How far does the theme and language of covenant influence the theology of the Book of Lamentations?
A great deal has been written about the importance of covenant as a theme within the Hebrew Bible. While there are disagreements regarding the centrality of covenant as a cohesive theme running through the Hebrew Bible, there is wide acknowledgement that it offers vital insights into ancient Israelites’ beliefs about the nature and character of God, their place in the world, and how they explained both the successes and failures in their national history. However, one biblical book that is conspicuous by its near-absence within covenantal studies is Lamentations. Indeed, this is a two-way omission. Not only have studies of covenant tended to omit the five poems of Lamentations, studies of Lamentations have also remained remarkably quiet on the topic of covenant.
This dearth of serious discussion about the influence of a covenant perspective betrays a prevalent assumption that it is not a prominent feature of the book. However, there are a number of reasons to resist such a dismissal, including the use of covenantal language and themes, expressing a covenantal ethical framework, set within a covenantal context. The presence of each of these indicates a greater influence of covenant theology on the book of Lamentations than has thus far been recognised, and so this research project sets out to examine the extent to which this is the case. Methodologically, I am approaching this primarily as a work of textual and form criticism, examining the language, themes, genre and context of both the Book of Lamentations set against a number of key recognised covenantal texts in order to analyse whether the poems of Lamentations reflect the same thought processes and theological emphasis, and to reflect on the implications of the results of this analysis for our understanding of the theological perspective of exilic Israel.