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image of Biblical Interpretation

Most interpretations of the first chapter of Lamentations recognize the existence of two different speakers who alternate speeches throughout the poem. The first speaker is characterized by third person discourse and often identified as a narrator. Critics unanimously equate the second speaker, who employs first person discourse, with the voice of the personified Jerusalem. One of the often overlooked elements in this standard reading of Lamentations 1, however, is the fact that, like the personified Jerusalem, the so-called narrator exists within the created world of the poem. In other words, both speakers are literary constructs (personifications) given their existence by the poet. This apparently mundane observation carries serious consequences for the reading of Lamentations 1, as it raises questions regarding the commonly held notion that the narrator stands outside of the poem and thereby offers the reader an "objective" perspective. In this essay I have chosen not to privilege the narrator's voice, but to read the poem as a polyphonic text composed of two "unmerged … consciousnesses." The poem is no longer read as a monological description of Jerusalem's many egregious sins and the justification of her cruel punishment, in which Jerusalem's voice ultimately retreats into insignificance. Lamentations 1 becomes, instead, the locus of conflict and struggle between two equally weighted voices, where one observes both speakers using "double-voiced" discourse to provoke an ongoing dialogue, not only between the two voices, but among the speakers within the poem and the reader who stand outside of it.

Affiliations: 1: University of North Dakota


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