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. 9r)
Pharaoh learns that the Israelites are lost in the wilderness and vows vengeance upon them. Egyptian war chariots corner the Israelites at the Red Sea, and the people are certain of their doom. But Moses, at the Lord's command, raises his hand above the waters and miraculously parts the sea. The Israelites flee over dry land to the opposite shore, the Egyptians in bold pursuit. Now Pharaoh and his army pay the ultimate price for this conceit: with all of the Israelites safely ashore, Moses strikes the sea a final time, and the waters envelop the enemy. (Exodus 14:21–30)
A Joyful Celebration
Miriam, prophetess and sister of Aaron and Moses, plays a timbrel as other women dance and rejoice. Seated before a tent, Moses and the Israelites look on and give thanks to the Lord. Notice how Miriam's gaze is directed toward the drowning horse and rider above, perhaps a literal reference to her words of praise: "Sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously! The horse and his rider He has thrown into the sea!" (Exodus 15:1–21)
In the wilderness, the bitter waters of Marah dismay the people, and the flocks thirst, but the Lord hears Moses' plea and reveals to him a tree that will sweeten the waters. (Exodus 15:22–24)
Image courtesy of Faksimile Verlag Luzern, www.faksimile.ch.
Content consultant: Richard Leson
Upper half: How, when the children of Israel crossed the depths of the sea with dry feet, and Pharaoh, his heart hardened, was pursuing them with his host, Moses, striking the sea as God had ordered, reduced into one place the sea water in which Pharaoh was overwhelmed and submerged with all his chariots and horses, absolutely none escaping. (Exodus 14)
Lower left: How the children of Israel, saved from such dangers, give thanks to God. (Exodus 15: 1–21)
Lower right: How Moses and the people of Israel, having entered the desert, came to a place where the water was bitter and, as the people could not drink it, they began murmuring against Moses. He, turning to God, devised a remedy on the spot. (Exodus 15: 23–26)
Translation by Eran Lupu
After the commentary volume accompanying the Fine Art Facsimile edition
by Faksimile Verlag Luzern / www.faksimile.ch