Andrei A. Orlov


Moses as an Angel of the Presence

an excerpt from A. Orlov, Selected Studies in the Slavonic Pseudepigrapha (Studia in Veteris Testamenti Pseudepigrapha, 23; Leiden: Brill, 2009).


... With this excursus into the background of the traditions about the heavenly counterpart found in the Enoch and the Jacob materials in place, we will now proceed to some Mosaic accounts that also attest to the idea of the celestial double of the son of Amram. One such early Mosaic testimony has survived as a part of the drama Exagoge, a writing attributed to Ezekiel the Tragedian, which depicts the prophet’s experience at Sinai as his celestial enthronement. Preserved in fragmentary form in Eusebius of Caesarea’s[1] Praeparatio evangelica, the Exagoge 67–90 reads:

Moses: I had a vision of a great throne on the top of Mount Sinai and it reached till the folds of heaven. A noble man was sitting on it, with a crown and a large scepter in his left hand. He beckoned to me with his right hand, so I approached and stood before the throne. He gave me the scepter and instructed me to sit on the great throne. Then he gave me a royal crown and got up from the throne. I beheld the whole earth all around and saw beneath the earth and above the heavens. A multitude of stars fell before my knees and I counted them all. They paraded past me like a battalion of men. Then I awoke from my sleep in fear.

Raguel: My friend, this is a good sign from God. May I live to see the day when these things are fulfilled. You will establish a great throne, become a judge and leader of men. As for your vision of the whole earth, the world below and that above the heavens – this signifies that you will see what is, what has been and what shall be.[2]


            Scholars argue that, given its quotation by Alexander Polyhistor (ca. 80–40 B.C.E.), this Mosaic account is a witness to traditions of the second century B.C.E. [3] Such dating puts this account in close chronological proximity to the Book of Jubilees. It is also noteworthy that both texts (Jubilees and Exagoge) exhibit a common tendency to adapt some Enochic motifs and themes into the framework of the Mosaic tradition.

            The Exagoge 67-90 depicts Moses’ dream in which he sees an enthroned celestial figure who vacates his heavenly seat and hands over to the son of Amram his royal attributes. The placement of Moses on the great throne in the Exagoge account and his donning of the royal regalia have been often interpreted by scholars as the prophet’s occupation of the seat of the Deity. Pieter van der Horst remarks that in the Exagoge Moses becomes “an anthropomorphic hypostasis of God himself.”[4] The uniqueness of the motif of God’s vacating the throne and transferring occupancy to someone else has long puzzled scholars. An attempt to deal with this enigma by bringing in the imagery of the vice-regent does not, in my judgment, completely solve the problem; the vice-regents in Jewish traditions (for example, Metatron) do not normally occupy God’s throne but instead have their own glorious chair that sometimes serves as a replica of the divine Seat. It seems that the enigmatic identification of the prophet with the divine Form can best be explained, not through the concept of a vice-regent, but rather through the notion of the heavenly twin or counterpart.

            In view of the aforementioned traditions about the heavenly twins of Enoch and Jacob, it is possible that the Exagoge of Ezekiel the Tragedian also attests to the idea of the heavenly counterpart of the seer when it identifies Moses with the glorious anthropomorphic extent. As we recall, the text depicts Moses’ vision of “a noble man” with a crown and a large scepter in the left hand installed on the great throne. In the course of the seer’s initiation, the attributes of this “noble man,” including the royal crown and the scepter, are transferred to Moses who is instructed to sit on the throne formerly occupied by the noble man. The narrative thus clearly identifies the visionary with his heavenly counterpart, in the course of which the seer literally takes the place and the attributes of his upper identity.  Moses’ enthronement is reminiscent of Jacob’s story, where Jacob’s heavenly identity is depicted as being “engraved” or “enthroned” on the divine Seat. The account also underlines that Moses acquired his vision in a dream by reporting that he awoke from his sleep in fear. Here, just as in the Jacob tradition, while the seer is sleeping on earth his counterpart in the upper realm is identified with the Kavod.


The Idiom of Standing and the Angel of the Presence

            Despite the draw of seeing the developments found in the Exagoge as the later adaptation of the Enochic and Jacobite traditions about the heavenly double, it appears that the influence may point in other direction and these accounts were shaped by the imagery found already in the biblical Mosaic accounts. It is possible that the conceptual roots of the identification of Moses with the angelic servant of the presence could be found already in the biblical materials where the son of Amram appears standing before the divine presence. To clarify the Mosaic background of the traditions about the heavenly counterpart, we must now turn to the biblical Mosaic accounts dealing with the symbolism of the Divine presence or the Face.

