Satan and the Visionary: Apocalyptic Roles of the Adversary in the Temptation Narrative of the Gospel of Matthew

Andrei Orlov
Kelly Chair in Theology and Professor of Judaism and Christianity in Antiquity at Marquette University. View Entries
… The first prince and accuser, the commander of jealousy, is evil Samael, accompanied by his retinue. He is called “evil” not because of his nature but because he desires to unite and intimately mingle with an emanation not of his nature ….

R. Isaac ben Jacob Ha-Kohen
“Treatise on the Left Emanation”

The Temptation Story

Scholars believe that the stories of Jesus’ temptation by Satan found in Matthew and Luke emanated from Q.1 Both of them are also informed by the temptation narrative found in the Gospel of Mark.2 The accounts found in Matthew and Luke are different in several aspects. One of the differences is that the Gospel of Luke, similar to the Gospel of Mark, states that Satan’s temptation of Jesus in the wilderness lasted the forty-day period. In contrast to this, Matthew’s account seems to put emphasis on the length of Jesus’ fast by claiming that he fasted forty days and forty nights. The two accounts then also exhibit some differences in the order of the temptations. Scholars believe that the Gospel of Matthew attests the original order of the temptation narrative, while the Gospel of Luke represents the inversion of this original order.3 Although Satan’s request to turn stone(s) into a loaf of bread is situated in the beginning of both accounts, the order of the other two temptations is different. Scholars believe that the fact that the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke both start with the temptation in the wilderness might suggest that both of them were influenced by Mark’s account.4 The Gospel of Matthew then follows this first temptation with the second one in the Temple, and the third on the mountain. In contrast to the Gospel of Matthew, the Gospel of Luke, while placing in the middle a temptation from a high place, then concludes with the temptation in the Temple.

Several features of Matthew’s account might suggest that it contains more explicit references to apocalyptic traditions than Mark and Luke.

As I already mentioned, Mark and Matthew, who take the forty-day period as encompassing the whole process of temptation, seem to reemploy here the traditional allusion to the forty years of testing the Israelites in the wilderness. Yet Matthew’s emphasis on an initiatory forty-day fasting which follows the appearance of Satan might suggest that the fast serves here as a tool for inducing of visionary experience. It is noteworthy that the canonical stories of the two most famous visionaries of the Hebrew Bible, Moses and Elijah, contain passages referring specifically to periods of forty days. Exod 24:18 tells of Moses’ abiding forty days and forty nights at the top of Mount Sinai.5 1 Kings 19:8 refers to the story of Elijah sustained by angels for forty days6 during his journey to Mount Horeb.7 It is noteworthy that in both accounts, as in Matthew, the motif of the forty day fast coincides with the theme of an encounter on a mountain, signifying a visionary experience on high.

If we are correct about the transformational value of fasting in Matthew’s account, it should be noted that the fast serves there as the tool for inducing the vision of Satan, but not of God. It is possible that this depiction has a polemical flavor as the author of the temptation narrative attempts to deconstruct the traditional apocalyptic settings.

Enigmatic Psychopomp

What is even more striking is that in the temptation narrative, Satan serves as a psychopomp of Jesus, depicted as transporting a protagonist of the story to high, possibly even highest, places. In apocalyptic literature angels or archangels often serve as the psychopomps of visionaries. Thus, for example, in 2 Enoch the seventh antediluvian patriarch is taken to heaven by two angels. In the same apocalyptic account Melchizedek is transported on the wings of Gabriel to the Paradise of Eden. In the temptation narrative Satan seems to be fulfilling these familiar functions of a transporting angel. It is important that in both cases Satan is transporting Jesus not to hell, but to the “high places” – the first time to the top of the Temple in the Holy City and the second time to the very high mountain. Some scholars believe that the mountain here represents the place of the divine abode as in some other apocalyptic texts. Satan’s apocalyptic roles are puzzling. Does the unusual duty of Satan as the transporter to the upper places represent a polemical twist? Does the author here attempts to deconstruct the familiar apocalyptic motifs by depicting Satan as Jesus’ angelic transporter?

