Books in Apocalyptic – Revelation 5

The metaphor of heavenly books is common in both the biblical and apocalyptic materials. This is a stock image drawn from a court room scene. In Dan 7:10, for example, thrones are set in place and the Ancient of Days takes his place at the head of the court. Once the court was seated, “the books were opened.” Based on the content of these books, the blasphemous “little horn” is thrown into blazing fire. So what is the content of an “apocalyptic book”?

Angel BooksSometimes these books record the names of the redeemed; or conversely, the names of the wicked are “blotted out” of the books. This is probably based on Exodus 32:32–33. In this non-apocalyptic text, the Lord says “Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot out of my book.” The Psalmist asks God to blot out the names of his oppressors from “the book of the living” (Ps 69:28). Originally this meant a name carved in stone that would be obliterated if the named-person offended the king. Perhaps this was based on a citizenship roll or something of the sort, but the idea a text exists containing the names of those who are part of the kingdom. Isaiah 4:3 some people have been destined to survive in Jerusalem, “everyone who has been recorded for life in Jerusalem.” In 2 Baruch 24:1, the opened books contain both the righteous deeds of the righteous and the wicked deeds of the wicked. These books are opened after a period of oppression, “When horror seizes the inhabitants of earth, and they fall into many tribulations and further, they fall into great torments” (2 Baruch 25:3) after which the messiah comes.

In other apocalyptic contexts books contain hidden secrets sealed up to be revealed at the appropriate time. In Daniel 12:9-10 there are secrets sealed up in a book “until the end of time.” In Rev 10:4 John was prepared to write down what the seven thunders said, but he is told to “seal it up” and not writer it down. The seven thunders are therefore some hidden secret not to be revealed at that time. There are examples of this phenomenon in other apocalyptic books as well. In 1 Enoch, the seer has a great deal more revealed to him that he is permitted to write at that time,.

1 Enoch 81:1-2 Then he said unto me, “Enoch, look at the tablet(s) of heaven; read what is written upon them and understand (each element on them) one by one. So I looked at the tablet(s) of heaven, read all the writing (on them), and came to understand everything. I read that book and all the deeds of humanity and all the children of the flesh upon the earth for all the generations of the world.

In an expansion on the biblical story. Jubilees 32.20–22, at Bethel Jacob is given seven tablets determining everything that would happen to his sons in the future.

Jubilees 32.20–22 And Jacob watched until he went up into heaven. And he saw in a vision of the night, and behold an angel was descending from heaven, and there were seven tablets in his hands. And he gave (them) to Jacob, and he read them, and he knew everything which was written in them, which would happen to him and to his sons during all the ages.”

But more commonly the books contain the sins of the person under judgment. In Jude 4 the judgment against the false teachers was written down (προγράφω) long before they secretly crept into the churches. In the Animal Apocalypse, the names of the good and bad shepherds are carefully recorded in books for future judgment (1 Enoch 89:62; 90:14-22). In 1 Enoch 104:7 sins are investigated and “written down every day.” In Jubilees 5:13-14 sins are carefully written down and judgments are “are ordained, written, and engraved.”  Describing the judgment awaiting the sins of Lot’s daughters, the writer of Jubilees says:

 Jubilees 16:9 “And behold it is commanded and it is engraved concerning all of his seed in the heavenly tablets so that he will remove them and uproot them and execute their judgment just like the judgment of Sodom and so that he will not leave seed of man for him on the earth in the day of judgment.”

Bringing this back to the throne room in Revelation 5, the scroll functions similarly the last category in that the opening of the scroll subjects the world to judgment. The final judgment is the coming of the Messiah to set up thrones and render justice (Rev 20:1-6). By taking the Hebrew Bible as the immediate background and tracing the development of a metaphor in the Second Temple Period apocalypses, we are more likely to understand the metaphor as John intended.

