Andrei A. Orlov, The Enoch-Metatron Tradition.
(Texts and Studies in Ancient Judaism, 107; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2005). Pp xii + 383. Cloth, €99,00. ISBN: 3-16-148544-0.
Reviewed by Eva Mroczek
University of Toronto

In The Enoch-Metatron Tradition Andrei Orlov breaks new ground with a detailed treatment of 2 (Slavonic) Enoch, inscribing this important text into the study of Second Temple Judaism. He does this in two ways: by situating 2 Enoch in the context of the Enoch-Metatron lore from the early Enochic booklets to medieval mystical texts, arguing that these materials represent a continuous, evolving tradition; and by considering 2 Enoch’s interactions with other pseudepigraphic traditions. This impressive, wide-ranging book is a fine study in Second Temple intertextuality. It has begun crucial work on texts preserved only in Slavonic, which have remained largely unknown because of language limitations, and marked out several paths for further research on Second Temple Jewish text production and reception.

The study makes two major claims: First, 2 Enoch represents a transitional stage between early Enochic material and the fully developed mystical traditions about the angel Metatron in Hekhalot literature. Second, this evolution from Enoch to Metatron progressed as a result of polemical competition with other exalted figures in the Second Temple period. Orlov’s methodological approach is to trace the roles and titles of Enoch and Metatron, from their Mesopotamian roots to Hekhalot mysticism.

The first part begins with an analysis of Mesopotamian lore about King Enmeduranki and moves on to the materials in 1 Enoch. Orlov deals with early descriptions of Enoch as diviner, sage, mediator and heavenly priest. He then jumps ahead to the roles of the angel Metatron in Sefer Hekhalot and other later materials, dealing first with the “old” roles found in the early Enoch materials that have remained in the Metatron tradition, and then with the “new” titles of Metatron, such as Prince of the Presence, Youth, Lesser YHWH, and Measurer of God. Finally, he returns to treat 2 Enoch, calling it a “bridge between the early pseudepigraphic mystical evidence and the later rabbinic and Hekhalot testimonies” (p. 335). The “new” roles particular to Metatron (who is usually not explicitly identified with Enoch, p. 87) are already present in an early form in 2 Enoch’s descriptions of its hero as Servant of the Face, Youth, and Heavenly Counterpart. 2 Enoch constitutes the missing link in the evolutionary chain from the human hero of the Book of the Watchers to Metatron; it “represents the formative stage during which the early apocalyptic imagery has acquired its new, distinctive proto-Hekhalot mold” (pp. 17–18). Orlov argues convincingly on thematic and linguistic grounds that the mystical motifs are original to 2 Enoch and not the product of later interpolations.

This claim has important implications for the study of Second Temple Judaism and Jewish mysticism. Orlov gives concrete textual support to Scholem’s early suggestion that the roots of Jewish mysticism lie in Second Temple pseudepigrapha, especially Enoch literature (pp. 1–14). Students of early Jewish mysticism must respond to Orlov’s careful account of the textual evidence that seems to point to the ancient roots of Hekhalot mysticism and its direct literary links with Enochic lore.

Orlov’s argument here bears an affinity with the work of Rachel Elior, who sees in Second Temple texts the direct forerunners of merkavah mysticism.1 But while Elior sees these texts in the context of social relations—reading them as reflective of practices developed by disenfranchised priests who mystically recreated sacred time, place and ritual outside the physical temple—Orlov does not go so far. He concentrates on textual affinities, without delving into the social origins and uses of the texts. This close textual work is, indeed, a key strength of Orlov’s study. But his argument about the ancient origins of Jewish mysticism suggests broader conceptual questions. Are the textual links he has found between Second Temple pseudepigrapha and Hekhalot materials only literary, or do the purposes and practices of the Enochic literature and the Hekhalot materials also lie on the same continuum? In other words, do we see in 2 Enoch the origins of mysticism, or the origins of certain imagery that happened to make its way into mystical texts?