            One of the early identification of the hero with the angel of the presence, important in the traditions about the heavenly double, can be found in 2 Enoch where in the course of his celestial metamorphosis the seventh antediluvian patriarch Enoch was called by God to stand before his Face forever. What is important in this portrayal of the installation of a human being into the prominent angelic rank is the emphasis on the standing before the Face of God. Enoch’s role as the angel of the presence is introduced through the formulae “stand before my face forever.” 2 Enoch’s definition of the office of the servant of the divine presence as standing before the Face of the Lord appears to be linked to the biblical Mosaic accounts in which Moses is described as the one who was standing before the Lord’s Face on Mount Sinai. It is significant that, as in the Slavonic apocalypse where the Lord himself orders the patriarch to stand before his presence,[5] the biblical Mosaic accounts contain a familiar command. In the theophanic account from Exodus 33, the Lord commands Moses to stand near him: “There is a place by me where you shall stand (tbcnw)[6] on the rock.”

In Deuteronomy this language of standing continues to play a prominent role. In Deuteronomy 5:31 God again orders Moses to stand with him: “But you, stand (dm()[7] here by me, and I will tell you all the commandments, the statutes and the ordinances, that you shall teach them.…” In Deuteronomy 5:4–5 the motif of standing, as in Exodus 33, is juxtaposed with the imagery of the divine Panim: “The Lord spoke with you face to face (Mynpb Mynp) at the mountain, out of the fire. At that time I was standing (dm()[8] between the Lord and you to declare to you the words of the Lord; for you were afraid because of the fire and did not go up the mountain.” Here Moses is depicted as standing before the Face of the Deity and mediating the divine presence to the people.

These developments of the motif of standing are intriguing and might constitute the conceptual background of the later identifications of Moses with the office of the angel of the presence.

The idiom of standing also plays a significant part in the Exagoge account that has Moses approach and stand (e)sta&qhn)[9] before the throne.[10]

In the extra-biblical Mosaic accounts one can also see a growing tendency to depict Moses’ standing position as the posture of a celestial being. Crispin Fletcher-Louis observes that in various Mosaic traditions the motif of Moses’ standing was often interpreted through the prism of God’s own standing, indicating the prophet’s participation in divine or angelic nature. He notes that in Samaritan and rabbinic literature a standing posture was generally indicative of the celestial being.[11] Jarl Fossum points to the tradition preserved in Memar Marqah 4:12 where Moses is described as “the (immutable) Standing One.”[12]

            In 4Q377 2 vii-xii, the standing posture of Moses appears to be creatively conflated with his status as a celestial being:

... And like a man sees li[gh]t, he has appeared to us in a burning fire, from above, from heaven, and on earth he stood (dm() on the mountain to teach us that there is no God apart from him, and no Rock like him......But Moses, the man of God, was with God in the cloud, and the cloud covered him, because [...] when he sanctified him, and he spoke as an angel through his mouth, for who was a messen[ger] like him, a man of the pious ones?[13]


Scholars have previously observed that Moses here “plays the role of an angel, having received revelation from the mouth of God.”[14]

In light of the aforementioned Mosaic developments it is possible that the idiom of standing so prominent in the depiction of the servants of the presence in the Enochic tradition of the heavenly double has Mosaic provenance. Already in Exodus and Deuteronomy the prophet is portrayed as the one who is able to stand before the Deity to mediate the divine presence to human beings.[15] The extra-biblical Mosaic accounts try to further secure the prophet’s place in the front of the Deity by depicting him as a celestial creature. The testimony found in the Exagoge, where Moses is described as standing before the Throne, seems to represent an important step toward the rudimentary definitions of the office of the angelic servant of the Face.


            The Idiom of the Hand and the Heavenly Counterpart

            One of the constant features of the aforementioned transformational accounts in which a seer becomes identified with his heavenly identity is the motif of the divine hand that embraces the visionary and invites him into a new celestial dimension of his existence. This motif is found both in Mosaic and Enochic traditions where the hand of God embraces and protects the seer during his encounter with the Lord in the upper realm.[16]

Thus, in 2 Enoch 39 the patriarch relates to his children that during his vision of the divine Kavod, the Lord helped him with his right hand. The hand here is described as having a gigantic size and filling heaven: “But you, my children, see the right hand of one who helps you, a human being created identical to yourself, but I have seen the right hand of the Lord, helping me and filling heaven.”[17] The theme of the hand of God assisting the seer during his vision of the Face here is not an entirely new development, since it recalls the Mosaic account from Exodus 33:22–23. Here the Deity promises the prophet to protect him with his hand during the encounter with the divine Panim: “and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.” There is also another early Mosaic account where the motif of the divine hand assisting the visionary is mentioned. The Exagoge of Ezekiel the Tragedian relates that during the prophet’s vision of the Kavod, a noble man sitting on the throne beckoned him with his right hand (decia~| de& moi e1neuse).[18]

