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. 7v)
A Single Escapee
Pharaoh has ordered the slaughter of all male children born to the Hebrews. To save the life of her newborn son, a sorrowing mother has him placed in a basket made of bulrushes and set afloat in the river. (Exodus 2:1–3)
Pharaoh's daughter and her maids come down to the river to bathe. There they make a marvelous discovery: a Hebrew child afloat in a basket. The merciful princess spares the boy's life and turns him over to a nurse. He shall be called Moses, the princess decides, meaning "I drew him out of the water." (Exodus 2:5–10)
The Lord calls to Moses
Now a grown man, Moses has fled Pharaoh's wrath and lives in the desert among the Midianites. One morning, Moses is tending his father-in-law's flock at Horeb, the mountain of God, when he is witness to a miracle: a bush burns with fire but is not consumed. The Lord calls to the stunned Moses from the midst of the bush: "Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground." (Exodus 3:1–8)
Following the Lord's commands, Moses has returned to Egypt to free the Hebrews. The Israelite elders are assembled before Moses and informed of the news. After years of oppression and slavery, the Lord has visited them, and will soon put an end to their affliction. The men understand the power Moses has been given, and fall to their knees in adoration of the deliverer. (Exodus 4:28–31)
Image courtesy of Faksimile Verlag Luzern, www.faksimile.ch.
Content consultant: Richard Leson
Upper left: How, upon the birth of Moses, his mother fearing the king who had ordered that all newborn male Hebrews be killed, put him in a little ark woven of rushes on the river’s bank. (Exodus 2:1–3)
Upper right: How the daughter of the king had found the child, and, knowing him to be of the Hebrew’s children, had compassion for him and devised that he be nursed. (Exodus 2: 5–10)
Lower left: How, as Moses was tending his flock in the desert, there appeared to him that marvelous vision of a bush burning without being consumed, and God, talking to him in the midst of the bush and telling him to put off his shoes from his feet, and moreover to go to Pharaoh and to tell him to set the Israelites free. (Exodus 3:2–10)
Lower right: How the children of Israel, seeing Moses and hearing that God had compassion for them, leaned to the ground in worship. (Exodus 4: 29–31)
Translation by Eran Lupu
After the commentary volume accompanying the Fine Art Facsimile edition
by Faksimile Verlag Luzern / www.faksimile.ch