It is also important that in both Matthew and Luke, Satan serves not merely as a psychopomp but also as an angelus interpres who literary “leads up” (ἀναγαγὼν αὐτὸν) the visionary and “shows him” (δείκνυσιν αὐτῷ / ἔδειξεν αὐτῷ) the visionary reality, fulfilling thus the traditional functions of the interpreting angels in Jewish apocalyptic and mystical accounts. Scholars previously noted the terminological similarities between the temptation narrative and Deuteronomy 34:1-4,8 where God serves as an angelus interpres during Moses’ vision on Mount Nebo showing (ἔδειξεν) the prophet the promised land and giving him an explanation of it.9

Enochic Descent Traditions

It is also interesting that in one of the temptations Satan makes Jesus “stand up” on the pinnacle of the Temple. According to the Pesiqta Rabbati, when the Messiah reveals himself he will come and stand on the roof of the Temple.10

The installation of Jesus by Satan on the highest point of the Sanctuary is intriguing and appears to be reminiscent of the installations of some visionaries in Jewish apocalyptic accounts. In these accounts the angelic guides often help seers get installed in the ranks of the sar happanim, the celestial office that is characterized by the function of standing before the heavenly Temple represented by the divine Panim. One such peculiar installation is described in 2 Enoch where Uriel (Vrevoil) makes the seventh antediluvian patriarch stand in the celestial Temple represented by the liturgical settings of the Divine Face. I previously explored this apocalyptic idiom of standing tracing its roots to the Mosaic biblical accounts where God makes Moses stand up on the mountain before his Face.11

It has already been mentioned that the authors of the temptation account seem to exhibit familiarity with the ascent traditions. It is not completely impossible that in Satan’s suggestion to Jesus throw himself down we might have a sort of allusion also to the descent traditions similar to the ones reflected in the Enochic writings, where the ministering angels, called the Watchers, decided to abandon their ministerial duties in the heavenly Temple and descend to earth. In the biblical version of this story reflected in Genesis 6, this protological myth of the angelic descent is conveyed through the imagery of the sons of God.12 Can Satan’s address to Jesus as the Son of God be a reflection of some terminological affinities with the Septuagint rendering of Genesis 6? Another terminological parallel that can be considered is the connection between the Watchers’ status as the standing angels in the Heavenly Temple and Jesus’ standing on the summit of the Temple.

The Veneration Motif

The third part of the temptation story in Matthew takes place on the mountain. Several scholars previously noted that the mountain here might be an allusion to the place of the divine presence and dominion. Here, however, strangely enough, it becomes the exalted place from which Satan asks Jesus to venerate him.

In the Enochic and Mosaic traditions the high mountain often serves as one of the technical designations of the Kavod. Thus, for example, 1 Enoch 25:3 identifies the high mountain as a location of the Throne of God.13 In the Exagoge of Ezekiel the Tragedian, Moses is identified with the Kavod on the mountain.14

If Matthew indeed has in mind the Mountain of the Kavod, in Satan’s ability to show Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor we might have a possible reference to the celestial curtain Pargod (dwgrp), the sacred veil of the divine Face, which in 3 Enoch 45 is described as an entity that literally “shows” all generations and all kingdoms simultaneously in the same time.15 In 3 Enoch 45:1-4 one can find the following tradition about the Pargod:

R. Ishmael said: Metatron said to me: Come and I will show you the curtain of the Omnipresent One which is spread before the Holy One, blessed be he, and on which are printed all the generations of the world and their deeds, whether done or to be done, till the last generation…. the kings of Judah and their generations, their deeds and their acts; the kings of Israel and their generations, their deeds and their acts; the kings of the gentiles and their generations, their deeds and their acts….16

Satan’s suggestion to Jesus that he prostrate himself before his tempter seems also connected with some apocalyptic and mystical traditions. Scholars previously noted that the details of the depiction of the last temptation of Jesus seem to allude to some details found in the account of Adam’s elevation and his veneration by angels found in various versions of the Life of Adam and Eve. The Primary Adam Books depict God’s creation of Adam in his image. The archangel Michael brought the first human and had him bow down before God’s face. God then commanded all the angels to bow down to Adam. All the angels agreed to venerate the protoplast except Satan (and his angels); the latter refused to bow down before Adam because the first human was younger than Satan was.

It is significant that in the Gospel of Matthew the tempter asks Jesus to prostrate himself (literally “falling down”) (πεσὼν) before Satan. Matthew seems more close to the Adamic tradition than Luke since in Luke πεσὼν is missing.

