Saul Slaying Nahash and the Ammonites; Samuel Anoints Saul and Sacrifices to the Lord
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. 23v)
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.
In what is perhaps the most dramatic battle scene in the Morgan Picture Bible, Saul cleaves the skull of the fleeing Nahash with his sword. Nahash's companions are also attacked from the right by a company entering from the gateway of Jabesh-Gilead. In the left border, a man is raised off the ground as he catapults a huge stone. At the bottom, Saul is publicly anointed by Samuel, and peace offerings are sacrificed before the Lord; the head of God appearing from clouds on the right, curiously, has been supplied with the cruciform halo of Christ.
Saul and his army devastate the Ammonites. Nahash attempts to flee the battlefield, but Saul, crowned and wearing an orange tunic, cleaves his enemy's skull with his sword. The Ammonites are assailed from all sides. From atop the battlements, an archer takes aim at the only unwounded Ammonite. An enormous catapult, pulled completely taut, will send a boulder crushing through the Ammonite ranks. Another contingent of Israelites emerges from the city gates and deals fatal blows with sword and club; an Ammonite in a blue tunic is violently unhorsed by a soldier wielding a battle ax. (1 Kings 11:11)
A Proven Leader
The Israelite victory is celebrated with Saul's public anointing and coronation. The king's throne in this illustration is identical to the sella curulis—the folding coronation chair of French kings housed in the royal abbey of Saint Denis. To the right, Samuel offers sacrifices to the Lord, who gazes upon his loyal servant from the heavens. (1 Kings 11:14–15)
Folio 23v (Persian)
Persian foliation: 21
Upper left margin: After that, Saul brought the army against the enemy and defeated them.
Lower left margin: And once again Samuel anointed Saul before the assembly and kingship was confirmed upon him and he offered sacrifices.
Folio 23v (Judeo-Persian)
Upper left margin, furthest left: Saul, having assembled the people, encountered the enemy and defeated them.
Lower left margin, furthest left: When he [Saul] returned safely, and Samuel sprinkled Saul with oil in this [manner], making him king, they offered sacrifices.
Folio 23v (Latin)
Upper half: How [Saul, messengers having been sent, came in the morning to help the people] of Jabesh-gilead, and those who were besieged in the city, aware of his arrival, went out, and thus through the courage of Saul, king Nahash and all his army were defeated and scattered. (I Samuel 11: 9–11)
Lower half: How Samuel, who had secretly anointed Saul, anointed him to be a king before the people and both Samuel and the people sacrificed with the utmost happiness. (I Samuel 11: 14–15)
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