Poetry and Theology in the Book of Lamentations: The Aesthetics of an Open Text
Thomas, Heath A.
Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix, 2013 pp. xvi + 276. $95
Hebrew Bible Monographs, 47
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Description: The book of Lamentations is a challenge to its readers. Its ambiguous theology, strident protestations against its deity, and haunting imagery confound interpreters. This monograph engages the enigma of Lamentations by assessing its theology. It does so, however, neither by tracing a single theological perspective through the book nor by reconstructing the history of the composition of the book. Rather, Heath Thomas assesses the poetry of Lamentations by offering a close analysis of each poem in the book. He reconsiders the acrostic as the foundational structure for the poetry, reads the book as an intentionally composed whole, and assesses the pervasive use of repetition, metaphor, and allusion. For the first time in the field, the analysis here is grounded on the insights of the Italian semiotician Umberto Eco. Drawing upon Eco’s distinction between ‘open’ and ‘closed’ textualities, Thomas argues that Lamentations represents a distinctively ‘open’ text, one that presents its reader with a myriad of surprising avenues to interpret the poetry. This distinctive approach avoids a polarization in the portrait of God in Lamentations, arguing that its poetry neither justifies God outright nor does it exonerate God’s people in the exilic age. Rather, it enables these theological visions to interrelate with each another, inviting the reader to make sense of the interaction. The ambiguous theological vision of Lamentations, then, is not a problem that the reader is intended to overcome but an integral feature in the construction of meaning. This original monograph offers a new perspective on how the poetry informs our appreciation of theological thought in the exilic age.
Subjects: Bible, Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Writings, Lamentations, Literature, Methods, Literary Approaches, Poetics, Theological Approaches, Biblical Theology, Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Theology
Review by Miriam Bier
Citation: Miriam Bier, review of Heath A. Thomas, Poetry and Theology in the Book of Lamentations: The Aesthetics of an Open Text, Review of Biblical Literature [http://www.bookreviews.org] (2015).
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