THE ANGEL METATRON: JUDAISMS’ SECOND YHWH

This is a continuation from the following post: TWO POWERS IN HEAVEN: REVEALING ISRAEL’S SECOND GOD.

In this specific installment I will be focusing on the angelic figure which the Talmud names Metatron. This is the One that the rabbis identify as the Angel who bears God’s very own name according Exodus 23:21. He is also said to be that very YHWH that Moses met on the Mount in Exodus 24:1. Please see my previous discussion for the references.  

METATRON AS ENOCH

The following excerpts are taken from a Jewish work titled 3 Enoch, which certain scholars believe may have been composed around the 5th century AD. All bold emphasis is mine.

CHAPTER X God places Metatron on a throne at the door of the seventh Hall and announces through the Herald, that Metatron henceforth is God’s representative and ruler over all the princes of kingdoms and all the children of heaven, save the eight high princes called YHWH by the name of their King

R. Ishmael said: Metatron, the Prince of the Presence, said to me:

(1) All these things the Holy One, blessed be He, made for me: He made me a Throne, similar to the Throne of Glory. And He spread over me a curtain of splendour and brilliant appearance, of beauty, grace and mercy, similar to the curtain of the Throne of Glory; and on it were fixed all kinds of lights in the universe.

(2) And He placed it at the door of the Seventh Hall and seated me on it.

(3) And the herald went forth into every heaven, saying: This is Metatron, my servant. I have made him into a prince and a ruler over all the princes of my kingdoms and over all the children of heaven, except the eight great princes, the honoured and revered ones who are called YHWH, by the name of their King.

(4) And every angel and every prince who has a word to speak in my presence (before me) shall go into his presence (before him) and shall speak to him (instead).

(5) And every command that he utters to you in my name do ye observe and fulfil. For the Prince of Wisdom and the Prince of Understanding have I committed to him to instruct him in the wisdom of heavenly things and of earthly things, in the wisdom of this world and of the world to come.

(6) Moreover, I have set him over all the treasuries of the palapes of Araboih and over all the stores of life that I have in the high heavens.

CHAPTER XI God reveals all mysteries and secrets to Metatron

R. Ishmael said: Metatron, the angel, the Prince of the Presence, said to me:

(1) Henceforth the Holy One, blessed be He, revealed to me all the mysteries of Tora and all the secrets of wisdom and all the depths of the Perfect Law; and all living beings’ thoughts of heart and all the secrets of the universe and all the secrets of Creation were revealed unto me even as they are revealed unto the Maker of Creation.

(2) And I watched intently to behold the secrets of the depth and the wonderful mystery. Before a man did think in secret, I saw (it) and before a man made a thing I beheld it.

CHAPTER XII God clothes Metatron in a garment of glory, puts a royal crown on his head and calls him “the Lesser YHWH”

R. Ishmael said: Metatron, the Prince of the Presence, said to me:

(1) By reason of the love with which the Holy One, blessed be He, loved me more than all the children of heaven, He made me a garment of glory on which were fixed all kinds of lights, and He clad me in it.

(2) And He made me a robe of honor on which were fixed all kinds of beauty, splendor, brilliance and majesty.

(3) And he made me a royal crown in which were fixed forty-nine costly stones like unto the light of the globe of the sun.

(4) For its splendor went forth in the four quarters of the ‘Araboth Raqia’, and in through the seven heavens, and in the four quarters of the world. And he put it on my head.

(5) And He called me THE LESSER YHWH (YHWH Ha-Qatan) in the presence of all His heavenly household; as it is written: “For my name is in him“…

CHAPTER XXX The 72 princes of Kingdoms and the Prince of the World officiating at the Great Sanhedrin in heaven

R. Ishmael said: Metatron, the Angel, the Prince of the Presence, said to me:

(1) Whenever the Great Beth Din is seated in the ‘Araboth Raqia’ on high there is no opening of the mouth for anyone in the world save those great princes who are called H’ by the name of the Holy One, blessed be He.

(2) How many are those princes? Seventy-two princes of the kingdoms of the world besides the Prince of the World who speaks (pleads) in favour of the world before the Holy One, blessed be He, every day, at the hour when the book is opened in which are recorded all the doings of the world, according as it is written (Dan.vii.10): “The judgement was set and the books were opened.”…

CHAPTER XLVIII (cont.) (c) An Enoch-Metatron piece

ALT 1

(1) “I seized him, and I took him and I appointed him” that is Enoch, the son of Jared, whose name is Metatron

(2) and I took him from among the children of men

(5) and made him a Throne over against my Throne. Which is the size of that Throne? Seventy thousand parasangs (all) of fire.

