Current research of Lamentations appears to be ignoring the important question of the purpose of the book. In fact, there are only a handful of articles and only two short books that address this question in any detail. This is due to a possible confusion between the use of Lamentations and its purpose, on one hand, and the genre of Lamentations and its purpose, on the other. It is true that after the Babylonian exile the Jews adopted Lamentations for liturgical use. It is also true that Lamentations meets many of the characteristics of the Ancient Near Eastern city lament genre. However, it is assumed by many of the commentators of Lamentations that the purpose of the book was either liturgical use or pure lamentation (whether individual or communal).
These assumptions, however, seem to overlook the very important and very unique features of Lamentations. When compared to contemporary Ancient Near Eastern city laments, Lamentations is seen to be very similar and very different at the same time. The similarities are easily seen to be a direct result of similar experiences of the authors. The differences, however, are seen to be a direct result of very different theologies and intentions of the authors. When these differences are studied further, strong support for a theological purpose of Lamentations can be identified. The resultant effect of identifying the purpose of Lamentations will be a renewed interest in the theology of the book of Lamentations that is grounded on the authorial intent of the book.
The significance of identifying the authorial intent of Lamentations cannot be overstated. One’s reading and understanding of any written material is influence by his pre-understanding of several things including genre, historical context, and even authorial intent. In other words, reading Lamentations as pure lament, liturgical work, or didactic writing will have a profound influence on how the book is read and understood. For this reason, it is not only justifiable, but also necessary to thoughtfully explore the question of the purpose of Lamentations.