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. 38v)
The King is Displeased
Rechab and Baanah, bearing the head of Ishbosheth, arrive at David's house and seek his favor. The king is far from pleased; he reminds the traitors of the fate of the messenger who sought royal favor for having slain Saul. How much greater a crime to have killed a an innocent man asleep in his bed! The assassins will pay for the outrage with their own blood. After cutting off their hands and feet, three servants hang the traitors' bodies from a rickety gallows. (2 Kings 4:8–12)
The Tribes under One King
The remaining tribes of Israel, now without a ruler, arrive in Hebron and proclaim David king. David removes the crown of Judah and is anointed. With great acclamation from the assembled elders, David will receive the crown of a united Israel. (2 Kings 5:1–3)
The Conquest of Jerusalem
David leads the Israelite army to Jerusalem and there attacks Zion, the fortress of the Jebusites. Battle-ready Israelite soldiers scale the walls of the stronghold, but David halts their assault when an elder of Zion emerges and surrenders the keys to the city. The king establishes his house in the fortress of Zion; henceforth, Jerusalem will be called the city of David. (2 Kings 5:6–9)
Image courtesy of Faksimile Verlag Luzern, www.faksimile.ch.
Content consultant: Richard Leson
Upper half: How those two murderers of Ish-bosheth offer his head to David, as if they had done him a great service. Nevertheless, the king, having cursed their crime, has them killed and later hanged with their hands and feet amputated. (2 Samuel 4: 8–12)
Lower left: How, after the death of Ish-bosheth, Saul’s son, all the tribes and all the elders of the people unanimously come together to David and anoint him to be a king over all of Israel. (2 Samuel 5: 1–3)
Lower right: How David goes to Jerusalem and takes the citadel of Zion which was thereafter known as the city of David. (2 Samuel 5: 6–9)
Translation by Eran Lupu
After the commentary volume accompanying the Fine Art Facsimile edition
by Faksimile Verlag Luzern / www.faksimile.ch