In Hebrew, a poetic work in acrostic formation, and in the LXX attached to the end of the prophecies of Jeremiah, with whom the book has been traditionally associated. He was in fact a composer of dirges (Jer. 7: 29; 2 Chron. 35: 25). Modern scholarship does not accept the traditional authorship. Regret that hope placed on foreign alliances had come to nothing (Lam. 4: 17) is out of step with Jeremiah’s thought, whereas the practices he condemned (Jer. 5: 7–8; 9: 1–5) are not castigated in Lamentations.

Although there is no historical reference in Lamentations, it is agreed that the book derives from the time of the fall of Jerusalem (586 BCE) and the desolation of the city (chs. 1, 2, 4, and 5) for which two theological interpretations are offered. There is the Deuteronomist theory that the disaster is the divine judgment on sin—in spite of the reforms of Josiah: hence the bitterness of the individual who protests in ch. 3. Secondly, the belief, asserted by Isaiah, that Jerusalem and its Temple were inviolable had to be discarded; judgment has fallen on Zion (4: 11) but there is an ultimate hope (5: 19–21). Ch. 3 describes the plight of a single individual, abandoned by God, who recognizes the justice of his suffering and believes that after genuine repentance he will be helped (Lam. 3: 26–30).

Both Christian and Jewish commentators have regarded the book as prophetic. Christians in the early and the medieval Church held that it referred to Christ’s sufferings and as such it was read at services later called Tenebrae before Easter. Jewish commentators have seen Lamentations as a prophecy of the capture of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 CE, and the lamentations are the sorrows of God at having witnessed such sufferings inflicted on the people of the covenant.