A series of laments composed by the prophet Jeremiah as an elegy upon the fall and destruction of Jerusalem in 586 b.c. Hebrew Bibles title the book by the first word of the elegy, ekah, "how." According to the Talmud the Jews also knew the book as Qinoth, "Lamentations." This title the translators of the Septuagint rendered as Threnoi, to which the Latin Vulgate added the explanatory note "That Is the Lamentations of Jeremiah the Prophet." The English title, "The Lamentations of Jeremiah," is an abbreviation of the Vulgate title. Prior to the rise of modern critical scholarship Jews and Christians alike uniformly attributed the book to the prophet Jeremiah. Modern critics point out that in the ancient Hebrew canon it stands, not in the prophetic section, as would be expected if its author were a prophet, but in the Hagiographa, or Writings, the 3rd section of the Hebrew canon. However, certain striking parallels of phraseology and subject matter between the books of Lamentations and Jeremiah point to a common authorship (compare Lam 3:14, 48 with Jer 9:1; 20:7; Lam 3:52 ­56 with Jer 12:9; 37:16; 38:6). Repeated references in Lam 3 (see especially vs. 14, 48 ­57, 61 ­63) to the personal sufferings of the author correspond with what is known concerning the experiences of Jeremiah.

The prophet Jeremiah bore God's message to Israel prior to and during the early years of the Babylonian captivity. Tender of heart, he sensed keenly the evils of which the nation was guilty, and mourned as God revealed to him the retribution soon to overtake his beloved Jerusalem (see Jer 4:19; 10:20; 13:17; 14:17; etc.). Jeremiah counselled submission to the Babylonian conquerors as a means of avoiding further suffering and disaster (see Jer 27:11 ­14; 29:4 ­7), but kings and people alike refused to heed the message. As a result the "yokes of wood," representative of the comparatively light suffering occasioned by the 1st and 2nd invasions of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar, were replaced by "yokes of iron" This perversity of spirit made inevitable the captivity of practically the entire nation, the desolation of Jerusalem and Judea, and the destruction of the Temple. Only a few of the poorest people of the land were left, scattered about the countryside. Little wonder that Jeremiah is known as "the weeping prophet"--he had more than enough to weep about. In Lamentations he pours forth the sorrow of his heart.

The book is made up of 5 elegiac poems, corresponding to its 5 chapters. The first 4 are written in the qinah or elegiac metre characteristic of Hebrew poetry, and the 5th, a prayer rather than an elegy, is in the usual Hebrew poetic metre. chs 1, 2, 4, 5 each have 22 verses, corresponding with the 22 distinct letters of the Hebrew alphabet, while ch 3 has 66 verses. In chs 1, 2, and 4 the verses are arranged alphabetically, v 1 beginning with the 1st letter of the Hebrew alphabet, v 2 with the 2nd, and so on except for small variations in ch 2. In ch 3 the first 3 verses begin with the 1st letter of the alphabet, the next 3 with the 2nd letter, and so on to the end. The 5th chapter does not observe an alphabetical arrangement. It is of interest that the letters pe and ayin are presented three times in a reversed order (ch 2:16, 17; 3:46 ­51; 4:16, 17) in contrast to the usual order ayin-pe followed in other Biblical acrostic compositions. That this is no mistake, but simply a variant order, has been proved by the list of alphabetic characters preserved on the ostracon found in 1976 at Izbet Sartah, probably Biblical Ebenezer, of 1200 b.c..

Horn, Siegfried H., Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary, (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association) 1979.