Lamentations 2:20 and 4:10 – The Horrors of Siege Warfare


Lamentations 2:20


The poet describes the severity of the starvation in the city by referring to desperate acts of cannibalism, specifically of women eating their own children.


Such shocking imagery leads many readers to wonder: Is this true? During the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem, did women really cannibalize their dead children? The answer is that we simply cannot know. On the one hand, this is poetry, not a dry historic account. Poetry uses hyperbole and vivid imagery to communicate emotion. The shock and horror of this idea helped to drive home the depth of suffering that the people experienced, regardless of whether particular incidents of cannibalism actually happened.

On the other hand, we know that throughout history siege warfare has been a brutally effective tactic in part because it stops the flow of goods—including food and other humanitarian supplies—in and out of the besieged city. Suffering yields desperation, so it is not out of the realm of possibility that the author of the poem observed this happening, even if only once. The starvation that comes with siege warfare is excruciating and indiscriminate; not only soldiers but also civilians, including women and children, are affected by its deprivations. The Russian siege of the Ukrainian city of Mariupol in the spring of 2022 is a modern example of this wartime tactic in action.