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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
Lamentations, Book of
one of the books of the O.T. commonly assigned to Jeremiah, and consisting of a remarkable series of threnodies. In many respects it is peculiar and almost unique in the sacred canon. (See BIBLE).
I. Title. — The Hebrew name of this book, אֵיכָה , Eykah', "How," is taken, like those of the five books of Moses, from the Hebrew word with which it opens, and which appears to have been almost a received formula for the commencement of a song of wailing (compare 2 Samuel 1:19-27). The Rabbins remark upon this title, "Three prophets have used the word איכה with reference to Israel: Moses, Isaiah, and Jeremiah. To what are they to be likened? To three bridesmen (שושבינין = Μυρτηφόροι ) who have seen the afterwards widowed wife in three different stages. The first has seen her in her opulence and her pride, and he said, "Oh, how shall I bear alone your overbearing and your strife?' (Deuteronomy 1:2). The second has seen her in her dissipation and dissoluteness, and he said, 'Oh, how has she become a harlot!' (Isaiah 1:21). And the third has seen her in her utter desolation, and he said, 'Oh, how does she sit solitary!' (Lamentations 1:1)" (Introduction to Echac Rabathi).
Later Jewish writers usually designate the book by the more descriptive title קַינוֹת , Kinoth', "lamentations" =dirge, a term which they found in Jeremiah 7:29; Jeremiah 9:10; Jeremiah 9:20; 2 Chronicles 35:25, and which already had probably been applied familiarly to the book itself. (See LAMENT).
The Septuagint translators found themselves obliged, as in the other cases referred to, to substitute some title more significant, and adopted θρῆνοι Ι᾿ερεμίου as the equivalent of the latter Hebrew term. The Vulgate gives the Greek word, and explains it (Threni, id est, Lamentationes Jeremiae Prophetae). Luther and the A.V. have given the translation only, in "Klagelieder" and "Lamentations" respectively.
II. Position. — In the present Hebrew Bible the book of Lamentations stands in the Hagiographa (Kethubim) between Ruth and Ecclesiastes. The Jews 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. In the arrangement adopted for synagogue use, and reproduced in some editions, as in the Bomberg Bible of 1521, it stands among the five Megilloth after the books of Moses, or books of Ruth, Esther, Ecclesiastes, and Solomon's Song. This position of the book probably had a liturgical origin, as it is read in their synagogues on the ninth of the month Ab, which is a fast for the destruction of the holy city. In the ancient Hebrew copies, however, this book is supposed to have occupied the place which is now assigned to it in most versions, namely, after Jeremiah. Indeed, from the manner in which Josephus reckons up the books of the Old Testament (Contra Apion, 1:8), it has been supposed that Jeremiah and it originally formed but one book (Prideaux, Connection, 1:332). The Septuagint groups the writings connected with the name of Jeremiah together, but the book of Baruch comes between the prophecy and the Lamentation. On the hypothesis of some writers that Jeremiah 53 was originally the introduction to the poem, and not the conclusion of the prophecy, and that the preface of the Sept. (which is not found either in the Hebrew or in the Targum of Jonathan) was inserted to diminish the abruptness occasioned by this separation of the book from that with which it had been originally connected, it would follow that the arrangement of the Vulg. and the A.V. corresponds more closely than any other to that which we must look upon as the original one.
III. Form. — The structure of this book is peculiarly artificial, being strictly poetic, and in many portions acrostic.
(1.) Chapters 1, 2, and 4 contain 22 verses each, arranged in alphabetic order, each verse falling into three nearly balanced clauses (Ewald, Poet. Bü ch. page 147); 2:19 forms an exception, as having a fourth clause, the result of an interpolation, as if the writer had shaken off for a moment the restraint of his self-imposed law. Possibly the inversion of the usual order of ע and פ in chapter 2, 3, 4, may have arisen from a like forgetfulness. Grotius (ad loc.) explains it on the assumption that here Jeremiah followed the order of the Chaldaean alphabet. Similar anomalies occur in Psalms 37, and have received a like explanation (De Wette, Psalm page 57). It is, however, a mere hypothesis that the Chaldaean alphabet differed in this respect from the Hebrew; nor is it easy to see why Jeremiah should have chosen the Hebrew order for one poem, and the Chaldaean for the other three.
(2.) Chapter 3 contains three short verses under each letter of the alphabet, the initial letter being three times repeated.
(3.) Chapter 5 contains the same number of verses as chapters 1, 2, 4, but without the alphabetic order. The thought suggests itself that the earnestness of the prayer with which the book closes may have carried the writer beyond the limits within which he had previously confined himself; but the conjecture (of Ewald) that we have here, as in Psalms 9, 10, the rough draught of what was intended to have been finished afterwards in the same manner as the others, is at least a probable one.
