Messianic Hebrew Literature – Beyond Teachings and Testimonies

Interview with Israeli Messianic author Yoav Betsalel

The cover for "Bundles of Sunlight"

Most Messianic books being published in Hebrew are translated from other languages, and those that were originally written in Hebrew by Yeshua’s disciples in Israel, are commentaries and teachings on Scripture or biographies – “testimonies” – the real life stories of how the authors came to faith in Messiah. In terms of fine literature – novels and poetry have yet to be found.  

Yoav Betsalel from Hadera, is a pioneer in this field. His first book, “Bundles of Sunlight” was published a few years ago and he also published a book of poetry “Fly-by-Wire” in addition to “Land of the River People” – an adventure book.

“Bundles of Sunlight” is a novel based on the book of Hosea, and he includes verses from the Bible in abundance. The vision Yoav Betsalel had for this book was to reach out to non-Believers and bring the message of repentance through the story of the prophet and his unfaithful wife. The book of Hosea, as we know, is a parable of the relationship between God and Israel.

Yoav explains: “Bundles of Sunlight” is a novel based on the biblical account of the personal life of the prophet Hosea as it is presented in the Bible. Hosea prophesied in the Northern Kingdom of Israel until the Assyrian conquest and exile of Israel, and during his lifetime he was told to marry a prostitute named Gomer. This woman, when she was married to Hosea gave birth to two children who were not his. Hosea then asked to divorce her and cast her and the children away from him. The personal story of Hosea came to symbolize the condition of Israel at the time having prostituted themselves and betrayed God and God was about to expel them from their land and cast them away from his presence. Finally Hosea was commanded to buy back the prostitute Gomer, bring her home and love her! I have always been fond of this story which was written so concisely in the book of Hosea, and I decided to write a novel about it as I envisaged it.”

Although “Bundles of Sunlight” received a few mentions and reviews on various sites in the country where literature is discussed, “MARKER CAFE” being one of them; no publishers were willing to publish his book, therefore, Yoav founded “Musa-Han”, in order to publish his own books. Despite the fact that the book is so profound and can teach about God’s love for Israel, Yoav does not understand why there are almost no Believers among its readership. He explains though that in fact he specifically did not try to distribute “Sunlight” through the regular Messianic publishing houses as a matter of strategy because he did not want the book to be labelled “missionary” or “cult” or anything else that would create prejudice among non-Believers thereby deterring potential readers.

However, the book “Sunlight”, like the rest of the books, was not received by Believing or non-Believing audiences. “It had very few readers but those who did read it loved it and all the reviews written about the book, including the professional ones in the press have been positive,” the author says.

His second book, “Fly-by-Wire” is an anthology of poems that summarize 11 difficult years of his life, as Yoav describes it.

“The Land of the River people”, Yoav Betsalel’s 3rd book, was published in 2012. Here, he paints the image of an Israeli girl who one day finds a white horse in a field. She rides it and comes to an unfamiliar land. Slowly, the girl realizes that she has reached a region described in Genesis as the Garden of Eden. In the land of the River People, she meets a very special community of believers and at their guidance she meets the God of her fathers, the God of Israel.

Yoav explains that this book is not written exclusively for those of us who are Believers, but for everyone: Israelis, non-Israelis who read Hebrew, Jewish Believers, Gentile Believers, non-Believers. “Land of the River People” is not written in “Messianic” language and style but as literature. He also emphasizes that he is “trying to excel in literature the best I can, as so as not to bring shame to myself or to God”.

In addition to writing literature, he keeps two blogs. They are also designed for the community at large – Believers and non-Believers. In these blogs he writes about God, and he avoids mentioning explicitly the name of Yeshua.

Why do not you mention the name of Yeshua in your blog?

“Although this is something that is of utmost importance to me, I think that the non-Believing audience need first and foremost to reconnect with the original Spirit of the God of Israel. This connection will inevitably lead to Yeshua (The Savior of Israel) but as long as the reconnection does not happen, the name of Yeshua the Messiah is a red flag for many and does not promote His Kingdom. The Believers who read my books and blogs easily understand that I’m writing about Yeshua, even when His name is not mentioned explicitly,” he explains.

Yoav Betsalel and his path to Yeshua the Messiah

Yoav Bezalel
Yoav Betsalel

Yoav was born in 1962. He grew up on a small Moshav in the center of the country, in an ordinary secular family. Yoav began writing as a child while he was searching and on a spiritual journey.

