Jerusalem (Matisyahu lyrics), Jeremiah and Lamentations…

Like By the Rivers of Babylon, this Matisyahu song emanates from Psalm 137 of the Bible, likely penned by Jeremiah, lamenting the destruction of the Temple in 586 B.C.  It is believed that Jeremiah, the prophet who warned the Jews of their destruction, authored Lamentations, or Eichah (‘How?’ in Hebrew), sung on Tisha B’Av, mourning the destruction of the Temple.  It is heart-rending, especially when sung with emotion by a woman.  I recommend going to JTS on 122nd Street to listen to the singers from Hadar, an UWS minyan.  It is a poignant, haunting and ultimately uplifting experience. 

Matisyahu – Jerusalem Lyrics

[Chorus]
Jerusalem, if I forget you,
fire not gonna come from me tongue.
Jerusalem, if I forget you,
let my right hand forget what it’s supposed to do.
In the ancient days, we will return with no delay
Picking up the bounty and the spoils on our way
We’ve been traveling from state to state
And them don’t understand what they say
3,000 years with no place to be
And they want me to give up my milk and honey
Don’t you see, it’s not about the land or the sea
Not the country but the dwelling of his majesty

[chorus]

Rebuild the temple and the crown of glory
Years gone by, about sixty
Burn in the oven in this century
And the gas tried to choke, but it couldn’t choke me
I will not lie down, I will not fall asleep
They come overseas, yes they’re trying to be free
Erase the demons out of our memory
Change your name and your identity
Afraid of the truth and our dark history
Why is everybody always chasing we
Cut off the roots of your family tree
Don’t you know that’s not the way to be

[chorus]

Caught up in these ways, and the worlds gone craze
Don’t you know it’s just a phase
Case of the Simon says
If I forget the truth then my words won’t penetrate
Babylon burning in the place, can’t see through the haze
Chop down all of them dirty ways,
That’s the price that you pay for selling lies to the youth
No way, not ok, oh no way, not ok, hey
Aint no one gonna break my stride
Aint no one gonna pull me down
Oh no, I got to keep on moving
Stay alive

[chorus]

From Wikipedia:

The Book of Lamentations (Hebrew איכה, Eikha) is a book of the Bible Old Testament and Jewish Tanakh. It is traditionally read by the Jewish people on Tisha B’Av, the fast day that commemorates the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.

It is called in the Hebrew canon ‘Eikhah, meaning “How,” being the formula for the commencement of a song of wailing. It is the first word of the book (see 2 Sam. 1:19-27). The Septuagint adopted the name rendered “Lamentations” (Greek threnoi = Hebrew qinoth) now in common use, to denote the character of the book, in which the prophet mourns over the desolations brought on Jerusalem and the Holy Land by the Chaldeans. In the Hebrew Bible it is placed among the Ketuvim, the Writings.

According to tradition, authorship is assigned to the Prophet Jeremiah, who was a court official during the conquest of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, during which the First Temple was destroyed and King Jehoiachin was taken prisoner (cf. Is 38 ff and Is 52). In the Septuagint and the Vulgate the Lamentations are placed directly after the Prophet.

It is said that Jeremiah retired to a cavern outside the Damascus gate, where he wrote this book. That cavern is still pointed out by tour guides. “In the face of a rocky hill, on the western side of the city, the local belief has placed ‘the grotto of Jeremiah.’ There, in that fixed attitude of grief which Michelangelo has immortalized, the prophet may well be supposed to have mourned the fall of his country” (Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, History of the Jewish Church).

However, the strict acrostic style of four of the five poems is not found at all in the Book of Jeremiah itself, and authorship of Jeremiah is disputed. It is however known for certain that Jeremiah did write a lament on the death of King Josiah, that was well known in his time.[1] It was common practice in ancient times for an anonymous writer seeking recognition for his work to write eponymously in the name of someone more famous (although neither Jeremiah’s name nor that of any other author appears in the text itself). The work is probably based on the older Mesopotamian genre of the “city lament”, of which the Lament for Ur is among the oldest and best-known.

According to F. W. Dobbs-Allsopp, “the widely observed unity of form and point of view… and general resemblance in linguistic detail throughout the sequence are broadly suggestive of the work of a single author,” though other scholars see Lamentations as the work of multiple authors.[2]

Most commentators see Lamentations as reflecting the period immediately following the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC,[3] though Provan argues for an ahistorical interpretation.[4] Many elements of the lament are borne out in the historical narrative in 2 Kings concerning the fall of Jerusalem: Jerusalem lying in ruins (Lamentations 2:2 and 2 Kings 25:9), enemies entering the city (Lamentations 4:12 and 2 Kings 24:11), people going into exile (Lamentations 1:3 and 2 Kings 24:14) and the sanctuary being plundered (Lamentations 1:10 and 2 Kings 24:13). On the other hand, Babylon is never mentioned in Lamentations, though this could simply be to make the point that the judgment comes from God, and is a consequence of Judah disobeying him.