(9) I committed unto him 70 angels corresponding to the nations (of the world) and I gave into his charge all the household above and below.

(7) And I committed to him Wisdom and Intelligence more than (to) all the angels. And I called his name “the LESSER YAH”, whose name is by Gematria 71. And I arranged for him all the works of Creation. And I made his power to transcend (lit. I made for him power more than) all the ministering angels.

ALT 2

(3) He committed unto Metatron that is Enoch, the son of Jared all treasuries. And I appointed him over all the stores that I have in every heaven. And I committed into his hands the keys of each heavenly store.

(4) I made (of) him the prince over all the princes, and I made (of) him a minister of my Throne of Glory, to provide for and arrange the Holy Chayyoth, to wreathe crowns for them (to crown them with crowns), to clothe them with honour and majesty to prepare for them a seat when he is sitting on his throne to magnify his glory in the height.

(5) The height of his stature among all those (that are) of high stature (is) seventy thousand parasangs. And I made his glory great as the majesty of my glory.

(6) and the brilliance of his eyes as the splendour of the Throne of Glory.

(7) his garment honour and majesty, his royal crown 500 by 500 parasangs.

ALT 3

(1) Aleph1 I made him strong, I took him, I appointed him: (namely) Metatron, my servant who is one (unique) among all the children of heaven. I made him strong in the generation of the first Adam. But when I beheld the men of the generation of the flood, that they were corrupt, then I went and removed my Shekina from among them. And 1 lifted it up on high with the sound of a trumpet and with a shout, as it is written (Ps.xlvii. 6): “God is gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of a trumpet”.

(2) “And I took him”: (that is) Enoch, the son of Jared, from among them. And I lifted him up with the sound of a trumpet and with a tera’a (shout) to the high heavens, to be my witness together with the Chayyoth by the Merkaba in the world to come.

(3) I appointed him over all the treasuries and stores that I have in every heaven. And I committed into his hand the keys of every several one.

(4) I made (of) him the prince over all the princes and a minister of the Throne of Glory (and) the Halls of ‘Araboth: to open their doors to me, and (of) the Throne of Glory, to exalt an arrange it; (and I appointed him over) the Holy Chayyot to wreathe crowns upon their heads; the majestic ‘Ophannim, to crown them with strength and glory; the; honoured Kerubim, to clothe: them in majesty; over the radiant sparks, to make them to shine with splendour and brilliance; over the flaming Seraphim, to cover them with highness; the Chashmallim of light, to make them radiant with Light and to prepare the seat for me every morning as I sit upon the Throne of Glory. And to extol and magnify my glory in the height of my power; (and I have committed unto him) the secrets of above and the secrets of below (heavenly secrets and earthly secrets).

(5) I made him higher than all. The height of his stature, in the midst of all (who are) high of stature (I made) seventy thousand parasangs. I made his Throne great by the majesty of my Throne. And I increased its glory by the honour of my glory.

(6) I transformed his flesh into torches of fire, and all the bones of his body into fiery coals; and I made the appearance of his eyes as the lightning, and the light of his eyebrows as the imperishable light. I made his face bright as the splendour of the sun, and his eyes as the splendour of the Throne of Glory.

(7) I made honour and majesty his clothing, beauty and highness his covering cloak and a royal crown of 500 by (times) 500 parasangs (his) diadem. And I put upon him of my honour, my majesty and the splendour. of my glory that is upon my Throne of Glory. I called him the LESSER YHWH, the Prince of the Presence, the Knower of Secrets: for every secret did I reveal to him as a father and all mysteries declared I unto him in uprightness.

(8) I set up his throne at the door of my Hall that he may sit and judge the heavenly household on high. And I placed every prince before him, to receive authority from him, to perform his will.

(9) Seventy names did I take from (my) names and called him by them to enhance his glory.