IV. Author. — The poems included in this collection appear in the Hebrew canon with no name attached to them, and there is no direct external evidence that they were written by the prophet Jeremiah earlier than the date given in the prefatory verse which appears in the Septuagint, which is as follows: "And it came to pass, after Israel had been carried away captive, and Jerusalem had become desolate, that Jeremiah sat weeping, and lamented with this lamentation over Jerusalem, and said." This has been copied into the Arabic and Vulgate versions; but as it does not exist in the Hebrew, Chaldee, or Syriac, it was regarded by Jerome as spurious, and is not admitted into his version. This represents, however, the established belief of the Jews after the completion of the canon. The Talmud, embodying the earliest traditions, has: "Jeremiah wrote his book, the book of Kings, and the Lamentations" (Baba Baethra, 15, a). Later Jewish writers are equally explicit (Echa Rubb. introd.). Josephus (Ant. 10:5, 1) follows, as far as the question of authorship is concerned, in the same track, and the absence of any tradition or probable conjecture to the contrary leaves the concensus of critics and commentators almost undisturbed. (See below.) An agreement so striking rests, as might be expected, on strong internal evidence. The poems belong unmistakably to the last days of the kingdom or the commencement of the exile. They are written by one who speaks, with the vividness and intensity of an eye- witness, of the misery which he bewails. It might almost be enough to ask who else then living could have written with that union of strong passionate feeling and entire submission to Jehovah which characterizes both the Lamentations and the Prophecy of Jeremiah. The evidences of identity are, however, stronger and more minute. In both we meet, once and again, with the picture of the "Virgin-daughter of Zion" sitting down in her shame and misery (Lamentations 1:15; Lamentations 2:13; Jeremiah 14:17).
In both there is the same vehement outpouring of sorrow. The prophet's eyes flow down with tears (Lamentations 1:16; Lamentations 2:11; Lamentations 3:48-49; Jeremiah 9:1; Jeremiah 13:17; Jeremiah 14:17). There is the same haunting feeling of being surrounded with fears and terrors on every side (Lamentations 2:22; Jeremiah 6:25; Jeremiah 46:5). In both the worst of all the evils is the iniquity of the prophets and the priests (Lamentations 2:14; Lamentations 4:13; Jeremiah 5:30-31; Jeremiah 14:13-14). The sufferer appeals for vengeance to the righteous Ju dge (Lamentations 3:64-66; Jeremiah 11:20). He bids the rival nation that exulted in the fall of Jerusalem prepare for a like desolation (Lamentations 4:21; Jeremiah 49:12). The personal references to Jeremiah's own fate, such as we know it from his book of Prophecies and Kings, are not wanting (comp. Lamentations 2:11; Lamentations 2:3, with Jeremiah 15:15 sq.; Jeremiah 17:13 sq.; Jeremiah 20:7; Lamentations 3:14 with Jeremiah 20:7 with Jeremiah 17:18; Jeremiah 5 with Jeremiah 4:17-20). As in the Prophecies, so here, the iniquities of the people are given as the cause of the exile and the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple (compare 1:5, 8, 14, 22; 3:39, 42; 4:6, 22; 5:16 with Jeremiah 13:22-26; Jeremiah 14:7; Jeremiah 16:10 sq.; Jeremiah 17:1 sq.), their sinful trust in false prophets and iniquitous priests, their relying on the safety of Jerusalem, and on the aid of powerless and treacherous allies, etc. What is more, his poetical and prophetical individuality pervades the whole so unmistakably that it seems hardly necessary to refer to the numerous parallel passages adduced by Eichhorn, Bertholdt, Keil, De Wette, Jahn, Bleek, and others. If contents, spirit, manner, individuality, are any guarantee at all, then Jeremiah is the author, and sole author of the book before us. He even seems to refer to his other book (comp. Jeremiah 2:14; Jeremiah 14:13). But were any further proof needed, we would certainly find it in the very diction and phraseology common to both works, and peculiar to them alone (comp. דִוָּיִ, Lamentations 1:22, and Jeremiah 8:18; פחד ופחת Lamentations 3:47, and Jeremiah 48:43; שבר הת עמי, Lamentations 2:11, and Jeremiah 6:14; Jeremiah 8:11; מגור מסיב, Lamentations 2:22, and Jeremiah 6:25, and frequently the very frequent use of דַּמְעָה מִיַם הוֹרַיד שֶׁבֶר in both; phrases like "I became a mockery all day long," Lamentations 3:14, and Jeremiah 20:7, etc.: the use of the parag., and other grammatical peculiarities. See Keil, Einleit. in das A. T. § 129).
The only exceptions to this unanimity of opinion as to the authorship of Lamentations are Hardt, who, for reasons of his own, ascribed the five different elegies to Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, and king Jehonja respectively, and, in our own time, Conz and Thenius. The last holds that only Lamentations 2, 4 belong to Jeremiah (the former written in Palestine, the latter in Egypt), the three others, however, having been written by Jeremiah's contemporaries and disciples. His reasons for this assumption are, that Jeremiah could not have treated the same subject five times; that 2 and 4 are different from 1, 3, 5, which are less worthy of Jeremiah's pen; that the three latter do not quite fit Jeremiah's own circumstances; and, finally, because there is a difference in the alphabetical structure (see above) of 1 and of 2-4. These objections to Jeremiah's exclusive authorship seem about as tenable as Hardt's Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, and consorts. The first two points are not worth consideration; the third is answered by the simple proposition that they are poems, and not a historical narrative which we have before us, and that therefore a certain license must be given to the poet in the use of broad similes in his generalizinos, and in his putting himself sometimes in the place of the whole people as its spokesman and clief' mourner. And if; finally, the structure differs in 1 from 2 and 4, then it may as well be asked why 3, which is not supposed to be written by Jeremiah, is like 2 and 4, which are allowed to be written by him? If somebody has imitated the structure in 3, why has it not been also imitated in 1 and 5? A further refutation of this attempt to take away two fifths of Jeremiah's authorship — supported by no investigator as we said — has been given by Ewall, and we have indeed only mentioned it for the sake of completeness. Bunsen, it is true (Gott inn der Gesch. 1:426), indicates Baruch as probably the author, in part at least, of Lamentations; but thi is sevidently a mere conjecture.
