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. 7r)
Blessings for the Future
Jacob is sick and will soon die. Joseph is informed and brings his sons Manasseh and Ephraim to receive their grandfather's blessing. To Joseph's surprise, Jacob places his right hand on the head of the younger son, Ephraim, rewarding him the honor reserved for the eldest. Both shall be great, Jacob tells Joseph, but Ephraim's offspring will be a multitude among nations. (Genesis 48:13–20)
Jacob's Last Words
Jacob is on his deathbed. The brothers assemble to receive his final blessing. Jacob foretells the fate of each brother. Their destinies will determine the fate of the twelve tribes Israel. Jacob requests that his body be returned to Canaan to be buried with his forefathers, Abraham and Isaac. (Genesis 49:1–30)
Joseph's Last Prediction
Joseph is now a very old man. Before his death, he predicts how God will visit the Hebrews and send them out of Egypt. It is Joseph's wish that his body be removed from Egypt when that time arrives. In the meantime the brothers place Joseph's body in a sarcophagus. (Genesis 50:12–25)
A new pharaoh has risen to power and fears the numerous and prosperous Hebrews among his people. The Hebrews are enslaved and set to work on vast building projects. Pharaoh directs the oppression of the Jews, who are beaten by slave drivers even as they labor. In the bottom right foreground, a figure not unlike a medieval stonemason is struck on the back as he squares a stone; his partner busily works with hammer and chisel. (Exodus 1:8–11)
Image courtesy of Faksimile Verlag Luzern, www.faksimile.ch.
Content consultant: Richard Leson
Upper left: How Joseph led to his father his two sons whom he had begotten in Egypt, placing the elder to the right of his father and the younger to his left. The old man, his hands crossed, placed his right hand upon the younger’s head but upon the elder’s head he placed the left, blessing them both and setting the younger before the elder. (Genesis 48: 1–20)
Upper right: How Jacob, in great sickness and close to death, tells his sons that which will befall them, ordering them to bury him with his fathers. (Genesis 49)
Lower left: How Joseph and his brothers together with the king’s household and many other Egyptians bury Jacob where he himself had ordered. Here ends the book of Genesis. (Genesis 49: 1–13)
Lower right: Here begins the book of Exodus. How, after the death of Joseph and the Pharaoh who, on his account, had liked the children of Israel, as another Pharaoh was ruling over the Egyptians, when the Children of Israel had increased abundantly, the king, starting to suspect them, began oppressing them in strange ways by building cities of mud and bricks and by all sorts of servitude. (Exodus 1: 6–14)
Translation by Eran Lupu
After the commentary volume accompanying the Fine Art Facsimile edition
by Faksimile Verlag Luzern / www.faksimile.ch