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. 21v)
Plague in Ashdod
A great pestilence settles upon Ashdod. Mice swarm in the fields and villages, feeding on the plague-ridden corpses. (1 Kings 5:6–7)
A Trespass Offering
The Philistines seek to rid themselves of the troublesome Ark. They prepare an offering to the Lord to atone for their thievery. After consulting priests and diviners, the Philistines ready a cart pulled by milk cows that have newly calved (the calves appear harnessed in the Philistine stable). Upon the cart, in addition to the Ark, they place rich, golden offerings representing each Philistine province. Thus laden, the cart is driven into the territory of Beth Shemesh, where joyous field workers receive it. The miniature painter has mistakenly included live mice among the offerings; the Bible states that these, too, were made of gold. (1 Kings 6:2–13)
The Ark in Beth Shemesh
The Levites remove the Ark from the cart, along with the golden offerings, and place them upon a great stone. (1 Kings 6:14–15)
A Burnt Offering
Having safely unloaded the Ark, the men of Beth Shemesh burn the cart and the milk cows as an offering to the Lord. The men tending the fire hold their hands before their faces to shield themselves from the intense heat. (1 Kings 6:14–15)
Image courtesy of Faksimile Verlag Luzern, www.faksimile.ch.
Content consultant: Richard Leson
Upper left: How a great pestilence and an innumerable multitude of mice smote the city where the ark of God was, and for that reason, unable to sustain such a pestilence any longer, the Philistines removed the ark of God from that place, having added golden vessels to soothe the anger of the God of Israel. Then, putting the ark and the vessels themselves on a cart drawn by two suckgiving cows, their calves having been shut up at home, they let it go, that they might see where it went. For thus they were going to learn whether the God of Israel or a fortuitous chance had brought the pestilence upon them. (I Samuel 5:6 – 6:9)
Upper right: How the cows with the cart took the straight way to the land of the Beth-shemites. Seeing it, those who were reaping the wheat in the fields received it joyfully. (I Samuel 6:10–13)
Lower left: How the Levites took the ark and the coffer with the golden vessels and put it upon the great stone. (I Samuel 6:15)
Lower right: How the Beth-shemites set fire to the cart and the cattle and burnt them up, offering sacrifice, and at last the ark is restored to its place. (I Samuel 6:14)
Translation by Eran Lupu
After the commentary volume accompanying the Fine Art Facsimile edition
by Faksimile Verlag Luzern / www.faksimile.ch