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World’s Oldest Hebrew Bible Sells for $38 Million

The Codex Sassoon, an ancient Hebrew Bible dating back to the late 9th or early 10th century, sells for a staggering $38.1 million.
The Codex Sassoon, an ancient Hebrew Bible dating back to the late 9th or early 10th century, sells for a staggering $38.1 million. Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

A remarkable piece of history, the Hebrew Bible, known as the Codex Sassoon, has made headlines by fetching a staggering $38.1 million at an auction held by Sotheby’s. This extraordinary event marks one of the most expensive transactions ever recorded for a book or document.

The winning bid for the Codex Sassoon was generously made by Alfred H. Moses, who served as a United States ambassador and currently holds the esteemed position of president of the American Jewish Committee.

Mr. Moses, in a heartfelt gesture, has chosen to bestow this invaluable treasure upon the ANU Museum of the Jewish People located in Tel Aviv, Israel.

One of the most expensive books sold

Sotheby’s, the renowned auction house, has revealed that the impressive price of $38.1 million achieved for the Codex Sassoon surpasses the notable sum of $30.8 million paid back in 1994 for Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Leicester manuscript. However, it falls short of the estimated value of $50 million, as projected by Sotheby’s in February.

It is also noteworthy that the amount falls below the remarkable sum of $43.2 million, which was paid in 2021 for the first edition of the U.S. Constitution, setting a world record for the highest price ever paid for a book or document.

The Codex Sassoon name

The Codex Sassoon, a remarkable manuscript dating back to approximately 900 AD, was named in honor of a previous owner, David Solomon Sassoon. Mr. Sassoon acquired this valuable Bible in 1929, thus beginning the assembly of one of the most notable collections of Judaica and Hebraica manuscripts in the 20th century.

Significance of The Codex Sassoon

The Codex Sassoon holds immense historical and cultural significance, representing a treasure trove of knowledge from centuries past as it serves as a vital link between Jewish oral tradition and the modern Hebrew Bible.

Recently, its latest owner and collector, Jacqui Safra, had the manuscript subjected to carbon dating, a scientific method to determine its age. The results confirmed that the Codex Sassoon predates two other major early Hebrew Bibles, namely the Aleppo Codex and the Leningrad Codex, according to Sotheby’s, the auctioneer handling the sale.

Sotheby’s further shared that the Codex Sassoon, based on both scientific and paleographic analysis, has been dated to the late 9th or early 10th century. Notably, this ancient manuscript contains nearly the entire Bible, making it a remarkably comprehensive document.

It is worth mentioning that the oldest known copies of Biblical texts are the Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in caves in 1947. However, the Codex Sassoon’s antiquity and its contents contribute significantly to our understanding of the Hebrew Bible’s historical development.

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