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. 37v)
David Feasts with Michal and Abner
At the king's table in Hebron, Michal accepts a cup from David. To her right, Abner and men of his company celebrate the new alliance with Judah. The suspicious, half-hidden bearded figure in the background wearing a green tunic is probably the vengeful Joab. (2 Kings 3:20–21)
Abner's Pledge to David
Upon his departure, Abner embraces David and swears that he will soon rally all of Israel to the king's side. Joab, in green tunic and holding a pair of gloves, awaits his opportunity to seek revenge on Abner at the right. (2 Kings 3:21–22)
Joab Slays Abner
Joab summons Abner to speak with him at the gate of Hebron. Abner, not suspecting any foul play, agrees to the meeting. There, Joab treacherously stabs his rival in the groin and gains revenge for the death of his brother, Asahel. (2 Kings 3:26–27)
David Informed of Joab's Crime
Abner's mournful companions return to David with news of their commander's assassination. Joab's crime and his disregard for authority angers David's; the king curses Joab's house and his progeny. (2 Kings 3:28–29)
Image courtesy of Faksimile Verlag Luzern, www.faksimile.ch.
Content consultant: Richard Leson
Upper left: How David made a feast for Abner and for all those who had come with his wife. (2 Samuel 3:20)
Upper right: How Abner departs from David promising to gather all of Israel onto him and the king escorts him and sends him away. (2 Samuel 3:21)
Lower left: How Joab, the brother of Asahel whom Abner had killed, upon hearing that the latter had come to the king and had left unharmed, sent messengers after him and they brought him back. Then, having taken him aside for a talk, Joab killed him deceitfully, piercing him through with a sword in the middle of the gate in Hebron. (2 Samuel 3: 22–27)
Lower right: How David, having heard about Abner’s death, exculpates himself and curses Joab and his seed with many and various curses. (2 Samuel 3: 28, 29)
Translation by Eran Lupu
After the commentary volume accompanying the Fine Art Facsimile edition
by Faksimile Verlag Luzern / www.faksimile.ch