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Lament for Ur 16-564703.jpg

Lament for the destruction of Ur

Laments are well-known from the Bible, especially the book of Lamentations, but are also found throughout the ancient Near East. Biblical authors likely took inspiration from the forms used in these surrounding cultures. An early and famous example of such a poem is the Sumerian Lament over Ur (c. 2000 BCE), a city-state in the region of Sumer in modern-day Iraq. The lament is one of five such Sumerian poems, each of which mourns the loss of a different city. At 438 lines long, the Lament over Ur presents a detailed story of the city's destruction, starting with the goddess Ningal's pleas that the god Engil turn back the storm sent to ravage the city, then moving into graphic descriptions of Ur's eventual destruction. The tablet above, which has preserved this lament for four millennia, is housed at the Louvre in Paris. Although nearly 1500 years elapsed between the destruction of Ur and the fall of Jerusalem, the genre of the city lament remained popular, and has visible influence on biblical literature. The impact of the genre is perhaps most obviously felt in the Book of Lamentations, but traces can also be found in Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and Psalms. The bleak tones of these poems, in which Yhwh deserts the city and allows—or even causes—its destruction, have been a key feature of the literary responses in the wake of heavy loss.