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Bible Encyclopedias

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature


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This book is called by the Hebrews, 'how,' from the first word of the book; but sometimes they call it 'tears,'or 'lamentation,' in allusion to the mournful character of the work, of which one would conceive, says Bishop Lowth, 'that every letter was written with a tear, every word the sound of a broken heart.' From this, or rather from the translation of it in the Septuagint, comes our title of Lamentations.

The ascription of the Lamentations in the title is of no authority in itself, but its correctness has never been doubted. The style and manner of the book are those of Jeremiah, and the circumstances alluded to, those by which he is known to have been surrounded. This reference of the Lamentations to Jeremiah occurs in the introductory verse which is found in the Septuagint:—'And it came to pass, after Israel had been carried away captive, and Jerusalem was become desolate, that Jeremiah sat weeping, and lamented with this lamentation over Jerusalem, and said.'

It is disputed whether or not this verse existed in the Hebrew copies from which the translation of the Seventy was made. We are certainly not bound by its authority if disposed to question the conclusion which it supports. But it at least shows the opinion which prevailed as to the author, and the occasion of the book, at the time the translation was made. That opinion is now all but universally acquiesced in. It is adopted by nearly all commentators, who, as they proceed through the book, find that they cannot follow out the details on any other supposition. We may, under this view, regard Lamentations 1-2 as occupied chiefly with the circumstances of the siege, and those immediately following that event. In Lamentations 3 the prophet deplores the calamities and persecutions to which he had himself been exposed; Lamentations 4 refers to the ruin and desolation of the city, and the unhappy lot of Zedekiah; and Lamentations 5 and last seems to be a sort of prayer in the name, or on behalf of, the Jews in their dispersion and captivity. As Jeremiah himself was eventually compelled to withdraw into Egypt much against his will (), it has been suggested that the last chapter was possibly written there. Pareau refers Lamentations 1 to , sqq.; Lamentations 3, to , sqq.; Lamentations 4, to , sqq., and , sqq.; Lamentations 2 to the destruction of the city and temple; Lamentations 5, is admitted to be the latest, and to refer to the time after that event. Ewald says that the situation is the same throughout, and only the time different. In Lamentations 1, 2 we find sorrow without consolation; in Lamentations 3, consolation for the poet himself; in Lamentations 4, the lamentation is renewed with greater violence; but soon the whole people, as if urged by their own spontaneous impulse, fall to weeping and hoping.

Dr. Blayney, regarding both the date and occasion of the Lamentations as established by the internal evidence, adds, 'Nor can we admire too much the flow of that full and graceful pathetic eloquence, in which the author pours out the effusions of a patriotic heart, and piously weeps over the ruins of his venerable country.' 'Never,' says an unquestionable judge of these matters, 'was there a more rich and elegant variety of beautiful images and adjuncts, arranged together within so small a compass, nor more happily chosen and applied.'

In the ancient copies this book is supposed to have occupied the place which is now assigned to it, after Jeremiah. Indeed, from the manner in which Josephus reckons up the books of the Old Testament, it has been supposed that Jeremiah and it originally formed but one book. In the Bible now used by the Jews, however, the book of Lamentations stands in the Hagiographa, and among the five Megilloth, or books of Ruth, Esther, Ecclesiastes, and Solomon's Song. They believe that it was not written by the gift of prophecy, but by the spirit of God (between which they make a distinction), and give this as a reason for not placing it among the prophets. It is read in their synagogues on the ninth of the month Ab, which is a fast for the destruction of the Holy City.





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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Lamentations'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature".

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