Bible moralisée of Naples

Bible moralisée of Naples f. 97r (Num. 25: 10-18:31, 15-18 and 31: 5-9)

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f. 97r (Num. 25: 10-18:31, 15-18 and 31: 5-9)

“Here lies one of the children of Israel with a heathen woman in the tabernacle before all the people then Joshua comes and strikes them both in their genitals. Here comes Moses and retains the maidens and protects them and then orders his people to arm themselves and confront the five kings. Here they confront them and destroy them all.”

Joshua kills a Jew and a heathen woman who are fornicating in the tabernacle by running their genitals through with a spear. This heathen woman, it will be remembered, is a Saracen in the other one-volume Bibles, a Madianite in the Vulgate in which Pinhas, Aaron’s grandson, kills the two lovers – outside the tabernacle of course. Before the five kings of Madian are even defeated, Moses orders the virgin women of Madian alone to be spared. He then calls on his people to take up arms and go and fight the five kings. His army is victorious and kills all these kings. The maidens taken prisoner here and spared by Moses are in completely the wrong place for they should appear after the general mobilisation of the Hebrews, after their victory over the Madianites and after the general massacre that ensues. The same mistake occurs in the Latin Bible of Vienna and the three-volume Bibles, for example, in the Bible of Saint Louis (f. 75v, R3-R4) which, like the Bible of Naples, shows first Moses sparing the maidens and ordering his soldiers to kill the five kings. The mobilisation of the people is not depicted, a simple solution for a blunder in the Bible of Naples.
Joshua killing the two lovers with his spear signifies a Dominican armed with the sword of the Gospel who kills and cuts up those who indulge in lust inside the holy Church. The two lovers lying on a mattress are still alive, despite having been pierced by the sword of God’s word. Three witnesses behind them manifest their sorrow. Moses saving the maidens signifies Jesus Christ who protects the virtues. Moses asking his people to take up arms is then likened to God who asks all good prelates to arm themselves with garments of the holy Church, books and candles to confront nonbelievers. This procession of churchmen in their finest vestments, holding splendidly bound Gospels, preceded by torch-bearing acolytes, setting off to spread God’s word or excommunicate unbelievers is not depicted well in the moralisation image. Moses’ army setting off to confront the five kings and cutting them into pieces signifies the good prelates who charge at the evil prelates and evil princes to kill them with the word of the Gospels. These three good prelates with two large, open books of the Gospels lean over three kings including one in the foreground with a sword plunged into the top of his thigh. The word of the Gospels interpreted as the sword of God’s word is clearly depicted in the second moralisation image by a cleric, being touched on the shoulder by Christ, garbed in red and holding a sword in front of his book.

Yves Christe
University of Geneva
Marianne Besseyre
Illuminated Manuscripts Research Center, Bibliothèque nationale de France
Fragment of the Bible moralisée of Naples commentary volume


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