Easton's Bible Dictionary
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
Samuel 1:19 - 27
). The LXX. 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 the city (Note: Jerusalem --BIBLEing.com) and
the holy land by Chaldeans. In the Hebrew Bible it is placed among the Khethubim.
As to its authorship, there is no room for hesitancy in following the LXX. and
the Targum in ascribing it to Jeremiah. The spirit, tone, language, and subject-matter
are in accord with the testimony of tradition in assigning it to him. According
to tradition, he retired after the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar
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).
The book consists of five separate poems.
1 the prophet dwells on the manifold miseries oppressed by which the city
sits as a solitary widow weeping sorely.
2 these miseries are described in connection with the national sins that had
3 speaks of hope for the people of God. The chastisement would only be for
their good; a better day would dawn for them.
4 laments the ruin and desolation that had come upon the city and temple,
but traces it only to the people's sins.
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
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.
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."
Hitchcock's Dictionary of Bible Names
Smith's Bible Dictionary
The Hebrew title of this book, Ecah, is taken, like the titles of the five books
of Moses, from the Hebrew word with which it opens.
The poems included in this collection appear in the Hebrew canon with no name
attached to them, but Jeremiah has been almost universally regarded as their author.
The poems belong unmistakably to the last days of the kingdom, or the commencement
of the exile, B.C. 629-586. They are written by one who speaks, with the vividness
and intensity of an eye-witness, of the misery which he bewails.
The book consists of five chapter, each of which, however, is a separate poem,
complete in itself, and having a distinct subject, but brought at the same time
under a plan which includes them all. A complicated alphabetic structure pervades
nearly the whole book.
|(1) Chapters. 1 , 2 and 4 contain twenty-two verses each,
arranged in alphabetic order, each verse falling into three nearly balanced clauses;
ch. ( Lamentations 2:19 ) forms an exception, as having a fourth clause.
(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.
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.
There are perhaps few portions of the Old Testament which appear to have done
the work they were meant to do more effectually than this. The book 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. It enters largely into the order of the Latin Church
for the services of passion-week. On the ninth day of the month of Ab (July-August),
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.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
The Lamentations of Jeremiah:
This is a collective name which tradition has given to 5 elegies found in the
Hebrew Canon that lament the fate of destroyed Jerusalem. The rabbis call this
little book 'Ekhah ("how"), according to the word of lament with which it begins,
or qinoth. On the basis of the latter term the Septuagint calls it threnoi, or
Latin Threni, or "Lamentations."
The little book consists of 5 lamentations, each one forming the contents of a
chapter. The first 4 are marked by the acrostic use of the alphabet. In addition,
the qinah ("elegy") meter is found in these hymns, in which a longer line (3 or
4 accents) is followed by a shorter (2 or 3 accents). In Lamentations 1 and 2
the acrostic letters begin three such double lines; in Lamentations 4, however,
two double lines. In Lamentations 3 a letter controls three pairs, but is repeated
at the beginning of each line. In Lamentations 5 the alphabet is wanting; but
in this case too the number of pairs of lines agrees with the number of letters
in the Hebrew alphabet, i.e. 22. In Lamentations 2 ; 3 and 4, the letter 'ayin
(') follows pe (p), as is the case in Psalms 34. Lamentations 1, however, follows
the usual order.
These 5 hymns all refer to the great national catastrophe that overtook the Jews
and in particular the capital city, Jerusalem, through the Chaldeans, 587-586
BC. The sufferings and the anxieties of the city, the destruction of the sanctuary,
the cruelty and taunts of the enemies of Israel, especially the Edomites, the
disgrace that befell the king and his nobles, priests and prophets, and that,
too, not without their own guilt, the devastation and ruin of the country--all
this is described, and appeal is made to the mercy of God. A careful sequence
of thought cannot be expected in the lyrical feeling and in the alphabetical form.
Repetitions are found in large numbers, but each one of these hymns emphasizes
some special feature of the calamity. Lamentations 3 is unique, as in it one person
describes his own peculiar sufferings in connection with the general calamity,
and then too in the name of the others begins a psalm of repentance. This person
did not suffer so severely because he was an exceptional sinner, but because of
the unrighteousness of his people. These hymns were not written during the siege,
but later, at a time when the people still vividly remembered the sufferings and
the anxieties of that time and when the impression made on them by the fall of
Jerusalem was still as powerful as ever.
Who is the author of these hymns? Jewish tradition is unanimous in saying that
it was Jeremiah. The hymns themselves are found anonymously in the Hebrew text,
while the Septuagint has in one an additional statement, the Hebrew style of which
would lead us to conclude that it was found in the original from which the version
was made. This statement reads: "And it came to pass, after Israel had been taken
away captive and Jerusalem had been laid waste, that Jeremiah sat weeping, and
uttered this lamentation over Jerusalem and said." The Targum also states that
Jeremiah was the author. The rabbis and the church Fathers have no doubts on the
subject. Jerome (compare on Zechariah 12:11) thinks that 2 Chronicles 35:25 refers
to these hymns. The same is said by Josephus (Ant., X, v, 1). If this were the
case, then the writer of Chronicles would have regarded La as having been written
because of the death of Josiah. But this misunderstanding is not to be ascribed
to him. It was easily possible that he was acquainted with lamentations of such
a nature, but which afterward were lost. At all events, Jeremiah was by nature
adapted to the composition of such elegies, as is proved by his book of prophecies.
Only in modern times has the authorship of these hymns by Jeremiah been seriously
called into question; and it is now denied by most critics. For this they give
formal and material reasons: The language of these lamentations shows many similarities
to the discourses of Jeremiah, but at the same time also many differences. The
claim that the alphabetical scheme is not worthy of Jeremiah is a prejudice caused
by the taste of our times. Hebrew poets had evidently been making use of such
methods for a long time, as it helps materially in memorizing. At the time of
the first acute suffering on account of the destruction of Jerusalem, in fact,
he would probably not have made use of it. But. we have in this book a collection
of lamentations' written some time after this great catastrophe. The claim has
also been made that the views of Jeremiah and those of the composer or the composers
of these poems differ materially. It is said that Jeremiah emphasizes much more
strongly the guilt of the people as the cause of the calamity than is done in
these hymns, which lament the fate of the people and find the cause of it in the
sins of the fathers (Lamentations 5:7), something that Jeremiah is said not to
accept (Jeremiah 31:29). However, the guilt of the people and the resultant wrath
of God are often brought out in these hymns; and Jeremiah does not deny (Jeremiah
31:29 f) that there is anything like inherited guilt. He declares rather that
in the blessed future things would be different in this respect. Then, too, we
are not to forget that if Jeremiah is the author of these patriotic hymns, he
does not speak in them as the prophet and the appointed accuser of his people,
but that he is at last permitted to speak as he humanly feels, although there
is no lack of prophetical reminiscences (of Lamentations 4:21 f). In these hymns
he speaks out of the heart that loves his Jerusalem and his people, and he utters
the priestly prayer of intercession, which he was not allowed to do when announcing
the judgment over Israel. The fact that he also evinces great reverence for the
unfortunate king and his Divinely given hereditary dignity (Lamentations 4:20),
although as a prophet he had been compelled to pronounce judgment over him, would
not be unthinkable in Jeremiah, who had shown warm sympathies also for Jehoiachim
(Jeremiah 22:24 , 28). A radical difference of sentiment between the two authors
is not to be found. On the other hand, a serious difficulty arises if we claim
that Jeremiah was not the author of Lamentations in the denunciations of Lamentations
over the prophets of Jerusalem (Lamentations 2:14 ; 4:13). How could the great
prophet of the Destruction be so ignored if he himself were not the author of
these sentiments? If he was himself the author we can easily understand this omission.
In his book of prophecies he has spoken exactly the same way about the prophets.
To this must be added, that Lamentations 3 forces us to regard Jeremiah as the
author, because of the personal sufferings that are here described. Compare especially
Lamentations 3:14 , 37 , 53 , 61 , 63. What other person was during the period
of this catastrophe the cynosure of all eyes as was the prophet, especially, too,
because he was guiltless? The claim that here, not an individual, but the personified
nation is introduced as speaking, is altogether improbable, and in some passages
absolutely impossible (Lamentations 3:14 , 48).
This little book must accordingly be closely connected with the person of Jeremiah.
If he himself is the author, he must have composed it in his old age, when he
had time and opportunity to live over again all the sufferings of his people and
of himself. It is, however, more probable, especially because of the language
of the poems, that his disciples put this book in the present shape of uniform
sentential utterances, basing this on the manner of lamentations common to Jeremiah.
In this way the origin of Lamentaions 3 can be understood, which cannot artificially
be shaped as his sayings, as in this case the personal feature would be more distinctly
expressed. It was probably compiled. from a number of his utterances.
In the Hebrew Canon this book is found in the third division, called kethabhim,
or Sacred Writings, together with the Psalms. However, the Septuagint adds this
book to Jeremiah, or rather, to the Book of Baruch, found next after Jerusalem.
The Hebrews count it among the 5 meghilloth, or Rolls, which were read on prominent
anniversary days. The day for the Lamentation was the 9th of Abib, the day of
the burning of the temple. In the Roman Catholic church it is read on the last
three days of Holy Week.
Comms. of Thenius, Ewald, Nagelsbach, Gerlach, Keil, Cheyne, Oettli, Lohr, Budde;
article by Robertson Smith on "Lamentations" in EB
C. von Orelli
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