Metatron is an angel in Judeo-Islamic mythology, mentioned in a few brief passages in the Aggadah and in mystical Kabbalistic texts within the Rabbinic literature.
The name Metatron is not mentioned in the Torah and how the name originated is a matter of debate.
In Islamic tradition, he is also known as Mīṭaṭrūsh, the angel of the veil. In folkloristic tradition, he is the highest of the angels and serves as the celestial scribe or “recording angel“. In Jewish Apocrypha and early kabbalah, “Metatron” is the name that Enoch received after his transformation into an angel.
Among the pseudepigrapha 1, Enoch: Book of Parables presents two figures: the son of man and Enoch. At first, these two characters seem to be separate entities. Enoch views the son of man enthroned in Heaven.
Later, however, they prove to be one and the same. Many scholars believe that the final chapters in the Book of Parables are a later addition. Others think they are not and that the son of man is Enoch’s heavenly double similarly to the Prayer of Joseph where Jacob is depicted as an angel.
The Book of Daniel displays two similar characters: the Ancient of Days and the one like a man. Parts of the text in Daniel are Aramaic and may have been changed in translation. The Septuagint reads that the son of man came as the Ancient of Days. All other translations say the son of man gained access to the Ancient of Days and was brought before that one.
The identification of Metatron with the gnostic 3 Enoch, where the name first appears, is not explicitly made in the Talmud although it does refer to a Prince of the World who was young but now is old. However, some of the earliest kabbalists assumed the connection.
There also seems to be two Metatrons, one spelled with six letters, and one spelled with seven. The former may be the transformed Enoch, Prince of the Countenance within the divine palace; the latter, the Primordial Metatron, an emanation of the “Cause of Causes“, specifically the tenth and last emanation, identified with the earthly Divine Presence.
Furthermore, the Merkabah text Re’ uyot Yehezkel identifies the Ancient of Days from the Book of Daniel as Metatron.
Many scholars see a discontinuity between how Enoch is portrayed in the early Enoch literature and how Metatron is portrayed. Scholars commonly see the character of Metatron as being based on an amalgam of Jewish literature, in addition to Enoch, Michael, Melchizedek, and Yahoel among others are seen as influences.
Gershom Scholem argues Metatron’s character was influenced by two streams of thought. One of which linked Metatron with Enoch, while the second was a fusing of different obscure entities and mythic motifs. Scholem argues that this second tradition was originally separate but later became fused with the Enoch tradition.
He points to texts where this second Metatron is a primordial angel and referred to as Metatron Rabbah. Scholem theorizes that the two Hebrew spellings of Metatron’s name are representative of these two separate traditions. In his view the second Metatron is linked to Yahoel. Scholem also links Yahoel with Michael.
In the Apocalypse of Abraham Yahoel is assigned duties normally reserved for Michael. Yahoel’s name is commonly seen as a substitute for the Ineffable Name. In 2 Enoch, Enoch is assigned titles commonly used by Metatron such as “the Youth, the Prince of the Presence and the Prince of the World.”
However, we do not see Enoch referred to as the Lesser YHWH. In 3 Enoch, Metatron is called the lesser YHWH. This raises a problem since the name Metatron does not seem to be directly related to the name of God YHWH.
Scholem proposes this is because the lesser YHWH is a reference to Yahoel. In Maaseh Merkabah the text reasons that Metatron is called the lesser YHWH because in Hebrew gematria Metatron is numerically equivalent to another name of God Shaddai. Scholem does not find this convincing.
Scholem points to the fact that both Yahoel and Metatron were known as the lesser YHWH. In 3 Enoch 48D1 Metatron is called both Yahoel Yah and Yahoel. In addition to being one of the seventy names of Metatron from 3 Enoch 48D. Yahoel and Metatron are also linked in Aramaic incantation bowl inscriptions.
The Babylonian Talmud mentions him by name in three places: Hagigah 15a, Sanhedrin 38b, and Avodah Zarah 3b.
Hagigah 15a describes Elisha ben Abuyah in Paradise seeing Metatron sitting down (an action that is not done in the presence of God). Elishah ben Abuyah, therefore, looks to Metatron as a deity and says heretically:
“There are indeed two powers in Heaven!”
