Jeremiad

A jeremiad is a long literary work, usually in prose, but sometimes in verse, in which the author bitterly laments the state of society and its morals in a serious tone of sustained invective, and always contains a prophecy of society's imminent downfall.

Origins and usage

The word is an eponym, named after the Biblical prophet Jeremiah, and comes from Biblical works attributed to him, the Book of Jeremiah and the Book of Lamentations. The Book of Jeremiah prophesies the coming downfall of the Kingdom of Judah, and asserts that this is because its rulers have broken the covenant with the Lord.

The Lamentations, similarly, lament the fall of the kingdom of Judah after the conquest prophesied by Jeremiah has occurred:

How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people! how is she become as a widow! she that was great among the nations, and princess among the provinces, how is she become tributary!
She weepeth sore in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks: among all her lovers she hath none to comfort her: all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they are become her enemies.
Judah is gone into captivity because of affliction, and because of great servitude: she dwelleth among the heathen, she findeth no rest: all her persecutors overtook her between the straits.
The ways of Zion do mourn, because none come to the solemn feasts: all her gates are desolate: her priests sigh, her virgins are afflicted, and she is in bitterness.[1]

Generally, the term jeremiad is applied to moralistic texts that denounce a society for its wickedness, and prophesy its downfall. The jeremiad was a favorite literary device of the Puritans, and was used in prominent early Evangelical sermons like "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" by Jonathan Edwards.[2] Authors from Gildas to Robert Bork have had this label hung on their works. Extending that tradition in a reflective vein is the autobiographical work of freed American slave Frederick Douglass, who lamented the moral corruption that slavery wrought on America – from both a Jeffersonian and Christian tradition. In contemporary usage, it is frequently pejorative, meant to suggest that the tone of the text is excessively pessimistic and overwrought.

See also

References

  1. Lamentations 1:1–4 (KJV)
  2. Daniels, Bruce C. Puritans at Play. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. ISBN 978-1-4039-7212-5

Further reading

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