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. 22r)
For more than twenty years, the Israelites have suffered under the Philistines, so Samuel (holding a golden book as a sign of his authority and wisdom) advises the people to put away strange gods and turn wholeheartedly to the Lord. The repentant Israelites heed Samuel's words and smash the idols of the gods Baal and Ashtoreth. (1 Kings 7:3–6)
Samuel's Sacrifice Assures Victory
Samuel offers a sacrifice to the Lord for the salvation of Israel from the Philistines. The Lord hears this prayer and grants the Israelites victory. The terrified Philistines must retreat over the corpses of their fellows or be cut down by the pursuing Israelites. (1 Kings 7:7–11)
Image courtesy of Faksimile Verlag Luzern, www.faksimile.ch.
Content consultant: Richard Leson
Upper half: How Samuel encourages the people of Israel to return to their God and to destroy the strange gods which they had made, and so they did. (I Samuel 7: 3–4)
Lower half: How, when Samuel, offering a whole suckling lamb for a holocaust, was praying for the people of Israel and was heard by God, at that very moment, the Philistines who were invading Israel, were defeated in a great battle. (I Samuel 7:10)
Translation by Eran Lupu
After the commentary volume accompanying the Fine Art Facsimile edition
by Faksimile Verlag Luzern / www.faksimile.ch