He’s an angel, sort of, but more like a god. His name “Metatron” sounds Greek, sort of, but comes down to us written in Hebrew letters. What it might mean in Greek, we don’t know, although etymologies have been proposed. In Hebrew it means nothing at all.
The name couldn’t be more unlike standard-issue Hebrew angel-names such as Michael, Gabriel, Raphael. Just as Metatron himself couldn’t be more unlike the standard-issue Jewish angel.
Once he was a human being, Enoch, son of Jared, father of Methuselah. But that was a different time, inside a different skin.
Now he’s called YHVH ha-katan, “the Lesser YHVH”; or, if you prefer, “YHVH Junior.” (YHVH is the sacred, unpronounceable Four-letter Name of God.) He’s also known, for reasons that even the ancients had to guess at, as na’ar, “the Youth.”
He reappears in the early 1970s under the name “Metron.”
This last bit of information I learn from an extraordinary book published in 2011 by Professor Jeffrey Kripal of Rice University, entitled Mutants & Mystics: Science Fiction, Superhero Comics, and the Paranormal. I’ll have more to say in a few weeks about Jeff’s book, and his work in general, in which UFOs are given their place as the vital and significant–maybe even real?–religious phenomenon they are. From the book’s title you already get some sense of its creativity, and the vastness of its scope.
Jeff mentions the Metatron of antiquity only in passing. Yet he’s a perfect subject for Mutants & Mystics, being both mutant and mystic. Though probably in reverse order.
I’ll talk about that, and give you some of the most crucial information about ancient Metatron, in next week’s post. First, let’s meet his 20th-century counterpart with the slightly truncated name.
Metron is a character in the comic-book epic series The Fourth World, written and drawn in 1970-71 by graphic-art great Jack Kirby. He’s a somewhat ambiguous figure in the ongoing Manichaean struggle between the “good” planet New Genesis (ruled by “Highfather”) and the “evil” planet Apokolips (ruled by “Darkseid”)–the first and last books of the Christian Bible pitted against each other. Wikipedia quotes him as saying of himself: “I have no link with the Old Gods — or New!! I am something different! Something that was unforeseen!! — On New Genesis — or here!!”
“METRON is the wild card in the cosmic gamble! His whereabouts are a deep mystery … almost an age has passed since he was last seen. Yet, he is alive, mature and successful! He’s accumulated massive knowledge which he’s eager to display … Thus, he’s trapped a large, young, lifeless planet, which Metron pulls in his wake with the help of strange forces … toward familiar quadrants … toward a rendezvous he never considered!”
In the accompanying picture, reproduced above, Metron is shown riding his “Mobius Chair,” towing a globe that looks very much like our planet Earth.
Jeff Kripal argues persuasively for Metron’s roots in the ancient Jewish “merkabah mysticism” from which Metatron emerged, and the vision of the divine chariot (Hebrew merkabah) in Ezekiel chapter 1, on which that mysticism was based. (Jeff notes that, “if we were honest, we would have to admit that, well, there are elements of the ancient vision that do look a lot like a modern UFO encounter.”) I think I can both confirm and sharpen his suggestion. Compare Kirby’s picture above with the one to the left, taken from Arthur W. Orton’s “The Four-Faced Visitors of Ezekiel,” Analog Science Fact-Fiction, March 1961.
Orton’s article, now accessible through Project Gutenberg, argued that Ezekiel was describing a visit from what we’d now call “ancient astronauts,” though Orton didn’t try to connect them with present-day UFOs. Orton’s drawing illustrates his conception of what’s described in Ezekiel 1:26-28:
“And above the firmament that was over their heads was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone; and upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness as the appearance of a man above upon it. And I saw as the colour of amber, as the appearance of fire round about within it, from the appearance of his loins even upward, and from the appearance of his loins even downward, I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and it had brightness round about. As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell upon my face, and I heard a voice of one who spake.”
Surely you’ll agree that Kirby was inspired by Orton’s picture, published almost exactly ten years before Kirby’s Metron appeared on the scene. The tip-off is the strange, apparently functionless disk behind Metron’s head, modeled after the space helmet of Orton’s “ancient astronaut.” The astronaut’s spacesuit is, in Kirby’s hands, transformed into typical superhero musculature.
Like so many of the comic-book greats, Kirby was Jewish, his name originally Jacob Kutzberg. “Kirby’s technical knowledge of Jewish mysticism may have been very slight,” Kripal writes, “but the resonances between the mystical tradition, the UFO theme, and the comic art are very obvious.” I think Jeff may be too modest in his claim. I’ve just given solid evidence that Kirby had enough interest in Ezekiel’s vision to read at least one article about it, and how it might tie in with the space age. Might he also have done some reading about how his Jewish ancestors had understood that vision, and perhaps even based a mystical practice on it?
That was what “merkabah mysticism” was about, at least according to the classic studies of Gershom Scholem. You sat in odd positions. You recited hymns and incantations. You fantasized or hallucinated that you yourself were “descending to the merkabah“–yes, that’s right, they called the ecstatic journey a “descent,” even though we would expect they’d be going in the other direction–and wandering among the celestial palaces, seeing things like those that Ezekiel saw.
You might even meet up with Metatron.
by David Halperin
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