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. 9v)
Moses, following the Lord's command, casts the tree into the bitter waters. The Israelites gather around with drinking cups and vessels to collect the sweetened waters. In the foreground, a group of sheep quenches its thirst. (Exodus 15:24–25)
Hunger has overcome the Israelites in the wilderness, and the congregation begins to murmur against Moses. The Lord hears these complaints, however, and rains bread from heaven upon the people. The Israelites collect the bread, each according to his own need, following the instructions Lord has given to Moses. (Exodus 16:11–15)
The Lord Provides
Once more the Israelites complain to Moses of thirst, but again the Lord provides. Moses, in obedience to God, strikes the rock at Horeb with his staff, and a spring bursts forth to quench the thirst of the people and their flocks. (Exodus 17:3–6)
Joshua, a Soldier
Amalek and his army threaten the Israelites with war. Moses commands Joshua, son of Nun, to assemble an army. The opponents face each other across a field at Rephidim, in this illustration arrayed in thirteenth-century battle dress. Joshua wears a brown tunic and carries a tri-point shield emblazoned with a lion. He and his cavalry all wear great helms. The enemy horsemen, to include the crowned Amalek, wear an older style of pointed helmet with a nasal guard. In the foreground, trumpeters and drummers sound the call to battle. (Exodus 17:8–13)
Image courtesy of Faksimile Verlag Luzern, www.faksimile.ch.
Content consultant: Richard Leson
Upper left: How Moses cast into the water a tree which had been just shown to him and the water was made sweet so that the people and the cattle drank. (Exodus 15:25)
Upper right: How when the people of Israel, suffering from hunger, were murmuring once more in the desert, the Lord said to Moses that it would rain bread for them. And it rained manna, which satisfied the people. (Exodus 16: 1–15)
Lower left: How the people of Israel murmur again in thirst, and Moses, having consulted with God, smites a rock and water flows abundantly. (Exodus 17: 1–7)
Lower right: How Amalek attacks Israel and, at Moses’ command, Joshua forms an army and falls upon the enemies. (Exodus 17: 8–10)
Translation by Eran Lupu
After the commentary volume accompanying the Fine Art Facsimile edition
by Faksimile Verlag Luzern / www.faksimile.ch