This review appeared in the Apr-Jun 2005 vol. 162 no. 2 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.Subscribe Today
LamentationsWestminster John Knox Press, Louisville February 24, 2012
Dobbs-Allsopp inherited the metaphorical mantle of Lamentation studies from his teacher Delbert Hillers. In this volume Dobbs-Allsopp has provided an excellent treatment of the poetic features and images in Lamentations. It would be a wonderful addition to have a translation from such a sensitive reader of the Hebrew text, but the Interpretation series is committed to using the Revised Standard Version.
The series intends to present “the integrated result of historical and theological work with the biblical text” (p. vii). Thus its goal is not to be a historical critical commentary. So for a specific discussion of ancient Near Eastern backgrounds to Lamentations, on which Dobbs-Allsopp is eminently qualified, one should consult the bibliography. Even so, the introduction is a full one-third of the book, with a brief, first-rate treatment of literary features and theological issues in the book.
Dobbs-Allsopp sees Lamentations as a sixth-century composition from the surviving Jewish community in Palestine. He suggests that the evidence favors a single author (probably not Jeremiah, he says), but Dobbs-Allsopp’s interpretation is largely unaffected whether the book has an editor or a single author. The focus of Lamentations is on the survivors in Jerusalem rather than on the exiles.
Dobbs-Allsopp argues for the unity of the book but warns against reducing it to a schematized flow of thought, whether thematic or logical. The power of the lyric poems gives voice to pain and helps express what may otherwise seem inexpressible. Dobbs-Allsopp sees these poems as more about the determination to live than about hope or the purpose of suffering. Thus Lamentations has elements of both theodicy and anti-theodicy. Brief acknowledgements of sin are distinct from Sumerian city-laments, but these are not to be seized on as theodicy. One cannot dismiss the disturbing nature of complaints against God by placing these poems into set theological boxes about sin, judgment, repentance, and restoration.
Dobbs-Allsop’s titles for the five chapters in Lamentations are “No Comfort,” “A Day of Anger,” “An Everyman,” “Unlimited Suffering,” and “A Closing Prayer.” He includes several digressions and excursuses on thematic concerns. One is advised to read these discussions more than once. As Dobbs-Allsopp says, lyric poetry needs to be read both “prospectively and retrospectively” (p. 85).
The commentary section concludes with an excursus on “The Silence of God” and the effort to remain faithful to God. “Lamentations’ scream of ‘Eikhah!’ is the voice of faith as it shatters suffering’s silence” (p. 154). This volume is indispensable for anyone who wishes to study how the language of Lamentations uniquely voices faith underneath the cries of pain.