V. Occasion. — The earliest statement on this point is that of Josephus (Ant. 10:5, 1). He finds among the books which were extant in his own time the lamentations on the death of Josiah, which are mentioned in 2 Chronicles 35:25. As there are no traces of any other poem of this kind in the later Jewish literature, it has been inferred, naturally enough, that he speaks of this. This opinion was maintained also by Jerome, and has been defended by some modern writers (Usher, Dathe, Michaelis, Notes to Lowth, Prael. 22 [Michaelis and Dathe, however, afterwards abandoned this hypothesis, and adopted that of the later date]; Calovius, Prolegom. eid Thren.; De Wette, Einl. in das A. Test., Klagl.). It does not appear, however, to rest on any better grounds than a hasty conjecture, arising from the reluctance of men to admit that any work by an inspired writer can have perished, or the arbitrary assumption (De Wette, 1.c.) that the same man could not, twice in his life, have been the spokesman of a great national sorrow. (The argument that 3:27 implies the youth of the writer hardly needs to be confuted.) Against it we have to set (1) the tradition on the other side embodied in the preface of the Septuagint; (2) the contents of the book itself. Admitting that some of the calamities described in it may have been common to the invasions of Necho and Nebuchadnezzar, we yet look in vain for a single word distinctive of a funeral dirge over a devout and zealous reformer like Josiah, while we find, step by step, the closest possible likeness between the pictures of misery in the Lamentations and the events of the closing years of the reign of Zedekiah. The long siege had brought on the famine in which the young children fainted for hunger (Lamentations 2:11-12; Lamentations 2:20; Lamentations 4:4; Lamentations 4:9; 2 Kings 25:3). The city was taken by storm (Lamentations 2:7; Lamentations 4:12; 2 Chronicles 36:17). The Temple itself was polluted with the massacre of the priests who defended it (Lamentations 2:20-21; 2 Chronicles 36:17), and then destroyed (Lamentations 2:6; 2 Chronicles 36:19). The fortresses and strongholds of Judah were thrown down. The anointed of the Lord, under whose shadow the remnant of the people might have hoped to live in safety, was taken prisoner (Lamentations 4:20; Jeremiah 39:5). The chief of the people were carried into exile (Lamentations 1:5; Lamentations 2:9; 2 Kings 25:11). The bitterest grief was found in the malignant exultation of the Edomites (Lamentations 4:21; Psalms 137:7). Under the rule of the stranger the Sabbaths and solemn feasts were forgotten (Lamentations 1:4; Lamentations 2:6), as they could hardly have been during the short period in which Jerusalem was in the hands of the Egyptians. Unless we adopt the strained hypothesis that the whole poem is prophetic in the sense of being predictive, the writer seeing the future as if it were actually present, or the still wilder conjecture of Jarchi that this was the roll which Jehoiachin destroyed, and which was rewritten by Baruch or Jeremial (Carpzov, Introd. ad lib. V. T. 3, 100. 4), we are compelled to come to the conclusion that the coincidence is not accidental, and to adopt the later, not the earlier of the dates. At what period after the capture of the city the prophet gave this utterance to his sorrow we can only conjecture, and the materials for doing so with any probability are but scanty. The local tradition which pointed out a cavern in the neighborhood of Jerusalem as the refuge to which Jeremiah withdrew that he might write this book (Del Rio, Proleg. in Thren., quoted by Carpzov, Introd. 1.c.), is as trustworthy as most of the other legends of the time of Helena. He may have written it immediately after the attack was over, or when he was with Gedaliah at Mizpeh, or when he was with his countrymen at Tahpanhes. Pareau refers chapter 1 to Jeremiah 37:5 sq..; chapter 3 to Jeremiah 38:2 sq.; chapter 4 to Jeremiah 39:1 sq., and 2 Kings 25:1 sq.; chapter 2 to the destruction of the city and Temple; chapter 5 is admitted to be the latest in order, and to refer to the time after that event. Ewald says that the situation is the same throughout, and only the time different. "In chapters 1 and 2 we find sorrow without consolation; in ch. 3 consolation for the poet himself; in chapter 4 the lamentation is reneved with greater violence; but soon the whole people, as if urged by their own spontaneous impulse, fall to weeping and hoping" (Die Poetischen Bucher). De Wette describes the Lamentations somewhat curtly, as "five songs relating to the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and its Temple (chapters 1, 2, 4, 5), and to the unhappy lot of the poet himself (chapter 3). The historical relation of the whole cannot be doubted; but yet there seems a gradual ascent in describing the condition of the city" (Einleitung, § 273).
