The fall of Jerusalem and the fate of the captives who were led into exile form the subject matter of the Book of Lamentations. Five poems are included in the book, each of which may have been written by as many different individuals. All of the poems deal with the destruction of the city and the events closely related to that event, a terrifying experience that severely tested the faith of those who put their trust in Yahweh. The poems portray some of these horrors. Jerusalem was placed under siege, and famine drove the people to despair. When King Zedekiah and a band of his soldiers tried to escape during the night, they were overtaken by the Babylonians and brought before Nebuchadnezzar for punishment. Zedekiah was forced to witness the execution of his own sons. He was then blinded and taken to a Babylonian dungeon to spend the rest of his life. The suffering caused by the famine and the bitter anxiety brought on by the terrible fate of Judah's last king were clearly in the mind of the poet who wrote one of the poems included in Lamentations. His poem closes with a prediction that Edom, who in the hour of Judah's agony gave its support to the Babylonians, would meet its doom in the very near future.
In another poem, an attempt is made to understand the reason for this terrible tragedy that has befallen the Hebrew people. The author bemoans the ruin that Yahweh wrought in his anger, and then he addresses the people of Zion, blaming the prophets for the miserable plight that evoked only scorn from the enemies of Israel and calling upon the people to weep and cry to Yahweh for mercy. A third poem, which is an acrostic in structure and style, meaning that certain letters, taken together, form a name or saying, is placed in the center of the book, and the others are arranged with reference to it. The last poem of the book contains a prayer in which someone who has survived the catastrophe implores Yahweh for mercy and help.
Song of Songs
Not a religious book but rather a collection of secular love poems and wedding songs, Song of Songs portrays the scenes of a typical Oriental wedding feast. The bridegroom is a king, the bride is a queen, and the feast lasts for a period of seven days. The songs celebrate the physical beauty of the royal pair, especially the bride. Nothing in any of these songs concerns the sanctity of marriage or any of the moral and spiritual aspects associated with it. They are about human love, with all of its passion and deep emotion. One of the songs discusses the springtime of love and is full of erotic suggestions that would have offended Occidental readers. It should be remembered, however, that physical love was not regarded as base or obscene to the Oriental mind but rather as an important factor in human life and a proper theme to be celebrated in poetry. It is extremely unlikely that these poems would ever have been included in the Old Testament had it not been for the allegorical interpretation that was placed on them.
The authorship of the Book of Lamentations is unknown. The earliest collection of the poems included in the book was called "Lamentations" without assigning any name to them. Later, they were called "The Lamentations of Jeremiah," which is the title given to them in various editions of the Old Testament. The Greek translation states in the preface to the book, "And it came to pass, after Israel was led into captivity and Jerusalem laid waste, that Jeremiah sat weeping, and lamented with this lamentation over Jerusalem." Nothing in the Book of Jeremiah indicates that Jeremiah is the author of these poems, and we may be quite certain that they were produced by other persons. Because later generations regarded Jeremiah as an inspired author, attributing these poems to him gave to them an added prestige, which is probably the reason why it was done.
Song of Songs was attributed to King Solomon probably because his name is mentioned several times in the songs, or poems. Because the songs describe the wedding feast of a king and his bride, it was assumed that the chief participants in the wedding were King Solomon and a Shulamite maiden. Interpreted literally, these songs would scarcely have been included in the Old Testament. But it was possible to interpret them allegorically and find their meaning in the relationship between Yahweh and his people. As the Hebrew people understood the songs, Yahweh was the bridegroom and Israel was the bride. In later generations, Christians interpreted the same songs as representing the union between Jesus Christ and his church. We have no reason for thinking that King Solomon or any single poet is the author of these songs. They are a group of folk songs, some of which may have been in existence for a long time before they were edited and arranged in their present form, which was probably sometime during the third century B.C.