It is conceivable that 2 Enoch’s description is closer to the form of the tradition preserved in Ezekiel the Tragedian than to the account found in Exodus since the Exagoge mentions the right hand of the Deity beckoning the seer. What is important here is that both Mosaic accounts seem to represent the formative conceptual roots for the later Enochic developments where the motif of the Lord’s hand is used in the depiction of the unification of the seventh antedeluvial hero with his celestial counterpart in the form of angel Metatron. Thus, from the Merkabah materials one can learn that “the hand of God rests on the head of the youth, named Metatron.”[19] The motif of the divine hand assisting Enoch-Metatron during his celestial transformation is present in Sefer Hekhalot, where it appears in the form of a tradition very similar to the evidence found in the Exagoge and 2 Enoch. In Synopse §12 Metatron tells R. Ishmael that during the transformation of his body into the gigantic cosmic extent, matching the world in length and breath, God “laid his hand” on the translated hero.[20] Here, just as in the Mosaic accounts, the hand of the Deity signifies the bond between the seer’s body and the divine corporeality, leading to the creation of a new celestial entity in the form of the angelic servant of the presence.



            .... One of the important characteristics of the aforementioned visionary accounts in which adepts become identified with their heavenly doubles is the transference of prominent celestial offices to the new servants of the presence. Thus, for example, transference of the offices is discernable in the Exagoge where the “heavenly man” hands over to the seer his celestial regalia, scepter and crown, and then surrenders his heavenly seat, which the Enoch-Metatron tradition often identifies with the duty of the celestial scribe.  Indeed, the scribal role may represent one of the most important offices that angels of the presence often surrender to the new servants of the Face. Thus, for example, 2 Enoch describes the initiation of the seer by Vereveil (Uriel) in the course of which this angel of the presence, portrayed in 2 Enoch as a “heavenly recorder,” conveys to the translated patriarch knowledge and skills pertaining to the scribal duties. What is important in this account is its emphasis on the act of transference of the scribal duties from Vereveil (Uriel) to Enoch, when the angel of the presence surrenders to the hero the celestial library and even the pen from his hand.[21]  

            These developments are intriguing and may provide some insights into the puzzling tradition about the angel of the presence in the Book of Jubilees.[22]  The Jubilees, like the Enochic account, has two scribal figures; one of them is the angel of the presence and the other, a human being. Yet, the exact relationship between these two figures is difficult to establish in view of the scarcity and ambiguity of the relevant depictions. Does the angel of the presence in the Jubilees pose, on the fashion of Uriel, as a celestial scribe who is responsible for initiation of the adept into the scribal duties? Or does he represent the heavenly counterpart of Moses who is clearly distinguished at this point from the seer? A clear distance between the seer and his celestial identity is not unlikely in the context of the traditions about the heavenly counterpart. In fact, this distance between the two identities—one in the figure of the angel and the other in the figure of a hero—represents a standard feature of such accounts. Thus, for example, the already mentioned account from the Book of the Similitudes clearly distinguishes Enoch from his heavenly counterpart in the form of the angelic son of man throughout the whole narrative until the final unification in the last chapter of the book. The gap between the celestial and earthly identities of the seer is also discernable in the targumic accounts about Jacob’s heavenly double where the distinction between the two identities is highlighted by a description of the angels who behold Jacob sleeping on earth and at the same time installed in heaven. A distance between the identity of the seer and his heavenly twin is also observable in the Exagoge where the heavenly man transfers to Moses his regalia and vacates for him his heavenly seat.

            There is, moreover, another important point in the stories about the heavenly counterparts that could provide portentous insight into the nature of pseudepigraphical accounts where these stories are found. This aspect pertains to the issue of the so-called “emulation” of the biblical exemplars in these pseudepigraphical accounts that allows their authors to unveil new revelations in the name of some prominent authority of the past.[23] The identity of the celestial scribe in the form of the angel of the presence might further our understanding of the enigmatic process of mystical and literary emulation of the exemplary figure, the cryptic mechanics of which often remain beyond the grasp of our post/modern sensibilities.

            Could the tradition of unification of the biblical hero with his angelic counterpart be part of this process of emulation of the exemplar by an adept? Could the intermediate authoritative position[24] of the angel of the presence, predestined to stand “from now and forever” between the Deity himself and the biblical hero, serve here as the safe haven of the author’s identity, thus representing the important locus of mystical and literary emulation? Is it possible that in the Jubilees, like in some other pseudepigraphical accounts, the figure of the angel of the presence serves as a transformative and literary device that allows an adept to enter the assembly of immortal beings consisting of the heroes of both the celestial and the literary world?