There can hardly be any doubt, however, as to the time to which these threnodies refer. A brief glance at the corresponding portions in the books of Kings and Chronicles affords decisive evidence that they speak, one and all, of the whole period from the beginning of the last siege by Nebuchadnezzar to its terrible end. This has also, from the Sept. and the Midrash downwards, been the almost unanimous opinion of investigators (Carpzov, Eichhorn, Jahn, Bertholdt, Birmelius, Horrer, Riegler, Pareau, etc.). It would seem to be equally clear that these poems belong, broadly speaking, to no particular phase of the great epoch of terrors, but that, written probably within a very brief space of time (more especially does this appear to be the case with the first four), they portray indiscriminately some woeful scene that presented itself "at the head of every street," or give way to a wild, passionate outcry of terror, misery, despair, hope, prayer, revenge, as these in veheemnt succession swept over the poet's soul. Yet it has been suggested (and the text has been strained to the utmost to prove it) that the successive elegies are the pictures of successive events portrayed in song; that, in fact, the Lamentations are a descriptive threnody-a drama in which, scene after scene, the onward march of dread fate is described, intermixed with plaints, reflections, prayers, consolations, such as the chorus would utter in grave and measured rhythms, accompanied by the sighs and tears to which the spectators would be moved by the irredeemably doomed heroes and actors. Thus, for instance, it has been maintained that the first chapter speaks of Jehoiachin's capture and exile (Horrer, Jahn, Riegler, etc.), upon which there is this to be observed, that a mere glance at 1 Kings 24 shows that such scenes as are described in this first elegy (famine, slaughter of youths, etc.) do not in the least agree with the time and circumstances of Jehoiachin, while they do exactly correspond with the following chapter of Kings, in which the reign under Zedekiah, with all its accompanying horrors, to the downfall of the city and empire, are related with the severe calmness of the historian, or rather the dry minuteness of the annalist.
Neither can we, for our own part, see that "gradual change in the state of the city" which De Wette sees in the consecutive chapters; nor can we trace the gradual progress in the mind of the peoplethat is in the first two chapters, heaviest, forever inconsolable grief; in the third, the turning-point (the classical peripety); in the fourth and fifth, the mind that gradually collects itself, and finally finds comfort in fervent prayer-which is Ewald's ingenious suggestion, to which Keil assents, as far as "a general inner progress of the poems" goes. To our, and, we take it, to every unbiased view, each of the elegies is complete, as far as it goes, in itself; all treating the same, or almost the same, scenes and thoughts in ever new modes. In this respect they might, to a certain degree, be likened to the "In Memoriam" and the second movement of the "Eroica" — the highest things to which we can at all compare them in the varied realms of song. The general state of the nation, as well as of the poet, seem not much different from the first to the last, or, at all events, the fourth poem. It would certainly appear, moreover, as if, so far from forming a consistent and progressive whole, consciously leading onward to harmony and supreme peace, they had not even been composed in the order in which they are before us now. Thus, e.g., the fourth chapter is certainly more akin to the second than to the third. Accident, more than a settled plan, must have placed them in their present order. But the history of this collection and redaction is one so obscure that we will not even venture on a new speculation concerning it.
VI. Contents. — The book is a collection of five elegies sung on the ruins of Zion; and the fall of Judaea, the destruction of the sanctuary, the exile of the people, and all the terrors of sword, fire, and famine in the city of Jerusalem, are the principal themes upon which they turn in many varied strains. We may regard the first two chapters as occupied chiefly with the circumstances of the siege, and those immediately following that event; in the third the prophet deplores the calamities and persecutions to which he was himself exposed; the fourth refers to the ruin and desolation of the city, and the unhappy lot of Zedekiah; and the fifth and last seems to be a sort of prayer in the name, or on behalf, of the Jews in their dispersion and captivity. More particularly,
1. Chapter 1. The opening verse strikes the key-note of the whole poem. That which haunts the prophet's mind is the solitude in which he finds himself. She that was "princess among the nations" (1) sits (like the JUDAEA CAPTA of the Roman medals), "solitary," "as a widow." Her "lovers" (the nations with whom she had been allied) hold aloof from her (Lamentations 1:2). The heathen have entered into the sanctuary, and mock at her Sabbaths (Lamentations 1:7; Lamentations 1:10). After the manner so characteristic of Hebrew poetry, the personality of the writer now recedes and now advances, and blends by hardly perceptible transitions with that of the city which he personifies, and with which he, as it were. identifies himself. At one time it is the daughter of Zion that asks, "Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by?" (Lamentations 1:12). At another, it is the prophet who looks on her, and portrays her as "spreading forth her hands, and there is none to comfort her" (Lamentations 1:17). Mingling with this outburst of sorrow there are two thoughts characteristic both of the man and the time. The calamities which the nation suffers are the consequences of its sins. There must be the confession of those sins: " The Lord is righteous, for I have rebelled against his commandment" (Lamentations 1:18). There is, however, this gleam of consolation that Judah is not alone in her sufferings. Those who have exulted in her destruction shall drink of the same cup. They shall be like unto her in the day that the Lord shall call (Lamentations 1:21).
