Fol. 23r

A Plea for Help; Marshaling Forces

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. 23r)
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: 

A Plea for Help
As Saul drives oxen in from the fields, he is met by anguished messengers from Jabesh-Gilead. Nahash the Ammonite has encamped outside the city and threatened to gouge out the right eye of every inhabitant. The king, enraged, slaughters two oxen and cuts them into pieces. The pieces are sent throughout Israel with a message: either follow Saul and Samuel into battle or expect the same to be done to your oxen. (1 Kings 11:1–7)

Marshaling Forces
Saul, crowned, bearing a scepter, and seated on an ivory throne, greets the warriors of Israel. The foremost kneel before the king and pledge their fealty. A standard bearer rides along in a supply cart. Behind Saul, a royal attendant assures a messenger from Jabesh-Gilead that help is at hand. (1 Kings 11:7–9)


Folio 23r (Latin)

Upper half: How when Nahash the Ammonite began waging war against Jabesh-gilead and the people of Jabesh were finding no equity in him except this term by which he offered to pluck their right eyes, they, terrified by such threats, were telling all of this to the people of Israel, so that all the people were moved to tears and pity. Now, Saul was then coming out of the field with his oxen and upon hearing about the savagery of Nahash, great anger overtook him and he cut his oxen into pieces, sending them throughout the borders of Israel, making it known to all that whoever did not come forth and follow Saul and Samuel so would it be to his oxen. (I Samuel 11: 1–7)

Lower half: How three hundred thousand of the children of Israel and thirty thousand of the tribe of Judah unanimously came together to the king. (I Samuel 11: 7–8)

Folio 23r (Persian)

Upper right margin: And they sent the idolaters before Saul’s assembly [saying], "Each one of you, branding [yourself], send the right eye, otherwise I will gather troops [and] come to annihilate you." Saul demanded a cow and cut it to pieces and sent each piece to a city [threatening], "if you do not fall upon the enemy, just as I tore the cow I shall do onto you the same."

Lower right: After that time, Saul gathered three hundred and thirty thousand persons and attacked the enemy.

Folio 23r (Judeo-Persian)

Upper right margin, corner: Here Nahash the Ammonite, having sent [a message] to the Children of Israel [saying], "If each one of you will pluck out your eye, well and good, otherwise I will come and destroy you," [when] Saul was informed of this, he chopped up an ox [and sent a piece to every (Israelite) city].

Lower right, beneath Latin: Here Saul assembles three hundred and thirty thousand people and leads [them] against the enemy.


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 /