            Is it possible that in the traditions of heavenly counterparts where the two characters of the story, one of which is represented by a biblical exemplar, become eventually unified and acquire a single identity, we are able to draw nearer to the very heart of the pseudepigraphical enterprise? In this respect, it does not appear to be coincidental that these transformational accounts dealing with the heavenly doubles of their adepts are permeated with the aesthetics of penmanship and the imagery of the literary enterprise. In the course of these mystical and literary metamorphoses, the heavenly figure surrenders his scribal seat, the library of the celestial books and even personal writing tools to the other, earthly identity who now becomes the new guardian of the literary tradition.


                [1] Eusebius preserves the seventeen fragments containing 269 iambic trimeter verses. Unfortunately, the limited scope of our investigation does not allow us to reflect on the broader context of Moses’ dream in the Exagoge.

                [2] H. Jacobson, The Exagoge of Ezekiel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983) 54–55.

                [3] C. R. Holladay, Fragments from Hellenistic Jewish Authors: Vol. II, Poets (SBLTT, 30; Pseudepigrapha Series, 12; Atlanta: Scholars, 1989) 308–12.

                [4] P.W. van der Horst, “Some Notes on the Exagoge of Ezekiel,” Mnemosyne 37 (1984) 364–365 at 364.

[5] See 2 Enoch 22:6: “And the Lord said to his servants, sounding them out: ‘Let Enoch join in and stand in front of my face forever!’” 2 Enoch 36:3: “Because a place has been prepared for you, and you will be in front of my face from now and forever.” Andersen, “2 Enoch,” 1.138 and 1.161.

[6] LXX: sth&sh.

[7] LXX: sth~qi.

[8] LXX: ei(sth&kein.

[9] Moses’ standing here does not contradict his enthronement. The same situation is discernible in 2 Enoch, where the hero who was promised a place to stand in front of the Lord’s Face for eternity is placed on the seat next to the Deity.

[10] Jacobson, The Exagoge of Ezekiel, 54.

[11] Fletcher-Louis, All the Glory of Adam, 146–7; Fossum, The Name of God and the Angel of the Lord, 121; J. A. Montgomery, The Samaritans (New York: KTAV, 1968) 215.

[12] Fossum, The Name of God and the Angel of the Lord, 56–8.

[13] García Martínez and Tigchelaar (eds.), The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition, 2.745.

[14] Najman, “Angels at Sinai,” 319.

[15] This emphasis on mediation is important since mediating of the divine presence is one of the pivotal functions of the Princes of the Face.

[16] The later Merkabah developments about Jacob also refer to the God’s embracement of Jacob-Israel.

[17] 2 Enoch 39:5. Andersen, “2 Enoch,” 1.162; Sokolov, “Материалы и заметки по старинной славянской литературе,” 38.

[18] Jacobson, The Exagoge of Ezekiel, 54.

[19] Synopse § 384.

[20] “…the Holy One, blessed be he, laid his hand on me and blessed me with 1,365,000 blessings. I was enlarged and increased in size until I matched the world in length and breadth.” Alexander, “3 Enoch,” 1.263.

                [21] 2 Enoch 22:10-11 (the shorter recension) “Lord summoned Vereveil, one of his archangels, who was wise, who records all the Lord’s deeds. And the Lord said to Vereveil, ‘Bring out the books from storehouses, and give a pen to Enoch and read him the books.’ And Vereveil hurried and brought me the books mottled with myrrh. And he gave me the pen from his hand.” Andersen, “2 Enoch,” 1.141.

                [22] When one looks closer into the angelic imagery reflected in the Book of Jubilees it is intriguing that Moses’ angelic guide is defined as an angel of the presence. As has already been demonstrated, the process of establishing twinship with the heavenly counterpart not only reflects the initiatory procedure of becoming a Servant of the Face,  it also always presupposes the initiation performed by another angelic servant of the Face.


            [23] On the process of the emulation of the biblical exemplars in the Second Temple literature, see H. Najman, Seconding Sinai: The Development of Mosaic Discourse in Second Temple Judaism (SJSJ, 77; Leiden: Brill, 2003); idem, “Torah of Moses: Pseudonymous Attribution in Second Temple Writings,” in The Interpretation of Scripture in Early Judaism and Christianity: Studies in Language and Tradition (ed. C.A. Evans; JSPSS, 33; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000) 202-216; idem, Authoritative Writing and Interpretation: A Study in the History of Scripture (Ph.D. diss., Harvard University, 1998). 

                [24] This “intermediate” authoritative stand is often further reinforced by the authority of the Deity himself through the identification of the heavenly counterparts with the divine form. On this process, see our previous discussion about the blurring of the boundaries between the heavenly counterparts and the Deity.