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. 24r)
Jonathan, a Prince
Encamped outside of Gibeah, Saul rests beneath a pomegranate tree and advises his warriors. Meanwhile, without informing his father, Saul's son Jonathan bravely scales a mountain to attack a Philistine garrison. Accompanied only by his armor-bearer, Jonathan engages the enemy; together they kill twenty men. (1 Kings 14:1–14)
The Battle is Joined
Sounds of battle have been heard in the Philistine camp, so Saul has assembled his army. It is discovered that Jonathan and his armor-bearer are missing. As the priest Ahijah bears the Ark of the Covenant into battle, Saul issues a bold command: the army is not to partake of food until all of the Philistines are destroyed. Jonathan, riding ahead, does not hear his father's instruction. Cradling his great helm in his left hand, he leans from his horse and spears a honeycomb to eat. (1 Kings 14:17–27)
Image courtesy of Faksimile Verlag Luzern, www.faksimile.ch.
Content consultant: Richard Leson
Upper half: How when the Philistines had gathered a huge army against Israel and all the people had fled in terror and were hiding in caves, as Saul was nevertheless sitting in his camp under a pomegranate tree, accompanied by only six hundred men, Ionachas [Jonathan], his son, without his father’s knowledge, went up with a single armor bearer through steep and rugged mountains and rocks to the enemy’s garrisons, and, having defeated those whom he had encountered first, he came back miraculously victorious. (I Samuel 14: 1–14)
Lower half: How, after Ionachas’ victory, a marvelous tumult had arisen in the Philistine camp and every man’s sword was turned upon his neighbor. Now, as his army, which had been first seemingly reduced to nothing by the men’s fear, had already started to be revived with inspiring confidence, king Saul, shouting, went to battle with the ark of God, ordering his men not to eat till the evening and cursing disobeyors. Yet his son, Jonathan [Ionachas], who had not heard his father’s command, having by chance found a honeycomb, reached to it with a staff he was holding, directed the honey to his mouth, and was much strengthened. All were greatly weakened by hunger and indeed, on that day, a great victory was obtained over the Philistines. (I Samuel 14: 15–27)
Translation by Eran Lupu
After the commentary volume accompanying the Fine Art Facsimile edition
by Faksimile Verlag Luzern / www.faksimile.ch