2. Chapter 2. As the solitude of the city was the subject of the first lamentation, so the destruction that had laid it waste is that which is most conspicuous in the second. Jehovah had thrown down in his wrath the strongholds of the daughter of Judah (Lamentations 2:2). The rampart and the wall lament together (Lamentations 2:8). The walls of the palace are given up into the hand of the enemy (Lamentations 2:7). The breach is great, as if made by the inrushing of the sea (Lamentations 2:13). With this there had been united all the horrors of the famine and the assault-young children fainting for hunger in the top of every street (Lamentations 2:19); women eating their own children, and so fulfilling the curse of Deuteronomy 28:53 (Lamentations 2:20); the priest and the prophet slain in the sanctuary of the Lord (ibid.). Added to all this, there was the remembrance of that which had been all along the great trial of Jeremiah's life, against which he had to wage continual war. The prophets of Jerusalem had seen vain and foolish things, false burdens, and causes of banishment (Lamentations 2:14). A righteous judgment had fallen on them. The prophets found no vision of Jehovah (Lamentations 2:9). The king and the princes who had listened to them were captive among the Gentiles.
3. Chapter 3. The difference in the structure of this poem, which has already been noticed, indicates a corresponding difference in its substance. In the two preceding poems Jeremiah had spoken of the misery and destruction of Jerusalem. In the third he speaks chiefly, though not exclusively, of his own. He himself is the man that has seen affliction (Lamentations 3:1), who has been brought into darkness and not into light (Lamentations 3:2). He looks back upon the long life of suffering which he has been called on to endure, the scorn and derision of the people, the bitterness as of one drunken with wormwood (Lamentations 3:14-15). But that experience was not one which had ended in darkness and despair. Here, as in the prophecies, swe find a Gospel for the weary and heavy-laden, a trust, not to be shaken, in the mercy and righteousness of Jehovah. The mercies of the Lord are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23). He is good to them that wait for him (Lamentations 3:25). The retrospect of that sharp experience showed him that it all formed part of the discipline which was intended to lead him on to a higher blessedness. It was good for a man to bear the yoke in his youth, good that he should both hope and quietly wait (Lamentations 3:26-27). With this, equally characteristic of the prophet's individuality, there is the protest against the wrong which had been or might hereafter be committed by rulers and princes (34-36), the confession that all that had come on him and his people was but a righteous retribution, to be accepted humbly, with searchings of heart, and repentance (Lamentations 3:39-42). The closing verses may refer to that special epoch in the prophet's life when his own sufferings had been sharpest (Lamentations 3:53-56), and the cruelties of his enemies most triumphant. If so, we can enter more fully, remembering this, into the thanksgiving with which he acknowledges the help, deliverance, redemption, which he had received from God (Lamentations 3:57-58). Feeling sure that, at some time or other, there would )e for him a yet higher lesson, we can enter with some measure of sympathy even into the terrible earnestness of his appeal from the unjust judgment of earth to the righteous Judge, into his cry for a retribution without which it seemed to him that the Eternal Righteousness would fail (Lamentations 3:64-66).
4. Chapter 4. It might seem, at first, as if the fourth poem did but reproduce the pictures and the thoughts of the first and second. There come before us once again the famine, the misery, the desolation that had fallen on the holy city, making all faces gather blackness. One new element in the picture is found in the contrast between the past glory of the consecrated families of kingly and priestly stock (A. Vers. "Nazarites"), and their later misery and shame. Some changes there are, however, not without interest in their relation to the poet's own life and to the history of his time. All the facts gain a new significance by being seen in the light of the personal experience of the third poem. The declaration that all this had come "for the sins of the prophets and the iniquities of the priests" is clearer and sharper than before (Deuteronomy 28:13). There is the giving up of the last hope which Jeremiah had cherished when he urged on Zedekiah the wisdom of submission to the Chaldaeans (Deuteronomy 28:20). The closing words indicate the strength of that feeling against the Edomrites which lasted all through the captivity (Deuteronomy 28:21-22). She, the daughter of Edom, had rejoiced in the fall of her rival, and had pressed on the work of destruction. But for her, too, there was the doom of being drunken with the cup of the Lord's wrath. For the daughter of Zion there was hope of pardon when discipline should have done its work, and the punishment of her iniquity should be accomplished.
5. Chapter 5. One great difference in the fifth and last section of the poem has already been pointed out. It obviously indicates either a deliberate abandonment of the alphabetic structure, or the unfinished character of the concluding elegy. The title prefixed in the Vulgate, "Oratio Jeremiae Prophete," points to one marked characteristic which may have occasioned this difference. There are signs also of a later date than that of the preceding poems. Though the horrors of the famine are ineffaceable, yet that which he has before him is rather the continued, protracted suffering of the rule of the Chaldaeans. The mountain of Zion is desolate, and the foxes walk on it (Deuteronomy 28:18). Slaves have ruled over the people of Jehovah (Deuteronomy 28:8). Women have been subjected to intolerable outrages (Deuteronomy 28:11). The young men have been taken to grind, and the children have fallen under the wood (Deuteronomy 28:13). But in this also, deep as might be the humiliation, there was hope, even as there had been in the dark hours of the prophet's own life. He and his people are sustained by the old thought which had been so fruitful of comfort to other prophets and psalmists. The periods of suffering and struggle which seemed so long were but as moments in the lifetime of the Eternal (Deuteronomy 28:19), and the thought of that eternity brought with it the hope that the purposes of love which had been declared so clearly should one day be fulfilled. The last words of this lamentation are those which have risen so often from broken and contrite hearts: "Turn thou us, O Lord, and we shall be turned. Renew our days as of old" (Deuteronomy 28:21). That which had begun with wailing and weeping ends (following Ewald's and Michaelis's translation) with the question of hope: "Wilt thou utterly reject us? Wilt thou be very wroth against us?"
