Samson in Prison; Retribution; Moving Day; A Kindly Host
Old Testament miniatures with Latin, Persian, and Judeo-Persian inscriptions
390 x 300 mm
Purchased by J. P. Morgan, Jr., 1916
MS M.638 (fol. 15v)
The Crusader Bible, also known as the Morgan Picture Bible, the Maciejowski Bible, and the Shah ‘Abbas Bible, is not only one of greatest medieval manuscripts in the Morgan, it also ranks as one of the incomparable achievements of French Gothic illumination.
The miniatures represent one of the greatest visualizations of Old Testament events ever made. Some of the stories and their heroes are well known, but there are also accounts of other Israelites who fought for the Promised Land—stories that resonate to this day. There are incredibly violent battle scenes where the implements of war are so accurately depicted they could be replicated. And there are scenes not only of murder, everyday life, and love, but also of hate, envy, adultery, and rape—all set in the scenery and customs of thirteenth-century France.
Samson in Prison
Blind and shorn, Samson is led by his captors to prison, where he is forced to grind corn. Around his neck he wears a golden prisoner's collar inscribed with an 'S' and attached to a chain. (Judges 16:21)
The Philistine princes gather to sacrifice to their god Dagon and to celebrate the capture of their greatest enemy. In the meantime, the hair on Samson's head has grown. He is brought to the temple to suffer the taunts and insults of his captors. Strengthened by the Lord, Samson crushes a pillar of the temple, causing the whole building to collapse. In death, Samson is avenged more than a thousand fold. (Judges 16:23–30)
The tribe of Dan, never having received its rightful inheritance, has gone in search of land to call its own. They choose Laish, a quiet and undefended city, and take it by force. Members of the tribe, baggage in tow, look on as soldiers set Laish on fire and put its inhabitants to the sword. The city is to be rebuilt and called Dan, after the tribe's ancestor. (Judges 18:27–29)
A Kindly Host
After fetching his disobedient wife from her father's house in Bethlehem, a Levite man is returning to his home in the remote mountains of Ephraim. In the Benjamite city of Gibeah an old man offers the travelers shelter in his own home. The Levite, his wife, and her maidservant all carry pilgrim's wallets and staffs. (Judges 19:17–20)
Folio 15v (Latin)
Upper left: How Samson, having been led by the Philistines to prison, was assigned to grinding duty. (Judges 16: 21)
Upper right: How, when the Philistines had sacrificed to their god and, after the feast, had brought Samson as a laughing stock, that he might play before them, and, while they were giving thanks to their god who had delivered such a mighty foe into their hands, he, who with his hair regrown had now recovered his former strength, told the boy who was leading him to direct him to the pillars of the house, that he might lean against them and rest. Once this was done, he, invoking the name of God, lay hold of the pillars crying: ’Let my soul die with the Philistines’ and as the pillars were thus shaken, the entire house collapsed. In it he killed himself together with the lords of the Philistines and a countless number of men. (Judges 16: 22–30)
Lower left: How six hundred men of the tribe of Dan burnt the city of Laish and killed its people. Nevertheless, later they rebuilt the city and dwelt in it. (Judges 18: 11–28)
Lower right: How a certain man of the tribe of Levi led his wife from her house in Bethlehem. When he reached the city of Gibeah where he was received by no one, a certain old man lodged him. (Judges 19: 1–20)
Folio 15v (Persian)
Persian foliation: 29
Upper left margin: After blinding Samson, the enemies put him in front of a manual mill and set him to work.
Upper right margin: The enemies of Samson, gathered in a house, were making merry and celebrating. And they dispatched one to hold his hand and bring him. And by then Samson’s hair had grown long and his strength had returned. And there were two stone columns in that house. Samson told his guide, "Take me near those columns." He came and pulled both columns out and the house collapsed over their heads and they were killed.
Lower left margin: And afterwards, Samson’s people came into the city of the enemy and set the city on fire and burned it.
Lower right: And from amongst Samson’s people, a man and a woman reached a city on their journey.
Folio 15v (Judeo-Persian)
Upper left margin, furthest left: After plucking out Samson’s eyes, they forced Samson to turn to the mill.
Right margin, furthest right: After Samson’s eyes were plucked out, in their house of idolatry, where there stood two pillars, he uprooted the pillars, that building collapsed, and some people died along with him.
Lower left margin, furthest left: Afterward, Samson’s people came to the town of the enemy and they burned down the town. I don’t know what it is.
Content consultant: Richard Leson
Persian translated by Sussan Babaie
Judeo-Persian translated by Vera Basch Moreen
Latin translation by Eran Lupu
After the commentary volume accompanying the Fine Art Facsimile edition by Faksimile Verlag Luzern / www.faksimile.ch