Andrei A. Orlov


 Metatron as the Youth

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



….The information about Metatron’s title “Youth” is widely disseminated in the rabbinic and Hekhalot materials.[1] Despite the extensive information about the title provided by other Hekhalot evidence, 3 Enoch appears to contain a substantial bulk of the unique knowledge pertaining to this sobriquet of Metatron.  The appellation occurs several times in the text and becomes a locus of extensive theological deliberation. It is significant for this research that the authors of Sefer Hekhalot construe the context and even the origin of the title on the basis of the motifs associated with the Enochic traditions.

The title is first introduced in Synopse §3 (3 Enoch 2:2) in the context of the angelic opposition to the ascension of R. Ishmael. There the designation “Youth” in relation to Enoch-Metatron first comes from the mouth of the angelic hosts who challenge the exalted angel on the subject of the legitimacy of his protégé, Rabbi Ishmael, “the one born of woman,” to enter God’s presence and behold the Chariot:

Then the eagles of the chariot, the flaming ophanim and the cherubim of devouring fire, asked Metatron, “Youth (r(n), why have you allowed one born of woman to come in and behold the chariot? From what nation is he? From what tribe? What is his character?” Metatron replied, “He is of the nation of Israel, whom the Holy One, blessed be he, chose from the seventy nations to be his people. He is of the tribe of Levi, which presents the offering to his name. He is of the family of Aaron, whom the Holy One, blessed be he, chose to minister in his presence and on whose head he himself placed the priestly crown on Sinai.” At once they began to say, “This one is certainly worthy to behold the chariot, as it is written, happy is the nation of whom this is true, happy is the nation whose God is the Lord.”[2]  

The story from Synopse §3, which revolves around the theme of the humanity of the visionary, alludes to Enoch’s situation, underscored in Sefer Hekhalot by the parallel story of the angelic opposition to the seventh antediluvian patriarch.[3] According to Synopse §6 (3 Enoch 4:510), he encountered a similar challenge from the three ministering angels (Uzzah, (Azzah,  and (Aza)el at the time of his ascension in the generation of the Flood:

And the Holy One, blessed be he, appointed me (Enoch) in the height as a prince and a ruler among the ministering angels. Then three of ministering angels, (Uzzah, (Azzah,  and (Aza)el, came and laid charges against me in the heavenly height. They said before the Holy One, blessed be he, “Lord of the Universe, did not the primeval ones give you good advice when they said, do not create man!” The Holy One, blessed be he, replied, “I have made and I will sustain him; I will carry and I will deliver him.” When they saw me they said before him, “Lord of the Universe, what right has this one to ascend to the height of heights? Is he not descended from those who perished in the waters of the Flood? What right has he to be in heaven?” Again the Holy One, blessed be he, replied and said to them, “What right have you to interrupt me? I have chosen this one in preference to all of you, to be a prince and a ruler over you in the heavenly heights.” At once they all arose and went to meet me and prostrated themselves before me, saying, “Happy are you, and happy your parents, because your Creator has favored you.” Because I am young in their company and a mere youth among them in days and months and years therefore they call me “Youth” (r(n).[4]

In this passage, as in the account found in Synopse §3, the angelic opposition is provoked by the human origin of the visionary who attempts to enter the celestial realm, violating the boundaries separating human and angelic regions. Both stories also have an identical structure, since in both of them the angels who initially opposed the visionary eventually were persuaded and pacified by the argumentation of the seer’s patrons (God and Metatron), and are finally obliged to deliver a similar address praising the social or physical (nation/parents) pedigree of the invader.

It is significant that Synopse §6 contains a reference to the Adamic tradition by recalling the protoplast’s situation. This motif might reflect the Adamic provenance of the stories from Synopse §3 and §6 and their possible connection with the tradition about the veneration of Adam by some angels and the refusal of such obeisance by others, a tradition which was widespread in early Adamic literature. This connection will be explored in detail later in this investigation.

The most important aspect of the presentation for this investigation of the title “Youth” in Sefer Hekhalot is that this text explicates the provenance of the title on the basis of Metatron’s human origins and his connection with the figure of the seventh antediluvian patriarch. David Halperin observes that in Sefer Hekhalot Enoch-Metatron is portrayed among the inhabitants of heaven as a sort of a Johnny-come-lately who despite his late arrival manages to become the greatest in their midst.[5]  Metatron’s answer to R. Ishmael’s question about the designation “Youth” bears the form of an etymological explanation[6] of the puzzling title: “Because I am young in their company and a mere youth among them in days and months and years therefore they call me ‘Youth’ (r(n).”[7]

This Enochic explanation might not be a later rabbinic invention but a tradition stemming from the earlier, possibly premishnaic, context since Synopse §3 and §6 appear to be connected through the early Adamic-Enochic theme of angelic opposition. In this regard, Synopse §6 seems to stay closer to the original Adamic-Enochic prototype and reflects the underlying story more fully because, in addition to the theme of the angelic opposition, it also refers to the motif of the angelic veneration of humanity.