3 Enoch and the Cosmic Secrets

fire-tortureThe final section of 3 Enoch contains several heavenly features in a somewhat random order. Metatron reveals these “secrets of the cosmos.”

  • Chapter 41 describes the letters by which the world was created. These letters are not identified in this section, but in chapter 44 the letters of the Torah are specifically mentioned so it is not unlikely the letters that created the universe are the Hebrew letters of the Torah.
  • Chapter 42 describes the raqia’, the firmament of Genesis 1 and the power of the name of God, who is an everlasting rock and everlasting fire.
  • Chapter 43 describes a storehouse of souls of the righteous. Some of these souls have returned and others have not yet been created.
  • Chapter 44 describes the wicked in Sheol and lists the angels in charge of the place as well as the souls of the patriarchs who pray before the Holy One. Souls are brought “to punish them with fire in Gehinnom, with rods of burning coal” (v. 3). There is a hint at purgatory in this section, since these tortured souls “are tainted until purified of their iniquity by fire.”
  • Chapter 45 describes the “curtain of the Omnipresent One.” On this curtain are printed each generation of the world, which are listed from Adam until the time of the Messiah. There appear to be two messiahs here, one who is the son of Joseph and one who is the son of David (verse 5). There are a number of potential rabbinical sources for the “nebulous figure” of the first messiah, son of Joseph, as a forerunner of the Davidic messiah (OTP 1:298 note t).
  • Chapter 46 describes the “the spirits of the stars” which live in the raqia’. The section specifically quotes Psalm 147:4 (God counts and names all of the stars) and Psalm 19:1 (the heavens declare the glory of God), and there are allusions to several other texts from the Hebrew Bible.
  • Chapter 47 describes the ministering angels who are punished by the fiery coals whenever they “do not recite the song at the right time or in a proper and fitting manner.”

Chapter 48A is the most eschatological section in the book. This chapter describes the right hand of God which created the 955 heavens. This right hand is “banished behind him” because of the destruction of the Temple. When it weeps five rivers flow out of it and split the earth in five ways, five times. When the Lord reveals his arm to the world, Israel will be saved from the Gentiles (verses 9-10). This re-gathering of Israel is described as a banquet and even the gentiles will share in this eschatological with meal with Israel and the Messiah. This final eschatological statement may also allude to the banquet on Zion in Isaiah 25:6-8, but this is not as clear as Isaiah 66:20.

3 Enoch concludes by drawing together Isa 52:10, Deut 32:12 and Zech 14:9 to show the Lord will rule over the whole world, both Jew and Gentile. If 3 Enoch is the product of a ninth century Christian monk, it is strange that Israel would have first place in the kingdom since by this point Israel has been theologically replaced by the Church as God’s people and eschatology such as this played down or allegorized.  This eschatological conclusion seems to imply an early tradition present in 3 Enoch, although it is impossible to know how old this tradition is.

Angelic Beings in 3 Enoch

The book has a higher view of the man Enoch than the previous Enoch pseudepigrapha. We learn in chapter 4 the angel Metatron is actually Enoch himself, having been elevated by God himself to the level of an angel (6:1-2). Enoch is described as the “choicest of all” and worth all of the rest of humans in righteousness. He is brought up to heaven angel-of-firein the Shekinah glory of God and brought into the divine presence itself (chapter 7). He is blessed with 1,365,000 blessings, his body is enlarged and he is given 72 wings, each wing is large enough to cover the whole world, and he is given 365,000 eyes each like the Great Light (the sun, chapter 9). The number 365 repeats throughout the book in a variety of forms (hundreds, thousands, etc.)

This is based on Enoch’s age when taken into heaven, and probably reflects the 365-day calendar theme from the early Enoch literature. Enoch is given a throne in glory at the door of the seventh palace and the Lord commanded that all should obey him (chapter 10). Enoch was given a name (“little Yahweh”), a robe and a crown (chapter 12-13). This crown is inscribed with “the letters by which heaven was created.”