Satan’s request for veneration can be part of the authors’ Adam Christology: Satan, who lost his celestial status by refusing to venerate the First Adam, is now attempting to reverse the situation by asking the Last Adam to bow down.17

It is also important to note that while in early Adamic accounts God encourages veneration of the protoplast, in the later rabbinic stories he opposes this veneration.18 Alan Segal demonstrated that these later rabbinic stories of opposition to the angelic veneration of Adam were part of the “two powers in heaven” controversy. It is possible that the details of the temptation narrative found in Matthew and Luke might anticipate these later rabbinic developments. These details might represent one of the early specimens of the “two powers in heaven” debate. In this respect it is noteworthy that in Matthew and Luke, Jesus categorically opposes any possibility of veneration of anyone except God.

Negative Transformation

Although scholars previously noticed that Satan’s request for veneration alludes to the story of the angelic veneration of the protoplast, they often missed the visionary and transformational aspects of this account. Even in Adam’s aforementioned veneration, the motif of the veneration of the protoplast is implicitly linked to the tradition of veneration of the divine glory, since Adam serves there as sort of representation or replica of the divine anthropomorphic extent. The Kavod imagery thus appears to be present already in the Primary Adam Books where God asks angels to venerate not simply Adam, but the image of God. The veneration by the angelic hosts suggests that Adam is identified there with Kavod – the traditional object of angelic veneration in apocalyptic accounts.

Satan’s request for veneration seems also connected with the traditions of vision and transformation. What is important here is that Satan requests veneration for himself while standing on the mountain, the location that was interpreted by scholars as a reference to the place of the divine presence. The motif of Satan on the mountain appears to constitute here a sort of the counterpart of the divine habitation. Could it be that Satan positions himself here as a sort of the second power or, more precisely, as the negative counterpart of Kavod?

In Jewish apocalyptic writing the motif of the prostration before the divine Kavod often represents one of the preparatory stages for the transformation of a seer into a celestial being, or even his identification with the divine extent.19 In the course of this initiation a visionary often acquires the nature of the object of his veneration, including the luminosity which underlines his identification with the radiant manifestation of the divine form.

In the context of these traditions it is possible that in the temptation narrative one can find a similar transformational motif. One can encounter here an example of negative transformational mysticism: by forcing Jesus to bow down, the tempter wants the seer to become identified with Satan’s form, in exact opposition to the visionaries of Jewish apocalyptic writings who through their prostration before the divine Face become identified with the divine Kavod.

1 Cf. C.M. Tuckett, “The Temptation Narrative in Q,” in: The Four Gospels. Festschrift Frans Neirynck (eds. F. van Segbroeck et al.; 3 vols.; BETL, 100; Leuven: Peeters, 1992) 1.479-507.

