Ancient sources, including the Targum and the Septuagint, attribute the book of Lamentations to Jeremiah the prophet. The Septuagint text starts with the words, “And it happened, after Israel was led into captivity and Jerusalem was devastated, [that] Jeremiah sat down weeping and lamented [or wailed] this lament over Jerusalem and said.” In more recent times, this ancient testimony has been rejected, and the composition has been regarded as an anonymous work that may have been compiled from what originally were separate poems.

The book of Lamentations consists of five poetic compositions that provide a vivid portrayal of the suffering of the people in Jerusalem at and immediately after the time the warriors under the command of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon besieged and captured the city. With the exception of the last poem, the others are written in acrostic style. Each one of chapters 1, 2, and 4 contains 22 verses, and each verse starts with the initial letter of the Hebrew alphabet that corresponds to the number of the verse, beginning with aleph and ending with taw. For chapter 3, each group of three verses begins with the same letter of the Hebrew alphabet, with the twenty-two groups of three verses being in sequential alphabetic order with one exception. The acrostic style may have served as a memory aid. Although not acrostic, the concluding poem preserves the pattern of 22, for this is the number of lines in the Hebrew text. In chapters 2, 3, and 4, there is one exception to the alphabetic order. The initial letter of the verse (the section of three verses in chapter 3) that begins with pe is switched with the one that begins with ayin, but in chapter 1 of the Masoretic Text the usual alphabetic order is followed, with the ayin preceding the pe. In the oldest extant fragmentary manuscript of chapter 1 (4QLam [4Q111]), however, the pe (verse 17) precedes the ayin (verse 16), making the order consistent with the other compositions.

Fragments of ancient manuscripts found in caves at Qumran preserve parts of all five chapters of the book of Lamentations. Among the manuscripts, 4QLam (4Q111) from late in the first century BCE contains significant departures from the Masoretic Text for chapter 1. In the preserved portions of other manuscripts for chapters 2 and 3, there is agreement with the Masoretic Text, and the departures from the Masoretic Text for chapters 4 and 5 in 5QLamᵅ (5Q6) are minor. Many of the variants will be considered in the commentary that follows.

Lamentations 1:1-22

Lamentations 2:1-22

Lamentations 3:1-66

Lamentations 4:1-22

Lamentations 5:1-22