Academic journal article Shofar

Faces of a Lamenting City: The Development and Coherence of the Book of Lamentations, by Jannie Hunter

Academic journal article Shofar

Faces of a Lamenting City: The Development and Coherence of the Book of Lamentations, by Jannie Hunter

Article excerpt

Faces of a Lamenting City: The Development and Coherence of the Book of Lamentations, by Jannie Hunter

Over the last decade or so, a renewed interest in Lamentations has come to light in a considerable number of studies which attempt to identify the literary coherence of the book and to locate its outlook within the streams of tradition prevalent in late monarchic and exilic Israel. Aside from a widely agreed focus on the linguistic and stylistic features of Lamentations, there has been no consensus on how the book developed and what precisely it means to say. Hunter's study falls within this earnest company, offering some insightful details but scarcely unlocking the book in any innovative way.

The basic thesis of Hunter is that Lamentations 1:1-11, cast in a descriptive mode, sets forth all the fundamental themes that, in contrasting lament and prayer modes, are taken up and elaborated in the remaining poems of the collection. The heart of his study is an intertextual reading showing how words and themes in 1:1-11 are "dispersed" throughout the poems. So pervasive are these links across the whole collection that Hunter posits a group of closely knit writers working off 1:1-11 as the template for all the poems. The reader can see these major intertextual connections at a glance by consulting the table on p. 134.

It is not surprising that the opening section of a collection might set forth many, if not all, of the leading ideas of the whole. Some of the intertextual links identified by Hunter are clear enough, but many involve semantic variations and transformations that suggest arbitrariness in grouping them as thematically akin. It does not appear proven that authors of the rest of Lamentations were closely following 1:1-11 for their repertoire of stock words and themes. Also, Hunter does not offer a plausible explanation for why 1:1-11 should be regarded as "a core proposal poem," when it is embedded as the first half of a larger acrostic poem. Indeed, on Hunter's evidence, it seems just as plausible that chapter 1 could have been written last as a summarizing introduction to the assembled poems. And if these opening verses are a template for the whole collection, the theme of hope or trust in Yahweh, which emerges at later points, is at best no more than hinted at in the terse appeal, "O Yahweh, behold my affliction!" (1:9, cf. 11).

As for the thought-world of Lamentations, he does not see it as closely aligned with any of the other current traditional "theologies. …

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