David A. Bosworth, «The Tears of God in the Book of Jeremiah», Vol. 94 (2013) 24-46
The article analyzes several passages in Jeremiah in which God weeps in order to understand the function of divine weeping in the book. Attention to the distribution of weeping in the book finds that God’s weeping (8,23; 9,9.17; 13,17; 14,17) gives way to divine anger and refusal to hear the petitions of the people (15,1; 16,5-7). LXX and many modern commentators have attempted to deny that God weeps in these passages. However, several texts clearly depict God weeping, and weeping deities are common in ancient Near Eastern literature.
THE TEARS OF GOD IN THE BOOK OF JEREMIAH
I. Weeping in the Old Testament
Weeping may be understood in the context of attachment theory,
which describes how infants and their caregivers form reciprocal
bonds 3. This context clarifies that weeping is a social rather than
individual behavior; tears are meant to be seen by others. The at-
tachment behavioral system has been observed in many animal
species, but weeping is unique to humans. Although other animals
shed tears due to irritation of the eye, only humans cry for emo-
tional reasons. Throughout the lifespan, human weeping commu-
nicates serious distress and corresponding need for care-giving and
relationship. The desired response to tears is empathy and support
(Exod 2,6; 2 Kgs 20,5; 22,19; Ps 6,9). Attachment theory has been
expanded from the parent-child bond to encompass romantic rela-
tionships and relationship to the divine 4. Prayers frequently mani-
fest the dynamics of attachment relationships. For example, prayers
often express a desire for proximity to the parent-like deity (Ps
42,1-2), who provides a sense of security (Ps 23,4) through superior
power and wisdom (Ps 23,3; 93,1). In distress, the deity offers help
(Ps 69,1), and divine absence provokes anxiety (Ps 22,1). Weeping
enters into this relationship when people at prayer hope that tears
may motivate divine aid (Ps 6,9.9; 39,13; 102,10). Attachment the-
ory can illuminate human religious behavior, but Jeremiah draws
on the parent-child bond to illuminate divine behavior and emotion.
YHWH faces the prospect of losing â€œmy firstborn sonâ€ (Jer 31,9; cf.
Exod 4,22) and witnessing the agony of the people suffering the
harsh realities of military defeat and national calamity (see Lamen-
tations). However, YHWH does not only suffer the pain of Israel and
the loss of relationship, but is also the agent of the destruction of
On attachment theory in general, see J. BOWLBY, Attachment and Loss.
3 vols. (New York 1969-1973). For recent developments, see Attachment and
Bonding. A New Synthesis (eds. C.S. CARTER et al.) (Cambridge, MA 2005);
J. CASSIDY â€“ P.R. SHAVER (eds.), Handbook of Attachment. Theory, Research,
and Clinical Applications (New York 22008). On weeping and attachment
theory, see J.K. NELSON, Seeing through Tears. Crying and Attachment (New
York 2005); K. GROSSMANN, â€œWeinen, ein Bindungsverhaltenâ€, Psychotherapeut
54 (2009) 77-89.
L.A. KIRKPATRICK, Attachment, Evolution, and the Psychology of Reli-
gion (New York 2005); P. GRANQVIST, â€œReligion as Attachment: The Godin
Award Lectureâ€, Archive for the Psychology of Religion 32 (2010) 49-59.
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