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. 8r)
The Lord has sent Moses and his brother Aaron to Pharaoh with demands. As a sign of his power, the Lord has transformed Aaron's staff into a winged serpent, but Pharaoh is unimpressed because his own magicians duplicate the feat. Unnoticed by the Egyptians, Aaron's winged serpent devours those of the magicians, foreshadowing the coming wrath of the Lord. (Exodus 7:10–13)
The Nile Turned to Blood
Pharaoh and his sorcerers look on in dismay as Aaron strikes the Nile with his staff, transforming the waters into blood and killing the fish. Pharaoh is still not swayed, however, as his magicians duplicate this feat with false magic. (Exodus 7:20–22)
Again Moses and Aaron confront Pharaoh; this time, when Aaron strikes the waters, a gruesome plague of frogs overtakes the land. The magicians are able to duplicate the feat, but Pharaoh is now uneasy. The king pleads with the brothers to take away the frogs; in turn, he promises to release the Hebrews so that they might sacrifice to the Lord. (Exodus 8:6–8)
Once again, God hardens the heart of the king of Egypt in order that He might work great wonders before men. Always the Lord observes from heaven as the instruments of His will, Moses and Aaron, perform miracles before Pharaoh. Now Aaron, instructed by Moses, strikes the dust with his staff and summons forth a plague of lice and flies. (Exodus 8:17–25)
Image courtesy of Faksimile Verlag Luzern, www.faksimile.ch.
Content consultant: Richard Leson
Upper left: How Moses and his brother Aaron talk to Pharaoh and start to show miracles before him. Indeed, Aaron’s rod had turned into a serpent, but when by their magical art the king’s wise men had also turned their rods into serpents, Aaron’s rod swallowed up the other rods. (Exodus 7: 1–12)
Upper right: How Moses and Aaron, having returned to the king, showed another miracle. For when Aaron had smote the river the water was turned into blood and the fish died. (Exodus 7: 19–21)
Lower left: How they showed another miracle. For when Aaron’s rod had touched the river such a multitude of frogs went up that they covered all the land. (Exodus 8:1–7)
Lower right: How, when Aaron’s rod had smote the dust, it all turned into lice and flies. (Exodus 8: 16–24)
Translation by Eran Lupu
After the commentary volume accompanying the Fine Art Facsimile edition
by Faksimile Verlag Luzern / www.faksimile.ch