Andrei A. Orlov

 Metatron as the Prince of the Presence

[an excerpt from A. Orlov, The Enoch-Metatron Tradition (TSAJ, 107; Tuebingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 2005), pp. xii+383. ISBN 3-16-148544-0.]


…. The discussion in the previous sections has made clear that the traditions about Metatron offer a plethora of titles for this exalted angel. The titles seem to derive from many sources: the early legends about Adam, Enoch, Yahoel, Michael, and Melchisedek, as well as the later rabbinic and Hekhalot angelic lore. In respect to these conceptual developments, Sefer Hekhalot can be seen as a compendium or an encyclopedia of Metatron’s titles; as such it offers a great variety of early and late designations, including such well-known titles as the Prince of the World, the Youth, and the lesser YHWH. Yet, if attention is drawn to the frequency of the occurrence of these titles in 3 Enoch, one of them stands out through repeated use in the text. This title is connected with the unique place that Metatron occupies in relation to the divine Face; he is considered a special servant of the divine Presence, Mynph r#. Scholars have previously observed that in 3 Enoch, Metatron becomes “the angel[1] who has access to the divine Presence, the ‘Face’ of the Godhead….”[2] Synopse §11 stresses that Metatron’s duties in this office include the service connected with the Throne of Glory.[3]

It is noteworthy that the appellation “Prince of the Divine Presence” repeatedly follows the name Metatron in 3 Enoch.[4] For example, with this title he is introduced in chapter one of Sefer Hekhalot; in this chapter his duty is to invite the visionary, Rabbi Ishmael, into the divine Presence and to protect him against the hostility of the angels:



At once the Holy One, blessed be he, summoned to my aid his servant, the angel Metatron, Prince of the Divine Presence. He flew out to meet me with great alacrity, to save me from their power. He grasped me with his hand before their eyes and said to me, “Come in peace into the presence of the high and exalted King to behold the likeness of the chariot.”[5]

A few verses later, in 3 Enoch 1:9 (Synopse §2), Metatron is mentioned as the one giving R. Ishmael the strength to sing a song of praise to God. Here again the angel is introduced as the Prince of the Divine Presence. The recurring designations of Metatron as the Prince of the Divine Presence are puzzling since this title does not belong exclusively to this angel. The Merkabah tradition follows here the pseudepigrapha which attest to a whole class of the highest angels/princes (Mynph yr#) allowed to see the divine Face.[6]

It is significant that, although the designation is not restricted to Metatron, in 3 Enoch it becomes an essential part of the common introductory formula, “The angel Metatron, Prince of the Divine Presence,” through which R. Ishmael relates the various revelations received from his exalted angelus interpres. It also becomes a dividing grid of the microforms that partitions the narrative of Sefer Hekhalot. Sometimes this text seeks to enhance the repetitive formula by adding to it the additional definition, “the glory of the highest heaven.” The combination of the expressions, the “Prince of the Divine Presence” and “the glory of the heaven,” does not appear to be coincidental since the divine Presence/Face is the divine Glory which leads to the transformation of any servant of the Face into a glorious angelic being resembling the luminosity of the divine Face. This paradoxical transformation is described in detail in Synopse §19, where Metatron conveys to R. Ishmael his dramatic transition to the role of the servant of the divine Face:

R. Ishmael said: The angel Metatron, Prince of the Divine Presence, the glory of highest heaven, said to me: When the Holy One, blessed be he, took me to serve the throne of glory, the wheels of the chariot and all the needs of the Shekinah, at once my flesh turned to flame, my sinews to blazing fire, my bones to juniper coals, my eyelashes to lightning flashes, my eyeballs to fiery torches, the hairs of my head to hot flames, all my limbs to wings of burning fire, and the substance of my body (ytmwq Pwgw) to blazing fire.[7]

It was already observed that the idea of the Prince of the Presence is both mediatorial and liturgical, and therefore is closely linked with the motif of the celestial curtain, Pargod (dwgrp),[8] the entity which separates the divine Presence from the rest of the heavenly world.[9] The function of this Curtain which can be viewed as a celestial counterpart of the veil found in the earthly sanctuary is twofold. First, it protects the angelic hosts from the harmful luminosity of the divine Face. At the same time it shields the Deity by concealing the ultimate mysteries of the Godhead now accessible solely to the prince(s) of the divine Presence whose duty is to serve the Deity behind[10] the Curtain.[11] Several passages found in the Hekhalot literature depict Metatron and other princes of the Face as attendants who serve the divine Presence in the closest proximity to the Throne, and have the right to enter the immediate presence of the Lord.