All of the angels worshiped him, and their names are listed in 14:4 along with their responsibility in the order of creation. He is finally transformed into fire (chapter 15). In Chapter 16 Metatron is dethroned, but this is likely a secondary addition since it is entirely out of place in the context of the glorification of Enoch. (OTP 1:268, note a).

In chapters 17-40 there is a detailed listing of the names and responsibilities of the angels and other personnel in heaven. This material goes far beyond the biblical teaching on angels. There is a mind-boggling level of complexity for the hierarchy of the angelic beings!  The seven honored princes of heaven are listed as Michael, Gabriel, Šatqiʾel, Šaḥaqiʾel, Baradiʾel, Baraqiʾel, and Sidriʾel; each are attended by 496,000 myriads of ministering angels. In addition to these are several princes in charge of “special angels.” These are all described like the angelic beings in the Hebrew Bible, majestic and powerful and unimaginably huge: The height of ʾOpanniʾel’s body is “a journey of 2,500 years.”

  • The princes of the “wheels” (the throne-chariot from Ezekiel), Rikbiʾel YHWH, “the great and terrible Prince.”
  • The prince of the holy creatures (the four-faced creatures from Ezekiel), Ḥayliʾel YHWH. The holy creatures are described in chapter 21 and they are far more amazing than Ezekiel 1. Each of their four wings covers the whole world, that their faces are crowned with 2000 crowns, each like a rainbow.
  • The prince of the cherubim, Kerubiʾel YHWH. This angel is described in terms similar to the angelic being in Daniel 10,
  • The prince of the ophanim, ʾOpanniʾel YHWH. This angel has 16 faces, and has 8,766 eyes, corresponding to the number of hours in a year.
  • The prince of the seraphim, Śerapiʾel. This creature wears a crown with the name “Prince of Peace.”
  • The heavenly archivist, Radweriʾel YHWH. This being has a sealed scroll box containing heavenly records

Chapters 29-40 describe the Watchers and other angelic beings in a “heavenly law court.”  These scenes contain the typical rivers of fire, thundering voices and earthquakes. Like the overly fantastic sizes of the angels, the numbers of the angels in this section are innumerable: 496,000 myriads of camps of angels with 496,000 angels in each camp (which works out to 246,016,000,000 angels!) There are seven rivers of fire 365,000 parasangs long (about 1,360,802 miles each), and they are 248,000 myriads of parasangs deep.

All of these overwhelming descriptions overwhelm the reader with the unimaginable greatness of heaven and the heavenly creatures. Although much of the imagery is drawn from the Hebrew Bible (especially Isaiah 6, Ezekiel 1-3, and Daniel 10), the book multiplies these descriptions to infinity and beyond.

Who is the Angel Metatron?

Metatron3 Enoch explains how the Rabbi Ishmael journeyed into heaven and saw God’s throne and chariot guided by the archangel Metatron. The general form is a report of a vision and an explanation of elements of the vision by Metatron. Since this angelic being is not mentioned by name in the Hebrew Bible it is important to understand who Metatron was in the post-biblical traditions.

Metatron becomes one of the greatest angels in the Jewish mystical literature, as close to a “son of God” as one gets in this literature. He is “God’s vizier and plenipotentiary” and is sometimes called a “little Yahweh” (R. S. Anderson, “Son of God” in ISBE Revised, 4:572; cf., Hengel, Son of God, 46).  3 Enoch 25:1 says Metatron’s name is “ʾOpanniʾel YHWH.” Because of his righteousness, Metatron is “installed as God’s vice regent and is given authority over all the angels” (3 Enoch 4:3-5 and 10:3-6; Grindheim, 146).

In 3 Enoch 12:5, Metatron is called the prince of the ophanim (אוֹפַנִּימ), a kind of angelic being based on Ezek 1:15. The Hebrew word אוֹפַן refers to a wheel and Alexander points out that although 4QŠirŠabb uses ophanim for literal wheels, but the word refers to a “class of angels in 1En 61:10; 71:7; 2En 29:3” (OTP 1:279, note g).

