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. 15v)
Samson in Prison
Blind and shorn, Samson is led by his captors to prison, where he is forced to grind corn. Around his neck he wears a golden prisoner's collar inscribed with an 'S' and attached to a chain. (Judges 16:21)
The Philistine princes gather to sacrifice to their god Dagon and to celebrate the capture of their greatest enemy. In the meantime, the hair on Samson's head has grown. He is brought to the temple to suffer the taunts and insults of his captors. Strengthened by the Lord, Samson crushes a pillar of the temple, causing the whole building to collapse. In death, Samson is avenged more than a thousand fold. (Judges 16:23–30)
The tribe of Dan, never having received its rightful inheritance, has gone in search of land to call its own. They choose Laish, a quiet and undefended city, and take it by force. Members of the tribe, baggage in tow, look on as soldiers set Laish on fire and put its inhabitants to the sword. The city is to be rebuilt and called Dan, after the tribe's ancestor. (Judges 18:27–29)
A Kindly Host
After fetching his disobedient wife from her father's house in Bethlehem, a Levite man is returning to his home in the remote mountains of Ephraim. In the Benjamite city of Gibeah an old man offers the travelers shelter in his own home. The Levite, his wife, and her maidservant all carry pilgrim's wallets and staffs. (Judges 19:17–20)
Image courtesy of Faksimile Verlag Luzern, www.faksimile.ch.
Content consultant: Richard Leson
Upper left: How Samson, having been led by the Philistines to prison, was assigned to grinding duty. (Judges 16: 21)
Upper right: How, when the Philistines had sacrificed to their god and, after the feast, had brought Samson as a laughing stock, that he might play before them, and, while they were giving thanks to their god who had delivered such a mighty foe into their hands, he, who with his hair regrown had now recovered his former strength, told the boy who was leading him to direct him to the pillars of the house, that he might lean against them and rest. Once this was done, he, invoking the name of God, lay hold of the pillars crying: ’Let my soul die with the Philistines’ and as the pillars were thus shaken, the entire house collapsed. In it he killed himself together with the lords of the Philistines and a countless number of men. (Judges 16: 22–30)
Lower left: How six hundred men of the tribe of Dan burnt the city of Laish and killed its people. Nevertheless, later they rebuilt the city and dwelt in it. (Judges 18: 11–28)
Lower right: How a certain man of the tribe of Levi led his wife from her house in Bethlehem. When he reached the city of Gibeah where he was received by no one, a certain old man lodged him. (Judges 19: 1–20)
Translation by Eran Lupu
After the commentary volume accompanying the Fine Art Facsimile edition
by Faksimile Verlag Luzern / www.faksimile.ch