The passage found in Hekhalot Zutarti says that “when the youth enters below the throne of glory, God embraces him with a shining face….”[12] This description conveys the fact that the deadly effect of the vision of the luminous Face, which terrifies the angelic hosts, cannot harm the Youth who executes here the office of the sar happanim.[13] This tradition stresses the difference between the princes of the divine Presence and the rest of the angels, who must shield their own faces because they cannot endure the direct sight of the Deity.[14] Another significant feature of the passage from Hekhalot Zutarti is that the Youth’s entrance into God’s presence is understood here liturgically, i.e., as the entrance into the heavenly tabernacle which, according to other traditions, is located beneath the Throne of Glory.

Another text preserved in the Cairo Genizah also depicts the Youth as emerging from his sacerdotal place in the immediate Presence of the Deity:

Now, see the youth, who is going forth to meet you from behind the throne of glory. Do not bow down to him, because his crown is like the crown of his King .… And the robe (qwlxw) on him is like the robe (qwlxk) of his king….[15]

It is intriguing that these two texts which describe the office of the sar happanim link the servant(s) of the Face with the title “Youth” [16] (Heb. r(n), which some scholars suggest can be rendered in some contexts as a “servant.”[17]

Besides apparent liturgical affiliations, the intimate proximity to the King and access to his Presence behind the closed Curtain presuppose the duty of the keeper of secrets, since the servant would necessarily have direct access to the ultimate mysteries of the Deity. In this light, scholars point to proficiency in the divine secrets as one of the important features of the sar happanim office. Odeberg observes that “the framework of the book (3 Enoch) thus represents Metatron as the angel who has access to the divine Presence, the ‘Face’ of the Godhead (and in this sense the appellation sar happanim), hence possesses knowledge of the divine secrets and decrees.”[18] This association with esoteric knowledge points to the composite nature of this role of Metatron and its close affinity with his previously investigated office as an expert in divine secrets.

 A word must be said about the imagery of the divine Face[19] which represents an essential element of the title. Although the authors of the early booklets of 1 Enoch know the theophanic language of the Face, they nevertheless show no interest in the extensive appropriation of this concept to Enoch’s visions.[20]  Yet, in 2 Enoch and in the later Hekhalot materials, the imagery of the divine Face looms large. It sometimes is understood as the teleological point of visionaries’ aspirations.[21] It is also observable that in some of these materials, Metatron and other servants of the Face are directly identified with the Face of the Deity and are even labeled as the hypostatic face of God.[22]

Finally, several words must be said about the possible background of the concept of the servant(s) of the divine Presence found in biblical and pseudepigraphic materials.[23] Philip Alexander has suggested that the title might have its background in Isa 63:9, where one can find the following passage: “in all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them.” The imagery of angels of the Presence was also widespread in pseudepigraphic writings, specifically in the early Enochic pseudepigrapha, where the imagery, however, was never[24] directly identified with the seventh antediluvian patriarch.[25] Although the tablet of Nineveh describes Enmeduranki as the one who sat in the presence (ma-h~ar) of the deities, and the presence or the “Face” of God is mentioned in the Book of the Watchers[26] and the Hebrew text of Sirach 49:14,[27] neither Enmeduranki’s lore nor early Enochic traditions refer to the seventh antediluvian hero as the servant of the Face.[28]   1 Enoch 40:9, however, mentions the four “Faces”[29] or “Presences” of Ezek 1:6, identifying them with the four principal angels: Michael, Phanuel,[30] Raphael, and Gabriel.[31]

The imagery of the angel of the Presence is also influential in the Book of Jubilees where this angel does not have a specific name.[32]  He is depicted there as a special agent of God who dictates the contents of the heavenly tablets to Moses.[33] Several expressions found in the Qumran materials also deal with the imagery of the servants of the divine Presence. Among these materials the fragments of the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice merit special attention as these texts contain concepts and imagery closely related to the later Hekhalot developments. James VanderKam notices that, although the term Mynph yk)lm itself does not occurred in the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice, similar expressions, such as Mynp ytr#m and #dwq Klm ynp ytr#m, can be found in 4Q400.[34]

At the conclusion of this analysis of the sar happanim imagery, one important methodological issue pertaining to Metatron’s appellations must be addressed. It has been noticed that the Merkabah tradition applies the title the Prince of the Presence not only to Metatron but also to other angelic beings including Suryah and others. It is not uncommon that in the Hekhalot writings other important titles of Metatron, such as the Prince of the World, the Youth and others, are used regularly in the descriptions of other angels. This situation, however, can be partially explained by the tradition according to which this exalted angel is known under other names,[35] whose number ranges from eight in Hekhalot Rabbati to ninety-two in the Alphabet of Rabbi Akiba.[36] Although this evidence is helpful in recognizing some angelic names, some attributions of Metatron’s titles to angelic beings with different names cannot be explained simply by reference to his multiple names, since the angelic agents who bear these titles are sometimes clearly differentiated from Metatron or act along with him in these offices. This situation might point to the polemical context of the Metatron tradition and indicates that this lore not only originated from the polemical pool of the early mediatorial traditions but, even in the later stages of its development, did not abandon this polemical essence, being continuously reshaped by new challenges which other traditions about exalted angelic agents presented to Metatron’s myth.