Seventy princes gave I into his hand, to command unto them my precepts and my words in every language: to abase by his word the proud to the ground, and to exalt by the utterance of his lips the humble to the height; to smite kings by his speech, to turn kings away from their paths, to set up(the) rulers over their dominion as it is written (Dan.ii. 21): “and he changeth the times and the seasons, and to give wisdom unto all the setwise of the world and understanding (and) knowledge to all who understand knowledge, as it is griten (Dan. ii. 21): ” and knowledge to them that know understanding”, to reveal to them the secrets of my words and to teach the decree of my righteous judgement, (10) as it is written (Is.Iv. n): “so shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth; it shall not return unto me void but shall accomplish (that which I please)”. ‘E’eseh’ (I shall accomplish) is not written here, but “asdh’ (he shall accomplish), meaning, that whatever word and whatever utterance goes forth from before the Holy One, blessed be He, Metatron stands and carries it out. And he establishes the decrees of the Holy One, blessed be He.

CHAPTER XLVIII (D) The names of Metatron. The treasuries of Wisdom opened to Moses on mount Sinai. The angels protest against Metatron for revealing the secrets to Moses and are answered and rebuked by God. The chain of tradition and the power of the transmitted mysteries to heal diseases

(1) Seventy names has Metatron which the Holy One, blessed be He, took from his own name and put upon him. And these they are:

1 YeHOEL YaH, 2 YeHOEL, 3 YOPHIEL and 4 Yophphiel, and 5 ‘APHPHIEL and 6 MaRGeZIEL, 7 GIPpUYEL, 8 Pa’aZIEL, 9 ‘A’aH, 10 PeRIEL, 11 TaTRIEL, 12 TaBKIEL, 13 ‘W, 14 YHWH, 15 DH, 16 WHYH, 17 ‘eBeD, 18 DiBbURIEL, 19 ‘aPh’aPIEL, 20 SPPIEL, 21 PaSPaSIEL, 22 SeNeGRON, 23 MeTaTRON, 24 SOGDIN, 25 ‘ADRIGON, 26 ‘ASUM, 27 SaQPaM, 28 SaQTaM, 29 MIGON, 30 MITTON, 31 MOTTRON, 32 ROSPHIM, 33 QINOTh, 34 ChaTaTYaH, 35 DeGaZYaH, 36 PSPYaH, 37 BSKNYH, 38 MGRG . ., 39 BaRaD . ., 40 MKRKK, 41 MSPRD, 42 ChShG, 43 ChShG, 43 ChShB, 44 MNRTTT, 45 BSYRYM, 46 MITMON, 47 TITMON, 48 PiSQON, 49 SaPhSaPhYaH’, 50 ZRCh, 51 ZRChYaH, 52 B, 53 BeYaH, 54 HBHBeYaH, 55 PeLeT, 56 PLTYaH, 57 RaBRaBYaH, 58 ChaS, 59 ChaSYaH, 60 TaPhTaPhYaH, 61 TaMTaMYaH, 62 SeHaSYaH, 63 IRURYaH, 64 ‘aL’aLYaH, 65 BaZRIDYaH, 66 SaTSaTKYaH, 67 SaSDYaH, 68 RaZRaZYAH, 69 BaZRaZYaH, 70 ‘aRIMYaH, 71 SBHYaH, 72 SBIBKHYH, 73 SiMKaM, 74 YaHSeYaH, 75 SSBIBYaH, 76 SaBKaSBeYaH, 77 QeLILQaLYaH, 78 KIHHH, 79 HHYH, 80 WH, 81 WHYH, 82 ZaKklKYaH, 83 TUTRISYaH, 84 SURYaH, 85 ZeH, 86 PeNIRHYaH, 87 Z’ZI’H, 88 GaL RaZaYYa, 89 MaMLIKYaH, 90 TTYaH, 91 ‘eMeQ, 92 QaMYaH, 93 MeKaPpeRYaH, 94 PeRISHYaH, 95 SePhaM, 96 GBIR, 97 GiBbORYaH, 98 GOR, 99 GORYaH, 100 ZIW, 101 ‘OKBaR, the 102 LESSER YHWH, after the name of his Master, (Ex. xxiii. 21) “for my name is in him”, 103 RaBIBIEL, 104 TUMIEL, 105 Segansakkiel, the Prince of Wisdom.

(2) And why is he called by the name Sagnesakiel? Because all the treasuries of wisdom are committed in his hand.

