Fol. 12v

Jael, a Heroine; Gideon, Most Valiant of Men; A Sacrifice and a Sign

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

France, Paris
1240s
390 x 300 mm

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

MS M.638 (fol. 12v)
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: 

Jael, a Heroine
Sisera, captain of the Canaanite army, has escaped the vengeance of the Israelites. He arrives at the tent of Jael, wife of Heber the Kenite, a former ally of his king, Jabin. The thirsty Sisera is given milk to drink and promised protection from his pursuers. As he sleeps, Jael quietly approaches with a hammer and a nail from the tent. Softly, she places the nail on Sisera's forehead and then, strikes. Instantly, he passes from deep sleep to death. In a little while Barak arrives, searching for his enemy, only to discover that Jael has already dealt with this opponent. (Judges 4:17–22)

Gideon, Most Valiant of Men
The Lord again sees fit to punish the children of Israel, for they have set up wooden images to honor the false deity Baal. For seven years, the people suffer the assaults of the Midianites, who rob them of all produce and livestock. Gideon, an Israelite farmer, is threshing wheat when the angel of the Lord calls to him, charging him to deliver Israel from bondage. Gideon and his companions are here dressed as medieval field workers; their flails and rakes imitate contemporary tools. (Judges 6:11–21)

A Sacrifice and a Sign
Gideon requests a sign from the angel of the Lord, confirmation that he has found favor in His sight. As a companion shakes corn in a winnowing-fan, Gideon offers a sacrifice of lamb and broth to the Lord. The angel touches this offering with his staff, and it bursts into flames, assuring Gideon of the Lord's favor. (Judges 6:11–21)

Translation: 

Folio 12v (Latin)

Upper half: How Sisera, the king’s defeated captain, fled on foot and reached the tent of Jael, the wife of Haber the Kenite, who gave him some drink as he was very thirsty and was asking for it, and hid him in her tent. As he fell asleep, she, having in due time placed nearby a nail of the tent and a hammer, smote and killed him. Then she showed his dead body to Barak, the pursuing enemy’s captain. (Judges 4: 17–22)

Lower half: How, on account of their sins, the children of Israel were delivered into the hand of the Midianites who, oppressing them in various ways, were carrying away all of their victuals. But when the children of Israel, with Gibeon among them, were hastening to collect the grain before it would be snatched away by their enemies, there appeared an angel of the Lord ordering Gibeon to go and free Israel. Now, he asked him to give a clear sign of the divine will and to wait for him while he prepared his sacrifice. Once the angel had responded that he would do so, Gideon prepared a kid and unleavened loaves and carried the broth of the flesh in a pot. The angel instructed him to lay everything upon a rock and to pour the broth thereupon. When this was done, the angel touched the sacrifice with the tip of his staff. Straightway a fire rose up, from which Gideon understood that this was the Lord’s angel. (Judges 6: 1–21)

Folio 12v (Persian)

Persian foliation: 32

Upper left margin: It happened that one of the leaders of the idolaters, who bore enmity towards Joshua’s people, became thirsty and came to the house of one of Joshua’s people. A woman was there; he asked her for water. The woman fetched a cup of milk and he drank the entire cup. Instantly, he was overcome with sleep; excessive drinking of milk results in weakness and sleep. When that foe lay down his head and fell asleep, the woman found an opportunity and brought a nail and nailed his forehead to the ground and he was slain.

Lower left margin: Joshua’s people committed a sin and God enslaved them to the idolaters. And, afterwards God dispatched an angel to one who was the elder amongst them saying that, "The Lord God has appointed you the commander of this company so that you deliver your people from the enemy." And he [said] "How do I know if you are the angel of God?" He said, "Prepare foods of meat and bread so it becomes apparent to you." He fetched food. The angel had a rod in hand; he struck the food and flames of fire arose from the food and all the food burned.

Folio 12v (Judeo-Persian)

Upper right margin: The tale of Sisera’s flight from Barak b. Abinoam, his coming to Jael’s tent to hide, to take refuge with Jael; Jael’s striking a nail in his temple and killing him

Lower right margin: The tale of Gibeon b. Joash, which is described in [chapter] 6 of Judges, [namely], the coming of the angel before him, his striking the angel with the staff and the burning of all the food.

Credits: 

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