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“We have Sinned and Rebelled; You have Not Forgiven”

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The Dialogic Interaction between Authoritative and Internally Persuasive Discourse in Lamentations 3

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Conventional readings of Lamentations invariably appeal to the “central” chapter 3 and its male character, the רבג, as pivotal for the meaning and purpose of Lamentations. Such readings emphasize the sin of humanity and the justice of God and can be broadly described as theodic in character. A number of more recent readings that can be aptly described as antitheodic, however, react against this centralizing tendency, emphasizing instead the protesting voice of Zion in chapters 1 and 2. Neither the רבג nor Zion’s discourses, however, is as homogeneously theodic or antitheodic as these readings and counter-readings would suggest. Rather, both speakers present elements of penitence and submission to suffering (theodicy), on the one hand, and protest and accusation of God (antitheodicy), on the other.
In light of the pervasive influence of the “central” chapter 3 in readings of Lamentations, I focus this paper on the רבג’s discourse. I read Lamentations 3 as the רבג’s internal dialogue as he expresses various understandings of the extreme suffering in which he finds himself. I use Mikhail Bakhtin’s concept of the dialogic interaction between authoritative and internally persuasive discourses as a framework for illustrating the various moods through which the רבג moves. While the רבג appeals to authoritative discourses, I conclude that he does not, finally, find the “central” faithful statements, so often appealed to as determinative for meaning, to be internally persuasive.

Affiliations: 1: London School of Theology, UK


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