VII. General Character. —
1. It is well to be reminded by the above survey that we have before us, not a book in five chapters, but five separate poems, each complete ill itself, each having a distinct subject, yet brought at the same time under a plan which includes them all. It is clear, before entering on any other characteristics, that we find, in full predominance, that strong personal emotion which mingled itself, in greater or less measure, with the whole prophetic work of Jeremiah. There is here no "word of Jehovah," no direct message to a sinful people. The man speaks out of the fullness of his heart, and, though a higher Spirit than his own helps him to give utterance to his sorrows, it is yet the language of a sufferer rather than of a teacher. There is this measure of truth in the technical classification which placed the Lamentations among the Hagiographa of the Hebrew Canon, in the feeling which led the Rabbinic writers (Kimchi, Praef. in Psalm.) to say that they and the other books of that group were written indeed by the help of the Holy Spirit, but not with the special gift of prophecy.
2. Other differences between the two books that bear the prophet's name grew out of this. Here there is more attention to form, more elaboration. The rhythm is more uniform than in the prophecies. A complicated alphabetic structure pervades nearly the whole book. It will be remembered that this acrostic form of writing was not peculiar to Jeremiah. Whatever its origin, whether it had been adopted as a help to the memory, and so fitted especially for didactic poems, or for such as were to be sung by great bodies of people (Lowth, Praef. 22), it had been a received, and it would seem popular, framework for poems of very different characters, and extending probably over a considerable period of time. The 119th Psalm is the great monument which forces itself upon our notice; but it is found also in the 25th, 34th, 37th, 111th, 112th, 145th — and in the singularly beautiful fragment appended to the book of Proverbs (Proverbs 31:10-31). Traces of it, as if the work had been left half finished (De Wette, Psalmen, ad loc.), appear in the 9th and 10th. In the Lamentations (confining ourselves for the present to the structure) we meet with some remarkable peculiarities.
It has to be remembered, too, that in thus speaking the writer was doing what many must have looked for from him, and so meeting at once their expectations and their wants. Other prophets and poets had made themselves the spokesmen of the nation's feelings on the death of kings and heroes. The party that continued faithful to the policy and principles of Josiah remembered how the prophet had lamented over his death. The lamentations of that period (though they are lost to us) had been accepted as a great national dirge. Was he to be silent now that a more terrible calamity had fallen upon the people? Did not the exiles in Babylon need this form of consolation? Does not the appearance of this book in their canon of sacred writings, after their return from exile, indicate that during their captivity they had found this consolation in it?
The choice of a structure so artificial as that which has been described above may at first sight appear inconsistent with the deep, intense sorrow of which it claims to be the utterance. Some wilder, less measured rhythm would seem to us to have been a fitter form of expression. It would belong, however, to a very shallow and hasty criticism to pass this judgment. A man true to the gift he has received will welcome the discipline of self- imposed rules for deep sorrow as well as for other strong emotions. In proportion as he is afraid of being carried away by the strong current of feeling will he be anxious to make the laws more difficult, the discipline more effectual. Something of this kind is traceable in the fact that so many of the master-minds of European literature have chosen as the fit vehicle for their deepest, tenderest, most impassioned thoughts the complicated structure of the sonnet; in Dante's selection of the terza rima for his vision of the unseen world. What the sonnet was to Petrarch and Milton, that the alphabetic verse-system was to the writers of Jeremiah's time, the most difficult among the recognized forms of poetry, and yet one in which (assuming the earlier date of some of the Psalms above referred to) some of the noblest thoughts of that poetry had been uttered. We need not wonder that he should have employed it as fitter than any other for the purpose for which he used it. If these Lamentations were intended to assuage the bitterness of the Babylonian exile, there was, besides this, the subsidiary advantage that it supplied the memory with an artificial help. Hymns and poems of this kind, once learned, are not easily forgotten, and the circumstances of the captives made it then, more than ever, necessary that they should have this help afforded them.
De Wette maintains (Comment. ü ber die Psalm. page 56) that this acrostic form of writing was the outgrowth of a feeble and degenerate age dwelling on the outer structure of poetry when the soul had departed. His judgment as to the origin and character of the alphabetic form is shared by Ewald (Poet. Bich. 1:140). That this is often the case cannot be doubted; the 119th Psalm is a case in point. It is hard, however, to reconcile this sweeping estimate with the impression made on us by such Psalms as the 25th and 34th; and Ewald himself, in his translation of the Alphabetic Psalms and the Lamentations, has shown how compatible such a structure is with the highest energy and beauty. With some of these, too, it must be added, the assignment of a later date than the time of David rests on the foregone conclusion that the acrostic structure is itself a proof of it (comp. Delitzsch, Commentar ü ber den Psalter, on Psalms 1, 10). De Wette, however, allows, condescendingly, that the Lamentations, in spite of their degenerate taste, "have some merit in their way." Other critics have been more enthusiastic in their admiration of this book. Dr. Blayney remarks, "We cannot too much admire 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" (Jeremiah, page 376). "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" (Lowth, De Sacra Poesi Hebr. Pralect. 22). The poet seizes with wonderful tact those circumstances which point out the objects of his pity as the subjects of sympathy, and founds his expostulations on the miseries which are thus exhibited. His book of Lamentations is an astonishing exhibition of his power to accumulate images of sorrow. The whole series of elegies has but one object — the expression of sorrow for the forlorn condition of his country; and yet he presents this to us in so many lights, alludes to it by so many figures, that not only are his mournful Atrains not felt to be tedious reiterations, but the reader is captivated by the plaintive melancholy which pervades the whole.