Some scholars observe that assigning Metatron’s title to other angelic beings might point to the existence of other parallel developments in which these titles do not belong to Metatron, but to other exalted figures.[37]  An important distinction, therefore, must be made between the internal polemical character of the Metatron tradition and the polemical nature of the broader context surrounding this tradition in the Merkabah texts. In contrast to the inner circle of competition between Yahoel, Michael, and Enoch for their primacy in the shaping of the various titles and offices of Metatron, these external developments manifest the outer circle of this polemic when the constructed titles are not completely retained within the Metatron imagery, but continue to be used by the previous owners of these sobriquets. As an illustration, one can point to the prominent sar happanim of the Hekhalot literature, the angel Suryah, in whom one can easily recognize the familiar image of Sariel/Uriel/Phanuel, the angel of the Presence from 1 (Ethiopic) Enoch. Such developments indicate that some of the helpers involved in the shaping of Metatron’s identity later become the competitors of this exalted angel……



[1] It is noteworthy that in the Merkabah tradition these functions are not confined solely to Metatron. Scholem observes that “Sar ha-Panim ... is a term that denotes a whole class of the highest angels, including Metatron.” Scholem, Jewish Mysticism, 63.

[2] Odeberg, 3 Enoch, 1.79.

[3]  3 Enoch 8:1 “R. Ishmael said: Metatron, Prince of the Divine Presence, said to me: Before the Holy One, blessed be he, set me to serve the throne of glory.…” Alexander, “3 Enoch,” 262. Metatron’s prominent role might also be reflected in the fragment found on one magical bowl where he is called hysrwkd )br )rsy), “the great prince of the throne.” C. Gordon, “Aramaic Magical Bowls in the Istanbul and Baghdad Museums,” Archiv Orientálni 6 (1934) 328.

[4] This tendency is not peculiar to 3 Enoch. See, for example, MS. Leningrad Antonin 186 (=G19) (Schäfer, Geniza-Fragmente, 163: “I adjure you Metatron, Prince of the Presence, I pronounce upon you Metatron, Prince of the Presence, I claim upon you Metatron, Angel of the Presence, and I seal upon you Metatron, Prince of the Presence... and the Youth, he calls him [  ] the strong, magnificent, and awesome, [names]….” Schwartz, Scholastic Magic, 119–120.

[5] Alexander, “3 Enoch,” 1.256.

[6] Alexander, “From Son of Adam to a Second God,” 105.

[7] 3 Enoch 15. Alexander, “3 Enoch,” 267; Schäfer et al., Synopse, 10–11.

[8] Synopse §§64–65 (3 Enoch 45) provides the description of the heavenly Curtain Pargod: “R. Ishmael said: Metatron said to me: Come and I will show you the curtain of the Omnipresent One, which is spread before the Holy One, blessed be he, and on which are printed all the generations of the world and all their deeds, whether done or to be done, till the last generation….” Alexander, “3 Enoch,” 296. On the symbolism of the Pargod, see: Halperin, The Merkabah in Rabbinic Literature, 169, n. 99; Morray-Jones, A Transparent Illusion, 164ff.

[9] Alexander, “3 Enoch,” 240 and 242.

[10] The reference to the veil indicates that the function of the Prince of the Presence has a composite nature and sometimes is linked with the function of the priest who must enter the divine Presence behind the curtain.

[11] Alexander, “3 Enoch,” 296, note a.

[12] Synopse, §385.

[13] On this motif of dangerous encounters with the Divine in Hekhalot literature, see Davila, Descenders to the Chariot, 136–139; Andrea B. Lieber, “Where is Sacrifice in the Heavenly Temple? Reflections on the Role of Violence in Hekhalot Traditions,” SBLSP 37 (1998) 432446.

[14] Synopse, §§101, 159, 183, 184, 189.

[15] Schäfer, Geniza-Fragmente zur Hekhalot-Literatur, 2b:13–14.

[16] Several other Metatron passages attest to the same tradition. See, for example, MS. Leningrad Antonin 186 (=G19) which combines the title “Youth” with Metatron’s office of the Prince of the Presence: “I adjure you Metatron, Prince of the Presence, I pronounce upon you Metatron, Prince of the Presence, I claim upon you Metatron, Angel of the Presence, and I seal upon you Metatron, Prince of the Presence... and the Youth, he calls him [  ] the strong, magnificent and awesome, [names]....” Schwartz, Scholastic Magic, 119–120; Schäfer, Geniza-Fragmente, 163.

[17] Alexander, “3 Enoch,” 259, note t.

[18] Odeberg, 3 Enoch, 1.79.

