Original Research

Introducing a re-reading of Lamentations through the lens of trauma studies: The challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic

Johan L. Serfontein
In die Skriflig/In Luce Verbi | Vol 55, No 1 | a2688 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ids.v55i1.2688 | © 2021 Johan L. Serfontein | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 12 October 2020 | Published: 28 April 2021

About the author(s)

Johan L. Serfontein, Unit for Reformational Theology and the Development of the South African Society, Faculty of Theology, North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa


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Abstract

When the world went into lockdown (2020) due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the streets and places of socialising became deserted – much like in the opening verse of Lamentations. This prompted a desire to re-read this book in light of the pandemic. The question was asked whether this book, set amidst the calamity of the Babylonian captivity and destruction of Jerusalem, can be helpful. Can this book help us make meaning and sense in the face of a new enemy that threatens the world? The article took note of all the necessary interpretations and introductions to the book of Lamentations and concluded that it can be read as lament and, in particular, communal lament. The language of lament, sometimes lost in a world of technology and positivity, can be helpful to verbalise loss and trauma. This elicited a discussion of trauma and biblical studies, and how they interact. Much of literature that originated in traumatic circumstances became ‘meaning-making literature’. It was the case with Lamentations back in the wake of 586 BCE and also in many other instances when the book was re-read. This article provided examples of these instances. The invitation was then accepted to read some of the verses in Lamentations through the lens of the trauma created by COVID-19, and many similarities were found.

Contribution: Although Jerusalem was destroyed by an enemy that could be seen, and COVID-19 is caused by an enemy that cannot be seen, there are many similarities between the COVID-19 pandemic and the situation in Jerusalem as lamented by Lamentations. As ‘meaning-making literature’, lament is sometimes the only fitting response to the incomprehensible reality of pain and suffering. Lament defies the cheap answers so often given by religion when it is confronted with mystery, doubt and despair. This seemed to be the case in Lamentations. It was concluded that Lamentations can help readers through the process of trauma therapy as it opens the wound and helps the individual to connect with the bigger community in trying to make sense of it all and to involve others in the pain. The newness of the COVID-19 pandemic and a response from an Old Testament perspective, made the scope of this article relevant.


Keywords

Lamentations; COVID-19; trauma studies; Bible; Lament.

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