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. 36v)
Israel and Judah at War
The forces of Abner, commander of Ishbosheth's army and Joab, commander of David's forces, encounter each other at the pool of Gibeon. After sizing each other up, the two commanders agree to a contest pitting twelve men from each army against one another. A bloody struggle ensues, each man catching his foe about the neck and stabbing him. The remainder of the armies join in combat, and Abner's force is bested. As Joab observes the conflict from the left, Abner and his dejected followers flee at right. (2 Kings 2:12–17)
Joab's Brother Slain
Joab and his forces pursue Abner and his fleeing army. Asahel, Joab's fleet-footed brother, catches up to Abner and attempts to kill him. Twice Abner warns Asahel to retreat, wishing to avoid a personal feud. Asahel will not listen. Abner, his hand forced, turns about and runs Asahel through with a spear. (2 Kings 2:18–23)
Image courtesy of Faksimile Verlag Luzern, www.faksimile.ch.
Content consultant: Richard Leson
Upper half: How, when at the same time David had started ruling over Juda and Ish-bosheth, Saul’s son, over the rest of Israel, it happened that twelve of David’s servants and as many of Ish-bosheth’s begun some bloody game and all of them died. Thereupon a war broke between the people of each of the two kings which was won by David’s part. Ishbosheth’s part and Abner, the captain of his army, fled. (2 Samuel 2: 12–17)
Lower half: How, fleeing with his army, Abner kills one of the sons of Zeruiah, Asahel by name, who pursues him too obstinately, piercing him through with a spear. (2 Samuel 2: 18–21)
Translation by Eran Lupu
After the commentary volume accompanying the Fine Art Facsimile edition
by Faksimile Verlag Luzern / www.faksimile.ch