(3) And all of them were opened to Moses on Sinai, so that he learnt them during the forty days, while he was standing: the Torah in the seventy aspects of the seventy tongues, the Prophets in the seventy aspects of the seventy tongues, the Writings in the seventy aspects of the seventy tongues, ”the Halakas in the seventy aspects of the seventy tongues, the Traditions in the seventy aspects of the seventy tongues, the Haggadas in the seventy aspects of the seventy tongues and the Toseftas in the seventy aspects of the seventy tongues’.

(4) But as soon as the forty days were ended, he forgot all of them in one moment. Then the Holy One, blessed be He, called Yephiphyah, the Prince of the Law, and (through him) they were given to Moses as a gift. As it is written: “and the Lord gave them unto me”. And after that it remained with him. And whence do we know, that it remained in his memory? Because it is written: “Remember ye the Law of Moses my servant which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel, even my statutes and judgments”.

‘The Law of Moses’: that is the Tora, the Prophets and the Writings,’ statutes’: that is the Halakas and Traditions, ‘judgments’; that is the Haggadas and the Toseftas. And all of them were given to Moses on high on Sinai.

(5) These seventy names are a reflection of the Explicit Names on the Merkaba which are graven upon the Throne of Glory. For the Holy One, blessed be He, took from His Explicit Names and put upon the name of Metatron: Seventy Names of His by which the ministering angels call the King of the kings of kings, blessed be He, in the high heavens, and twenty-two letters that are on the ring upon his finger with which are sealed the destinies of the princes of kingdoms on high in greatness and power and with which are sealed the lots of the Angel of Death, and the destinies of every nation and tongue.

(6) Said Metatron, the Angel, the Prince of the Presence; the Angel, the Prince of the Wisdom; the Angel, the Prince of the Understanding; the Angel, the Prince of the Kings; the Angel, the Prince of the Rulers; the angel, the Prince of the Glory; the angel, the Prince of the high ones, and of the princes’, the exalted, great and honored ones, in heaven and on earth:

(7) “H, the God of Israel, is my witness in this thing, (that] when I revealed this secret to Moses, then all the hosts in every heaven on high raged against me and said to me:

(8) Why dost thou reveal this secret to son of man, born of woman, tainted and unclean, a man of a putrefying drop, the secret by which were created heaven and earth, the sea and the dry land, the mountains and hills, the rivers and springs, Gehenna of fire and hail, the Garden of Eden and the Tree of Life; and by which were formed Adam and Eve, and the cattle, and the wild beasts, and the fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and Behemoth and Leviathan, and the creeping things, the worms, the dragons of the sea, and the creeping things of the deserts; and the Tora and Wisdom and Knowledge and Thought and the Gnosis of things above and the fear of heaven. Why dost thou reveal this to flesh and blood?

DISCUSSION

It seems reasonably certain that the author(s) of this pseudepigraphal work wanted to present Enoch as a sort of rival to Jesus in order to combat Christian claims about the latter.

Hence, it wasn’t Jesus who is YHWH Incarnate, or a Man who was exalted to reign in heaven as God’s divine plenipotentiary. On the contrary, it was the human Enoch whom God morphed into his chief Angel and the greatest of all creatures, having been chosen to embody the very name and characteristics of YHWH Almighty.  

This is why Enoch becomes known as YHWH ha-Qatan (“Lesser/Younger YHWH”) after his miraculous transformation from a mere mortal into a glorious celestial being.

Peter Schäfer, considered by scholars to be the foremost authority on Judaism, explains the importance of 3 Enoch’s witness to the belief held by specific Jewish groups long after the time of Christ that there are actually two divine Powers in heaven:   

Early Jewish mysticism responded in a very different way. In the Third Book of Enoch, the latest of the Hekhalot literature, the human Enoch is transformed into the highest angel Metatron and given the honorific title “Younger” or “Lesser God” (YHWH ha-qatan). This represents the pinnacle of binitarian traditions in late antique Judaism. How dangerous these thoughts could be viewed is demonstrated in the midrash on the ascent of Elisha ben Avuyah to the seventh heaven, where he sees Metatron sitting on a divine throne and concludes from this that there must be “two powers” in heaven, God and Metatron—an insight that is interpreted as heresy, bringing with it the immediate punishment of both the rabbi and Metatron. Here too the tone in the Hekhalot literature is much more reserved than in the parallel account in the Babylonian Talmud.

