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. 16r)
After seeing to the Levite's donkeys, the old man and his daughter prepare a feast for their guests at a table set with golden dishes. In the foreground, a servant cuts bread. (Judges 19:21)
While the Levite and his wife are at table, their host is called away to his door. Men of Gibeah demand that the old man surrender the Levite so that they might rape and murder him. Rather than suffer this fate, the Levite turns over his wife so that they might use her in his stead. (Judges 19:22–24)
The rapists deal wickedly with the Levite's wife. (Judges 19:25)
Death of the Levite's Wife
With her remaining strength, the Levite's wife crawls to the door of the house where her husband is lodged. In the morning, the Levite and his host discover her unconscious on the threshold. (Judges 19:25–27)
Image courtesy of Faksimile Verlag Luzern, www.faksimile.ch.
Content consultant: Richard Leson
Upper left: How that old man prepared a meal for his guests. (Judges 19:21)
Upper right: How, as they were sitting at the table, a most evil clan, devoid of any fear of God, entered the old man’s house, demanding him to bring forth his guest to them, that they might abuse him as they wished. Yet the old man, choosing a lesser evil, was offering them either his maiden daughter or his guest’s wife, lest they commit a sin against nature. When they had spoke against it, the guest himself delivered his wife to them lest they exercise their lust on his body. (Judges 19: 22–25)
Lower left: How the vile men took the wife of a foreigner and, moreover, a guest, amused themselves with her, and abused her all night long. (Judges 19:25)
Lower right: How in the morning the woman returned to the house where her husband was and fell down dead before the door of the house. Upon opening the door the man beheld her and was arousing her, thinking that she was taking her rest. Then, at length, he perceived that she was dead. (Judges 19:26–28)
Translation by Eran Lupu
After the commentary volume accompanying the Fine Art Facsimile edition
by Faksimile Verlag Luzern / www.faksimile.ch