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. 16v)
A Sorrowful Homecoming
The Levite throws his wife's body over an ass and, striking the animal with a whip, begins the journey home. Men gather round to express their sympathy and outrage at the behavior of the Benjamites. (Judges 19:28)
A Grisly Message
Upon his return to Ephraim, the Levite dismembers the corpse of his wife. Her body is to be cut into twelve parts and carried by messengers to all the territories of Israel. The outrage among the tribes over this egregious crime will begin a great war. (Judges 19:29)
Four hundred thousand Israelite men have sworn vengeance against their brethren from the tribe of Benjamin because of the outrage committed against the Levite's wife. For three days a battle rages around the city of Gibeah. On the third day, the opposing tribes spring a successful ambush and slay over twenty five thousand of the Benjamites. As the victorious cavalry kill fleeing horsemen, foot soldiers deal harshly with men attempting to escape to the city. The victors capture the battlements and begin the destruction of Gibeah. (Judges 20:29–35)
Image courtesy of Faksimile Verlag Luzern, www.faksimile.ch.
Content consultant: Richard Leson
Upper left: How the man lay up his dead wife upon his ass and carried her back to his house. (Judges 19:28)
Upper right: How when he had reached his house, he cut his wife’s body, sending each part to each one of the twelve tribes of Israel, in order that the indignity of the crime might excite their hearts and cause them to retaliate. (Judges 19:29)
Lower half: How the people of Israel, unanimously conjoined by the atrocity of the deed, invade the city where such a crime was perpetrated. When only the tribe of Benjamin was very eagerly defending it, engaging in many battles, eventually, as both the tribe of Benjamin was defeated and the city was almost utterly destroyed, it was lay waste by flame and sword with its citizens and with other cities of Benjamin. (Judges 20)
Translation by Eran Lupu
After the commentary volume accompanying the Fine Art Facsimile edition
by Faksimile Verlag Luzern / www.faksimile.ch