Glossary of Terms

The Lamentations of Jeremiah


Young People's Bible Dictionary

by Barbara Smith (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1965)

Lamentations of Jeremiah, The. O.T. book of poems mourning the destructino of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans in 587 B.C. It is called The Lamentations of Jeremiah because the prophet was supposed to have written the poems. Very likely they were written by several authors and then collected into a book.

Harper’s Bible Dictionary

edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)

You are strongly recommended to add to your library the excellent revised edition of Harper's Bible Dictionary titled, The Harper Collins Bible Dictionary, Revised Edition [book review], edited by Paul J. Achtemeier, with the Society of Biblical Literature (NY: Harper Collins, 1996). It is currently the best one-volume Bible dictionary in English, and it is available at Border's Books, Christian Science Reading Rooms,, or

Lamentations of Jeremiah, the, an O.T. book consisting of five elegies bewailing the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 587 b.c. The name ‘Lamentations’ reflects the Greek Threnoi and the Latin Threni, both of which are a translation of the Hebrew title Qinoth meaning ‘dirges’ (b. B. Bat. 14b). The more prevalent Hebrew name, however, is Eikhah (‘Ah, how’), the book’s opening word. In the Hebrew Bible, Lamentations is one of the five scrolls in the Hagiographa. In the Septuagint and the Latin versions, however, Lamentations appears as an appendix to the book of Jeremiah.

Authorship: Tradition holds that the prophet Jeremiah was the author of Lamentations. This tradition is based on Jeremiah’s central role as prophet of the destruction as well as on other verses associating him with the composition of dirges (Jer. 7:29; 9:9, 19; 2 Chron. 35:25). Modern scholarship has generally been skeptical of assigning the book to Jeremiah. Verses expressing the crushed hopes pinned on the king or on foreign alliances (4:17, 20) appear to be out of character with Jeremiah’s thinking (cf. Jer. 2:18, 36; 24:8-10). Furthermore, the standard prophetic indictments against the generation of the destruction (such as practice of idol worship and socio-moral offenses, cf. Jer. 5:7-8; 7:9-10; 9:1-5, 11-13) go practically unmentioned in Lamentations. With the exception of 4:13, the book refers to Jerusalem’s sins only in the most general terms (1:5, 8, 14, 18; 2:14; 4:6), and even seems to bespeak a certain measure of perplexity regarding the severity of God’s judgment (3:43-44; 5:7). In these respects, Lamentations may be said to reflect the popular (i.e., nonprophetic) ideology current during the period of the monarchy (ca. 1020-587 b.c.). The spirit of the book can be traced more precisely to upper-class circles who were versed in the wisdom tradition. The concern for the fate of the king and noblemen (1:6; 2:9; 4:5, 7, 8, 20) as well as the conception of suffering expressed in chap. 3 (see below) tend to support this conclusion.

Content: Chaps. 1 and 5 provide a general description of Jerusalem’s desolation in the wake of the destruction. Chaps. 2 and 4 give a more vivid account of the actual events, with chap. 2 emphasizing God’s enmity on the day of his fury and chap. 4 cataloguing the terrible conditions prevailing at the time of the catastrophe. Chap. 3 departs from the general pattern of the book by focusing on the fate of a suffering individual. This individual recounts his own feeling of abandonment by God (vv. 1-18), but then proceeds to reflect on the meaning of his suffering. As in many passages associated with the wisdom tradition, God’s justness in bringing on punishment as well as his ultimate kindness is accepted axiomatically (vv. 21-25, 31-38). With the recognition that his suffering is not a capricious occurrence, but rather a result of his own sins, the author accepts it willingly, mindful that a sincere change of heart will evoke God’s mercy (vv. 26-30, 39-41). Significantly, the poet’s call to repentance in vv. 40-41 is formulated in the first person plural, thus indicating that the message of chap. 3 indeed forms the ideological core of the entire book.

While each chapter has its individual character, certain themes are repeated throughout the book. The general conditions of famine in besieged and destroyed Jerusalem are described in 1:11, 19; 2:11-12, 19-20; 4:3-10; and 5:9-10. Another common theme is Jerusalem’s isolation and disgrace in the face of jeering enemies and former allies who had abandoned it (1:2, 7, 21; 2:16; 3:46, 63; 4:17). At the end of three of the five chapters, a vengeful wish is expressed for those foes (1:22; 3:64-66; 4:21-22). Paramount in Lamentations is the attributing of the destruction to God’s wrath, which is best understood as resulting from the people’s sins (1:5, 14-15, 17-18; 2:1-9, 17, 21-22; 3:42-43; 4:11-13). However, despite the feeling of guilt, there is an ongoing hope in God’s salvation even in the moments of greatest despair (1:9, 11, 20-22; 2:18-20; 3:21-25, 31-32, 55-66; 4:21-22; 5:19-22).

Style: All of the book’s five chapters are composed in poetic style. Chaps. 1-4 are alphabetical acrostics, with chaps. 1, 2, and 4 containing one verse for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and chap. 3 containing three verses for each letter. Chap. 5 is not an acrostic, but like chaps. 1, 2, and 4 it contains twenty-two metrical verses, corresponding to the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet. Another striking poetic device is the personification of Zion as a distraught female figure (1:1-9, 17; 2:13, 18-19). In addition to these literary features, many linguistic elements run like a red thread through the book (e.g., eikhah in 1:1; 2:1; 4:1-2; ‘days of old’ in 1:7; 2:17; 5:21; ‘sucklings’ in 1:5; 2:11, 19-20; 4:4)


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Edited for by Robert Nguyen Cramer
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