The same applies to the complex of traditions surrounding Akatriel, an angel who is identical with Metatron. Whereas in the Hekhalot literature it is not the rabbi but rather God himself who becomes the protagonist of a second divine being at his side, it is once again the Babylonian Talmud that adjusts the standards in a parallel version, reestablishing the “pure doctrine” of the one and only God. This pattern is repeated in the final source on Rav Idith and Metatron. In a midrash that appears only in the Babylonian Talmud, the rabbi and an unknown heretic argue over Metatron; the rabbi imprudently admits that Metatron has the same name as God, thereby inadvertently representing the notion of a second God—which the horrified rabbi then awkwardly denies. Thus the Talmud again attempts to use polemics to defuse the binitarian idea. Here too, texts from the Hekhalot literature that have been largely neglected up to now offer evidence that within the circles of Jewish mystics, the idea of two Gods in heaven had become established, which is why it was so harshly opposed by the rabbis of the Babylonian Talmud. (Schäfer, Two Gods in Heaven: Jewish Concepts of God in Antiquity [Princeton University Press, 2020], Introduction: One God?, pp. 13-14; bold emphasis mine)

And:

Enoch Becomes Metatron

The transformation of Enoch into the highest angel Metatron and hence his deification takes place in several stages in the Third Book of Enoch. It is first depicted as a direct revelation of Metatron to Rabbi Ishmael, who himself was elevated to heaven in order to view God on his throne-chariot, the Merkavah. Then it is the angel Anafiel, one of the highest angels, who takes Enoch away from the eyes of his fellow humans and causes him to be brought to heaven in a chariot of fire with horses of fire.17 The other angels can already smell from a great distance the odor of the “one born of a woman” and complain to God about his arrival, but God calms them and praises Enoch as the only human who has not worshipped idols, the “choicest of them all.”18 God chose him to serve before the throne of glory, filling him first of all with supernatural wisdom…

Then God blesses Enoch with an immeasurable wealth of blessings, enlarges him to infinite dimensions,20 makes seventy-two wings and 365,000 eyes grow on him,21 and enthrones him on a throne that corresponds precisely to the divine throne of glory, and which stands at the door of the seventh and highest of the heavenly palaces.**22 Directly following this, he lets a herald go out in front of him to announce…

With that, Enoch-Metatron becomes God’s representative in heaven, his vice-regent, who acts on his behalf and whom all angels have to obey…

Nothing remains hidden from Metatron. Like God he knows all secrets, not only those of the angels, but also the deepest secrets of humans…

Because God loves Metatron more than all humankind and all the angels in heaven, he clothes him in a majestic robe and crowns him with a kingly crown in which forty-nine refulgent stones26 are placed, each one shining like the sun, and its brilliance illuminating the four quarters of the world. And then, after he crowned him, God calls him “the Lesser/Younger YHWH” (YHWH ha-qatan), giving him his own name, the Tetragrammaton

Metatron is placed at almost an equal level with God; he is the second, “lesser” or “younger” God in heaven, beside the omnipotent creator God. The Bible verse quoted as proof that Metatron carries the same name as God refers to the mysterious angel of the Lord in Exodus 23:20ff.; already in the Bible it is uncertain whether this refers to an angel or in reality God himself. Yet this does not conclude the elevation of Metatron. With his finger, which he uses as a pen of flame, God writes on Metatron’s crown the letters with which heaven and earth were created. This plainly means that God has revealed all the secrets of creation to him, thus making him a coruler over heaven and earth

The other angels draw from this the desired conclusion and fall down before Metatron, in fear and trembling…

Only after this does Enoch-Metatron’s ultimate transformation take place…

With this, Enoch’s human existence is finally and completely extinguished; he is transformed into the angel Metatron. His manifestation, however, goes far beyond what we normally associate with angels, resembling more of an apotheosis. His first task is to judge all angels in heaven and assign them their appropriate place in the hierarchy of angels…

Without a doubt, this Enoch-Metatron of the Third Book of Enoch comes closer to a second divine figure next to God than any other figure in a Jewish text of antiquity or late antiquity. Only the designation as a “Lesser God” indicates a certain gradation, but if we translate the Hebrew YHWH ha-qatan as “Younger God,” it is not all that far from the association of a God-father and God-son as is familiar in full-blown form from Christianity.

