The Philistines Outfoxed; Samson's Surrender; One against a Thousand
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. 14v)
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.
The Philistines Outfoxed
When Samson returns to his Philistine wife, he finds that her father has treacherously given her to another. Enraged, Samson devises a scheme to punish the Philistines. He catches three hundred foxes, ties their tails together, and fastens torches between them. The foxes are released into the Philistine fields, burning the corn, vineyards, and olive groves. (Judges 15:1–5)
The men of Judah want no quarrel with their angry Philistine masters, who have come in search of the culprit responsible for the crop fires. Samson, wishing no further harm upon his people, allows himself to be bound for delivery to the Philistines. (Judges 15:10–13)
One against a Thousand
Samson's opponents will not have satisfaction. No sooner does the vengeful Philistine mob approach him than the spirit of the Lord comes upon Samson. He reaches for anything that might serve as a weapon and finds the jawbone of an ass. With this unlikely weapon, he slays a thousand of his enemies. (Judges 15:14–16)
Folio 14v (Latin)
Upper half: How Samson, who was angered by the Philistines, from among whom he had a wife, caught three hundred foxes and tied them tail to tail with burning torches placed in between and let them to go only where, running in different directions through the enemy’s ripe crops, they were to burn all. (Judges 15: 1–5).
Lower left: How men of the tribe of Judah, fearing that the Philistines, who were then ruling over them, would take vengeance on them for Samson’s deed, sent three thousand men to arrest him and hand him over, tied up, to the Philistines who fastened him with two new ropes. (Judges 15: 9–13)
Lower right: How when Samson was led by his own men to be handed over to their enemy, the bands by which he was bound were suddenly broken and he, rushing toward his enemies, killed a thousand men with a jawbone of an ass which he had found accidentally. (Judges 15: 14–16)
Folio 14v (Persian)
Persian foliation: 30
Upper left margin: Samson left at dawn and captured many foxes from every direction; it is said that three hundred foxes fell into his hands. In pairs, he tied their tails together and attached a bunch of hay to them and set them on fire. They ran in the midst of the wheat [fields] which belonged to the enemies of Samson and all [the fields] burned.
Lower left margin: Samson’s enemies, seeing their harvest had burned, told Samson’s brethren that, "We shall fight you; better that you deliver him to us." They came to Samson and said, "The enemies have demanded you from us." Samson said, "Tie me up and deliver me into their hands." They brought two new ropes and tied Samson’s hands tightly and surrendered him to the enemy.
Lower right, above and below Latin inscription: They surrendered bound Samson to them, and the army of the enemy was three thousand men and they set out to kill Samson. Samson strained and tore the ropes and he picked up the jawbone of an ass which lay on the ground and slew those three thousand men with a single jawbone of an ass and finished them off.
Folio 14v (Judeo-Persian)
Upper left margin, corner: Samson sets on fire the Philistine’s wheat harvest, by fastening tapers to the tail[s] of fox[es].
Lower left, above Latin: The Philistines seek Samson from his own people; Samson’s saying, "Bind me and hand me over."
Lower right, beneath Persian: The Philistines tie Samson’s hands tightly in order to carry him off and kill him. He strains, frees his hands, seizes the jaw bone of an ass and with one blow strikes them dead and departs.
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