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. 33r)
David, in obedience to the Lord's command, engages the Philistines at Keilah in furious combat. The Israelites grapple with their opponents and strike terrible blows. (1 Kings 23:4–5)
Saul will soon arrive in Keilah. The Lord warns David that the people of the town will betray him to the king, so he gathers his forces and departs. (1 Kings 23:10–13)
Later, Saul and his army arrive at the cave of En Gedi, where David and his men lie hidden. As the king empties his bowels in the dark cave, David quietly shears a corner from his mantle. When Saul and his troops leave the cave, they are startled by David, who protests his allegiance to the king. He holds aloft his trophy as proof that, had he desired, he could have easily slain Saul. (1 Kings 24:3–12)
Image courtesy of Faksimile Verlag Luzern, www.faksimile.ch.
Content consultant: Richard Leson
Upper left: When David’s brothers and many others, up to the number of four hundred, came together to him, and when he heard that the Philistines had invaded the land of Israel, he went, fought with them, and defeated them. (I Samuel 23 1–5)
Upper right: How Saul, upon hearing where David was, sent all the people to catch him. (I Samuel 23: 19–26)
Lower half: How, when David, fearing the king’s anger, had left the city that he might not be surrounded there, and had fled to the desert where he was hiding, Saul, who had discovered it, went out with his allies to seek him. When he was surrounded all around and had given up hope of escaping, the king having departed and returned again, it came to pass that the king entered the cave where David was to purge his stomach. David refused to kill him, although his servants encouraged him to do so, and secretly cut off the tip of his mantle. When Saul had stood up and was on his way, David cried behind his back, showing him the tip of his cloth, which he had cut off, saying that he could have killed him but had refused. Upon hearing this, Saul wept. (I Samuel 24: 1–16)
Translation by Eran Lupu
After the commentary volume accompanying the Fine Art Facsimile edition
by Faksimile Verlag Luzern / www.faksimile.ch