The Crusader Bible, otherwise known as the Morgan Bible, was probably commissioned by King Louis IX of France. It was estimated to have been made at some point between 1244 and 1250 C.E. for the enjoyment of King Louis (Presumably). The bible was given Latin inscriptions in Italy around 1300 C.E. After that the history of the text gets a lot murkier, having somehow ended up in the possession of the Polish Cardinal Bernard Macieojowski. Cardinal Macieojowski then sent the manuscript to Isfahan, Persia (modern day central Iran) as a gift to Shah Abbas the Great. It was sent to him as part of the mission to Persia to foster Shah Abbas tolerance and good favor towards Christians in Persia (as well as to help grease the Shahs palms towards a military and economic alliance). Shah Abbas ordered Persian text to be written next to the image, not as translations of the Latin, but Persian interpretation of the illustrations themselves. After a series of private sales the manuscript ended up in the possession of John Pierpont Morgan. Morgan (who lends his name to the manuscripts title) donated the manuscript to the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York.
The manuscript consists of portions of Genesis, Exodus, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, and Samuel. The manuscript contains 346 episodes from these six books of the bible. Roughly forty percent of the space in the book is made up of the life of David.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the manuscript is that all of the scenes, both the combat scenes and the more peaceful ones, are illustrated the way they would have occurred had the events transpired in the 13th century. This was a very common artistic technique from the time period, and one that we even do today with modern retellings of ancient stories, like the TV series Kings, which was a modern retelling of the story of King David. This is the reason the Morgan Bible is often referred to as the crusader bible, as those who study/studied the crusades (such as I when I took Early crusades last semester) because a general idea of what combat and life during the crusades must have looked like can be gleaned from the illustrations, because it is contemporary to the time period. So, as a result you can see the armor and weapons they would have used during the crusades, as well as some of their battlefield tactics. The state of fortifications can also be seen, as well as some of the designs for siege engines that might be used to counter these same fortifications. These illustrations in the Crusader bible are so detailed, that the weapons and armors can be accurately replicated (and they have) by researchers interested in the form and function of battlefield implements in the crusader era. This has led to data about how the crusader army’s must have fared during their expeditions to the Middle East, and contributed to the scholarship in that area as a whole.
Consider the following picture for example. This is an illustration of Ehud, leader in the Old Testament of the tribe of Benjamin fighting the Moabite army. The story can be found in the very beginning of the Book of Judges. Although the actual battle took place in the Bronze/Iron age (a long time before the 13th century) we see some very medieval looking armor and armaments. Consider the full chainmail on the horseback riders, the armor on the horses and the very un-bronze age Israeli pikes and swords. Also, note the garb of the political figure in the top right of the picture.
On this page we see another example of 13th century armor, weaponry and garb. The passage from the Bible that this page illustrates is from 1 Kings. Specifically, the story of David on the run from King Saul. Notice the “peasants” in the top right corner of the picture. Also check out “King Saul” sitting on the throne in the bottom right corner. This images provide an excellent idea of what a king was expected to look like, as well as what peasants were supposed to look like.
In conclusion, the Morgan/Crusader Bible represents the legacy of a time when popular episodes from the Bible were serialized in the form of illustrations, when the papacy was concerned about its influence in the Middle East (Particularly Persia) and a window into which we can see the way combat was conducted during the period of the Crusades. All of this information is very important, as it informs those three very different periods of historical scholarship. In a way, this manuscript reminds me of a comic book that different writers tried to put commentary to. I definitely think the parallels are interesting and I hope you do too!
The websites that I used as sources both for my text and for pictures are as follows: