A Medieval Picture Book Illustrates the Biblical Story in 1 Samuel 2

Spirited scenes, richly detailed and colored, each appear as one page in a medieval Bible picture book that was probably created by Parisian artists for a French king or queen.

(Above) Saul summons Israel to fight the Ammonites who have besieged Jabesh-Gilead and threatened to gouge out the eyes of all the city’s able-bodied men Two episodes appear in the top panel of the page. On the left, the people of Gibeah meet Saul as he returns from the field, driving two oxen. The news they tell Saul of the plight of the men of Jabesh-Gilead so angers the tall young leader of Israel that he slays his oxen, cuts them into pieces and gives the pieces to three men. These messengers will take the pieces to every part of Israel and announce that the cattle of any man who does not fight the Ammonites with Saul will receive the same treatment.

As a preview of his kingship, Saul in the panel below sits on an ivory throne at Bezek. He is crowned and holds a scepter as he rallies his fully armed troops to attack Nahash at Jabesh-Gilead.

(Above) Saul annihilates Nahash and the Ammonites. The clattering of hooves and the crash of armor can almost be heard in the crushing battle scene, above. Saul, galloping in from the left with his Israelite warriors, plunges his long sword through Nahash’s skull. Six mounted Ammonites flee to the right but are attacked by another contingent of Israelites charging from the gateway of Jabesh-Gilead. A battle-ax fells one Ammonite, as swords cleave the helmets of two others. A fourth is struck by a mace. Above the gateway, an Israelite archer who has just shot the fifth Ammonite aims at the only unwounded mounted enemy. Four dying men and a horse are all trampled in the battle. To the left of the framed scene, a man clings by a rope to the sling of a giant wooden catapult, so that the stone will be launched with greater force.

In the panel below, two scenes are enacted. At left, Samuel anoints Saul, who sits on a folding throne with lion heads and feet. The sacrifices offered after the anointing are pictured at right. God peers from clouds at Samuel, who places a lamb on a draped altar, while seven Israelites follow, the leader holding another lamb. In front of the altar, a man grips a third lamb between his knees and plunges a knife into its throat; neglecting no detail, the artist has provided an enormous gold chalice to collect the blood of the sacrifice.

Following is the full text of 1 Samuel 2 from the New Jewish Publication Society translation:

“Nahash the Ammonite marched up and besieged Jabesh-gilead. All the men of Jabesh-gilead said to Nahash, ‘Make a pact with us, and we will serve you.’ But Nahash the Ammonite answered them. ‘I will make a pact with you on this condition, that everyone’s right eye be gouged out; I will make this a humiliation for all Israel.’ The elders Jabesh said to him, ‘Give us seven days’ respite, so that we may send messengers throughout the territory of Israel; if no one comes to our aid, we will surrender to you.’ When the messengers came to Gibeah of Saul and gave this report in the hearing of the people, all the people broke into weeping.

“Saul was just coming from the field driving the cattle; and Saul asked, ‘Why are the people crying?’ And they told him about the situation of the men of Jabesh. When he heard these things, the spirit of God gripped Saul and his anger blazed up. He took a yoke of oxen and cut them into pieces, which he sent by messengers throughout the territory of Israel, with the warning, ‘Thus shall be done to the cattle of anyone who does not follow Saul and Samuel into battle!’ Terror from the Lord fell upon the people, and they came out as one man. [Saul] mustered them in Bezek, and the Israelites numbered 300,000, the men of Judah 30,000. The messengers who had come were told, ‘Thus shall you speak to the men of Jabesh-gilead: Tomorrow, when the sun grows hot, you shall be saved.’ When the messengers came and told this to the men of Jabesh-gilead, they rejoiced. The men of Jabesh then told [the Ammonites], ‘Tomorrow we will surrender to you, and you can do to us whatever you please.’

“The next day, Saul divided the troops into three columns; at the morning watch they entered the camp and struck down the Ammonites until the day grew hot. The survivors scattered; no two were left together.

“The people then said to Samuel, ‘Who was it said, “Shall Saul be king over us?” Hand the men over and we will put them to death!’ But Saul replied, ‘No man shall be put to death this day! For this day the Lord has brought victory to Israel.’

“Samuel said to the people, “Come, let us go to Gilgal and there inaugurate the monarchy.’ So all the people went to Gilgal, and there at Gilgal they declared Saul king before the Lord. They offered sacrifices of well-being there before the Lord; and Saul and all the men of Israel held a great celebration there.”