Daughter Zion's trauma: reading Lamentations with insights from trauma studies
Yansen, James W. S.
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Awareness of trauma’s potential effects sheds light on many of the book of Lamentations’ complexities and suggests new interpretive possibilities. Growing numbers of scholars have analyzed intersections between biblical scholarship and trauma studies; and trauma-oriented readings of biblical texts yield fruitful, often provocative, insights. Because their reading strategies are not without pitfalls, including a tendency to ignore historical questions, trauma readings can be enriched by more nuanced applications, including attention to history. This study argues that social, political, cultural, and religious contexts are key for understanding how individuals and collectivities construe, respond to, work through, and create trauma. Three characteristic features of traumatic experiences make this concept useful for a critical reading of Lamentations: 1) survivors’ testimonies often convey a history that is not straightforwardly referential; 2) trauma causes rupture in life; and 3) the trauma process includes rhetorical dimensions; individuals and communities work through and construct trauma in different ways in order to reconstitute themselves and ensure their survival in the aftermath of extreme violence. Following an overview of trauma studies and its application to biblical studies, this study outlines the traumatic matrix of Lamentations. Structural analysis of the Book demonstrates and mirrors the debilitating realities of caesura in life often associated with experiences of trauma. The concept of non-referential history functions as a heuristic lens through which to view the “historical” significance of the Book’s tropic and stereotypical uses of language. Utilizing insights from study of the rhetorical dimensions of the trauma process in cultural trauma, this study asserts that Lamentations strategically adapts certain religious traditions to ensure the survival of those whose voices it echoes. Lamentations' contents and structure highlight the sheer enormity of Daughter Zion’s trauma, which overshadows and undermines acknowledgements of her culpability. Further, protest, ambiguity and ambivalent hope form the foundation for resilience and survival in the Book. One of this study’s major implications is that trauma-oriented readings of biblical literature that utilize an historically-informed, synchronic approach enable biblical scholars to pursue the interpretive possibilities of trauma studies without bracketing historical questions.