This is indisputably the culmination of the transformation and apotheosis of Enoch-Metatron in 3 Enoch. Directly following this, in the same section of text and without any recognizable break, comes an episode that turns around everything that has been said previously—the antithesis as it were to the Metatron’s elevation. (Ibid., Part II: Rabbinic Judaism and Early Jewish Mysticism, 11. From the Human Enoch to the Lesser God Metatron, pp. 108-113; bold emphasis mine)

In light of the foregoing, is it any wonder blame the late Dr. Robert A. Morey could write the following in regards to the testimony of 3 Enoch?

The “Messenger of Yahweh,” in whom God’s name dwelt (Exod. 23:21-22), is given the name Metatron. He is described as the “lesser YHWH” in 3 Enoch 12:5; 48C:7; 48D:1 [90] to distinguish Him from the “greater YHWH” mentioned in 48B:44. The biblical precedent for two YHWHs can be found in Genesis 19:24.

Notice also that the second YHWH, while on earth, is “lesser” in rank than the first YHWH but this does not negate the fact that both of them are still YHWH. They are one in nature although separate in rank.

Given the concept of two YHWHs, is it any wonder that Jewish Christians like the Apostle John had no difficulty in believing that the Messiah Jesus was both “equal with God” the Father (John 5:18) and, at the same time, less than God the Father (John 14:28)? It is easy to see how John could believe that the Father and the Son were “one” in nature (John 10:30) but separate in rank (John 14:28) because such an idea was perfectly Jewish. (Morey, Trinity: Evidence and Issues [Word Publishing; Grand Rapids, MI 1996], Part III: The Intertestamental Literature, Chapter 14. Between the Testaments, p. 234)

METATRON AS THE ANGEL OF YHWH

Here I cite from Schäfer’s book where the scholar quotes and comments on two Jewish texts, whose authors are unknown, which discuss Metatron:

Kister must be credited in this context for having referred to two texts among the Hekhalot literature that I edited long ago, but whose relevance for our subject here I had not recognized up to now.91 The first text is a Metatron fragment that was previously unknown, followed by a Shi‘ur Qomah piece and a description of the heavenly court. I have translated the portion that is relevant for our context:92

The earth shines from his glory, and the sun, moon, and stars glow from his light and shine. God appointed this angel as lord over all creation and made him the ruler over the forces above and below, to guide them and lead them in their devotion.93 All [angels] praise, sanctify, and worship [God] and say: “Holy, holy, holy [is the Lord of hosts]” (Isa. 6:3) and “Praised be the glory of the Lord from its place” (Ezek. 3:12). And this angel praises [God] together with them. He is [the angel] that God appointed over Israel and [with reference to this] he said to Moses: “I am going to send an angel in front of you,” etc. (Exod. 23:20). “Be attentive to him94 and listen to his voice; do not rebel against him,” etc. (Exod. 23:21). “But if you listen attentively to his voice and do all that I say, [then I will be an enemy to your enemies and a foe to your foes]” (Exod. 23:22).95 He named the name of the angel after the name of his creator, as it is said, “For my name is in him” (Exod. 23:21). He declared his [the angel’s] authority (rashut) like his [God’s] authority, and his [the angel’s] command is deemed a command. And everyone who believes that Rabbi Ishmael intended this is wicked and a heretic,96 and has no part in the future world. And it is proof of our words that he [God] gave him [the angel] (the) authority to issue a decree that the Holy One, blessed be he, carries out, because the Bible verse says “But if you listen attentively to his voice and do all that I say,” etc. (Exod. 23:22), and not “all that he says”—from this we learn that he [the angel] issues a decree, and his creator carries it out!

It is not known where or when this was written. Again, we can only say that it is related to the Hekhalot literature. At most it is interesting that the manuscript might have come from the Iraq region—that is, belonging to the cultural sphere of Babylonian Judaism.97 Its content, however, takes your breath away.98 An unnamed angel is appointed the omnipotent ruler over heaven and earth, precisely in the style of Metatron in 3 Enoch. For this reason, and because directly following the translated passage Metatron is called the Angel of the Presence, there can hardly be any doubt that Metatron is the protagonist of our text. After this virtually unsurpassable elevation of Metatron, though, the mood changes: all angels in heaven praise God with the Qedushah, the Trisagion, and Metatron is one of them; in his relationship to God, he is like any other angel.

