Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Book of Lamentations
It is called in the Hebrew canon 'Ekhah, 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" (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 it is placed among the Ketuvim, the Scrolls.
According to tradition, authorship is assigned to the Prophet Jeremiah, who was a court official during the conquest of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, when the First Temple was destroyed and King Jehoiachin was taken prisoner (cf. Is 38 ff and Is 52). In the Septuagint and the Vulgate the Lamentations are placed directly after the Prophet.
It is said that he retired to a cavern outside the Damascus gate, where he wrote this book. That cavern is still pointed out. "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 Michael Angelo has immortalized, the prophet may well be supposed to have mourned the fall of his country" (Stanley, 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 authorship of the Prophet is disputed. 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.
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 the national sins that had caused them. 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.
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.
Speaking of the "Wailing-place (q.v.) of the Jews" at Jerusalem, a portion of the old wall of the Temple of Solomon, 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).
- Jewish translations:
- Christian translations:
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