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. 34v)
Slaughter of the Amalekites
David finds the Amalekites feasting in a field. The thieves are caught unawares and butchered. All of the captives are recovered; David himself cuts the fetters from the wrists of one of his wives. One of David's company cleaves the skull of an enemy with a sword bearing the inscription 'ODISMORT'(hatred, death), a declaration of the weapon's deadly efficacy. (1 Kings 30:16–19)
Saul's Last Stand
At Mount Gilboa, Saul makes his final stand against the Philistines. The enemy destroys the king's army and kills his three sons, among them, Jonathan. As the advancing Philistines hack through fleeing Israelite horsemen, crossbowmen take aim at the king and grievously wound him. Saul turns for one final look at his attackers and shamefully falls on his own sword. One of the Philistines wields a blade inscribed 'IOIOUSE'('Joyous'), the name of Charlemagne's sword in the Song of Roland. (1 Kings 31:1–6)
Image courtesy of Faksimile Verlag Luzern, www.faksimile.ch.
Content consultant: Richard Leson
Upper half: How David, staying with the king of Acish in the land of Acish, was daily running here and there, killing men and women and sparing none. (I Samuel 27: 5–12)
Lower half: How, while David was staying with the king of Achish, the Philistines who had gathered an army, with Saul, opposing them, fought with all their might in the mountains of the Gilboa, where the people of Israel were defeated and the king was pierced through by an arrow. Now, when he had asked his armor bearer to kill him, that he might not fall into the hands of the enemy, and the latter refused to do it, Saul stabbed himself with his own sword. As his armor bearer saw this, he too fell on his sword. Thus died Saul and Jonathan and the king’s other two sons, together with all the men of Israel and the mighty men of Israel. (I Samuel 31: 1–6)
Translation by Eran Lupu
After the commentary volume accompanying the Fine Art Facsimile edition
by Faksimile Verlag Luzern / www.faksimile.ch