Iconic Israeli poet invokes Jesus in latest book

Sunday, June 19, 2011 |  Tsvi Sadan

It is difficult to be certain why Haim Gouri uses New Testament motifs in his latest book of poems, entitled Eyval, named after Mount Ebal (Deut. 11:29).

Gouri is an iconic figure in Israeli culture—the personification of the ideal Israeli. Born in Tel Aviv in 1923, he joined the Palmach militia and was sent to Hungary in 1947 to assist survivors of the Holocaust making their way to Palestine. During the 1948 Israeli War of Independence he served as a deputy company commander in the Palmach’s Negev Brigade.

Although perhaps best known as a poet, Gouri is also a novelist, filmmaker, and journalist.

Eyval is a rebuttal of the prevalent tendency amongst so many Israelis to indulge in condemnation of their mother country. “Since…every leper opens up his mouth to frighten her,” Gouri “writes her glory and splendor, counts like a peddler her glories, [and] grinds Balm of Gilead, healing and remedy for her sorrows and illness” (Poem 59).

And in Poem 86, he quotes Jesus Himself: “Who amongst you has not sinned, let him be the first to throw stones at her.”

In Eyval, Gouri dialogues with the Messiah who endlessly tarries. In Poem 23, he seems to identify the Messiah as Jesus and commands Him as a military commander—much like God commanded Abraham before Him: “Move, move over. Get out by night to your land, to your family, through the stone, through the tiredness, through the silence and the shadow of death. Move, move as in a dream of the night. Remember that you have already been here, with the [crown of] thorns that have already became a familiar literary symbol that never lose their greatness.”

While one can understand this poem in various ways, the reader must face Gouri’s need to command Jesus to return immediately to His land and family.

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