Saul's Envy; Madness; A Dangerous Post
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. 29r)
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.
Saul is enraged and envious when the victorious David, bearing the head of Goliath, receives greater praise than he. "Saul slew his thousands," the Israelite women sing, "and David his ten thousands." (1 Kings 18:6–9)
Later, as David plays for Saul, the evil spirit re-enters the king's ear. Saul aims a spear at David, who neatly steps aside and avoids the blow. Now, the king is sure that the Lord has given his favor to David. (1 Kings 18:10–11)
A Dangerous Post
His fear of David mounting, Saul schemes to rid himself of the young warrior by bestowing upon him the dangerous duty of captaining a thousand men. (1 Kings 18:12–14)
Folio 29r (Latin)
Upper half: How, as David was returning with the head of Goliath, the women of all the cities of Israel run to meet the king, dancing and singing to the sound of the drums, saying: ’Saul has smote a thousand and David ten thousand.’ Now this angered the king and he began to feel jealousy and bitter hatred toward David whom he had loved dearly till that day. (I Samuel 18: 6–9)
Lower left: How, when the evil spirit had come upon the king, and David was playing before him as he was accustomed, the king, holding his spear threw it suddenly at him, thinking to nail him to the wall. David perceived this, fled, and avoided the danger. (I Samuel 18: 10–11)
Lower right: How, when Saul had reflected upon the matters and began to fear David, for the Lord was with him and had departed from himself, he decided to send him away. And thus he summoned David and made him a captain over a thousand men. (I Samuel 18: 12, 13)
Folio 29r (Persian)
Upper right margin: And His Excellence David brought the severed head of the fierce man to the city. The people of the city came to receive him and female entertainers, with tambourine and instruments, were all talking and singing that King Saul has killed a thousand and David has killed ten thousands. When the king heard these words, he was displeased with David and took it to heart.
Lower left: And Satan lured King Saul into harming David. He seized a spear and summoned His Excellence David. David came to the assembly with his musical instrument. The king threw the spear at him; David stepped aside and fled the scene.
Lower right: The king’s heart was overcome with the fear of David and he summoned David and consoled him and made him the captain of a thousand men.
Folio 29r (Judeo-Persian)
Upper right margin, corner: His Excellence David, holding the head of the enemy in his hand[s] entered the city...the women singing with musical instruments...came out [to meet him], saying "If Saul killed a thousand persons, David killed ten thousand." When Saul heard these words, vengeance [grew] in his heart against David.
Lower left margin: The king was brought to such a state by Satan that he wished to aim at David. Taking the spear in his hand, he looked for David and when David came into the assembly with his instrument, he threw his spear at David. David drew back, left the assembly and fled.
Lower right margin: Fear of David entered the king’s heart. He summoned David, showed him affection and made him commander over a thousand persons.
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