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. 21r)
Samuel's Prophecy Fulfilled
Samuel's prophecy of the doom of the house of Eli is fulfilled with terrible consequences—thirty thousand men are killed. The Israelites are routed and massacred by the Philistines. The wicked sons of Eli lie slain by arrow and sword beneath the hooves of retreating horses. (1 Kings 4:5–11)
All is Lost
The Ark of the Covenant is captured and borne away by victorious Philistines. (1 Kings 4:11)
A Benjamite messenger arrives in Shiloh with news of the Israelites'defeat. When Eli learns of his sons' deaths and the loss of the Ark of the Covenant, he is overwhelmed by shock and grief. He swoons backwards in his chair, breaks his neck, and dies. The people of Shiloh emerge from the city gate, expressing great dismay and grief. (1 Kings 4:12–18)
The Ark of the Covenant will bring no peace to the pagan Philistines. In their city of Ashdod, they set the Ark upon the altar of their god Dagon, and his image breaks in half. (1 Kings 5:2–5)
Image courtesy of Faksimile Verlag Luzern, www.faksimile.ch.
Content consultant: Richard Leson
Upper left: How the sons of Israel were defeated in a great battle and thirty thousand of them fell and, moreover, the sons of Eli, the priests of the temple, and the ark of God was captured. (I Samuel 4: 6–11)
Upper right: How the victorious Philistines carry the ark of God to their homeland to place it in the temple of their god. (I Samuel 5: 1–2)
Lower left: How, when the aged Eli was sitting on a seat and all was announced: the disturbing outcome of the battle, the slaughter of the people, the death of his sons, and the loss of the ark of God, as the ark of God was mentioned, he at once fell off his seat and died. (I Samuel 4: 12–18)
Lower right: How at once, when the Philistines had set the ark of God in the temple of their god who was called Dagon, Dagon himself was found in the next morning lying prostrate on the ground. When they had raised him up and set him back in the same place, again, in the next morning, he was found truncated, his head and hands lying on the ground. (I Samuel 5: 2–4)
Translation by Eran Lupu
After the commentary volume accompanying the Fine Art Facsimile edition
by Faksimile Verlag Luzern / www.faksimile.ch