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. 10v)
Victory at Ai
A furious slaughter ensues as Joshua leads the Israelites once more against the city of Ai. Astride a bay horse fitted out with white trappings, Joshua deals a terrible blow with his two-handed glaive (a type of broadsword), splitting an opponent at the waist and spilling his entrails. The despairing defenders flee toward the besieged city, but they are clearly lost: above them, the king of Ai is suspended from a war engine. Meanwhile Israelite foot soldiers attack with crossbows and ladders at the city gate. (Joshua 8:18–29)
The Gibeonites are not eager to meet the same fate as their Amorite neighbors. Posing as vagabonds, they appeal to Joshua for mercy, and he makes a treaty with the Israelites. (Joshua 9: 3–15)
Image courtesy of Faksimile Verlag Luzern, www.faksimile.ch.
Content consultant: Richard Leson
Upper half: How when God, now well disposed toward all the people of Israel after the punishment of one family, had commanded Joshua to set ambushes and attack the city, he obeyed, took the city and having killed all, hanged the king himself on a pole. (Joshua 8: 1–29)
Lower half: How, upon hearing about the destruction of the cities of Jericho and Ai, the people of Gibeon, greatly terrified, perfidiously planned to go to Joshua, concealing the fact that they were the inhabitants of those regions and pretending to be coming from far away. To make it evident they took old clothes and torn shoes and some very old bread, and thus coming to Joshua’s army, they made a treaty, by means of such a pledge, which guaranteed their safety and prevented him from killing them. (Joshua 9: 3–15)
Translation by Eran Lupu
After the commentary volume accompanying the Fine Art Facsimile edition
by Faksimile Verlag Luzern / www.faksimile.ch