3 Enoch 12:5 Why is his name called ʾOpanniʾel? Because he is appointed to tend the ophanim, and the ophanim are entrusted to his keeping. Every day he stands over them and tends them and beautifies them: he praises and arranges their running; he polishes their platforms; he adorns their compartments; he makes their turnings smooth, and cleans their seats. Early and late, day and night, he tends them, so as to increase their beauty, to magnify their majesty, and to make them swift in the praise of their Creator. (Alexander, OTP 1:279–280).

Metatron is far more spectacular than the angels in Ezekiel 2. He has “He has sixteen faces, four on each side, and 100 wings on each side. He has 8,766 eyes, corresponding to the number of hours in a year, 2,191 on each side” (25:2). Like God, Metatron has seventy names (3 Enoch 45D:5), he rules the angels in God’s name (10:5) and represents God’s authority when he judges. Metatron “assigned greatness, royalty, rank, sovereignty, glory, praise, diadem, crown, and honor to all the princes of kingdoms, when I sat in the heavenly court” (16:1).

Since 3 Enoch describes Metatron in such exalted terms, some popular writers have tried to see this angelic being as a Jesus-like figure who sits on God’s throne and rules on behalf of God. As Sigurd Grindheim states clearly, “Metatron is not portrayed with an authority of his own that matches the authority of God. He does not act as God acts, but he is consistently on the receiving end of God’s actions” (147). In fact, Grindheim points out that 3 Enoch warns against making too much of Metatron’s power: When ʾAher sees Metatron on the throne, he declares “there are indeed two powers in heaven” (16:3). A divine voice censures ʾAher and he is not allowed to return to God and Metatron himself is punished with “sixty lashes of fire.”  Metatron is therefore not an object of worship and according to 3 Enoch, those who think he might be worthy of worship are in serious danger.

Metatron is a very powerful angel in this literature, but he is not divine and certainly not to be worshiped as God. There is no reason to think this being actually exists and even less reason to seek out hidden, mystical knowledge based on these texts in 3 Enoch.

Bibliography: Sigurd Grindheim, God’s Equal: What Can We Know about Jesus’ Self-Understanding? (LNTS 446; London: T&T Clark, 2011).

What is 3 Enoch?

While the book is attributed to the rabbi Ishmael, who died before the Bar Kokhba revolt, Alexander dates the book to the fifth or sixth century A.D. (Alexander, “3 Enoch,” 223). Odeberg thought the earliest stratum of the text dated to the first century, although the main body of the text was third century. Christopher Rowland described 3 Enoch as “a solitary example of the extravagant Enochic speculation preserved in the Jewish tradition” (DDD, 303). As Alexander summarizes: “3 Enoch contains some very old traditions and stands in direct line with developments which had already begun in the Maccabean era, a date for its final redaction in the fifth or sixth century A.D. cannot be far from the truth” (“3 Enoch,” 228). Milik dated the book very late, to the ninth or tenth century. This date is based his belief 3 Enoch was dependent on 2 Enoch, which he dated to the same period. For a bibliography on 3 Enoch, see Andrei A. Orlov, From Apocalypticism to Merkabah Mysticism: Studies in the Slavonic Pseudepigrapha (Leiden: Brill, 2006), 59-63.

Third Enoch is especially important for the study of Jewish mysticism, especially merkabah mysticism. Merkabah mysticism is based on the throne vision of Ezekiel 1-3. A mystic is “caught up” into heaven and receives a vision of the wonders of heaven, the throne of God and the chariot of his glory. The visions are usually filled with fantastic descriptions of angelic beings. This is a very difficult area of study because sources are esoteric and often limited because the visions were secret. The Talmud considered these so esoteric they were not to be discussed (P. Alexander, “Third Enoch” in ABD 2:523).

