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. 24v)
Unbalanced by Rage
Frustrated by the prolonged battle with the Philistines, Saul seeks the counsel of the Lord, who does not reply. The king discovers that Jonathan has eaten during the battle and wrongly deduces that this act offended the Lord. Saul resolves to kill Jonathan, but the Israelites deliver the youth from his father's misguided vengeance. (1 Kings 14:37–45)
A Royal Insubordinate
Afterwards, the Lord orders Saul, through Samuel, to destroy the Amalekites, stating that neither man nor beast is to be spared. In battle, Saul violently unhorses the Amalekite king Agag, but, contrary to the will of the Lord, takes Agag and his soldiers captive and collects the best of the enemy's cattle. (1 Kings 15:2–9)
Image courtesy of Faksimile Verlag Luzern, www.faksimile.ch.
Content consultant: Richard Leson
Upper half: How king Saul consulted God, asking if he ought to pursue the Philistines. But God did not answer him and thus, aware of his anger, he called together all the people, that God may show whose fault it was, swearing that whoever was to blame, even his very own son, would surely die. When, at length, the fault had been found to be Jonathan’s due to the transgression of eating the honey, he wants to kill him. Still, the people speak against it and Jonathan is released. (I Samuel 14: 37–45)
Lower half: How, when Samuel had ordered Saul, in the name of God, to destroy Amalek, to slay all the men, and to kill their animals, sparing none and keeping no booty, Saul killed all the people, as he had been ordered. Yet, he took the king alive, as well as some excellent flocks of sheep and whatever valuable there was, and thus he partly followed God’s command, but partly disrespected it. (I Samuel 15: 1–9)
Translation by Eran Lupu
After the commentary volume accompanying the Fine Art Facsimile edition
by Faksimile Verlag Luzern / www.faksimile.ch