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. 35v)
The Final Indignity
The Philistines have strung Saul's decapitated body to a war engine and suspended the corpse above the city walls of Beth Shan. Three men pull down on the counterpoise, raising the gruesome trophy, while a fourth guides the swinging joist with his spear. (1 Kings 31:10)
A Doleful Task
Having learned how the Philistines disgraced the king's corpse, valiant men of Jabesh Gilead journey through the night in secret to retrieve the bodies of Saul and his sons. As one soldier pushes the war engine's counterpoise upwards with his spear, his fellows, wearing mournful expressions, hold down the joist and cut loose the king's body. (1 Kings 31:11–12)
A Funeral Pyre
Grieving men of Jabesh Gilead prepare to place Saul's corpse on the same enormous fire that consumes his dead sons. They will collect the bones and bury them in the woods of Jabesh Gilead, and afterwards fast for seven days. (1 Kings 31:12–13)
A survivor of the Gilboa massacre arrives in Ziklag and reports to David of the deaths of Saul and Jonathan. The survivor recounts how he discovered Saul transfixed upon his own spear, and at the king's request killed him before the Philistines had the opportunity. Now he has brought the king's crown to David, its rightful owner. (2 Kings 1: 2–10)
Image courtesy of Faksimile Verlag Luzern, www.faksimile.ch.
Content consultant: Richard Leson
Upper left: How the Philistines hand Saul’s body from the wall of Beth–shan. (I Samuel 31: 10)
Upper right: How, when they had heard this, the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead come at night to Beth-shan, take Saul’s body down from the wall, and carry it away. (I Samuel 31: 1, 12)
Lower left: How the above-mentioned inhabitants of Jabesh come back home, burn up the bodies of Saul and his sons in fire and bury their bones. (I Samuel 31:12)
Lower right: From the second book of Kings [2 Samuel]. How, a few days after the battle, someone from the Israeli camp came to David and told him about the death of Saul, Jonathan, and the captain of the army, carrying Saul’s diadem and his bracelet. Now, when David had asked how he knew it, he said that he had found king Saul lying on his spear, and, having been asked by the king to kill him, he had obeyed. (2 Samuel 1: 1–10)
Translation by Eran Lupu
After the commentary volume accompanying the Fine Art Facsimile edition
by Faksimile Verlag Luzern / www.faksimile.ch