After so many long books, it’s nice to get another short one! Unfortunately, it’s poetry, which I tend to find difficult to talk about.

The Hebrew Bible is divided into three parts: The Teaching (or “Torah”), Prophets (or “Nevi’im”), and Writings (or “Ketuvim”). Lamentations belongs to this third group, which is a sort of miscellaneous other.

It is also grouped as one of the Megillot, along with Ruth, the Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, and Esther. These five books are each traditionally read during certain festivals. In Lamentations’ case, it is read on the Ninth of Ab, which commemorates the destruction of the Temple.

In the rabbinic tradition, the book is called ‘ekhah, or “How!” – the first word of the first verse of the book.

Authorship

The book is traditionally attributed to the prophet Jeremiah, author of the conveniently named book of Jeremiah. In fact, Lamentations is sometimes called “The Lamentations of Jeremiah.”

The attribution is due to the reference to Jeremiah’s lamentations we saw in 2 Chron. 35:25, which seems like a rather flimsy reason. I mean, it requires a belief that there can only be one set of laments – a belief that is contradicted in the very same verse.

Also, it seems that there are some stylistic issues that make Jeremiah an unlikely author.

It also seems that Lamentations may not have all been written by the same author at all. Some commentaries propose that chapters 2 and 4 may have been written by a separate author.

Date

The New Bible Commentary claims that some have placed the authorship as late as the 160s BCE, seeing a reference to the siege of Jerusalem by Antiochus Epiphanes (p.659). This doesn’t seem to have a lot of traction, though, with the dominant assumption being that Lamentations was written sometime during the exile.

The New Bible Commentary goes on argue the case or this earlier date, and makes connections to Babylonian poetic forms. In particular, the “the daughter of…” who is told to lament her lot, which can apparently be found in some cuneiform writings from the time.

Form

It seems that Lamentations is, primarily, a really depressing acrostic poem. Chapters 1, 2, and 4 begin each verse with a letter of the Hebrew Alphabet, while Lamentations 3 gives each letter three verses instead of only one. The fifth chapter drops the acrostics, though there seems to be a theory that it once did.

The rhythm is a 3:2 beat, which it shares with the book of Jeremiah.