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. 38r)
A Stately Funeral
David and his fellows grieve for Abner and prepare his burial in Hebron. Abner's richly draped coffin is set on a bier with projecting handles and is surrounded by four enormous tapers set on tripods. (2 Kings 3:31–34)
Rechab and Baanah, Traitors
News of Abner's death has spread throughout Israel, and Ishbosheth fears for the safety of his kingdom. Two of Ishbosheth's captains, Rechab and Baanah, decide to defect. They are certain that if they slay Ishbosheth they will gain great favor in David's eyes. Here, the long-haired rogues, swords drawn, arrive at the king's house to find the doorkeeper asleep, exhausted from sifting grain. The traitors creep to the sleeping Ishbosheth in his chamber and kill him. (2 Kings 4:1–7)
Image courtesy of Faksimile Verlag Luzern, www.faksimile.ch.
Content consultant: Richard Leson
Upper half: How David, ordering all to honor Abner with a magnificent funeral, follows the bier himself, weeping loudly and praising the dead Abner admirably. All the people weep with him. (2 Samuel 3: 31–39)
Lower half: How, as Ish-bosheth, Saul’s son was sleeping in his bed in the middle of the day and the portress who was winnowing the grain had fallen asleep, two men, that is Rechab and Baanah, came secretly into his bed chamber and killed him. (2 Samuel 4:1–2, 5–7)
Translation by Eran Lupu
After the commentary volume accompanying the Fine Art Facsimile edition
by Faksimile Verlag Luzern / www.faksimile.ch