Fol. 5v

Dreams of a King; Searching for Answers; Joseph Interprets Pharaoh's Dreams; A Powerful Post

Old Testament miniatures with Latin, Persian, and Judeo-Persian inscriptions

France, Paris
390 x 300 mm

Purchased by J. P. Morgan, Jr., 1916

MS M.638 (fol. 5v)
Item description: 

Scholars believe that the Picture Bible was commissioned by Louis IX of France, the Capetian monarch who built the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris to house the crown of thorns before leaving for the first of his two crusades in 1248. The Bible later passed to the cardinal of Cracow, who then offered it as a diplomatic gift to the great Persian Muslim shah 'Abbas in the early seventeenth century. The manuscript eventually fell into the hands of Jewish owners, probably during the eighteenth century. These various owners left Latin, Persian, and Judeo-Persian inscriptions around the images. With these inscriptions, the keepers of the manuscript used their languages to assert their ownership of the book, appropriating its narrative contents and assimilating it into their own cultures.

The Latin captions are the earliest. They can be labeled as "early fourteenth-century," and were possibly made by a scribe trained in Bologna. The Persian captions come next. They were added in 1608 or shortly after, when the manuscript was presented to Shah Abbas in Isfahan. The Judeo-Persians are last, and according to the translator, they were probably made in 1722 or shortly after, as that year Isfahan was sacked by the Afghans. She supposes that at that time the book was looted by an Afghan soldier and was possibly exchanged with an Iranian Jew.

The Picture Bible is illustrated with saturated colors and exquisite detail. In order to make its lessons relevant to readers, the creators of this Bible set Old Testament stories in contemporaneous environments. For example, depictions of architecture evoke the castles and houses of thirteenth-century French towns and battle scenes are illustrated with thirteenth-century armor, weapons, and battle insignia.


Page description: 

Dreams of a King
In his dreams, Pharaoh sees seven fat cattle feeding by the water's edge. The same cattle are attacked and eaten by seven lean and sick cattle. Also, Pharaoh dreams of seven strong and healthy ears of corn, but these are devoured by seven thin and blasted ears of corn. (Genesis 41:1–7)

Searching for Answers
Pharaoh is worried by his dreams. What could these visions mean? To find the answer, he consults wise men from all over Egypt, but no one is able to grasp the significance of the dreams. (Genesis 41:8)

Joseph Interprets Pharaoh's Dreams
Pharaoh's chief butler remembers how Joseph interpreted dreams in prison. Joseph is summoned and explains the meaning of Pharaoh's dream: the Lord shall bring seven years of plenty to Egypt, but these will be followed by seven years of great famine and scarcity that will destroy the abundance. (Genesis 41:14–31)

A Powerful Post
Pharaoh is pleased with Joseph's wisdom and sets him the momentous task of preparing for the great famine. As symbols of his new authority, Joseph receives Pharaoh's own ring and a rich silk robe. Afterwards, the young Hebrew is placed in a royal chariot and hailed by the people as governor of all Egypt. (Genesis 41:41–43)


Folio 5v (Latin)

Upper left: How there appeared in Pharaoh’s dream seven cows, pleasant to the sight and plump and as many thin ones which devoured them; and likewise seven full ears of corn and as many empty ones which devastated them. (Genesis 41: 1–7)

Upper right: How the king, having woke up and summoned his wise men, found none who knew how to interpret these dreams. (Genesis 41:8)

Lower left: How Joseph who had been led out of the prison and brought before the king explained that seven years of plenty and as many years of famine were predicted in these dreams. (Genesis 41: 9–36)

Lower right: How the king honored Joseph with a ring and arranged that he be driven around in a chariot, ordering through a herald that all should bow their knees in front of him. (Genesis 41: 37–43)

Folio 5v (Persian)

Persian foliation: 39

Upper left margin: This image is of the king of Egypt who saw in a dream that seven lean kine devoured seven fat kine and then he saw that seven weak stalks of wheat destroyed seven strong stalks; these occurrences were a portent of the seven-year famine in Egypt.

Upper right margin: When the king awoke from that sleep, he summoned interpreters and learned men and told them of his dream. The interpreters were unable to interpret that dream and it remained unsolved.

Lower left margin: Afterwards they told the king of Egypt that there is someone sitting in the prison who knows the interpretation of this dream. They fetched Joseph and His Excellence Joseph interpreted each of the seven as signs of the seven-year famine [to come to] Egypt.

Lower right margin: And since Joseph, peace be upon him, had related the interpretation of the king’s dream, the king gave his ring to Joseph and exalted Joseph; they placed him upon a chariot and the court grandees rose to show [their] respect to Joseph.

Folio 5v (Judeo-Persian)

Upper left margin, furthest left: The king [Pharaoh] dreams about the fat and lean cattle.

Upper right margin, furthest right: The king seeks out dream interpreters to interpret his dream.

Lower left margin, furthest left: The ruler of Egypt is informed that there is a person in [his] prison who knows how to interpret dreams well.

Lower right margin, furthest right: Joseph interprets the king’s dream and the king bestows his ring upon Joseph.


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 /