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. 13r)
Baal's Altar Destroyed
At night, Gideon and his companions arrive at the altar of Baal that was erected by Gideon's father. The men smash the idols of the false deity to pieces with clubs, in accordance with the Lord's wishes. In its place, a new altar will be consecrated to the Lord. (Judges 6:25–27)
The Sign of the Fleece
Again, Gideon asks the Lord for a sign to confirm that he shall deliver Israel. He leaves a wool fleece on the floor overnight. If in the morning there is dew on the fleece only, and the ground is dry, he will know that he has the Lord's favor. Indeed, come morning, the fleece alone is wet with dew, as Gideon requested. He wrings the dew from the fleece and collects it in a vessel. With a golden trumpet, Gideon calls messengers and charges them to assemble an army. (Judges 6:34–38)
Gideon's Valiant Three Hundred
Thousands arrive to follow Gideon, but the Lord, as a sign of his might, promises Gideon that only three hundred will be necessary to defeat Midian. Each man is given a trumpet and a lantern. At nightfall, the three hundred surround the enemy encampment, sound the trumpets, hold aloft the lanterns, and cry aloud: "The Sword of the Lord and of Gideon!" The terrifying spectacle causes chaos in the Midian camp; the Midianite soldiers flee the Israelite cavalry and confusedly strike each other down. (Judges 7:16–23)
Image courtesy of Faksimile Verlag Luzern, www.faksimile.ch.
Content consultant: Richard Leson
Upper left: How Gideon tore down the altar of Baal and shattered his father’s carved images into pieces, as God had instructed him. (Judges 6: 25–32)
Upper right: How Gideon, now full of the spirit of God, sounded the trumpet, sent messengers, and called other people to come to his assistance. Then he asked as a sign from heaven, that if God was with him, only a fleece of wool that had been placed on the floor would be touched with dew, while the noor would remain dry. This happened as he had asked from God and he rose up after the night and filled a vessel with dew from the wrung fleece. (Judges 6: 34–38)
Lower half: How Gideon enters the Midianite camp with only three hundred men, carrying, as do his allies, a trumpet in one hand and a lamp in the other, for God had instructed him to do so, and thereupon such a great terror and confusion seized the enemies that they not only fled but cut each other down. (Judges 7: 16–23)
Translation by Eran Lupu
After the commentary volume accompanying the Fine Art Facsimile edition
by Faksimile Verlag Luzern / www.faksimile.ch