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The Book of Lamentations (Hebrew: אֵיכָה‎, Eikha, ʾēḫā(h)) is a book of the Hebrew Bible. It is traditionally read by the Jewish people on Tisha B'Av, the fast day that commemorates the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Contents

Name

It is called in the Hebrew canon 'Eikhah, meaning "How," being the formula for the commencement of a song of wailing. It is the first word of the book (see 2 Sam. 1:19-27). The Septuagint adopted the name rendered "Lamentations" (or "Threnoi Hieremiou", abbreviated "Thren." in some Latin commentaries, from the Greek threnoi = Hebrew qinoth) now in common use, to denote the character of the book, in which the prophet mourns over the desolations brought on Jerusalem and the Holy Land by the Chaldeans. In the Hebrew Bible (the Tanakh) it is placed among the Ketuvim, the Writings. Many people believe Jeremiah was the author, but they still to this day, do not know for sure.

Authorship

"Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem" by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn.

According to Jewish, Muslim and Christian traditions, authorship is assigned to the Prophet Jeremiah, who was ministering the Word of God during the conquest of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, during which the First Temple was destroyed and King Zedekiah was taken prisoner (cf. 2 Kings 24-25, Jer. 39:1-10 and Jer. 52). In the Septuagint and the Vulgate the Lamentations are placed directly after the Prophet.

It is said that Jeremiah retired to a cavern outside the Damascus gate, where he wrote this book. That cavern is still pointed out by tour guides. "In the face of a rocky hill, on the western side of the city, the local belief has placed 'the grotto of Jeremiah.' There, in that fixed attitude of grief which Michelangelo has immortalized, the prophet may well be supposed to have mourned the fall of his country" (Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, History of the Jewish Church).

However, the strict acrostic style of four of the five poems is not found at all in the Book of Jeremiah itself and Jeremiah's name is not found anywhere in the book itself (nor any other name, for that matter), so authorship of Lamentations is disputed. The Book of Chronicles says that Jeremiah did write a lament on the death of King Josiah.[1] The work is probably based on the older Mesopotamian genre of the "city lament", of which the Lament for Ur is among the oldest and best-known.

According to F. W. Dobbs-Allsopp, "the widely observed unity of form and point of view... and general resemblance in linguistic detail throughout the sequence are broadly suggestive of the work of a single author," though other scholars see Lamentations as the work of multiple authors.[2]

Setting

Most commentators see Lamentations as reflecting the period immediately following the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC,[3] though Provan argues for an ahistorical interpretation.[4] Many elements of the lament are borne out in the historical narrative in 2 Kings concerning the fall of Jerusalem: Jerusalem lying in ruins (Lamentations 2:2 and 2 Kings 25:9), enemies entering the city (Lamentations 4:12 and 2 Kings 24:11), people going into exile (Lamentations 1:3 and 2 Kings 24:14) and the sanctuary being plundered (Lamentations 1:10 and 2 Kings 24:13). On the other hand, Babylon is never mentioned in Lamentations, though this could simply be to make the point that the judgment comes from God, and is a consequence of Judah disobeying him.

Date

Lamentations was probably composed soon after 586 BC. Kraus argues that "the whole song stands so near the events that one feels everywhere as if the terrible pictures of the destruction stand still immediately before the eyes of the one lamenting."[5]

Contents

The book consists of five separate poems. In chapter 1 the prophet dwells on the manifold miseries oppressed by which the city sits as a solitary widow weeping sorely. In chapter 2 these miseries are described in connection with national sins and acts of God. Chapter 3 speaks of hope for the people of God. The chastisement would only be for their good; a better day would dawn for them. Chapter 4 laments the ruin and desolation that had come upon the city and temple, but traces it only to the people's sins. Chapter 5 is a prayer that Zion's reproach may be taken away in the repentance and recovery of the people.

Structure

The first four poems (chapters) are acrostics, like some of the Psalms (25, 34, 37, 119), i.e., each verse begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet taken in order. The first, second, and fourth have each twenty-two verses, the number of the letters in the Hebrew alphabet. The third has sixty-six verses, in which each three successive verses begin with the same letter. The fifth is not acrostic, but also has twenty-two verses.

Use

The Book of Lamentations is recited annually on the Tisha b'Av, the anniversery of the destruction of both of the Jewish Temples as well as numerous other unfavorable days in Jewish history.

Speaking of the "Wailing-place (q.v.) of the Jews" at Jerusalem, a portion of the old wall of the Herod's Temple, Schaff says: "There the Jews assemble every Friday afternoon to bewail the downfall of the holy city, kissing the stone wall and watering it with their tears. They repeat from their well-worn Hebrew Bibles and prayer-books the Lamentations of Jeremiah and suitable Psalms."

Readings, chantings, and choral settings, of the book of Lamentations, are used in the Christian religious service known as the tenebrae (Latin for darkness).

References

  1. ^ 2 Chronicles 35:25
  2. ^ Dobbs-Allsopp, F. W. Lamentations (Louisville: John Knox, 2002), 5.
  3. ^ Childs, Brevard S. Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture (London: SCM, 1979), 593.
  4. ^ Provan, Iain W. "Reading Texts Against an Historical Background: The Case of Lamentations," SJOT 1/1990, 138.
  5. ^ Cited in Provan, 133.

This article incorporates text from Easton's Bible Dictionary (1897), a publication now in the public domain.

External links

Preceded by
Ruth
Hebrew Bible Followed by
Ecclesiastes
Preceded by
Jeremiah
Protestant Old Testament Followed by
Ezekiel
Roman Catholic Old Testament Followed by
Baruch
Eastern Orthodox Old Testament
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