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. 43r)
Joab Reproaches David
The Rebellion crushed, David and his people return to Jerusalem. A Cushite arrives at the gates with the news of Absalom's death, and the king is greatly distraught. Joab, wearing a blue tunic, is angered to find the king so aggrieved and condemns David. He is weary of the compassion his lord has shown to his enemies over the years. Rather than mourn the traitor Absalom, Joab suggests, give praise to the household and servants who have remained loyal. (2 Kings 18:32 – 2 Kings 19:6)
David Greets the People
David is shamed by Joab's words. Servants set up an ivory throne in the gateway of the palace, and the king greets the people, assuring them that all is well. (2 Kings 19:7–8)
Sheba, the son of Bichri, a Benjamite, sounds his trumpet and rallies men of Israel to his side. He labels David a usurper and conspires to wrest the throne from him. (2 Kings 20:1–2)
Judah Remains Loyal
The men of Judah, David's oldest supporters, will not abandon their king for the greedy Sheba. The loyal supporters rally to David in Jerusalem. (2 Kings 20:2–3)
Image courtesy of Faksimile Verlag Luzern, www.faksimile.ch.
Content consultant: Richard Leson
Upper left: How, when Tamar had come to Amnon, her brother, he ordered those who were standing by her to leave. When they had left, he ravished her violently, although she was asking him not to do it but rather, as his wish would not be denied, to ask father to have her for his wife. (2 Samuel 13: 8–14)
Upper right: How Amnon, the incest committed, hated his sister so much that his hatred was greater than his love. Wherefore he ordered at once that she be taken out of his bed chamber and that the door be locked. She went out, weeping and crying, and found her brother, Absalom, who consoled her, telling her not to lament nor to afflict herself on account of what her brother had wished to do. (2 Samuel 13: 15–20)
Lower half: How, in the house of her brother, Absalom, Tamar is consumed by tears and sorrow remembering her injury. Now, Absalom, having hidden his sorrow for two years, at last called his father and brothers to a feast. When his father had refused to go, but, pressed by Absalom, allowed Amnon, his firstborn to go there, in the middle of the feast Absalom ordered that his brother be killed. (2 Samuel 13: 20–29)
Translation by Eran Lupu
After the commentary volume accompanying the Fine Art Facsimile edition
by Faksimile Verlag Luzern / www.faksimile.ch