2 On the temptation story in the canonical gospels see: E. Best, The Temptation and the Passion: The Markan Soteriology (SNTSMS, 2; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965); C. Blumenthal, “Zur ‘Zinne des Tempels,’” ZNW 96 (2005) 274-283; A.B. Caneday, “Mark’s Provocative Use of Scripture in Narration: ‘He Was with the Wild Animals and Angels Ministered to Him,’” BBR 9 (1999) 19-36; C. Charlier, “Les tentations de Jésus au desert,” BVC 5 (1954) 85–92; P. Doble, “The Temptations,” ExpTim 72 (1960–61) 91–93; T.L. Donaldson, Jesus on the Mountain (JSNTSup, 8; Sheffield: JSOT, 1985) 87–104; R. Dormandy, “Jesus’ Temptations In Mark’s Gospel: Mark 1:12-13,” ExpTim 114:6 (2003) 183-187; J. Dupont, “L’arrière-fond biblique du récit des tentations de Jésus,” NTS 3 (1957) 287–304; idem, “Les tentations de Jésus dans le récit de Luc (Luc, 4, 1–13),” ScEccl 14 (1962) 7–29; idem, “L’origine du récit des tentations de Jésus au desert,” RB 73 (1966) 30–76; idem, Les tentations de Jésus au desert (StudNeot, 4; Bruges: Desclée de Brouwer, 1968); C. Duquoc, “La tentation du Christ,” LumVie 53 (1961) 21–41; E. Fascher, Jesus und der Satan: Eine Studie zur Auslegung der Versuchungsgeschichte (HM, 11; Halle: Max Niemayer, 1949); idem, “Jesus und die Tiere,” TLZ 90 (1965) 561–70; A. Feuillet, “Le récit lucanien de la tentation (Lc 4, 1–13),” Bib 40 (1959) 613–31; idem, “Die Versuchungen Jesu,” Comm 8 (1979) 226–37; J.T. Fitzgerald, “The Temptation of Jesus: The Testing of the Messiah in Matthew,” ResQ 15 (1972) 152–60; S.R. Garrett, The Temptations of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998); B. Gerhardsson, The Testing of God’s Son (Matt 4:1–11 & Par.) (ConBNT, 2.1; Lund: Gleerup, 1966); J.B. Gibson, “Jesus’ Wilderness Temptation According to Mark,” JSNT 53 (1994) 3-34; idem, “A Turn on ‘Turning Stones To Bread’: A New Understanding of the Devil’s Intention in Q 4.3.,” BR 41 (1996) 37-57; C.A. Gieschen, “Why was Jesus with the Wild Beasts (Mark 1:13)?” CTQ 73.1 (2009) 77-80; F.J. Glendenning, “The Devil and the Temptations of Our Lord according to St. Luke,” Theology 52 (1949) 102–105; E. Graham, “The Temptation in the Wilderness,” CQR 162 (1961) 17–32; J.P. Heil, “Jesus with the Wild Animals in Mark 1:13,” CBQ 68:1 (2006) 63-78; P. Hoffmann, “Die Versuchungsgeschichte in der Logienquelle,” BZ 13 (1969) 207–23; Holst, R. “The Temptation of Jesus,” ExpTim 82 (1971) 343–44; N. Hyldahl, “Die Versuchung auf der Zinne des Tempels,” ST 15 (1961) 113–27; S.L. Johnson, “The Temptation of Christ,” BSac 123 (1966) 342–352; H.A. Kelly, “The Devil in the Desert,” CBQ 26 (1964) 190–220; P. Ketter, Die Versuchung Jesu nach dem Berichte der Synoptiker (NTAbh, 6/3; Munster: Aschendorff, 1918); J.A. Kirk, “The Messianic Role of Jesus and the Temptation Narrative: A Contemporary Perspective,” EvQ 44 (1972) 11–29, 91–102; E. Koskenniemi, “The Traditional Roles Inverted: Jesus and the Devil’s Attack,” BZ 52:2 (2008) 261-268; H. Kruse, “Das Reich Satans,” Bib 58 (1977) 29–61; G. Lafon, “La genèse de l’homme: Lecture de Luc 4, 1–13,” Christus 22 (1975) 443–455; H.G. Leder, “Sündenfallerzählung und Versuchungsgeschichte,” ZNW 54 (1963) 188–216; H. Mahnke, Die Versuchungsgeschichte im Rahmen der synoptischen Evangelien: Ein Beitrag zur frühen Christologie (BBET, 9; Frankfurt am Main: Lang, 1978); R. Morgenthaler, “Roma-Sedes Satanae (Röm 13, 1 ff im Lichte von Luk 4, 5–8),” TZ 12 (1956) 289–304; F. Neugebauer, Jesu Versuchung: Wegentscheidung am Anfang (Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 1986); L. Panier, Récit et commentaires de las tentation de Jésus au désert: Approche sémiotique du discours interpretative (Paris: Cerf, 1984); P. Pokorný, “The Temptation Stories and Their Intention,” NTS 20 (1973–74) 115–27; B. Przybylski, “The Role of Matthew 3:13–4:11 in the Structure and Theology of the Gospel of Matthew,” BTB 4 (1974) 222–35; H. Riesenfeld, “Le caractère messianique de la tentation au desert,” La venue du Messie (RechBib, 6; Bruges: Desclée de Brouwer, 1962) 51–63; idem, “The Messianic Character of the Temptation in the Wilderness,” in: The Gospel Tradition (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1970) 75–93; J.A.T. Robinson, “The Temptations,” in: Twelve New Testament Studies (SBT, 34; London: SCM, 1962) 53–60; L. Schaivo, “The Temptation of Jesus: the Eschatological Battle and the New Ethic of the First Followers of Jesus in Q,” JSNT 25 (2002) 141-164; J. Schlosser, “Les tentations de Jésus et la cause de Dieu,” RevScRel 76:4 (2002) 403-425; A. J. Schmutzer, “Jesus’ Temptation: A Reflection on Matthew’s Use of Old Testament Theology and Imagery,” ATJ 40 (2008) 15-42; R. Schnackenburg, “Der Sinn der Versuchung Jesu bei den Synoptikern,” TQ 132 (1952) 297–326; idem, Schriften zum Neuen Testament (Munich: Kösel, 1971) 101–28; W.A. Schulze, “Der Heilige und die wilden Tiere: Zur Exegese von Mc 1,13b,” ZNW 46 (1955) 280–83; P. Seidelin, “Zur Christologie der Versuchungsgeschichte bei Matthäus und Lukas,” DT 6 (1939) 127–39; F. Smyth-Florentin, “Jésus, le Fils du Père, vainqueur de Satan: Mt 4,1–11; Mc 1, 12–15; Lc 4, 1–13,” AsSeign 14 (1973) 56–75; W. Stegemann, “Die Versuchung Jesu im Matthäusevangelium: Mt 4, 1–11,” EvT 45 (1985) 29–44; W.R. Stegner, “Wilderness and Testing in the Scrolls and in Mt 4:1–11,” BR 12 (1967) 18–27; idem, “The Temptation Narrative: a Study in the Use of Scripture by Early Jewish Christians,” BR 35 (1990) 5-17; H. Swanston, “The Lukan Temptation Narrative,” JTS 17 (1966) 71; A.B. Taylor, “Decision in the Desert: The Temptation of Jesus in the Light of Deuteronomy,” Int 14 (1960) 300–309; N.H. Taylor, “The Temptation of Jesus on the Mountain: A Palestinian Christian Polemic against Agrippa I,” JSNT 83 (2001) 27-49; J. Theron, “Trinity in the Temptation Narrative and the Interpretation of Noordmans, Dostoyevski, and Mbeki,” JRT 1.2 (2007) 204-222; J.W. van Henten, “The First Testing of Jesus: A Rereading of Mark 1.12-13,” NTS 45:3 (1999) 349-366; W. Wilkens, “Die Versuchung Jesu nach Matthäus,” NTS 28 (1982) 479–89.

