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The Targum of Lamentations 17B (Aramaic Bible)

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A book by Kevin Cathcart

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Author: Kevin Cathcart
Publisher: Liturgical Press
1 review about The Targum of Lamentations 17B (Aramaic...

Why do bad things happen to good people?

  • Jul 28, 2010
The biblical book of Lamentations is generally ignored except by Jews who read it during the ninth day of the Hebrew month Av, which according to tradition is the date of the destruction of both the first Temple in 586 BCE and the second in 70 CE, even though the Bible itself has different dates. Lamentations laments the destruction of the first Temple and the exile of many but not all of the Judeans from their homeland.

As pointed out in earlier reviews of this series, the Aramaic translations of the Hebrew Bible swerved radically from the literal rendering of what they were supposed to be translating. The translators offered their readers more than what is in the Torah. They spiced their translations with theology, sermons, and imaginative elaborations on what they supposed happened even though the details are not in the biblical text. This is book 17B of the 19 book Michael Glazier series. The following are some examples appearing in this volume.

The translator of Lamentations was bothered by the fact that not only bad people, but even good people suffer. Why? He emphasizes first that the calamities came from God, not happenstance. This, he claims, demonstrates God's power. It shows paradoxically that God is involved with the destiny of Israel. And, the translator adds, God offers the Israelites hope. Contrary to what appears to be true, all of the Israelites did wrong. He lists the offenses, such as oppression of the poor and non-observance of the holidays. The people also did not listen, says the translator, but not the Bible, to Jeremiah's call to repent. He speaks of punishment that is measure for measure. He especially blames Israel's leaders, including priests and false prophets for misleading the people. The nation's punishment is exile, just as Adam and Eve were exiled from the Garden of Eden for their misdeed. Even those who remain in Israel will be exiled from sovereignty and statehood. Thus the explanation for the catastrophe is divine punishment; but the translator adds hope, the messiah will come.

His response to the question "why bad things happen to good people" is based on his view that God is present and is involved in the universe. But this is not the only possible answer. The great Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides (1138-1204) suggested that God is not involved. He created the universe, which is good and which functions according to the laws of nature that he created. Bad things, therefore, do not come from God, but from three sources. (1) A person does it to herself, such as overeating. (2) She is injured because another person hurts her, such as a robber accosting her on the street. (3) She is harmed by the laws of nature, which is good for the world as a whole, but not for her, such as a hurricane that cleans the air but destroys her house.

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