[19] On the origins of the imagery of the divine Face, see S. M. Olyan, A Thousand Thousands Served Him: Exegesis and the Naming of Angels in Ancient Judaism (TSAJ 36; Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 1993) 105ff.

[20] 1 Enoch 89:29–31.

[21] Schäfer, The Hidden and Manifest God, 17–20.

[22] Nathaniel Deutsch argues that the title sar happanim is better understood as the “prince who is the face [of God].” In his opinion, at least one Merkabah passage [§§396–397] explicitly identifies Metatron as the hypostatic face of God: “Moses said to the Lord of all the worlds: ‘If your face does not go [with us], do not bring me up from here.’ [Exod 33:15] The Lord of all the worlds warned Moses that he should beware of that face of his. So it is written, ‘Beware of his face.’ [Exod 23:21] This is he who is written with the one letter by which heaven and earth were created, and was sealed with the seal of ‘I am that I am’ [Exod 3:14] ... This is the prince who is called Yofiel Yah-dariel ... he is called Metatron” [§§396–397]. Deutsch, Guardians of the Gate, 43.

[23] On the origin of the sar happanim imagery, see P. Schäfer, Rivalität zwischen Engeln und Menschen: Untersuchungen zur rabbinischen Engelvorstellung (SJ 8; Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1975) 20–21.

[24] Except 2 Enoch.

[25] Scholars suggest that the appellation was originally connected not with Enoch but with Michael. Jonas Greenfield suggests that “the title sar ha-panim ‘prince of the countenance’ was originally shared by Michael with three other archangels (Ethiopic Enoch 40.9–10), but it would seem that it soon became his [Michael] alone; in time, however, the title became exclusively Metatron’s (or that of the other angels, such as Surya, who replaced Metatron in certain texts).” Greenfield, “Prolegomenon,” xxxi.

[26] 1 Enoch 14:21: “And no angel could enter, and at the appearance of the face (gas9s9) of him who is honored and praised no (creature of) flesh could look.” Knibb, The Ethiopic Book of Enoch, 2.99.

[27] In Hebrew Sirach 49:14, Enoch’s ascent is described as Mynp xqln, the expression which Christopher Rowland renders as “taken into the divine presence.” C. Rowland, “Enoch,” in: Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (eds. K. van der Toorn et al; Leiden: Brill, 1999) 302.

[28] 2 Enoch, where the patriarch is explicitly identified with the Face and is also labeled as the one who will stand before the Face forever, represents a unique case in the early Enochic materials and will be discussed later.

[29] Peter Schäfer notes that, along with the labeling of the four principal angels as “the four faces,” the author of the Book of the Similitudes also replaces Uriel with Phanuel. Schäfer then cautiously suggests that the replacement of Uriel with Phanuel might be a hint that all four angels are in fact the angels of the Face. P. Schäfer, Rivalität zwischen Engeln und Menschen: Untersuchungen zur rabbinischen Engelvorstellung (SJ, 8; Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1975) 21.

[30] Although the early Enochic materials associated with 1 Enoch do mention an angel named Phanuel (see, for example, 1 Enoch 40:9), the name which most likely can be rendered as the Face of God, this celestial being is never identified in this composition with Enoch. On the connection between Uriel/Sariel/Phanuel and the angel Suriya, who is designated in Hekhalot Rabbati as the Prince of the Countenance, see: Greenfield, “Prolegomenon,” xxxiv–xxxv.

[31] Scholem traces the sar happanim imagery to the Enochic angelological prototypes. He observes that “the angelology of apocalyptic literature mentions a group of angels who behold the face of their king and are called ‘princes of countenance’ (Ethiopic Book of Enoch, ch. 40). Once Metatron’s personality takes a more definite form in the literature, he is referred to simply as ‘the Prince of the Countenance,’” Scholem, “Metatron,” EJ, 11.1443.

[32] VanderKam, “The Angel of the Presence in the Book of Jubilees,” 378–393.

[33] This angel is introduced in Jub 1:27, where the Ethiopic expression mal)aka gas9s9  means literally “the angel of the face.” J. C. VanderKam, “The Angel of the Presence in the Book of Jubilees,” DSD 7 (2000) 382. It is intriguing that in some Merkabah materials Metatron is named as both the Prince of the Face and the Angel of the Face. See, for example, Schäfer, Geniza-Fragmente, G–12, fol. 1a, lines 15–18.

[34] VanderKam, “The Angel of the Presence in the Book of Jubilees,” 384.

[35] Synopse §4: “I [Metatron] have seventy names, corresponding to the seventy nations of the world … however, my King calls me ‘Youth.’” Alexander, “3 Enoch,” 257.

[36] On the names of Metatron, see Dan, “Seventy Names of Metatron,” 1.229–34; Cohen, Liturgy and Theurgy, 128.

[37] See James Davila’s research on the Youth imagery in the Hekhalot literature.