But the story does not end there. Metatron is the angel of Exodus 23:20ff., whom Israel is to obey and who carries the name of God (obviously the Tetragrammaton YHWH), just as in 3 Enoch and the Bavli. And now Metatron’s bold elevation is repeated: God gives him the same authority as his own; his command is God’s command. Once again the verse Exodus 23:22 serves as a proof text, in that the verse’s inherent tension between the angel and God (“if you [Israel] listen attentively to his [the angel’s] voice and do all that I [God] say”) is explicitly thematized: what God says are actually the words of the angel, who utters them and that are then carried out by God. The identities of God and the angel are blurred; they remain two separate figures, but get so close to each other that it is difficult to distinguish one from the other, as is already laid out in the Bible verse. In view of the final sentence, one even gets the impression that God with his authority subordinates himself to the authority of the angel.

This is the most extreme statement thus far on the dominion and authority of two Gods in heaven. For this reason it does not come as a surprise that the unknown author of this unprecedented move contradicts himself already in the course of his text, as did the redactor of the Third Book of Enoch by having the elevation of Metatron be followed by his degradation in the episode on Elisha ben Avuyah/Aher’s journey to heaven, asserting that whoever attributes such a view to Rabbi Ishmael is a heretic. Of course it is no coincidence that it is precisely Rabbi Ishmael who is to be protected from any accusation of heresy, as next to Rabbi Aqiva he is the most significant protagonist of Hekhalot literature. He is also the one who learns everything about Enoch Metatron on his journey to heaven in the Third Book of Enoch. The fragment from the Cairo Geniza also reflects circles in which binitarian ideas were developed and openly advocated, and here too, as in 3 Enoch and the Bavli, we are dealing with circles within Babylonian rabbinic Judaism that are contradicted with varying degrees of vehemence. Yet the contradiction and polemics cannot belie the fact that the opposed “heresy” is to be found at the heart of rabbinic Judaism; that is the only explanation for the severity of the polemics.

Also the second Geniza text from the realm of the Hekhalot literature discusses Bible verses that allow a reading involving the idea of two powers in heaven:99

Then came the Ruah Pisqon, standing between them, and all the angelic princes trembled before him. He said to him [Moses]:

Moses, Moses, I am the one who revealed himself to you on that day when your creator spoke to you, as it is said: “There the angel of the Lord, etc. [appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush]” (Exod. 3:2).

And I am the one who said to you: “Remove the sandals from your feet,” etc. (Exod. 3:5).

And I am Sanegoron, Pisqon, Itmon. . . .100

From here101 said Rabbi Yehoshua:

This is the [angel], of whom Scripture says: “See, my angel shall go in front of you,102 etc. (Exod. 32:34), “And the Lord (YHWH)103 said to Satan, [the Lord (YHWH) rebukes you, O Satan!]” (Zech. 3:2).

And this is the [angel], of whom Scripture says: “Then the Lord (YHWH) rained [sulfur and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah], etc. [from the Lord (YHWH)]” (Gen. 19:24).

Are there perhaps two powers (rashuyyot) in heaven?! [No,] but this is the [angel],104 whose name is in the name of the Holy One, blessed be he.

The cited text is part of an extensive and relatively old Geniza fragment about a revelation to Moses in the style of the Hekhalot literature.105 The Ruah Pisqon,106 who is abruptly introduced here, is once again very likely Metatron. In any case, this name as well as the names Sanegoron, Pisqon, and Itmon a few lines further down are also attested in the Hekhalot literature as names of Metatron.107 As in 3 Enoch, here he stands at the top of the celestial hierarchy; all angelic princes are subordinate to him. He reveals himself to Moses as the biblical angel of the Lord, and this identification is then documented by means of various Bible verses.

The first two proof texts refer to the revelation to Moses in the burning bush. Similar to Exodus 23:20ff., this is yet another text in which the fine line between God and his angel is blurred or intentionally kept vague. The initial statement that God (Elohim) heard his people Israel groaning and crying out in Egypt (Exod. 2:24) is followed by the revelation to Moses (Exod. 3:1ff.). At Horeb, God’s mountain, the “angel of the Lord” (mal’akh YHWH) appears to Moses in a flame of fire out of a bush. This is the cited verse, Exodus 3:2. When God (YHWH) sees Moses approach the bush, God (Elohim) calls to him out of the bush (v. 4) and commands him to remove his sandals (v. 5, the second verse cited). Then he reveals himself to Moses as “the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob,” and Moses is afraid to look at God (Elohim) (v. 6). The confusion of the identities could hardly be more extreme: God first reveals himself as the angel of the Lord and then as God, and this God is alternately called Elohim and YHWH, whereas his angel carries the epithet YHWH.