3. The power of entering into the spirit and meaning of poems such as these depends on two distinct conditions.
We must seek to see, as with our own eyes, the desolation, misery, confusion, which came before those of the prophet. We must endeavor also to feel as he felt when he looked on them. The last is the more difficult of the two. Jeremiah was not merely a patriot poet, weeping over the ruin of his country. He was a prophet who had seen all this coming, and had foretold it as inevitable. He had urged submission to the Chaldaeans as the only mode of diminishing the terrors of that "day of the Lord." And now the Chaldaeans had come, irritated by the perfidy and rebellion of the king and princes of Judah; and the actual horrors that he saw, surpassed, though he had predicted them, all that he had been able to imagine. All feeling of exultation in which, as a mere prophet of evil, he might have indulged at the fulfillment of his forebodings, was swallowed up in deep, overwhelming sorrow. Yet sorrow, not less than other emotions, works on men according to their characters, and a man with Jeremiah's gifts of utterance could not sit down in the mere silence and stupor of a hopeless grief. He was compelled to give expression to that which was devouring his heart and the heart of his people. The act itself was a relief to him. It led him on (as has been seen above) to a calmer and serener state. It revived the faith and hope which had been nearly crushed out.
4. There are, perhaps, few portions of the O.T. which appear to have done the work they were meant to do more effectually than this. It has presented but scanty materials for the systems and controversies of theology. It has supplied thousands with the fullest utterance for their sorrows in the critical periods of national or individual suffering. We may well believe that it soothed the weary years of the Babylonian exile (comp. Zechariah 1:6 with Lamentations 2:17). When the Jews returned to their own land, and the desolation of Jerusalem was remembered as belonging only to the past, this was the book of remembrance. On the ninth day of the month of Ab (July), the Lamentations of Jeremiah were read, year by year, with fasting and weeping, to commemorate the misery out of which the people had been delivered. It has come to be connected with the thoughts of a later devastation, and its words enter, sometimes at least, into the prayers of the pilgrim Jews who meet at the "place of wailing" to mourn over the departed glory of their city. It enters largely into the nobly-constructed order of the Latin Church for the services of Passion-week (Breviar. Rom. Feria Quinta. "In Caena Domini"). If it has been comparatively in the background in times when the study of Scripture had passed into casuistry and speculation, it has come forward, once and again, in times of danger and suffering, as a messenger of peace, conforting men, not after the fashion of the friends of Job, with formal moralizings, but by enabling them to express themselves, leading them to feel that they might give utterance to the deepest and saddest feelings by which they were overwhelmed. It is striking, as we cast our eye over the list of writers who have treated specially this book, to notice how many must have passed through scenes of trial not unlike in kind to that of which the Lamentations speak. The book remains to do its work for any future generation that may be exposed to analogous calamities.
VIII. Commentaries. — The following are the special exegetical helps on the whole book of Lamentations exclusively, to a few of the most important of which we prefix an asterisk: Origen, Scholia (Greek, in Opp. 3:320); Ephrem Syrus, xplanactio (Syr., in Opp. 5:165); Jerome, In Lamentations (in Opp. [Suppos.] 14:227); Theodoret, Interpretatio (Greek, in Opp. 2:1); Paschalius Batbertus, In Threnos (in Opp. page 1307); Hugo 1 St. Victor, Annotationes (in Opp. 1:103); Aquinas, Commenttria (in Opp. 2); Bonaventura, Explicatio (in Opp. 1:428); Albertus Magnus, Comintentarii (in Opp. 8); (Ecolampadius, Enarrationes [including Jeremiah] (Argent. 1533, 4to); Clenard, Meditationes (Paris, 1536, 8vo); Bugenhagen, Adnotationes (Vitemb. 