Ezekiel3 Enoch may be important for the background to the Jewish mysticism in the Colossian heresy. Fred Francis argued the Colossian church was influenced by the merkabah mysticism of early Judaism. This mystical form of Judaism stressed visions (especially visions of the throne room of God.) Because of the obvious connection to the descriptions of the false teachers in the letter, this view has gained a great deal of attention of late.

A second possible New Testament connection to merkabah mysticism is Paul’s vision in 2 Corinthians 12:1-7. In this text Paul describes being “caught up to the third heaven,” language quite familiar to the reader of the Enoch literature. He says he entered paradise and learned secrets he cannot relate. There are any number of problems interpreting the section in 2 Corinthians (for example, when was this vision? What was the point of the vision for his ministry? Was Paul the subject of the vision himself? Is “I knew a man” an ambiguous self-reference?) Merkabah visionary experiences may provide some context for Paul’s experience, but it will be difficult to argue Paul’s vision is the same as the later merkabah visionaries.

The book of Revelation contains elements of merkabah mysticism in chapter 4-5, but there are a number of differences which set the Apocalypse apart from the later mystical texts especially with regard to the throne of God itself. But as David Aune points out, 2 Corinthians 12 and Revelation 4 are the only reports of these sorts of visions in all of early Christianity or Judaism (Aune, Revelation 1-5:14, 276-279). In Revelation, John is caught up into heaven, but he does not pass through stages or layers of heaven. He sees a variety of angelic / heavenly beings, although they are not described in the detail found in 3 Enoch or other any other intertestamental text. It is possible Revelation 4-5 is an example of a “early” merkabah vision, while 3 Enoch represents a more fully developed form with the stock elements greatly expanded.

 

Bibliography:

3 Enoch: Alexander, P. S. “3 Enoch” in OTP 1:223-254; “The Historical Setting of the Hebrew Book of Enoch,” JJS 28 (1977) 156-180. Christopher Rowland, “Enoch” in Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible. (in K. V. D. Toorn, B. Becking, and P. W. Horst, P., eds. 2nd rev. ed.; Leiden: Brill, 1999).

Merkabah Mysticism: G. G. Scholem, Jewish Gnosticism, Merkabah Mysticism, and Talmudic Tradition (New York, 1960); David Flusser, “Scholem’s Recent Book on Merkabah Literature,”`JJS 11 (1961). Ithamar Gruenwald, Apocalyptic and Merkavah Mysticism (AGJU 14; Leiden: Brill, 1980).

Colossians and Merkabah mysticism: Fred Francis, “Humility and Angel Worship in Col 2:18,” pages 163-195 in Conflict at Colossae (F. O. Francis and W. A. Meeks, eds.; Missoula, MT: Scholars, 1975). F. F. Bruce argued the heresy is non-traditional Judaism, likely influenced by merkabah mysticism. F. F. Bruce, “The Colossian Heresy,” BibSac 141 (1984):195-208; H. Wayne House, “Heresies in the Colossian Church” BibSac 149 (1992) 45-59; Clint Arnold, The Colossian Syncretism (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1996) 95-100.

Paul and Merkabah mysticism: “There are definite links from the language and ideas of these Jewish texts from Second Temples times and the testimony of Paul to and the Tannaitic and Amoraic Merkabah (and later Hekhalot) traditions….” James D. Tabor, “Heaven, Ascent To” in ABD 3:91-94; Brad H. Young, “The Ascension Motif of 2 Corinthians 12 in Jewish, Christian and Gnostic Texts” GTJ 9:1 (Spr 88) 73-103; J. Bowker, “‘Merkabah’ Visions and the Visions of Paul,” JSS 16 (1971): 157-173; P. Schäfer, “New Testament and Hekhalot Literature: The Journey into Heaven in Paul and in Merkavah Mysticism,” JJS 35 (1984): 19-35.