Divine Judgment; A Father's Blessing; Isaac's Despair; A Marvelous Vision
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. 4r)
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 Lord detests the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah; the cities are toppled by a rain of brimstone and fire from heaven. Lot and his family are spared this fate, but Lot's wife, against the angels' command, turns for a final glimpse of her old home and is transformed into a pillar of salt. (Genesis 19:15–26)
A Father's Blessing
Before Isaac dies, he will bestow a blessing upon his elder son, Esau, making him master of his brothers. But Isaac's wife, Rebekah, would rather this favor fall to her younger son, Jacob. So, she dresses Jacob in Esau's clothes and sends him before his father with an offering. Isaac, whose eyesight is failing, is fooled and bestows the blessing on Jacob. (Genesis 27:15–25)
Returning from his hunt, Esau presents his kill to the blind Isaac. Isaac laments, realizing that he has been duped by Jacob and that Esau must ever serve his younger brother. (Genesis 27:30–35)
A Marvelous Vision
On the way to Haran, Jacob falls asleep outdoors and has an amazing vision. A ladder ascends endlessly into a vault of sky. Angels ascend and descend its rungs, and the Lord Himself peers down from its heights to bestow a blessing upon Jacob and his children. Waking, Jacob builds an altar and pours an offering of oil, swearing to honor the Lord always. (Genesis 28:11–18)
Folio 4r (Latin)
Upper left: How Sodom and Gomorrah were overturned by fire sent from heaven. Lot alone escaped safely with his two daughters and his wife who, nevertheless, had looked backward against the angelic prohibition and thereupon became a pillar of salt. (Genesis 19: 12–26)
Upper right: How when Isaac who was already old and close to death and his eyes had dimmed had ordered his firstborn, Esau, who was to receive his father’s blessing, to go hunting and make him savory meat of his game, Rebecca, Isaac’s wife, cooked savory meat of kid’s flesh, and, in the absence of Esau, having carefully instructed him, sent Jacob, her younger son whom she loved more, to obtain her father’s blessing; beforehand. (Genesis 27:1–29)
Lower left: How Esau, having made savory meat of his game, came up [to?] his father who was ignorant of the deed and greatly astonished he poured forth [his grief], demanding in tears to be blessed. (Genesis 27: 30–34)
Lower right: How Jacob, fearing his brother’s anger and threats, saw in his dream, while retiring from his homeland, a vision of a mighty ladder from earth to heaven and of angels ascending and descending as the Lord was standing above the ladder. Thus when he had woke up he made an offering in that place. (Genesis 27: 41 – 28:22)
Folio 4r (Persian)
Upper left margin: And the angels told Lot, "Depart from amongst this company of sinners for the wrath of His Excellence God the Exalted is directed towards them, and get yourselves to the mountain and do not look to the sides." But Lot’s wife ignored the angels’ words and started looking [back] and was instantly turned into salt stone by the power of the Most Holy and Exalted God.
Right margin: And his Excellence Isaac the prophet had two sons each from a [different] wife. The elder son was named Esau and the younger son [was named] Jacob. Isaac was blind and he summoned the elder son to bring a sheep’s head [for me] to eat and to bless you. The mother of the younger son was present and she heard [it] and told the son, "You perform this service so that you receive the blessings." The son said, "My brother has hair on [his] limbs and I do not have hair; perhaps [my father] will touch my body, what shall I do then?" The mother said, "I shall remedy that." She attached pieces of lamb skin on his hand and neck and said, "Go and take the food." When he did so, Isaac said, "How is it that you came so soon?" He said, "The Lord provided." Isaac touched his hand, found hair, and blessed him. After an hour, the elder brother came and brought food and Isaac realized that it was the younger son who had [previously] brought the food and had procured the blessings. The mother of the elder son insisted on the blessing; Isaac said, "Earlier, he had brought [the food], and earlier, he was blessed."
Lower left: This is Isaac’s elder son who, since the father requested food, went for a hunt and caught a prey and when he had brought the food, the father had [already] blessed the younger son; he returned [and was] deprived [of the blessing].
Lower right: And the elder brother became the enemy of the younger brother who fled [to a certain place] in fear and hid in a corner. At night, he dreamt that a ladder was placed to the sky and the angels were ascending and descending. So that son took refuge in God and was delivered.
Folio 4r (Judeo-Persian)
Upper left margin, furthest left: Here it is that the angel said to Lot, "Get out of this town, this town will be destroyed." Lot left that town accompanied by his wife and daughters. His wife turned her head to look and turned into salt.
Right margin, furthest right: The tale of Isaac who wanted something brought to him to eat; Jacob brought it, then Esau came; he became Jacob’s enemy.
Lower left, beneath Latin: Here Esau also went hunting and brought [something for Isaac] to eat, but Jacob having brought his [food] earlier was blessed with God’s blessing.
Lower right, beneath Latin: When Jacob went toward Laban’s house, angels appeared going up and down a ladder.
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