Besides the aforementioned motifs, Sefer Hekhalot brings to light another unique tradition pertaining to the appellation “Youth.” According to 3 Enoch 3, this title becomes the Lord’s preferred choice when he desires to invoke his servant Metatron. In Synopse §4, in response to R. Ishmael’ query about his name, the angel answers: “I have seventy names, corresponding to the seventy nations of the world, and all of them are based on the name of the King of kings of kings, however, my king calls me ‘Youth’ (r(n).”[8] This passage stresses the intermediary position of Metatron; he is recognized by the majority of the creatures through his seventy names, but is known to the Deity through his appellation “Youth.” This narrative also implicitly points to Metatron’s title the Prince of the World through the reference to his seventy names which correspond to the seventy nations of the world.[9] This combination recalls the previously mentioned passages from b. Yeb. 16b and the Synopse §959, where one can find similar constellations. 

Finally, I must discuss the possible provenance of the title “Youth.” Recent publications of James Davila have demonstrated that the imagery of the “Youth” was widespread in the Hekhalot traditions, where it often was associated with other angelic figures other than Metatron.[10] Davila suggests that some Hekhalot imagery of the Youth might have its background in the Melchisedek tradition(s). A possible explanation for the attachment of the title “Youth” to the varied subjects in the Merkabah lore can be found in the ubiquity of the Youth imagery; this imagery appears to have been widespread in Second Temple Judaism(s) and was applied in various texts and traditions to Melchisedek, Adam, Enoch, and other exalted figures. It is also possible that the Youth imagery made its way into the later Merkabah accounts through several independent early trajectories connected with the aforementioned mediatorial traditions. Later in the investigation I will further explore the Adamic and Enochic background of the Youth imagery in Sefer Hekhalot. The emphasis on these two formative traditions, of course, does not exclude that other attestations of the title “Youth” in the Hekhalot writings have a different provenance based on their connection with Melchisedek, Yahoel, and other exalted figures…..



[1] According to the current consensus, the earliest rabbinic reference to the title “Youth” is b. Yeb. 16b which also depicts him as the Prince of the World.  Metatron is not mentioned, but the conjunction makes it plausible. Metatron, the Youth, and the Prince of the World are identified with each other in Synopse §959. Among premishnaic Jewish texts, two documents must be mentioned. First, Charles Mopsik draws attention to the passage in Zech 2 in which an angel, described as a measurer responsible for measuring Jerusalem, is also designated in Zech 2:4 as Youth (r(n). Mopsik points to the fact that the Merkabah tradition, similar to Zech 2, also often describes Metatron both as the Youth and the Measurer. C. Mopsik, Le Livre hébreu d’Hénoch ou Livre des palais (Paris: Verdier, 1989) 48–49.  Second, the Wisdom of Solomon 4:10–16 might refer to Enoch as the Youth. The text reads: “There were some who pleased God and were loved by him, and while living among sinners were taken up….and youth that is quickly perfected will condemn the prolonged old age of the unrighteous.” On the title “Youth” in Hekhalot literature, see Davila, “Melchizedek, the ‘Youth,’ and Jesus,” 254ff, Halperin, Faces of the Chariot, 491–4.

[2] Alexander, “3 Enoch,” 257; Schäfer et al., Synopse, 4–5.

[3] On the Adamic motif of angelic opposition and its appropriation in early Enochic materials, including 2 Enoch, see M. E. Stone, “The Fall of Satan and Adam’s Penance: Three Notes on the Books of Adam and Eve,” JTS 44 (1993) 143–156.

[4] Alexander, “3 Enoch,” 258–9; Schäfer et al., Synopse, 6–7.

[5] Halperin, The Faces of the Chariot, 421.

[6] Gershom Scholem and other scholars reject this etymology of the “Youth” as a secondary development, arguing that na(ar must be properly translated as “servant” in view of Metatron’s function as a servant in the celestial tabernacle and his designation as shammasha rehima, the “beloved servant,” in the Aramaic text. David Halperin, however, suggests that the rejection of the interpretation of na(ar as the “Youth” is not “wholly satisfying.” He draws attention to the fact that if “the people who coined this term [na(ar] wanted to convey that Metatron was a servant, why did they not pick one of the familiar Hebrew words (like (ebed or mesharet) that would say this unambiguously? Why did they use na(ar; which, though it can indeed mean ‘servant,’ is so much more commonly used for ‘youth’ that it could hardly avoid conveying this meaning to anyone who heard it?” Halperin, The Faces of the Chariot, 422. In connection with Halperin’s plausible comment it should be noted that the Merkabah lore also operates with the title db(, unambiguously identifying Metatron as God’s “servant.” This title, among other places, can be found in Synopse §13 (3 Enoch 10:3), Synopse §72 (3 Enoch 48C:1), and Synopse §76 (3 Enoch 48D:1).

[7] Alexander, “3 Enoch,” 258–9.

[8] 3 Enoch 3:2. Alexander, “3 Enoch,” 257; Schäfer et al., Synopse, 4–5.

[9] This connection might also signify that the Youth and the Prince of the World appear to be interconnected by a rhetoric of power: Metatron is called the Youth by God because he is subordinate to God and he is called the Prince of the World by others, including the seventy Princes of the World, because they are subordinate to him.

[10] James Davila specifies two important pieces of evidence, first, a fragment from the Cairo Genizah, T.-S. K 21.95.C, where the title “Youth” is attached to the nomen barbarum ZHWBDYH and second, the tradition preserved in Siddur Rabbah, a text associate with the Shi(ur Qomah materials, where the Youth is also not associated with Metatron, since Metatron in this text is the one who tells a visionary about the angel named “Youth.” Davila, “Melchizedek, the ‘Youth,’ and Jesus,” 254–259.