Andrei A. Orlov


 Metatron as the Expert in Secrets

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



... Synopse §14 (3 Enoch 11) attests to the omniscience of Metatron’s knowledge and his immeasurable competence in esoteric lore. In this Hekhalot tract the supreme angel unveils to R. Ishmael that he, Metatron, is the one to whom God revealed “all the mysteries of wisdom, all the depths of the perfect Torah and all the thoughts of men’s hearts.”[1] The text leaves the impression that the fullness of the disclosure of the ultimate secrets to this angel can be comparable only to the knowledge of the Deity itself, since according to

Metatron, all the mysteries of the world and all the orders (secrets)[2] of creation are revealed before him “as they stand revealed before the Creator”[3] himself.

One learns from Sefer Hekhalot that the angel’s initiation into the ultimate secrets and mysteries of the universe allows him to discern the outer and inner nature of things: the mysteries of creation as well as the secrets of the human hearts.

Metatron informs R. Ishmael that he has a unique capacity for foreknowledge which enables him to behold “deep secrets and wonderful mysteries. Before a man thinks in secret, I [Metatron] see his thought; before he acts, I see his act. There is nothing in heaven above or deep within the earth concealed from me.”[4]

Several details in these descriptions of Enoch-Metatron’s expertise in the secrets recall similar conceptual developments already known in early Enochic and Enmeduranki traditions. First, the peculiar emphasis on the secrets associated with “the orders of creation” found in 3 Enoch recalls the tablet from Nineveh in which the motifs of mysteries and secrets were specifically tied to cosmological and creational concepts. The preoccupation with the secrets of the orders of creation also recalls the early

Enochic booklets – more specifically, the Astronomical Book, in which Uriel’s instructions in astronomical, cosmological, and meteorological lore also can be seen as pertaining to such orders.  Finally, one must not forget 2 Enoch, in which the secrets of creation stand at the center of the Lord’s revelations to the elevated Enoch. This parallel, however, will be explored in detail in other sections of this study.

3 Enoch’s emphasis on understanding the mysteries of the human heart is also discernible in the early Enochic lore, namely, in 2 Enoch 50:1, when the seventh antediluvian patriarch reveals to his children that he is the one who is able to see the hidden deeds of each person as in a mirror: “I have set down the achievements of each person in the writings and no one can (hide himself) who is born on the earth, nor (can) his achievement be kept secret. I see everything, as if in a mirror.”[5]

It is noteworthy that it is not just the content of the secrets, but also the manner of initiation into them that demonstrates remarkable similarities between 2 and 3 Enoch. H. Odeberg was first to notice that the Enoch-Metatron initiation into the secrets in 3 Enoch recalls the procedure described in 2 Enoch – the patriarch was first initiated by angel(s) and after this by the Lord.[6] Sefer Hekhalot attests to the same two-step initiatory procedure when Enoch-Metatron is first initiated by the Prince of Wisdom and the Prince of Understanding and then by the Holy One himself.[7]

In contrast to early Enochic materials which testify to Enoch’s expertise in secrets but do not employ any titles pertaining to this activity,[8] Synopse §73 (3 Enoch 48C:7) openly refers to the new title of Enoch-Metatron as the “knower of secrets,” Myzr (dwy:

and I called him by my name, the Lesser YHWH (N+qh ywy), Prince of the Divine Presence (Mynph r#), and knower of secrets (Myzr (dwyw). Every secret I have revealed to him in love, every mystery I have made known to him in uprightness.[9]

Another important feature of Metatron’s associations with secrets which differentiates Hekhalot materials from early Enochic testimonies is that Metatron, unlike the earlier Enoch, does not simply know or write down secrets, but embodies them, since some of the most profound mysteries are now literally written on him, or more specifically on his vestments, including his garments which recall the Deity’s own attire, the Haluq (qwlx), and Metatron’s glorious crown decorated by the secret letters inscribed by the hand of God. Synopse §16 (3 Enoch 13) informs us that the Deity wrote on Metatron’s crown with his finger, as with a pen of flame:

the letters by which heaven and earth were created; the letters by which seas and rivers were created; the letters by which mountains and hills were created; the letters by which stars and constellations, lightning and wind, thunder and thunderclaps, snow and hail, hurricane and tempest were created; the letters by which all the necessities of the world and all the orders (yrds) [secrets][10] of creation were created.[11]

