocalypse de Zorobabel et le roi de Perse Siroès,” REJ 68 (1914) 133. In Ma(aseh Merkavah, MS NY 8128 (Synopse §576), Michael is mentioned in the Sar Torah passage where his function, similar to that in 2 Enoch 33:10, is the protection of a visionary during the transmission of esoteric knowledge. “I shall collect and arrange to these orders of Michael, great prince of Israel, that you safeguard me for the study of Torah in my heart.” Schwartz, Scholastic Magic, 111–12.

[24] Scholem recognized that  “…we have necessarily, then, to differentiate between two basic aspects of Metatron lore, which in our Hekhaloth literature, as far as it deals specifically with Metatron, have already been combined and to a certain extent confused. One aspect identifies Metatron with Jahoel or Michael and knows nothing of his transfiguration from a human being into an angel. The talmudic passages concerned with Metatron are of this type. The other aspect identifies Metatron with the figure of Enoch as he is depicted in apocalyptic literature, and permeated that aggadic and targumic literature which, although not necessarily of a later date than Talmud, was outside of it. When the Book of Hekhaloth, or 3 Enoch, was composed, the two aspects had already become intertwined....” Scholem, Jewish Gnosticism, 51.  

[25] The Babylonian Talmud refers to Metatron in three places: b. H9ag. 15a; b. Sanh. 38b and b. Avod. Zar. 3b. Metatron is also mentioned several times in Tosepoth.

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

[27] Scholem points out that in the early manuscripts the name is almost always written with the letter yod.

[28] Scholem, “Metatron” EJ, 11.1445.