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Posted March 3, 2005

Book: Lamentations
A Commentary by Adele Berlin
John Knox Press, Louisville, KY, pp.135

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

“In this accessible, lucid volume, Adele Berlin brings her considerable knowledge of Hebrew poetry to bear upon the study of Lamentations. She explicates the book’s five poems, their ‘theology of destruction,’ their expressions of suffering without limits, and she builds a convincing case for Lamentations’ immense power to address violence and grief. In our current cultural climate of anger and sorrow, Berlin’s book will be of interest to scholars, pastors, and all thinking people.”

An Excerpt from the Book:

Gender and Suffering

Lamentation is gendered in an essential way in respect to suffering, the central theme of the book. Men and women suffer differently, or, to put it in literary terms, the images for male and female suffering are different. Two sets of images symbolize female suffering: wife and mother, the two major roles that women had in Israelite society and the roles that are lost as a result of the destruction of. The wife has lost her husband, and the mother has lost her children.

The wife image often has a sexual connotation, but at times it is devoid of that connotation, especially when the wife is a widow (widows do not engage in sexual activities). The first image in the book is the city as widow (1:1), and later we see the widowed mothers (5:3). The widow, along with the orphan, represents the unprotected, the disadvantaged, so the use of the widow image evokes a sociological status, not a sexual one. Moreover, the widow, unlike the other disadvantaged groups in society, has the added connotation of being alone. The widow image, therefore, evokes a double measure of pity, once as a nongendered member of an unprotected group and a second time as an icon of female sadness and vulnerability, a woman deprived of her husband and hence her place in society, a bereaved and lonely woman. That certainly is the intent of 1:1, and in this connection it is noteworthy that the city is widowed and not “divorced,” as she is in some prophetic passages where blame rather than pity is the intended reaction (e.g. Hos 2:4).

Table of Contents:


1. The poetry of Lamentations

2. Gender and Suffering

Excursus 1: Bat-siyyon, the personified Zion

Excursus 2; Jerusalem’s residents: a sociological profile

3. Mourning as a Religious Concept

4. The Theology of Destruction and Exile

The paradigm of purity

The political paradigm

5. Lamentations in Literary Context

The biblical context: Qinah, communal lament, and Jerusalem lament

The Mesopotamian context

6. Authorship

7. Date and purpose

8. Lamentations at Qumram

Translation and Commentary

Lamenations 1:1-22: Mourning and shame

Lamentations 2:1-21: Anger

Lamentations 3:1-66 Exile

Lamentations 4:1-22: Degradation

Lamentations 5: 1-22 Prayer