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In His Dark Materials, Who is Metatron?

Brendan McGuigan
Brendan McGuigan

The character Metatron is an angel in the fantasy series His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman. The books follow an epic struggle in which man wages a war against the Kingdom of Heaven, and Metatron serves as the penultimate antagonist in that war.

In the mythos of the books, the character of God is referred to as the Authority, and is given as the first angel who appeared in the universe. He used this unique position to assert dominance over the angels who came after him, setting himself up as the creator of the universe.

Woman standing behind a stack of books
Woman standing behind a stack of books

Metatron is not one of these angels who originally appeared, but is in fact a mortal man who was made into an angel after he died, like other angels who appear in the book, such as Baruch. Nonetheless, Metatron rises to become the most powerful of the angels, aside from the Authority, in spite of his mortal past.

In his mortal life, Metatron was a man named Enoch, who was the son of Jared, the son of Mahalalel, the son of Kenan, the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam. His brother, Baruch, also became an angel after his mortal death, although he was later expelled and rebelled against the Authority and joined in the war against the Kingdom of Heaven.

Once he became an angel, Metatron grew in power and eventually became the Regent for the Authority, who had become old and seemingly senile. As Regent, Metatron took over the actual rule of the Kingdom of Heaven. In the scope of the book, Metatron is preparing to intervene in mortal affairs through the many universes shared in the book. He sees the Church as not being sufficiently strong in many worlds, and seeks to take a direct hand in the lives of mortal men and women, effectively creating a direct dictatorship of Heaven.

Metatron attacks the two main protagonists of the book, Will and Lyra, and attempts to kill them to get his hands on the Subtle Knife. His character is not particularly elaborated on, but he comes across as tyrannical, willing to shed blood to achieve his ends, and able to exile his own brother from the Kingdom of Heaven. Metatron is shown to have a weakness of the flesh, left over from his mortal life. The character of Mrs. Coulter seduces him at the end of the book, allowing him to be hurled into an abyss from which even he cannot return.

The name Metatron comes from an angel who appears in the traditions of the Judeo-Christian religions. Although he does not appear in either the Old Testament or New Testament, the Tanakh, or the Qur’an, he appears in a number of later sources. In the third book of Enoch in some Jewish traditions the story of Enoch’s transformation into Metatron is given, which is likely where Pullman drew his inspiration.

In various Talmudic traditions, Metatron is sometimes described as a lesser deity, a “secondary YHVH,” although other sections make clear to point out that he is simply an angel. Metatron is often described as the chief angel, and is often given the role of messenger or scribe of God, recording the history of Israel, and passing on messages to both Sammael and Gabriel.

In no tradition does the angel Metatron ever usurp God’s role as Deity, but the role Pullman gives to him does have things in common with the earlier traditions calling him a lesser deity. Elisha ben Abuya is even described in a passage, after seeing Metatron seated as only God Himself could be, as saying, “There are indeed two powers in heaven!” Although this was later shown to be incorrect in the same section, this interpretation likely helped form the basis for Pullman’s character.

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      Woman standing behind a stack of books