1546, 4to); Quinquaboreus, Adnotationes (Paris, 1556, 4to); Palladius, Enarratio (Vitemb. 1560, 8vo); Pintus, Commentarius [including Isaiah and Jeremiah] (Lugd. 1561, etc., fol.); Strigel, Commentarius (Lips. et Brem. 1564, 8vo); Selnecker, Auslegung (Lps. 1565, 4to); Calvin, Praelectiones [includ. Jer.] (Flankft. 1581, 8vo; in French, Spires, 1584, 8vo; in English, London, 1587, 12mo, etc.); Taillepied, Commentarii (Paris, 1582, 8vo); Panigarola, Adnotationes (Verona, 1583; Rome, 1586, 8vo); Agellus, Catena (Romans 1589,4to); J. Ibn-Shoeib, קוֹל בּוֹכַים (Ven. 1589, 4to); Sam. de Vidas, פֵּרוּשׁ (Thessalon. 1596, 8vo); Figuero, Commentaria (Lugd. 1596, 8vo); Makshan, יְגוֹן לֵב (Cracow, s.a. [about 1600],4to); Alscheich, דְּבָרַים נְחוּמַים (Venice, 1601,4to); Navarrette, Commentatsriat (Cordub. 1602, 4to); Bachmeister, Explicatio (Rost. 1603, 8vo); Broughton, Commentarius [includ. Jer.] (Genev. 1606, 4to; also in Works, p. 314); A Jesu Maria, Interpretatio (Neap. 1608, Colossians Agrip. 1611, 8vo); Delrio, Commentarius (LugIdun. 1608, 4to); Polan, Commentarius [including Jer.] (Basil. 1608, 8vo); A Costa de Andrada, Commentuarii (Lugd. 1609, 8vo); De Castro, Commentarii [including Jeremiah and Bar.] (Par. 1609, fol.); Topsell, Commentarius (London, 1613, 4to): Sanctius, Commentarius [includ. Jer.] (Lugd. 1618, fol.); Hull, Exposition (Lond. 1618, 4to); Ghisler, Commentarius [includ. Jer.] (Lugd. 1623, fol.); Tarnovius, Commentarius (Rostock, 1627, 1642; Hamb. 1707, 4to); Peter Martyr, Commentarius (Tigur. 1629, 4to); Udall, Commentarie (Lond. 1637, 4to); De Lemos, Conmentarius (Madrit. 1649, fol.); Tayler, Commentarii [Rabbinical] (London, 1651,4to); Fowler, Commentarius [includ. Jer.] (Vitemb. 1672, 1699, 4to); Hulsemann, Commentarius [includ. Jer.] (Rudolph. 1696, 4to); Benjamin Allessandro, אֵלוֹן בָּכוֹת (Venice, 1713, 4to); C. B. Michaelis, Notae (in Adnot. phil. exeq. Halle, 1720, 3 volumes, 4to); Riedel, Uebersetz. (Wien, 1761, 8vo); Lessing, Observationes (Lipsiae, 1770, 8vo); Birmel, Anm2erlhgen (Weimar, 1781, 8vo); Schleusner, Curae (in Eichhorn's Repert. part 12, Lips. 1783); Horrer, Bearbeitung (Halle, 1784, 8vo); Blayney, Notes [including Jer.] (Oxf. 1784, 8vo, etc.); Lowe and Wolfssohn, Anmerkungen (Berlin, 1790, 8vo); Hamon, Commentaire (Par. 1790, 8vo); Pareau, Illustratio (L. Bat. 1790, 8vo); Libowitzer צַיּוֹן בְּכַית (Korez, 1791, 8vo); Schnurrer, Observationes (Tub. 1793, 4to); J. H. Michaelis, Observationes [includ. Jer.] (Goitting. 1793, 8vo); Gaab, Beitrage [includ. Song of Solomon and Eccles.] (Tubing. 1795, 8vo); Volborth, Uebersetz. (Celle, 1795, 8vo); Otto, Dissertatio (Tub. 1795, 4to); Wetzler, אֵבֶל צַיּוֹן (Sklon, 1797, 8vo); Lundmark, Dissertatio (Upsal. 1799, 4to); Hasselhuhn, Dissertationes (Upsal. 1804, 4to); Deresir, Erklarung [including Jer. and Bar.] (Frkft. a. M. 1809, 8vo), Hartmann, Uebersetz. (in Justi's Blumen, etc., Giess. 1809, 2:517 sq.); Welcker, Uebers. [metrical] (Giess. 1810, 8vo) Bjorn, Threni [including Nah.] (Havn. 1814, 8vo); Riegler, Anmerkungen (Erlangen, 1814, 8vo); Jacob-Lissa, יֶשֶׁר אמְרֵי [including Cant.] (Dyrhenf. 1815-19, 4to); Erdmalnn, Specimen, etc. (Rost. 1818, 8vo); Conz, Klaglieder (in Bengel's Archiv. 4 [Tü b. 1.821.], page 146 sq.), Fritz, Exegesis [on chapter 1] (Argent. 1825, 4to); *Rosenmü ller, Scholia, (Lpz. 1827, 8vo) Goldwitzer, Anmerk. (Sulzb. 1828, 8vo) Wiedenfeld, Erlaut. (Elberf. 1830, 8vo); Koch, Anmerk. (Menz, 1835, 8vo); Kalkar, Illustratio (Havn. 1836, 8vo); Lowenstein, Er'kliirung [metrical] (Frkft. 1838, 8vo); Cureton, ed. Tanchum Jerus. קַינוֹת . (Lond. 1843, 8vo); Pappenheim, Uebersetz. (Bresl. 1844, 8vo); Hetzel, Anmerk. (Lpz. 1854, 8vo); Neumann, Auslegung [includ. Jeremiah] (Lpz. 1858, 8vo); Engelhardt, Auslegung (Lpzc. 1867, 8vo); Von Gerlach, Erklarung (Berl. 1868, 8vo); Henderson, Commentary [includ. Jer.] (London, 1851; Andov. 1868, 8vo). (See POETRY, HEBREW); (See COMMENTARY).
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Lamentations, Book of'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/l/lamentations-book-of.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.