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. 13v)
Once more, the Israelites have forgotten the blessings of the Lord and turned to the worship of idols. The people are sold into the hands of the Philistines and the Amorites and remain enslaved for eighteen years. Jephthah, the son of Gilead, is selected by the elders to lead the people out of bondage. If the Lord will bring him victory over Ammon, Jephthah vows, he will offer as sacrifice the first to come forth from his house upon his return. After the victory, he returns home, only to be greeted by his daughter, who merrily plays a timbrel. (Judges 11:30–35)
Mourning in the Mountains
Although filled with dread and sorrow, Jephthah's daughter accepts the vow her father has made to the Lord. She requests only that she and several companions might be granted two months to lament in the mountains. (Judges 11:36–38)
Victory's Awful Price
Two months have passed, and Jephthah's daughter bravely returns so that her father might fulfill his vow. Before a group of grieving women and an altar, Jephthah prepares to sever the neck of his daughter, whose wrists have been bound. (Judges 11:39–40)
A Treacherous Ascent
Abimelech, one of Gideon's sons, desires to lead the children of Israel, but must contend with his seventy brothers, all equally entitled to Gideon's legacy. Abimelech is not a patient man; he hires a band of vagabonds and mercenaries and slays his brothers. As Abimelech severs the head of one brother, his companions attack the others. One of the mercenaries holds a gruesome trophy in one hand and a bloodied sword in the other. (Judges 9:3–6)
Image courtesy of Faksimile Verlag Luzern, www.faksimile.ch.
Content consultant: Richard Leson