He says that even in his childhood he had to deal with social and family problems. “From a young age I had an understanding or revelation that there is a spiritual world and everything revolves around what happens there. I knew what I wanted to achieve in my life and that the solutions to the difficulties I had were not in my hands and not in the hands of people around me, but only in Heaven’s hands. I didn’t know exactly what was there, or how to harness the spiritual forces that I sensed existed for my benefit,” he says.

Yoav remembers that as early as the age of ten, he had these kinds of thoughts and it was without his parents even discussing the spiritual world with him.

“At the age of 13 or 14 I had already started searching for every crumb of wisdom in sight. I almost never went to school but I read everything I could read, I tried every drug I could find, I tried to teach myself psychology, philosophy, history, religion and faiths. I was listening to music for hours trying to figure out the spiritual source of what I was hearing. I read stories of adventure and fantasy and tried to mimic what I read.”

His search led him to yoga, to a yeshiva (learning center for Judaism), also to the East and various spiritual centers in Europe, including an Orthodox monastery. He returned to Israel to Kibbutz Neot Smadar in the Arava, and also to the spiritual cult of Shlomo Kahlo. During this time he got married and had a son. It was in 2001 that he read the New Testament for the first time.

“I realized I had finally found my way and the spiritual source I was looking for. This alluring power was the character of Yeshua; I was completely in love. At that time I wasn’t all that interested theology, I just wanted to be near Yeshua, to listen to his words, to get dusty at his feet, and to admire His light,” says Yoav passionately.

What were the immediate results of your decision to follow Yeshua?

“I gave my life to Yeshua and I became a Believer, but my wife would not tolerate this decision of mine to follow Yeshua – it is interesting that all other belief systems I explored did not bother her – but she asked me to leave the house and her life and strongly demanded a divorce. After that, since I was living in Jaffa, I contacted Yakov Damkani, who baptized me and introduced me to the Messianic community in Israel. Until then I did not know such a thing existed.”

When did you start writing?

“With the beginning of my searches as a child, writing helped me to express my thoughts and my feelings. As a teenager, I used to write about places that music would take me to, trying to define in words, describing what is almost impossible to pronounce, spiritual experiences I had. I also wrote my questions in a notebook, taking drugs then trying to answer the questions using the drug or describe in writing what I was experiencing. This was my research. I didn’t know that evil spirits were talking to me through it. My writing was directionless and not meant for viewing by another person’s eyes. All of this became clear to me when I became a Believer.

How did faith in Yeshua influence your writing?

“In the first few years after I was saved, God shut me up in a room to impart His teachings to me. It felt like I had a tutor at home and I wanted to write down the things so I wouldn’t forget. Sometimes it was the intellectual insight out of the blue, sometimes insights from the Bible and often emotional insights. I had to develop different genres of writing in order to accommodate the various insights: Logical conceptual writing for the intellectual insights, intuitive writing for the emotional experiences, creative writing for experiences of the imagination.

These days, Yoav is currently working on two books: one is actually a Commentary on “love” – he explores all that Scripture has to say on the subject. The second book is actually very short and is intended solely for Believers. It is called “Six lessons on the “Kingdom of God”.

He has a dream that one day his books will be translated into many languages.

the cover of the book "Fly-by-Wire"
the cover of the book “Fly-by-Wire”

A poem from the book “Fly-by-Wire”

I love the way you dream
The depths of azure on the side of the road, on the mid-road
The light blowing in the view of the mountains
The warmth of the earth testifies that you are alive

You know, I miss the mountain peaks, the picturesque villages
Your way is a constant longing for the azure
There’s nowhere else I would like to go anymore
From now on I’ll only watch you
paint

Excerpt from the book “Bundles of Sunlight”:

“… Gomer was pacing by the door and at times felt the urge to barge in and run into the arms of her mother, asking for protection. She knew that this was a private matter of her mother’s, but did not understand the complex emotions involved: the alienation in the eyes of the men who rushed out of the house, the denial in the eyes of Diblaim and a distant yet present sense of guilt which for some reason her heart harboured – like she was guilty of something; the nature of which was not clear to her. Gomer did not know at the time how much these feelings assimilated deep within her, evoking questions without an answer in her soul, and how she would carry them with her for many more years.”

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Rachel (Rachely) Scapa, studied journalism at the Open University TLV under Yedioth Aharonoth's journalist Dudi Goldman. Rachel served as news correspondent for various radio stations abroad, including BBC 3 Counties and Voice of America, both in English and Portuguese, giving the best reports from Israel. Currently she has two radio shows - one in Portuguese, which she has had for more than 13 years, presenting News from Israel and the ME. In the other, in Hebrew, she presents Brazilian music, on an Israeli radio station. Rachely is also a columnist for a Christian newspaper in Brazil, distributed over the triple border between Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay.