Yahoel and Metatron

Aural Apocalypticism and the Origins of Early Jewish Mysticisim

Reddit icon
e-mail icon
Twitter icon
Facebook icon
Google icon
LinkedIn icon
Andrei A. Orlov
Texts and Studies in Ancient Judaism
  • Tübingen, Germany: 
    Mohr Siebeck
    , August
     238 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


The study of Jewish apocalypticism and mysticism has been enriched in recent years by a revival of the study of the Slavonic pseudepigrapha. Andrei Orlov has been at the forefront of that discussion. His study of The Enoch-Metatron Tradition (TSAJ 107; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2005) has rightly been hailed as a major contribution. Orlov has now followed this with a study comparing the figure of Yahoel in the Apocalypse of Abrahamand Metatron in Sefer Hekalot (3 Enoch), arguing for continuity between the apocalypses and later mystical traditions.

Yahoel and Metatron: Aural Apocalypticism and the Origins of Early Jewish Mysticism is divided into three chapters, with a brief introduction and conclusion. The first chapter is devoted to “antecedents and influences.” The mystical tradition in Judaism is usually conceived in visual terms, typified by the vision of Ezekiel, and more broadly of the Priestly tradition. Orlov notes that there is another tradition, typified by Deuteronomy, in which revelation is aural rather than visual, and focuses on the divine name. This is important for the Apocalypse of Abraham, in which the deity is described as “the voice of the Mighty One coming down from the heavens in a stream of fire,” and the angel Yahoel can be seen as the personification of the divine name. Orlov proceeds to hunt for precedents for “the mediation of the Name” in the Hebrew Bible and Second Temple literature. He casts a wide net, ranging from Exodus 23:21, where Moses is told to listen to the voice of the angel, to instances where the divine name is used to work miracles in the Targumim and the narrative of Artapanus. Even Shemihazah, a leader of the fallen Watchers in 1 Enoch, is taken to be a negative mediator of the name, because of the etymology of his own name. This survey has heuristic value, but the category of “mediation” is excessively broad and inclusive.

Chapter 2 begins by considering the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrificefrom Qumran as an instance of aural rather than visual mysticism. It then turns to the figure of Yahoel in the late 1st-century CE Apocalypse of Abraham. Orlov provides a comprehensive inventory of Yahoel’s roles and titles: mediator of the name, embodiment of the deity, choirmaster, revealer of secrets, Sar Torah, heavenly high priest, sustainer of creation, guide and guardian of the visionary, liminal figure, remover of human sins, and second power in heaven. Chapter 3 uses the same categories to present the roles and titles of Metatron. The correspondences are extensive, although it is difficult to avoid the impression that they are, in some cases, stretched. The case for seeing Yahoel as Sar Torah rests on echoes of Moses’s reception of the Torah in the account of Yahoel’s communication with the human recipient of revelation. These details, we are told, “might hint” at Yahoel’s role as the angelic master of Torah (106). This point is important for Orlov, since the Sar Torah is often cited as an instance of discontinuity between apocalyptic and mystical traditions. Whether the hints Orlov detects are enough to bridge the gap, however, remains debatable.

Orlov’s book is framed as a discussion of the legacy of Gershom Scholem. Scholem saw the vision of God as the goal of Jewish mysticism, and saw this goal as a development of the visionary tradition of the prophets and the apocalypses. Critics such as Peter Shafer have pointed out that the vision is not always central in the classic Jewish mystical texts, which emphasize participation in the heavenly liturgy. Orlov argues that there was in fact a paradigm shift from an emphasis on seeing the divine Form to an “auricularcentric, liturgical praxis.” This aural name /shem ideology reaches a high point in chapter 18 of the Apocalypse of Abraham, where the seer encounters the divine chariot, but not a figure seated on the throne. Rather than behold the appearance of a man, as in Ezekiel’s vision, Abraham hears something “like the voice of a man” (68). This shift becomes prominent after the destruction of the Jerusalem temple, but has an important precedent in the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice.

While Orlov’s focus on aural revelation is an important corrective to Scholem, his work tends to support Scholem’s claim of continuity between the apocalyptic literature and the later Hekalot texts. Orlov refrains, however, from grand claims in this regard, and acknowledges “the difficulties in discerning various apocalyptic molds inside the rabbinic Merkavah and Hekhalot sources” (210).  Some details in this study, such as the recognition of Sar Torahin the Apocalypse of Abraham, are open to question, but the study breaks new ground and makes a significant contribution to the study of Jewish mysticism.

About the Reviewer(s): 

John J. Collins is Holmes Professor of Old Testament at Yale Divinity School.

Date of Review: 
July 9, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Andrei A. Orlov is professor of Judaism and Christianity in Antiquity at Marquette University.


Reading Religion welcomes comments from AAR members, and you may leave a comment below by logging in with your AAR Member ID and password. Please read our policy on commenting.