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. 15r)
Weary from the slaughter, Samson discards the jawbone and asks God for water to quench his thirst. The Lord hears, and a miraculous spring wells up from the ground. (Judges 15:17–19)
The Gates of Gaza
Later, Samson arrives in Gaza, where vigilant Philistines prepare an ambush for him at the city gates. But before the trap is sprung, the cunning Samson wrests the very doors from the gates and defiantly carries them to the top of a high hill. (Judges 16:1–3) Shear Betrayal
In the Valley of Sorek, Samson falls in love with the beautiful Delilah. Unbeknownst to him, Delilah is in league with the Philistines. Her persistent inquiries finally pay off, and Samson reveals to her the source of his superhuman strength—his hair. Indeed, a razor has never touched his head. When Samson falls asleep with his head on Delilah's knees, she quietly cuts his locks. Presently, her Philistine allies will capture him. (Judges 16:17–19)
The Philistines bring the helpless Samson back to Gaza. Still wary of their captive, they bind him in the presence of several armed men and gouge out his eyes. (Judges 16:20–21)
Image courtesy of Faksimile Verlag Luzern, www.faksimile.ch.
Content consultant: Richard Leson
Upper left: How Samson, who was very thirsty after his victory, cried to the Lord and water came out from a great tooth in the jawbone with which he had become victorious, and he was thus much strengthened and refreshed. (Judges 15: 18–19)
Upper right: How when Samson was lying in Gaza in the house of some woman, the Philistines, upon discovering this, set guards at the gates of the city, that they might kill him as he went back. But he, rising in the middle of the night, carried the entire two doors of the gate with the bolts and the posts up to a hill. (Judges 16: 1–3)
Lower left: How when Samson, enticed by his love to Delilah and subdued by her charms, had revealed to her that his might was in his hair, she, whom the Philistines had bribed with money, shaved his hair. (Judges 16: 4–20)
Lower right: How Samson, having been deprived of his hair and his powers by his lover, is deprived of his eyesight by the Philistines. (Judges 16:21)
Translation by Eran Lupu
After the commentary volume accompanying the Fine Art Facsimile edition
by Faksimile Verlag Luzern / www.faksimile.ch