Poetry and Theology in the Book of Lamentations: The Aesthetics of an Open Text
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.
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.
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CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION 1. Aims of the Project 2. A Introduction to the Theology of Lamentations 3. Composition and Date of Lamentations 4. Historical and Social Realities of Judah during the Exilic Period 5. Conclusion CHAPTER 2: SURVEY OF RESEARCH 1. Introduction 2. ‘Behind’ the Text a. Norman Gottwald and Bertil Albrektson b. Ulrich Berges, Claus Westermann, and Renate Brandscheidt 3. ‘Within’ the Text a. Bo Johnson b. Eduard Nägelsbach and Walter Kaiser c. William Shea d. Johan Renkema 4. ‘In Front of’ the Text a. Naomi Seidman b. Kathleen O’Connor, Christl Maier, and Carleen Mandolfo c. Deryn Guest d. Daniel Berrigan e. Tod Linafelt and Hugh Pyper 5. An ‘Integrated’ Approach a. Paul House and Robin Parry b. F. W. Dobbs-Allsopp 6. Conclusion CHAPTER 3: SEMIOTICS AND AESTHETIC THEORY OF UMBERTO ECO 1. Introduction 2. Semiotics of Umberto Eco a. Introduction b. Eco’s Theory of Codes and Encyclopaedia c. Eco’s Theory of Sign Production and Aesthetic Texts 3. Aesthetic Analysis of Umberto Eco a. The Intentions of Author, Work, and Reader b. Pragmatic Distinctions between Open and Closed Texts 4. Conclusion a. The Model Reader(s) of Lamentations b. The Text of Lamentations CHAPTER 4: LAMENTATIONS’ ENCYCLOPAEDIA 1. Introduction 2. A Mixed Genre Poem in Lyric Mode a. Communal Dirges b. Communal Laments c. Laments over the Destroyed Sanctuary and City-Laments d. Mixed Genre Poems e. Poems in Lyric Mode 3. Re-Thinking the Acrostic Structure 4. The Vitality of Poetics a. Repetition b. Wordplay and Enjambment c. Imagery d. Speaking Voices e. Contrast f. Allusion 5. Conclusion CHAPTER 5: LAMENTATIONS 1 1. Introduction 2. Analysis of Lam 1.1-22 3. Conclusion a. Form and Genre b. Poetics c. Theology CHAPTER 6: LAMENTATIONS 2 1. Introduction 2. Analysis of Lam 2.1-22 3. Conclusion a. Form and Genre b. Poetics c. Theology CHAPTER 7: LAMENTATIONS 3 1. Introduction 2. Analysis of Lam 3.1-66 3. Conclusion a. Form and Genre b. Poetics c. Theology CHAPTER 8: LAMENTATIONS 4 and 5 1. Introduction 2. Analysis of Lam 4.1-22 3. Analysis of Lam 5.1-22 4. Conclusion a. Form and Genre b. Poetics c. Theology CHAPTER 9: CONCLUSIONS 1. Summary 2. Purpose of Poetry and Theology in Lamentations
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