THE INDIVIDUAL UNITS OF
THE BOOK OF LAMENTATIONS
Communal Mourning Agenda
Each of the 22 verses (= number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet) has three poetic lines, often in the qînāh ("mourning") meter, which was first described by Karl Budde (listing at "Introduction to the Book of Lamentations"). The only exception is v. 7 with four lines. The two cola of v. 7cd are possibly a later gloss, because they interrupt the cumbersome retrospect of lines ab and e-h. The two cola of every line ideally (according to some modern metrical theory; cf. Kraus, Threni, 7–8; Hillers, Lamentations, XXX-XXXVII; Freedman; Shea; etc.) carry three and two accents, respectively. The shortened second colon apparently heightens the sense of an abrupt end, breach of harmony, and catastrophic impact. Lamentations 1 is an acrostic poem, to be sure, but rather unobtrusively so. In general, only the first word of the first line of each verse carries the letter relevant to the alphabetical sequence. Lamentations 2 has the very same structure, while Lamentations 3, also with three-line verses, makes every line begin with the correct letter corresponding to the alphabetical order. Lamentations 4 has two-line verses, with the first line establishing the alphabetical order, as in Lamentations 1 and 2. The last chapter, Lamentations 5, contains one-line subunits without acrostic ambitions, but exactly fitting the number 22 in its verse count.
The acrostic effect on the formal and generic molding of the texts should not be overrated. With only one letter necessary every two or three lines to pinpoint the alphabetic sequence, the authors had a number of choices fitting their intentions. Lamentations 3, of course, is a little more determined by acrostic considerations. The initial șêkāh in the Leningrad Codex has a special position preceding the regular poem (cf. Lam 2:1; 4:1; no other occurrence in Lamenta-