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. 8v)
The Egyptian Cattle Slain
Pharaoh still refuses to release the Israelites. In turn, the Lord brings a great plague upon Egypt's livestock; although oxen, sheep, goats, and horses lie dead, not a single animal has died from among the Israelite flocks. (Exodus 9:1–7)
Hail and Locusts
Again the king stubbornly ignores Moses' predictions of the Lord's wrath. Now the whole of Egypt suffers as lightning strikes the earth and hailstones hurtle from the sky, crushing trees, man, and beast. What little plant life is left is consumed by a voracious plague of locusts. Still, Pharaoh refuses to let the Israelites leave. (Exodus 9:23–26, Exodus 10:12–19)
The Lord vows to afflict Egypt with a final, most terrible plague: at midnight, the Lord will enter the land to kill the first-born sons of man and beast. Moses explains the Lord's instructions to the Israelites: take a lamb, and with its blood mark the door of every home. Seeing this sign, the Lord will pass over you, and keep you safe. Accordingly, one of the Israelites paints a 't' cross above his door with a pen. At midnight, before the unmarked door of an Egyptian house, the Lord arrives in the form of an angel of Death and begins the slaughter. (Exodus 12: 21–29)
The Lord has slain all of Egypt's firstborn, from the son of Pharaoh to the first-born of cattle. The king, broken, summons Moses and Aaron. Gather your herds and all of your possessions, Pharaoh commands, and depart from Egypt forever. The Israelites depart bearing sacks of unleavened dough. Note that in this miniature a woman holds in her arms a child with a halo and that the people are preceded by a floating column. The child and column are creative allusions to the biblical text; the haloed child reflects the Lord's command to consecrate every first-born male, and the column is a literal interpretation of the pillar of fire that was provided by the Lord to guide the Israelites at night. (Exodus 12:37–13:21)
Image courtesy of Faksimile Verlag Luzern, www.faksimile.ch.
Content consultant: Richard Leson
Upper left: How all the animals of the Egyptians died at once. (Exodus: 9–16)
Upper right: How thunder and lightning and storm and hail laid waste all of Egypt except the part where the children of Israel were dwelling. (Exodus 9:22–26)
Lower left: How the children of Israel sacrifice to God according to Moses’ counsel and mark their houses with blood. Thus God or an angel, coming at midnight and leaving the marked houses intact, kills each and every Egyptian firstborn. (Exodus 12: 21 – 29)
Lower right: How, Pharaoh, at last prevailed upon by so many miracles, orders Moses and Aaron at night to go out of Egypt with all the children of Israel, and they leave with their flocks and their herds and all of their possessions, the Egyptians having been despoiled, and the Lord goes before them by day in a pillar of cloud and by night in a pillar of fire. (Exodus 12:30 – 13: 22)
Translation by Eran Lupu
After the commentary volume accompanying the Fine Art Facsimile edition
by Faksimile Verlag Luzern / www.faksimile.ch