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. 12r)
Ehud, a Clever Leader
After the death of Joshua, Israel falls into sin and displeases the Lord; as punishment, the people are made subservient to Eglon, king of the Moabites, for eighteen years. The people repent and plead with the Lord for a deliverer. The Lord chooses Ehud of the tribe of Benjamin. When the Moabite army departs to fight a foreign battle, clever Ehud gains a private audience with Eglon and brutally slays the king. Ehud escapes and summons the Israelite army with a trumpet. The Moabites are humbled. (Judges 3:20–30)
Deborah, a Prophetess
Following Ehud's death, the sins of the Israelites again displease the Lord. The people are made to suffer under the rule of Jabin, king of the Canaanites, for twenty years. Finally, the prophetess Deborah summons Barak to lead an attack against the Canaanite army. Deborah, riding side-saddle on a dappled charger, commands Barak and the Israelite forces. The exhausted and terror-stricken enemy offers no resistance even as its king receives his death blow. (Judges 4:8–16)
Image courtesy of Faksimile Verlag Luzern, www.faksimile.ch.
Content consultant: Richard Leson
Upper half: From the Book of Judges. How, after the death of Joshua, the people of Israel began to stray from the law of God and to be subdued by their enemies and served the king of the Moabites for a long time. Now, when they sent gifts to him, through the agency of one, Ehud by name, who was able to use both hands for his right he, as if to have a word in secrecy with the king, dismissed all those who were present, approached the king and killed him with a dagger which was hidden under his clothes. Then, having carefully locked the doors of the parlor, he went out through the porch and escaped. (Judges 3:7–30)
Lower half: How Deborah the prophetess who was in those days judging the people with Barak the captain of the army, set out to battle and defeated the captain, the army, and all the chariots of Jabin, the king of Canaan, who had mightily oppressed the people of Israel. (Judges 4: 1–16)
Translation by Eran Lupu
After the commentary volume accompanying the Fine Art Facsimile edition
by Faksimile Verlag Luzern / www.faksimile.ch