Louvre Abu Dhabi Exhibition
October 18th, 2021- February 18th, 2022
Photo Credit Louvre Abu Dhabi
Two biblical manuscripts BnF Heb. 130 and BnF SP 2, have travelled from the National library of France in Paris and are on display in the Universal Religions Gallery of Louvre Abu Dhabi in connection with Mediating Scriptures: Judeo-Persian Tobit as Global Crossroad. The manuscripts bear witness, among other matters, to a moment when a European humanist, searched for a more perfect understanding of the meaning of the Western canon within the living tradition of the cosmopolitan communities in the Gulf. It was in this cultural milieu that the 16th-century Papal envoy and Florentine humanist and bibliophile Giovambattista Vecchietti looking for Arabic and Persian translations of ancient Greek texts for the Medici Oriental Press in Rome, discovered what he believed were authoritative translations of Old Testament. He spent years collecting and transcribing Judeo-Persian books of the bible-- the Psalms, Solomon, Ruth and Esther-- into Arabic letters for use not only in the Persianate world, but above all, for transmitting the knowledge to Europe. His first transliteration was Psalms of David undertaken between October 1600 and May 1601 in Hormuz, where he says many scholars helped him and his scribe complete the manuscript. In the wake of leaving Hormuz in 1606, he wrote to the Pope to explain why the study of these particular manuscripts, and in dialogue with the living tradition of these communities resolved theological puzzles and confusion over the meaning of some passages of the bible in Europe:
Most blessed Father,
I remember reading that man is an upside down tree and knowing that this plant is of the kind that doesn’t bear any special fruit unless it is transplanted, which is why God said to Abraham to leave his land, I developed a desire to move to another country and to see if, in so doing, I might bear some good fruit… And in my contacts with the Persian Jews, I learned that their ancestors who had first moved to Persia had translated their sacred texts into Persian for the knowledge of those who didn’t know the Hebrew language. This made me consider how beneficial it would be to carry these texts over to our countries [through translation], so that for the glory of God and the greatness of the Church, this sacred book may be read in every language. …Furthermore, they [the translated texts] can be useful to show us how the Jews of Persia understood some passages about which there are many interpretations, which the holy Doctors of Theology have always taken into much consideration, therefore they sometimes cite the Hebrew text, other times the Greek or the Chaldean ones…. When I reached Hormuz from the court of the great Mogul, I heard the good news that Your Holiness was elected and I rejoiced with all my heart and gave thanks to God. (Isfahan, 1606).
BnF Supplement Persan 2. Solomon, Esther and Ruth in Persian, transliterated from Judeo-Persian original purchased in Lar/Shiraz/Hormuz into Arabic characters at the court of Emperor Akbar in Agra, in 1604, and copied in 1605 in Thatta, decorated in Isfahan with the Papal Coat of Arms and presented to the Pope in Rome in 1608. BnF. Heb. 130. Judeo-Persian Tobit, Judith and Antiochos. Lar 1600.