Lamentations was probably composed soon after 586 BC. Kraus argues that “the whole song stands so near the events that one feels everywhere as if the terrible pictures of the destruction stand still immediately before the eyes of the one lamentings .”[5]

The book consists of five separate poems. In chapter 1 the prophet dwells on the manifold miseries oppressed by which the city sits as a solitary widow weeping sorely. In chapter 2 these miseries are described in connection with the national sins that had caused them. Chapter 3 speaks of hope for the people of God. The chastisement would only be for their good; a better day would dawn for them. Chapter 4 laments the ruin and desolation that had come upon the city and temple, but traces it only to the people’s sins. Chapter 5 is a prayer that Zion’s reproach may be taken away in the repentance and recovery of the people.

The first four poems (chapters) are acrostics, like some of the Psalms (25, 34, 37, 119, 145), i.e., each verse begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet taken in order. The first, second, and fourth have each twenty-two verses, the number of the letters in the Hebrew alphabet. The third has sixty-six verses, in which each three successive verses begin with the same letter. The fifth is not acrostic, but also has twenty-two verses.

Speaking of the “Wailing-place (q.v.) of the Jews” at Jerusalem, a portion of the old wall of the Herod’s Temple, Schaff says: “There the Jews assemble every Friday afternoon to bewail the downfall of the holy city, kissing the stone wall and watering it with their tears. They repeat from their well-worn Hebrew Bibles and prayer-books the Lamentations of Jeremiah and suitable Psalms.”

Readings, chantings, and choral settings, of the book of Lamentations, are used in the Christian religious service known as the tenebrae (Latin for darkness).

Jeremiah was a Kohen (member of the priestly family) called to the prophetical office when still young; in the thirteenth year of Josiah (628 BC). He left his native place, Anathoth, to reside in Jerusalem, where he assisted Josiah in his work of reformation. Jeremiah wrote a lamentation upon the death of this pious king (2 Chr. 35:25).

There is no reference to Jeremiah during the three month reign of Jehoahaz. But in the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim, the enmity of the people against the prophet was expressed with persecution. In his most famous confrontation with Jehoiakim, Jeremiah warned the king that “God would roll him up into a little ball, and would throw him out of Judah”, a prophecy which includes a possible pun on the use of Jeremiah’s name, which means “God throws”.

In his various exhortations, Jeremiah made extensive use of performance art, using props or demonstrations to illustrate points and engage the public. He walked around wearing a wooden yoke about his neck. He served wine to a family with a vow of temperance. He bought his family estate in Anathoth while in prison and while the Babylonians were occupying it.

He remained in Jerusalem, uttering from time to time his words of warning, but without much effect. He was there when Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon besieged the city (Jer. 37:4, 5), 588 BC, as Jeremiah had prophesied before-hand. The rumour of the approach of the Egyptians to aid the Jews in this crisis induced the Babylonians to withdraw, and to return to their own land. However, this siege was raised for only a short time. The prophet, in answer to his prayer, received a message from God, stating that “the Babylonians would come again, and take the city, and burn it with fire” (37:7, 8). The princes, in their anger at such a message by Jeremiah, cast him into prison (37:15-38:13). He was still in confinement when the city was taken (586 BC). The Babylonians released him, and showed him great kindness, allowing Jeremiah to choose the place of his residence, according to a Babylonian edict. Jeremiah accordingly went to Mizpah in Benjamin with Gedaliah, who had been made governor of Judea.

Johanan succeeded Gedaliah, who had been assassinated by an Israelite prince in the pay of Ammon “for working with the Babylonians“. Refusing to listen to Jeremiah’s counsels, Johanan fled to Egypt, taking Jeremiah and Baruch ben Neriah, Jeremiah’s faithful scribe and servant with him (Jer. 43:6). There, the prophet probably spent the remainder of his life, still seeking in vain to turn the people to the Lord, from whom they had so long revolted (44). Some believe he was murdered in Egypt by those angered by his prophecies. It is known that he lived into the reign of Evil-merodach, son of Nebuchadnezzar, and may have been about ninety years of age at his death. We have no authentic record of his death. He may have died at Tahpanes, or, according to a tradition, may have gone to Babylon with the army of Nebuchadnezzar.

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