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. 34r)
David Spares Saul a Second Time
Saul's army has encamped outside of the wilderness of Ziph. David, followed by his commander Abishai, slips into the pavilion where the king is sleeping and steals the royal cup and spear. Later, from the safety of a mountain top, David calls to Saul and the commander of his army, Abner. He displays before them the stolen cup and spear and berates Abner for his carelessness in protecting the king. (1 Kings 26:7–25)
David's wives and the families of his followers have been taken captive by the Amalekites, along with all of the inhabitants of Ziklag. With six-hundred men, David sets out to rescue them. On the way, he meets an Egyptian boy, abandoned by the Amalekites, who agrees to guide David to the enemy. (1 Kings 30:5–15)
Image courtesy of Faksimile Verlag Luzern, www.faksimile.ch.
Content consultant: Richard Leson
Upper half: How, when Saul, pursuing David, had encamped in the desert, David entered his tent at night with one companion, as all were sleeping deeply. Although he could have killed him, he did not wish to do so, but took only a spear which lay at the head of his bed and a cup, and, without anyone’s knowledge, carried them and went to the nearest mountain. Crying from there, he aroused the king and Abner, the captain of his army, showing them what had happened. Then, rebuking the king’s guards for their lack of care, he told them to send someone to bring back the spear. Moved by this, the king asks David to come back to him. (I Samuel 26)
Lower half: How David, perceiving the king’s implacable hatred toward him, decides to yield to him and go, and thus goes out of the borders of Israel with his men, to live in the land of the Philistines. (I Samuel 27: 1–4)
Translation by Eran Lupu
After the commentary volume accompanying the Fine Art Facsimile edition
by Faksimile Verlag Luzern / www.faksimile.ch