3 Dupont, Les tentations de Jésus au desert, 290; Fitzmyer, The Gospel according to Luke, 1.507-508; Taylor, “The Temptation of Jesus on the Mountain: A Palestinian Christian Polemic against Agrippa I,” 33.

4 Taylor, “The Temptation of Jesus on the Mountain: A Palestinian Christian Polemic against Agrippa I,” 33.

5 “Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.” (NRSV).

6 “He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.” (NRSV).

7 For the discussion of the forty-day motif, see Garrett, The Temptations of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel, 57; Gerhardsson, The Testing of God’s Son, 41-43; Kelly, “The Devil in the Desert,” 196.

8 “Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the Lord showed him the whole land: Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the Negeb, and the Plain—that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees—as far as Zoar. The Lord said to him, ‘This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants’; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there’” (NRSV).

9 Dupont, “L’arrière-fond biblique du recit des tentations de Jesus,” 297.

10 Pesikta Rabbati (ed. M. Friedmann; Wien, Selbstverlag des Herausgebers, 1886) 162a.

11 Cf. Orlov, The Enoch-Metatron Tradition, 286-288.

12 Gen 6:1-8: “When people began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that they were fair; and they took wives for themselves of all that they chose. Then the Lord said, ‘My spirit shall not abide in mortals forever, for they are flesh; their days shall be one hundred twenty years.’ The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went in to the daughters of humans, who bore children to them. These were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown. The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, ‘I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created—people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.’ But Noah found favor in the sight of the Lord.” (NRSV).

13 1 En. 25:3 “And he answered me, saying: ‘This high mountain which you saw, whose summit is like the throne of the Lord, is the throne where the Holy and Great One, the Lord of Glory, the Eternal King, will sit when he comes down to visit the earth for good.’” Knibb, The Ethiopic Book of Enoch, 2.113.

14 Exagoge 67–90 reads: “Moses: I had a vision of a great throne on the top of Mount Sinai and it reached till the folds of heaven. A noble man was sitting on it, with a crown and a large scepter in his left hand. He beckoned to me with his right hand, so I approached and stood before the throne. He gave me the scepter and instructed me to sit on the great throne. Then he gave me a royal crown and got up from the throne. I beheld the whole earth all around and saw beneath the earth and above the heavens. A multitude of stars fell before my knees and I counted them all. They paraded past me like a battalion of men. Then I awoke from my sleep in fear.” H. Jacobson, The Exagoge of Ezekiel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983) 54–55.

