Bible Overview: Lamentations

The Book of Lamentations (Hebrew: אֵיכָה‘Êykhôh, from its incipit meaning “how”) is a collection of poetic laments for the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE. In the Hebrew Bible it appears in the Ketuvim (“Writings”), beside the Song of Songs, Book of Ruth, Ecclesiastes and the Book of Esther (the Megilloth or “Five Scrolls”), although there is no set order; in the Christian Old Testament it follows the Book of Jeremiah, as the prophet Jeremiah is its traditional author. Jeremiah’s authorship is no longer generally accepted, although it is generally accepted that the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon in 586 BC forms the background to the poems. The book is partly a traditional “city lament” mourning the desertion of the city by God, its destruction, and the ultimate return of the divinity, and partly a funeral dirge in which the bereaved bewails and addresses the dead. The tone is bleak: God does not speak, the degree of suffering is presented as undeserved, and expectations of future redemption are minimal.

The book is traditionally recited on the fast day of Tisha B’Av (“Ninth of Av”), mourning the destruction of both the First Temple and the Second.

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Level: Overview