World’s Oldest Near-Complete Hebrew Bible Sells for $38m

The Codex Sassoon is auctioned at Sotheby’s in New York City on May 17, 2023. (Photo by ANGELA WEISS / AF


A Hebrew Bible that was more than 1,000 years old established a record for the most valuable manuscript ever sold at auction when it sold for $38.1 million on Wednesday in New York.

The earliest nearly complete copy of the Hebrew Bible currently in existence is the Codex Sassoon, which is from the late ninth to early tenth century.

According to a statement from Sotheby’s, it was sold after a four-minute bidding war between two buyers.

According to Sotheby’s, the Bible was purchased by former US diplomat Alfred Moses on behalf of a US charity organization that plans to donate it to the ANU Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv, Israel.

“The Hebrew Bible is the most influential book in history and constitutes the bedrock of Western civilization. I rejoice in knowing that it belongs to the Jewish People,” said Moses, an ambassador under president Bill Clinton.

The sale surpassed the $30.8 million that Microsoft founder Bill Gates paid for Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Leicester manuscript in 1994 as the most expensive handwritten document ever sold at auction.

The most expensive historical document remains one of the first prints of the US Constitution, which Sotheby’s sold for $43 million in November 2021.

The Codex Sassoon is one of only two codices, or manuscripts, containing all 24 books of the Hebrew Bible to have survived into the modern era.

According to Sotheby’s, it is far earlier and more complete than the Leningrad Codex and Aleppo Codex, two other well-known early Hebrew Bibles.

The document serves as a link between the Hebrew Bible as it is currently accepted in modern times and the Dead Sea Scrolls, which date back to the third century BC.

David Solomon Sassoon (1880–1942), the previous owner, amassed the largest private collection of historic Jewish manuscripts in the history of the globe.

The book had a pre-sale estimate of $30 million to $50 million and was auctioned for the first time in more than 30 years.

According to Orit Shaham-Gover, chief curator of the Museum of the Jewish People, the Codex Sassoon, which has traveled about throughout its existence, has only ever been shown to the public once, in 1982, at the British Library in London.

The Codex Sassoon, written in the 10th century in Galilee and transported to Israel in the 1950s after being discovered in that Syrian city, is older and more comprehensive than the Aleppo, according to carbon-14 dating.

The early eleventh-century manuscript is also thought to have been written before the Leningrad Codex, which is the oldest complete copy of the Hebrew Bible still in existence.

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