This question turns upon the way we understand the nature and reception of pseudepigrapha in Second Temple communities. What were these texts—exegesis, replacement scripture, edifying texts, mystical ascents, or something else? Orlov does use the term “mystical” to refer to early pseudepigrapha (e.g. p. 335), but, staying close to the texts, leaves the larger issue of what this means in the context of Second Temple Judaism for future study. The fine textual work he has done here gives scholars a wealth of new material for these discussions.

In the second part of the book, questions of reception and socio-historical context come into even sharper relief: Orlov’s claim is that the transition from the patriarch to the great angel Metatron occurred as a result of polemical interactions with other mediatorial traditions of the Second Temple period. It is in this section that Orlov’s command of the texts is most impressive, his observations most fascinating, and his conclusions most controversial. He brings together a vast range of pseudepigraphic texts and offers perceptive readings of the motifs, terms, and imagery that they share. From these overlapping traditions, he weaves an account of Enoch’s growth in stature through polemical one-upmanship with Adam, Noah, Jacob, Melchisedek, Yahoel, and Moses. For example, an attribute of Adam—his giant size—is appropriated by Enochic tradition and re-contextualized as Enoch’s cosmic corporeality in a competitive move to usurp Adam’s glory (Chapter 5). Where Moses and Enoch are described in similar imagery, Orlov reads a series of attacks and counterattacks (p. 260), as the Enochic tradition idealized its hero using “Mosaic” characteristics (and vice versa) in an effort to outshine the competition.

Here again, the book’s focus and strength is close, perceptive textual analysis. Orlov does not reflect more broadly on the way he imagines the socio-historical context of these materials. His analysis of textual polemics, however, is evocative of the controversial view championed by Gabriele Boccaccini—the social world of Second Temple Judaism as a battleground between opposing factions. Orlov’s conclusions suggest a zero-sum game between a variety of competing traditions tied to mediatorial figures—Enoch, Moses, Adam, Melchisedek, and others—engaged in fierce polemics aimed at exalting their own hero, to the exclusion of others.

To be sure, polemics did exist in calendrical and halakhic matters, but whether such rivalry extends to the characteristics of mediatorial figures is far more difficult to prove. Similar language about two different heroes (e.g., Enoch’s and Adam’s giant dimensions) might be evidence not for hostile appropriation, but for fluid, dynamic clusters of traditions that permeated one another. Motifs can be transformed and reused from text to text without polemical motivations, making up what Robert Kraft has called a “multiform” tradition. Also, it is notoriously difficult to reconstruct social relations and groups from the texts we possess, which do not clearly align with any model thus far proposed (including the ancient accounts of Philo and Josephus). The closest we get to a corpus of writings from a particular group are the texts from Qumran; if we can call this collection a witness to a tradition, it is one where Moses, Enoch, David, Melchisedek and others were exalted side by side.

Whether or not one accepts his conclusions about the polemical motivations of the developments in Enochic lore, Andrei Orlov has presented a fascinating study of textual connections between Second Temple traditions. The next step in the project begun here is to situate these links more explicitly in their socio-historical environment, to the extent that this is possible. Orlov’s extraordinarily wide-ranging work on the relationship between 2 Enoch and other text will inspire new research on the nature and function of pseudepigrapha and the socio-historical place of these traditions.

The Enoch-Metatron Tradition is a ground-breaking achievement by an authority on the Slavonic pseudepigrapha. Through his close textual work, Orlov has done the field an invaluable service: he has opened this textual treasure house to a scholarly community that, for the most part, does not have access to Slavonic materials. This book will prove foundational for future scholars of these under-appreciated works, and, it is hoped, will inspire more of us to overcome the language barrier that has kept them marginal in the field of ancient Judaism. We await Professor Orlov’s further work on the way Slavonic texts can enrich our understanding of Second Temple Jewish reading, writing and community.


[1] See R. Elior, The Three Temples: On the Emergence of Jewish Mysticism (trans. D. Louvish; Oxford; Portland, OR: Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2004).