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. 14r)
Abimelech has ruled Israel for three years, but the Lord does not favor this usurper. From atop the besieged stronghold of Thebez, a woman takes aim at Abimelech with a piece of a millstone. The stone dashes against his head, crushing his skull. With his remaining strength, Abimelech summons his armor bearer, begging that he be slain by a sword so that men will not say that he was killed by a woman. Abimelech appears twice—once beneath the millstone and once beneath the sword—but in different clothing. The reason for this inconsistency in a single miniature is unclear. (Judges 9:50–54)
The Israelites are sinful in the eyes of the Lord and must serve the Philistines for forty years. But again, the Lord prepares a deliverer. An angel of the Lord visits Manoah, of the tribe of Dan, and his barren wife (In the biblical account, Manoah is not present). The angel promises that Manoah's wife will conceive and bear a son. She is to partake neither of wine nor of strong drink during the pregnancy, for the boy is to be a Nazirite, that is, a consecrated one. Most importantly, a razor is never to touch one hair of the boy's head. (Judges 13:2–5)
Manoah invites the Lord's angel to dine, but the angel would rather Manoah make a burnt offering to the Lord. Accordingly Manoah chooses a kid from the flocks and prepares it on an altar. As Manoah pours an offering of oil and his wife feeds the fire, the angel ascends to heaven in the midst of the rising flames. (Judges 13:15–20)
Samson, Mightiest of Men
As the Lord promised, Manoah's wife conceives a boy, Samson. When he comes of age, his parents accompany him to Timnah to choose a wife. On the way, the family is surprised by a vicious, raging lion. The spirit of the Lord comes upon the young Samson. Samson steals away from his parents and, without their knowledge, rips the lion to pieces with his hands alone. (Judges 14:5–6)
Image courtesy of Faksimile Verlag Luzern, www.faksimile.ch.
Content consultant: Richard Leson
Upper left: How Gideon returned as a victor, tore down the tower of Penuel and killed the city’s inhabitants, because he had told them before that he would do it, and because they had refused to give him bread as he was going to battle. (Judges 8: 5–17)
Upper right: How, as the children of Israel were vehemently afflicted on account of their sins, an angel of the Lord appeared to Manoah and his barren wife announcing the birth of a son. (Judges 13: 1–14)
Lower left: How Manoah and his wife, unaware of the fact that he was an angel of the Lord, offered a sacrifice, and the angel ascended to heaven with the victim’s dame. (Judges 13: 15–23)
Lower right: How Samson, a man of enormous strength, was born to Manoah and his sterile wife. When as a youth he was traveling with his parents and a lion rushed toward him roaring, he killed and dismembered it with his hand with no sword or staff. (Judges 13: 24 – 14:6)
Translation by Eran Lupu
After the commentary volume accompanying the Fine Art Facsimile edition
by Faksimile Verlag Luzern / www.faksimile.ch