Thursday, September 13, 2007

Metatron: Angel Prince, Enoch Transformed

A Sar (Princely, Chieftain Angel) who features prominently in Jewish esoteric literature. The name “Metatron” itself is a puzzle, being either a Greek derived word meaning meta-thronos, “beyond [behind] the throne” or meta-tetra, “beyond the four [Angels of the Countenance],” or the Latin metator, “guide.” Less plausible is the argument that it is a corrupted form of the Persian God Mithras.

[William Blake's illustration of the Chariot-Throne as a fiery four-headed angel. Is that Metatron sitting there?]

Intriguingly, gematria reveals that one spelling of his name has the same numeric value as the divine title Shaddai.

Metatron has many other names and titles. Among the most common are Sar ha-Panim (Prince of the Countenance), Sar ha-Olam (Prince of the World), ha-Naar (the Youth), Marei de-Gadpei, (Master of Wings), and Yahoel. The very name “Metatron” is spelled differently in different documents. In the Merkavah traditions we learn that Metatron has twelve names, corresponding to the twelve tribes. This may account for why there are so many overlapping names and titles in the Metatron traditions (Sanh. 38b; Zohar I:21a).

Metatron’s place in the angelic host is truly unique for several reasons. So exalted is his status that in some sources he is referred to as the “Lesser YHWH”:

A heretic challenged Rabbi Idit: It is written, "[God] said to Moses, 'Go up to YHVH'" {Exodus 24:1}. [Since God was speaking], it ought to say 'Go up to Me!' Rabbi Idit answered: [YHVH] here refers to Metatron, whose name is the same as the name of his master. As it is written, "Behold, I am sending an angel before you to guard you on the way... My name is in him" (Exodus 23:20-21). -Sanhedrin 38b (also see Yev. 16b).

He is also unique in that he alone among the angels sits upon a throne, as does God. Because of this, Elisha ben Abuyah mistakes Metatron for a god and concludes there are “two powers in heaven”:

What happened [to make Elisha ben Avuyah deny the oneness of God] ? He had a vision of Metatron, who had received permission to sit and write down the merits of the Jewish people. He said: We have learned that on High there is no sitting... Perhaps there are two Powers! [The celestial order] demoted Metatron and beat him with sixty whips of fire. They said to him: When you saw [ben Avuyah], why did you not stand up? Then they gave him permission to erase the merits of Elisha ben Avuyah. - Chagigah 15a

The other remarkable fact about Metatron is that he was once human – the antediluvian hero Enoch (Gen. 5; Jubilees 4:23; Sefer Hechalot 12:5). In III Enoch, Metatron describes to Rabbi Ishmael how he was transubstantiated from mortal to angelic form: Under the direction of Michael and Gabriel he grew in size until his body filled the whole universe (signaling a reversal of the “fall” of Adam Kadmon). He sprouted 72 wings (for each of the 72 names of God), grew 365,000 luminous eyes (indicating he had became omniscient, symbolized by acquiring 1000 eyes for each day of the year), and his material body burned away to be replace with a form of pure fire. According to the Zohar, he has the appearance of a rainbow (1:7a). Finally, he is given a crown resembling the crown worn by God.

Metatron has a very prominent role in Hechalot literature, where he appears as a guide to human adepts visiting heaven, (except in Hechalot Rabbati, where that role is filled by Anafiel). At times Metatron is associated with the supernal Mishkan (see my earlier entry), and is described as the High Priest in the heavenly Temple, a role ascribed to Michael in other texts. The Zohar attempts to reconcile these conflicting traditions:

From this we see that the Holy One, blessed be He, actually gave Moses all the arrangements and all the shapes of the Tabernacle, each in its appropriate manner, and that he saw Metatron ministering to the High Priest within it. It may be said that, as the Tabernacle above was not erected until the Tabernacle below had been completed, that "youth" (Metatron) could not have served above before Divine worship had taken place in the earthly Tabernacle. It is true that the Tabernacle above was not actually erected before the one below; yet Moses saw a mirroring of the whole beforehand, and also Metatron, as he would be later when all was complete. The Holy One said to him: "Behold now, the Tabernacle and the ‘Youth’; all is held in suspense until the Tabernacle below shall have been built." It should not be thought, however, that Metatron himself ministers; the fact is, that the Tabernacle belongs to him, and Michael, the High Priest, it is that serves there, within the Metatron's Tabernacle, mirroring the function of the Supernal High Priest above, serving within that other Tabernacle, that hidden one which never is revealed, which is connected with the mystery of the world to come. There are two celestial Tabernacles: the one, the supernal concealed Tabernacle, and the other, the Tabernacle of the Metatron. And there are also two priests: the one is the primeval Light, and the other Michael, the High Priest below. (II:159a, translation taken from the Soncino Zohar)

In Sefer Zerubbabel, he is explicitly identified with Michael. He also functions as the heavenly scribe, writing 366 books. He also teaches Torah to the righteous dead in the Yeshiva on High (A.V. 3b; Seder Gan Eden). He is involved in events on earth as well as in heaven. He led Abraham through Canaan, delivered Isaac from his father’s knife, Wrestled with Jacob, led the Israelites in the desert, rallied Joshua, and revealed the End of Times to Zerubbabel (Sefer Zerubbabel). Even so, he is only rarely adjured in angel summoning incantations. One magical book, Sefer ha-Cheshek, is devoted to the power of his 72 names.

He continues his function as heavenly tour guide in medieval works like Gedulat Moshe, though Metatron does not enjoy the singular prominence in later Kabbalah that he does in early Maasei-Merkavah.

In the Zohar, Metatron is a manifestation of Shekhinah (I:179b), the first “offspring” of the supernal union of God’s feminine and masculine aspects (I: 143a, 162a-b. Also see Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, p. 187).

Zal g'mor - to learn more, read the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism:


Anonymous Anonymous said...

very nice, cool stuff!

2:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fascinating stuff and very well-researched. More please!

7:57 AM  
Blogger Joseph Onesta said...

Thank you very much for this work. Though I lack hebrew education, I have been self-studying and your blog entry has cleared up a number of points that were difficult for me.

1:26 PM  
Blogger James Cooper said...

Do you know where I can find a list of the various names for Metatron? Thanks, nice article.

2:51 PM  

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