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. 10r)
Joshua Defeated at Ai
This is the first of the Picture Bible's great battle scenes. Joshua has taken a small contingent of the army to destroy the Amorite city of Ai. As soon as the Israelites arrive at the city gates, they are repulsed by a small force of defenders, including a crossbowman who takes aim from atop the portcullis. Thirty-six men of the expedition are killed as Amorite horsemen vengefully pursue and strike down their assailants. Joshua, shown again in brown tunic and with tri-point shield, narrowly escapes with his life. Nearby, an Amorite breaks his spear in the side of an Israelite horseman whose mount has collapsed beneath him, and a disoriented Israelite foot soldier is trampled by the fleeing cavalry. (Joshua 7:1–5)
A Costly Transgression Revealed
Confused and aggrieved by the defeat at Ai, Joshua prostrates himself before the Ark of the Covenant (depicted here as a rich reliquary chest) and begs for an explanation. It is discovered that Achan, a man of the tribe of Judah, took forbidden spoil from the accursed town of Jericho. Later Achan confesses the sin to Joshua; he and his family show Joshua a bar of gold (here painted silver), a rich garment, and two hundred shekels. The Lord points accusingly at the greedy family from the heavens. To appease Him, they must be destroyed. (Joshua 7:19–23)
Although Joshua appears loathe to do so, he orders the stoning of Achan, his entire family, and his cattle. Later, the Israelites will destroy Achan's thatched dwelling; all the possessions of the transgressor must be done away with in order to appease the Lord. (Joshua 7:24–25)
Image courtesy of Faksimile Verlag Luzern, www.faksimile.ch.
Content consultant: Richard Leson
Upper half: How Joshua sent ahead three thousand warriors against the city of Ai and the men of the city went out, defeated them and killed some, a thing which was brought about by the anger of God who had commanded through Joshua’s mouth that Jericho be destroyed and its men be killed; the city itself was to be accursed and no spoils were to be taken. But one of the children of Israel had taken of the spoils and concealed it against God’s command. (Joshua 7: 3–12)
Lower left: How Joshua, upon hearing about his men’s flight, sat down before the ark and prostrated himself before God who indicated what was the cause of his anger and ordered that lots be cast and the one who was to blame be found. This was done and the person, once found, revealed his sin, and he brings forth the gold and silver and the precious cloth which he had stolen by stealth. (Joshua 7: 6–23)
Lower right: How Joshua brought about that this transgressor, Achan by name, be stoned with all the spoils and with his sons and daughters, his cattle and sheep, and his tent with its content, as the judgment of God is indeed just but hidden. (Joshua 7: 24–25)
Translation by Eran Lupu
After the commentary volume accompanying the Fine Art Facsimile edition
by Faksimile Verlag Luzern / www.faksimile.ch