Lamentations, Book of

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 Sam. 1:19-27). The LXX. adopted
the name rendered "Lamentations" (Gr. threnoi = Heb. qinoth) now
in common use, to denote the character of the book, in which the
prophet mourns over the desolations brought on the city and the
holy land by Chaldeans. In the Hebrew Bible it is placed among
the Khethubim. (See BIBLE T0000580.)

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. In chapter 1 the
prophet dwells on the manifold miseries oppressed by which the
city sits as a solitary widow weeping sorely. In chapter 2 these
miseries are described in connection with the national sins that
had caused them. Chapter 3 speaks of hope for the people of God.
The chastisement would only be for their good; a better day
would dawn for them. Chapter 4 laments the ruin and desolation
that had come upon the city and temple, but traces it only to
the people's sins. Chapter 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, 34, 37, 119), 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."