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Greek Word Study - Wailing

The king of Armenia looked across the valley at the small encampment of Roman soldiers. “If they are ambassadors, they are too many,” he said, “If they are soldiers, they are too few.” He and his men then had a good laugh at his witty little saying. The king donned his diadem, and prepared to lead his armies into what looked to be an entertaining battle. He would send the Romans home in short order!

Indeed, the Roman troops were only a small detachment, outnumbered by more than twenty to one. Early in the battle, however, the Roman cavalry managed to outflank the Armenians. With the Roman horsemen bearing down on them, the Armenians “with loud cries” of panic and terror fell into shameful retreat. The Romans carried the day, losing only five of their own men.

The Greek word for making “loud cries” of pain or panic is alalazo (ah lah LAHD zo). It was derived from the Middle-Eastern sound of mourning, where the tongue moves back and forth rapidly across the roof of the mouth and makes a “la-la-la” sound. A similar word is ololuzo (oh loh LOOD zo), which is the “lo-lu-lo-lu” sound made by wailing women. As one modern writer notes, “Even yet in Palestine and Egypt the women wail both in joy and in lament, sending out through the larynx sharp wailing sounds.” Watch closely when the evening news reports the latest deaths in Gaza and you will see the women making this very sound.

In the New Testament alalazo is found in Mark 5:38, where the people were “wailing loudly” at the death of a little girl. It is also the word used in 1 Cor 13:1 for the shrill repetitive sound of a “clanging” cymbal. Significantly, the only use of ololuzo is in James 5:1, where the rich are told to weep and “wail” for the misery that is going to come on them. On judgment day all their wealth will do them no good. Instead, as they watch it taken away and see themselves thrown into hell, they will howl with yelps of pain and panic, wailing like women at a Palestinian funeral!