Monday, January 12, 2009

Encyclopedia Mythica

I just stumbled onto this site: Encyclopedia Mythica. It looks like a quick and easy reference to various gods or figures of various myths and legends throughout world literature, ranging from Celtic, Greek, Roman, Mesopotamian, Persian, Indian, etc. Most of the "articles" are only a few lines long--enough to give you some bearings--while others are longer (the entry on Metatron is lengthier!). If anything, it might be useful if you are reading along in a text and do not know who or what a particular character is.

Here is the entry on Metatron for a test-case:


by Ilil Arbel, Ph.D.

The myths of Metatron are extremely complicated, and at least two separate versions exist. The first version states he came into being when God created the world, and immediately assumed his many responsibilities. The second claims that he was first a human named Enoch, a pious, good man who had ascended to Heaven a few times, and eventually was transformed into a fiery angel. Some later books adopt the first version, some the second, and in other literature both are combined. There are even two versions of the name Metatron, one spelled with seven letters, the other with six, lacking the Hebrew letter "yod." The Kabbalists explained that the six-letter name represents the Enoch-related Metatron, while the seven-letter name refers to the primordial Metatron. Despite the elaborate debate, the origin of Metatron's name is not clear. Many attempts have been made to explain it, but none of them is satisfactory, since the word has no real meaning or root in any language. Some authors think it may be derived from private meditations and visions, or even glossolalia. This article concentrates on the Metatron-Enoch version

Metatron is one of the most important angels in the heavenly hierarchy. He is a member of a special group that is permitted to look at God's countenance, an honor most angels do not share. In the literature, Metatron is often referred to as "the Prince of the Countenance."

In the Babylonian Talmud, Metatron is mentioned only three times, but the references are important. All three relate to the problem of Metatron's immense power, which may have caused some people to confuse him with God. In later literature he was even mentioned as the "lesser Yahweh" -- a serious blasphemy for the strictly Monotheistic Judaism. Later, some authors tried to resolve the issue by showing how the Hebrew letters of the name of a mythical predecessor, the angel Yahoel (later to be entirely identified with Metatron), were the same letters as those in the name of Yahweh. Another legend states that God himself named him so, out of affection. A fascinating legend tells of a particularly interesting and famous Jewish heretic, Elisha ben Avuyah, who saw Metatron sitting by God's side, occupying the same type of throne. This made Elisha suspect that two equal powers operated in the universe -- God and Metatron. The legend continues to explain that he made a false assumption, which indeed cost Elisha his position within the Jewish community. According to these scholars, God permitted Metatron to sit because, as God's scribe, he recorded the good deeds of the Nation of Israel. This story works very well with two of Metatron's many heavenly tasks: a scribe and an advocate, defending the Nation of Israel in the heavenly court.

Enoch, a pious teacher, scribe and leader of his people, is famed for the part he took in the tragedy of the fallen angels (see Watchers). Living during a time of great sins, around the flood, he had visited Heaven more than once. However, the time was ripe for a most significant trip. One night, two angels woke him up and commanded him to prepare for his journey. They took him on their wings, and showed him all the Heavens and their inhabitants, including a side trip to Paradise and to the place of punishment and torture of the sinners, which strangely enough was located not too far from paradise. He observed the activity of the sun and the moon, and made a visit of consolation to rebellious angels, the Grigori, succeeding in bringing them closer to God. After the tour, the great Angels Gabriel and Michael lead him straight to God's Throne.

Sitting next to God, Enoch was instructed in wisdom, and using his skills as a scribe, prepared three hundred and sixty-six books. When he learned everything, a most significant thing happened. God revealed to him great secrets -- some of which are even kept secret from the angels! These included the secrets of Creation, the duration of time the world will survive, and what will happen after its demise. At the end of these discussions, Enoch returned to earth for a limited time, to instruct everyone, including his sons, in all he learned. After thirty days, the angels returned him to Heaven.

And then the divine transformation took place. Additional wisdom and spiritual qualities caused Enoch's height and breadth to become equal to the height and breadth of the earth. God attached thirty-six wings to his body, and gave him three hundred and sixty-five eyes, each as bright as the sun. His body turned into celestial fire -- flesh, veins, bones, hair, all metamorphosed to glorious flame. Sparks emanated from him, and storms, whirlwind, and thunder encircled his form. The angels dressed him in magnificent garments, including a crown, and arranged his throne. A heavenly herald proclaimed that from then on his name would no longer be Enoch, but Metatron, and that all angels must obey him, as second only to God.

If I were to quibble with these entries on anything, I would suggest that they provide the "mythological" sources they used to compose their synthetic picture, places where an interested reader could go and encounter these figures first-hand in their literary contexts (or otherwise). While this entry does cite the Babylonian Talmud (although not exactly where--a problem since the BT is so enormous, the yam ha-talmud!), it does not note the location of the other sources--1 Enoch, 2 Enoch, 3 Enoch (also known as Sefer Hekhalot) and how they can be found in English translation. By the way, you can find these in volume 1 of James Charlesworth's edited volume of the "Old Testament Pseudepigrapha" published by Doubleday.


Liam said...

Very cool stuff. So all those stories come from the books of Enoch? That's been on my reading list for some time.

Jared Calaway said...

The ones that relate to Enoch becoming Metatron. This really only occurs finally in the last one (3 Enoch). In a way, 3 Enoch brings together the Enoch and Metatron traditions, merging them into a single character.

Metatron, as noted by the article, pops up in a lot of places, including the BT.

Liam said...

BT? Babylonian Talmud?

Wasn't he also Alan Rickman in Dogma?

Jared Calaway said...

Yes and yes.