Old Testament Miniatures with Latin, Persian, and Judeo-Persian inscriptions
France, Paris, 1240s
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.
MS M.638 (fol. 4v)
A Bride Price
Jacob travels in search of his uncle, Laban. At Laban's well, Jacob meets his cousin Rachel, a shepherdess. Jacob removes the stone cover of the well, enabling Rachel to water her flock. Later, as Rachel and her elder sister Leah look on, Jacob petitions Laban for Rachel's hand in marriage. In return, Jacob swears to serve his uncle for seven years. (Genesis 29:10–20)
Laban, accompanied by his brothers, agrees to give both of his daughters to Jacob in marriage. Laban clasps his nephew's hands over a heap of stones that will serve both as witness to their covenant and boundary marker between their lands. Leah and Rachel observe them from a nearby tent. They are surrounded by their children and handmaidens. Rachel rocks Joseph, Jacob's youngest son, in his cradle. (Genesis 31:43–48)
Wrestling the Almighty
In the night, Jacob orders his family to cross the ford of Jabbok. When all have crossed but Jacob, an angel of the Lord appears and wrestles with him until sunrise. Jacob will not surrender and demands a blessing from his heaven-sent opponent. "Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel" the angel proclaims, "for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed." (Genesis 32:22–31)
All is Forgiven
After many years, Jacob and Esau are reconciled to one another. At left, the family and servants of Jacob watch the reunion. At right, Esau's men regard the brothers' embrace. (Genesis 33:1–7)
Image courtesy of Faksimile Verlag Luzern, www.faksimile.ch.
Content consultant: Richard Leson
Upper left: How Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of Laban, his uncle near a well whence the flocks were watered and rolled the stone from the mouth of the well telling her who he was which she told her father and he, receiving Jacob in his house, makes a pact with him to tend his flocks in return for the hand of his daughter, Rachel. (Genesis 29: 1–20)
Upper right: How when Jacob who was made rich at Laban’s side was secretly returning to his homeland with his two wives, Laban’s daughters, with many young children born of each and with slaves and maids and ilochs, Laban pursued him with armed men and overtook him in mount Gilead. (Genesis 31)
Lower left: How Jacob wrestled with the angel and on the breaking of the day set out on his way. (Genesis 32: 24–31)
Lower right: How Jacob having sent messengers and presents to Esau, his brother, found him at last on his way and reconciled with him. (Genesis 32: 3–23, 32:1–15)
Translation by Eran Lupu
After the commentary volume accompanying the Fine Art Facsimile edition
by Faksimile Verlag Luzern / www.faksimile.ch