1902 Encyclopedia > Lamentations

Book of Lamentations



BOOK OF LAMENTATIONS. The Old Testament book of Lamentations bears in Hebrew Bibles the superscription fj'të, " Ah how ! " the opening word of the first chapter, and also of chaps, ii. and iv. The Talmud, however, and Jewish writers in general call it the book of Tl3*p, "elegies" or "dirges," of which the Septuagint title ®prjvoe and the Latin Lamentationes or Lamenta are translations. The fuller title Lamentationes Jeremise Prophétie, Lamentations of Jeremiah, expresses the ancient tradition as to the authorship of the book. It is found in the Syriac and in some MSS. of the LXX., e.g., in x, but not in A and B ; and the shorter anonymous form is undoubtedly older. The dirges which make up the book are five in number, ! and the first four are alphabetical acrostics,—successive I verses in chaps, i., ii., iv., or successive sets of three verses j in the case of chap, iii., beginning with successive letters of the alphabet. The last chapter has twenty-two verses, like chaps i., ii., and iv., but is not an acrostic.
It is noteworthy that in chaps, ii., iii., and iv. the letter Pe (a) precedes 'Ayin (])), contrary to the ancient and established order i common to the Hebrew alphabet with its Greek and Latin deriva-tives, in which 0 stands for J?. The sense shows that this irregu-larity is not due to a transposition of the original order of the verses, while the fact that the same transposition occurs three times makes it plain that the deviation from the common order is not due to want of skill to make the acrostic perfect, but rests on a variation in the order of the alphabet as used by the author. Thus it has not unnaturally been argued by Thenius that chap. i., which takes the alphabet in the common order, must have a different author from chaps ii.-iv. ; but it is quite as probable that in chap, i., as Ewald suggests in the 2d ed. of his Dichter, p. 326, ver. 16 originally followed ver. 17, and was transposed to reduce the acrostic to the usual form. In the other chapters the sense forbade such transposition.
The subject of the five dirges is not the death of an individual ; they refer to a national calamity—the widow-hood of Jerusalem and the overthrow of the Judrean state by the Chaldasans. But the examples of Amos v. 1, 2, Jer. ix. 19 [18], Ezek. xix., show that they are not less pro-perly called dirges on that account ; the lamentations of Israel over the desolation of Zion, the agonies of the last desperate struggle and the extinction of national existence, appropriately took a form modelled on the death-wail sung by "cunning women" (Jerem. ix. 17) and poets "skilful of lamentation" (Amos v. 16) at the wake (^3^) of the illustrious dead. Among the Hebrews, as among other primitive peoples, this type of poetry was much cultivated,
. The Old Testament book of Lamentations bears in Hebrew Bibles the superscription fj'të, " Ah how ! " the opening word of the first chapter, and also of chaps, ii. and iv. The Talmud, however, and Jewish writers in general call it the book of Tl3*p, "elegies" or "dirges," of which the Septuagint title ®prjvoe and the Latin Lamentationes or Lamenta are translations. The fuller title Lamentationes Jeremise Prophétie, Lamentations of Jeremiah, expresses the ancient tradition as to the authorship of the book. It is found in the Syriac and in some MSS. of the LXX., e.g., in x, but not in A and B ; and the shorter anonymous form is undoubtedly older. The dirges which make up the book are five in number, ! and the first four are alphabetical acrostics,—successive I verses in chaps, i., ii., iv., or successive sets of three verses j in the case of chap, iii., beginning with successive letters of the alphabet. The last chapter has twenty-two verses, like chaps i., ii., and iv., but is not an acrostic.
It is noteworthy that in chaps, ii., iii., and iv. the letter Pe (a) precedes 'Ayin (])), contrary to the ancient and established order i common to the Hebrew alphabet with its Greek and Latin deriva-tives, in which 0 stands for J?. The sense shows that this irregu-larity is not due to a transposition of the original order of the verses, while the fact that the same transposition occurs three times makes it plain that the deviation from the common order is not due to want of skill to make the acrostic perfect, but rests on a variation in the order of the alphabet as used by the author. Thus it has not unnaturally been argued by Thenius that chap. i., which takes the alphabet in the common order, must have a different author from chaps ii.-iv. ; but it is quite as probable that in chap, i., as Ewald suggests in the 2d ed. of his Dichter, p. 326, ver. 16 originally followed ver. 17, and was transposed to reduce the acrostic to the usual form. In the other chapters the sense forbade such transposition.
The subject of the five dirges is not the death of an individual ; they refer to a national calamity—the widow-hood of Jerusalem and the overthrow of the Judrean state by the Chaldasans. But the examples of Amos v. 1, 2, Jer. ix. 19 [18], Ezek. xix., show that they are not less pro-perly called dirges on that account ; the lamentations of Israel over the desolation of Zion, the agonies of the last desperate struggle and the extinction of national existence, appropriately took a form modelled on the death-wail sung by "cunning women" (Jerem. ix. 17) and poets "skilful of lamentation" (Amos v. 16) at the wake (^3^) of the illustrious dead. Among the Hebrews, as among other primitive peoples, this type of poetry was much cultivated,








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