The rabbis explain that Metatron had permission to sit because of his function as the Heavenly Scribe, writing down the deeds of Israel. The Talmud states, it was proved to Elisha that Metatron could not be a second deity by the fact that Metatron received 60 “strokes with fiery rods” to demonstrate that Metatron was not a god, but an angel, and could be punished.
In Sanhedrin 38b one of the minim tells Rabbi Idith that Metatron should be worshiped because he has a name like his master. Rabbi Idith uses the same passage Exodus 23:21 to show that Metatron was an angel and not a deity and thus should not be worshiped. Furthermore, as an angel Metatron has no power to pardon transgressions nor was he to be received even as a messenger of forgiveness.
In Avodah Zarah 3b, the Talmud hypothesizes as to how God spends His day. It is suggested that in the fourth quarter of the day God sits and instructs the school children, while in the preceding three-quarters Metatron may take God’s place or God may do this among other tasks.
The tenth-century Karaite scholar Jacob Qirqisani believed that rabbinic Judaism was the heresy of Jeroboam of the Kingdom of Israel. He quoted a version of Sanhedrin 38b, which he claimed contained a reference to the “lesser YHVH.” Gershom Scholem suggests that the name was deliberately omitted from later copies of the Talmud.
However, Qirqisani may have misrepresented the Talmud in order to embarrass his Rabbanite opponents with evidence of polytheism. Extra-Talmudic mystical texts such as Sefer Hekhalot do speak of a “lesser YHWH“, apparently deriving the concept from Exodus 23:21, which mentions an angel of whom God says “my name is in him“.
Merkabah and later mystical writings
Metatron also appears in the Pseudepigrapha including Shi’ur Qomah, and most prominently in the Hebrew Merkabah Book of Enoch, also called 3 Enoch or Sefer Hekhalot (Book of [the Heavenly] Palaces).
The book describes the link between Enoch, son of Jared (great grandfather of Noah) and his transformation into the angel Metatron. His grand title “the lesser YHVH” resurfaces here. The word Metatron is numerically equivalent to Shaddai (God) in Hebrew gematria; therefore, he is said to have a “Name like his Master“. Metatron says:
“He [the Holy One]… called me, ‘The lesser YHVH’ in the presence of his whole household in the height, as it is written, ‘my name is in him.'” (12:5, Alexander’s translation.)
The narrator of this book, supposedly Rabbi Ishmael, tells how Metatron guided him through Heaven and explained its wonders. 3 Enoch presents Metatron in two ways: as a primordial angel and as the transformation of Enoch after he was assumed into Heaven.
And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him. [Genesis 5:24 KJV.]
This Enoch, whose flesh was turned to flame, his veins to fire, his eye-lashes to flashes of lightning, his eye-balls to flaming torches, and whom God placed on a throne next to the throne of glory, received after this heavenly transformation the name Metatron.
The Zohar calls Metatron “the Youth“, a title previously used in 3 Enoch, where it appears to mean “servant“. It identifies him as the angel that led the people of Israel through the wilderness after their exodus from Egypt and describes him as a heavenly priest.
In the later Ecstatic Kabbalah, Metatron is a messianic figure.
In the Apocalypse of Zerubbabel Metatron is not identified as Enoch. Instead, he is identified as the archangel Michael. The text also records that Metatron in gematria is the equivalent of Shadday.
While he also appears in other apocalyptic writings he is most prominent in the Apocalypse of Zerubbabel. In these writings, he plays the role of heavenly interlocutor delivering knowledge about the coming messianic age.
The earliest account of Metatron within Islamic scriptures might derive directly from the Quran itself. Uzair, according to Surah 9:30-31 venerated as a Son of God by Jews, is another name for the prophet Enoch, who was also identified with Metatron in Merkabah Mysticism.
Islamic heresiologists repeatedly accused Jews of venerating an angel as a lesser god (or an Incarnation of God), especially for celebrating Rosh Hashanah. The name itself is attested early in Islam by Al-Kindi and Al-Masudi.
In a Druze text about cosmology, he is mentioned among the canonical Archangels in Islamic traditions. Al-Suyuti identifies him as the angel of the veil and only he knows about that which lies beyond.
He is also frequently mentioned in the magical works by Ahmad al-Buni, who describes Metatron as wearing a crown and a lance, probably constituting the Staff of Moses. In other magical practices, he is invoked to ward off evil jinn, demons, sorcerers and other magical threats.