15 On the celestial Curtain, Pargod, as the heavenly counterpart of the paroket, the veil of the earthly Temple, see Alexander, “3 Enoch,” 1.296; Arbel, Beholders of Divine Secrets: Mysticism and Myth in the Hekhalot and Merkavah Literature, 39, 100; H. Bietenhard, Die himmlische Welt im Urchristentum und Spätjudentum (WUNT, 2; Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 1951) 73ff.; F.T. Fallon, The Enthronment of Sabaoth: Jewish Elements in Gnostic Creation myths. (NHS, 10; Leiden: Brill, 1978) 55; D. Halperin, The Merkabah in Rabbinic Literature (New Haven, American Oriental Society, 1980) 169, note 99; O. Hofius, Der Vorhang vor dem Thron Gottes (WUNT, 14; Tubingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 1972) 17ff.; C.R.A. Morray-Jones, A Transparent Illusion: The Dangerous Vision of Water in Hekhalot Mysticism: A Source-critical and Tradition-historical Inquiry (JSJSS, 59; Leiden: Brill, 2002) 164ff; H. Odeberg, 3 Enoch, or the Hebrew Book of Enoch (New York: KTAV, 1973) 141; C. Rowland and C.R.A. Morray-Jones, The Mystery of God: Early Jewish Mysticism and the New Testament (CRINT, 12; Leiden: Brill, 2009) 372.

16 Alexander, “3 Enoch,” 1.295-298.

17 The concept of Jesus as the Last Adam can be found as early as Rom 5, a reference which predates the Gospel accounts. For a discussion of this tradition, see Garrett, The Temptations of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel, 58.

18 Jarl Fossum’s research demonstrates that the motif of the God’s opposition to the veneration of Adam by the angels appears in several forms in the rabbinic literature. Fossum differentiates three major forms of this tradition: “(1) The angels mistake Adam for God and want to exclaim ‘Holy’ before him, whereupon God lets sleep fall upon Adam so it becomes clear that the latter is human; (2) all creatures mistake Adam for their creator and wish to bow before him, but Adam teaches them to render all honor to God as their true creator; (3) the angels mistake Adam for God and wish to exclaim ‘Holy’ before him, whereupon God reduces Adam’s size.” Fossum, “The Adorable Adam of the Mystics and the Rebuttals of the Rabbis,” 1.529–39. An important similarity can be detected between these Adamic traditions and the Metatron accounts. In b. Hag. 15a God punished Metatron with sixty fiery lashes. Alan Segal observes that “just as Metatron needed correction for the false impression he gave Aher, so Adam needs correction for the false impression given the angels.” Segal, Two Powers in Heaven, 112. Indeed, in the Adamic “two powers” accounts, the protoplast is disciplined in various ways, including the reduction of his stature. Thus, from Gen. R. 8:10 one can learn that when God created man in his own image “the ministering angels mistook him [for a divine being] and wished to exclaim ‘Holy’ before Him…. What did the Holy One, blessed be He, do? He caused sleep to fall upon him, and so all knew that he was [only a mortal] man.” Freedman and Simon, Midrash Rabbah, 1.61. In the Alphabet of Rabbi Akiba the angels’ erroneous behavior is explained through reference to Adam’s gigantic body: “This teaches that initially Adam was created from the earth to the firmament. When the ministering angels saw him, they were shocked and excited by him. At that time they all stood before the Holy One, blessed be He, and said to Him; ‘Master of the Universe! There are two powers in the world, one in heaven and one on earth.’ What did the Holy One, blessed be He, do then? He placed His hand on him, and decreased him, setting him at one thousand cubits.” Idel, “Enoch is Metatron,” 226. For the Hebrew text, see S. Wertheimer, Batei Midrashot (2 vols.; Jerusalem: Mosad Harav Kook, 1950–53) 2.333–477. Pesiq. Rab Kah. 1:1 reflects the same tradition: “Said R. Aibu, ‘At that moment the first man’s stature was cut down and diminished to one hundred cubits.’” Pesiqta de Rab Kahana (tr. J. Neusner; 2 vols.; Atlanta; Scholars Press, 1987) 1.1.

19 On this tradition see Orlov, The Enoch-Metatron Tradition, 165-176.

Andrei Orlov
Kelly Chair in Theology and Professor of Judaism and Christianity in Antiquity at Marquette University.