Following mention of Metatron’s other names, Rabbi Yehoshua cites additional relevant Bible verses. In the first verse quoted (Exod. 32:34), God clearly distinguishes between himself and his angel, but this is obviously the same angel as in the much discussed verse Exodus 23:20, where the distinction was more ambiguous. A perfect example is then the next verse cited, Zechariah 3:2.108 The impact only becomes obvious if we also consider the preceding verse, Zechariah 3:1: “Then he showed me the high priest Yehoshua109 standing before the angel of the Lord (mal’akh YHWH), and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him.” Thus we again have the ambiguous situation that at first God’s angel (Zech. 3:1) is mentioned and then God himself (Zech. 3:2: “And the Lord said to Satan”); hence the distinction is once again blurred. Making the confusion complete, this God (YHWH) again speaks of himself as God (YHWH). The critical apparatus of the Biblia Hebraica shows that the Peshitta, the Syriac translation of the Bible, renders the Hebrew YHWH in verse 2 as mal’akh YHWH in order to avoid just this problem and harmonize the text.110 There it is not God who is talking to Satan but rather the angel of the Lord (as in v. 1), who then announces God’s rebuke of Satan.

The last verse cited, Genesis 19:24, is the well-known verse from the Babylonian Talmud, which also gives the impression that there are two Gods. This is followed by the appalled outcry, whether, God forbid, there might perhaps be two powers in heaven similar to the perplexed outcry of Aher in the Bavli version of Elisha ben Avuyah’s journey to heaven.111 As in the Talmud, this suspicion is immediately rejected: in all the cited Bible verses, it turns out that we are not dealing with a second God but with an angel who carries God’s name in his name, as we know from Exodus 23:21—that is, Metatron. Yet the verse is not explicitly cited here, which gives the author an opportunity to turn it around in a strange way: it is not the name of God that is contained in Metatron’s name but vice versa, the name Metatron is in the name of God. I do not consider this a coincidence but instead—despite or even because of Metatron’s degradation (Metatron is not a second divine power but merely an angel)—as an indirect, if not begrudging, valorization of Metatron.

All in all it is certainly correct, as Kister never tires of emphasizing, that this Geniza fragment as well as the other texts from the Hekhalot literature and the Bavli that we have discussed reject and oppose the idea of two Gods in heaven. But it is equally correct that this idea is part of Judaism and cannot simply be shunted off to Christianity. Kister’s virtually desperate attempts to draw boundaries between a clearly defined rabbinic Judaism (which resisted binitarian temptations of any kind) and opponents outside this rabbinic Judaism, especially Christians,112 ultimately paint a clear-cut, black-and-white picture that does justice neither to the relevant texts nor to the historical reality.113 (Ibid., pp. 128-133; bold emphasis mine)

92. Peter Schäfer, Geniza-Fragmente zur Hekhalot-Literatur (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1984), 132 (T.-S. K 21:95.J, fol. 1a, lines 1–17)…

106. Literally, perhaps something like “arguing/deciding/interceding spirit.” Apart from the Hekhalot literature, it is mentioned only in the Babylonian Talmud. See b Sanhedrin 44b, where he argues with God. (Ibid., pp. 163-164)

As Schäfer noted, these are obviously polemical texts aimed at demoting the Angel of YHWH from his status as second divine Power to that of a mere angelic creature. And yet despite this attempt, it is interesting to note the fact that these Jewish texts all recognize and affirm that the very OT passages cited by Christians to support the Trinity do indeed refer to the Angel of YHWH.

For instance, these Jewish sources agree that Genesis 19:24 differentiates the YHWH who appears as a man on earth from the YHWH that is in the heavens, and further concede that texts such as Exodus 3:1-6, 23:20-21, and Zechariah 3:1-2 expressly teach that the Angel of YHWH embodies God’s own name and is even directly called YHWH.   

FURTHER READING

Early Jewish Monotheism and Divine Plurality [Part 1], [Part 2]

3 thoughts on “THE ANGEL METATRON: JUDAISMS’ SECOND YHWH

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