There is little doubt that the inscriptions on Metatron’s crown pertain to the ultimate secrets of the universe, i.e., to the mysteries of creation, an esoteric lore also possessed by the seventh antediluvian hero in the earlier Enochic and Enmeduranki traditions.[12] The tradition found in the later Zoharic materials informs us that the inscriptions on Metatron’s crown are indeed related to the ultimate secrets of heaven and earth.[13] Thus the passage found in Zohar Hadash, 40a elaborates the motif of the sacred engravings:

Twelve celestial keys are entrusted to Metatron through the mystery of the holy name, four of which are the four separated secrets of the lights…. And this light, which rejoices the heart, provides the illumination of wisdom and discernment so that one may know and ponder. These are the four celestial keys, in which are contained all the other keys, and they have all been entrusted to this supreme head, Metatron, the great prince, all of them being within his Master’s secrets, in the engravings of the mysteries of the holy, ineffable name.[14]

Finally, several words must be said about the recipients of Metatron’s secrets in 3 Enoch. Among other merited visionaries, these beneficiaries now include Rabbi Ishmael ben Elisha and Moses, both of whom received their revelations from Metatron during their journeys into the celestial realm where the angel assists them as their angelus interpres

In these new developments one detects a bridge with the hereditary pattern of esoteric transmission well known in Mesopotamian and Enochic materials, the latter of which emphasized the prominent role of the patriarch’s children, including Methuselah, as the chosen vessels of the seer’s disclosures. Although some talmudic and Hekhalot passages depict Metatron as a celestial teacher of the deceased children, these instructions do not have a hereditary emphasis and are not connected in any way with the hero’s instructions to his children as attested in Enmeduranki and Enochic traditions....



[1] Alexander, “3 Enoch,” 264.

[2] Some manuscripts of 3 Enoch use “mysteries” instead of “orders.” See, Alexander, “3 Enoch,” 264, note c.

[3] Alexander, “3 Enoch,” 264.

[4] Alexander, “3 Enoch,” 264.

[5] 2 Enoch 50:1.

[6] Odeberg, 3 Enoch, 1.55.

[7] Alexander, “3 Enoch,” 264.

[8] In contrast to Enochic materials, Enmeduranki’s tradition defines the seventh antediluvian hero as the one guarding the secrets (na4s[ir piris]ti) of the great gods. Kvanvig, Roots of Apocalyptic, 188.

[9] Alexander, “3 Enoch,” 312; Schäfer et al, Synopse, 36–7.

[10] Some manuscripts of 3 Enoch use the term “secrets” (Myrts) instead of “orders” (Myrds). See Alexander, “3 Enoch,” 266; Schäfer et al., Synopse, 8.

[11] Alexander, “3 Enoch,” 265–266; Schäfer et al., Synopse, 8–9.

[12] In his comments on the imagery of Metatron’s crown in 3 Enoch, Joseph Dan observes that “Metatron’s crown, as that of God, is not only a source of light for the worlds, but represents the principal power of the one who carries it: creation. The highest stage pictured here states that God Himself engraved on Metatron’s crown the letters with which the heaven and the earth and all their hosts were created. It thus follows that one who actually sees Metatron cannot but believe that he is standing before the one who carried out the actions with these letters, i.e., that the power inherent in them was utilized in the actual act of creation.” Dan, The Ancient Jewish Mysticism, 118.

[13] Some scholars suggest that the link between Metatron and the secrets of creation might allude to his role as a demiurge or at least a participant in creation. Deutsch, Guardians of the Gate, 44–45. Jarl Fossum suggests that the depiction of Metatron in Sefer Hekhalot, while not demiurgic, still alludes to the matrix of ideas out which the Gnostic concept of the demiurge has possibly risen. Fossum, The Name of God, 301. The beginning of Enoch-Metatron’s possible demiurgical profile can be detected already in 2 Enoch, a text which puts great emphasis on the secrets of creation.

[14] Tishby, The Wisdom of  the Zohar, 2.644–5.