1,000-Year-Old Most Complete Hebrew Bible Expected to Sell for $50 Million at Auction
The Codex Sassoon, the oldest known, most complete codex version of the Hebrew Bible, is going up for auction for the first time in 30 years at Sotheby’s in New York soon and is expected to fetch as much as $50 million—likely making it the most expensive book ever sold.
Today, what we know as the Bible is the modern ancestor of the codex form—a bound copy, page after page, book after book. Prior to the codex technology, the Hebrew Bible was a series of several large scrolls (it still is read this way in most synagogues today).
The Codex Sassoon is “undeniably one of the most important and singular texts in human history,” according to Sotheby’s global head of books and manuscripts, Richard Austin. The codex will be auctioned in May.
This codex dates back to the late 800s-early 900s and is the oldest and most complete version of the Hebrew Bible known to scholars. It contains all 24 books of the Hebrew Bible (sidenote: in the Christian version of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, large books are broken down into two parts—1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, etc.—and all the minor prophets get their own book…so the number count is different).
While the Dead Sea Scrolls represent a link to the distant past, the Sassoon Codex and other codices, such as the Leningrad Codex and the Aleppo Codex, bridge the gap between the antiquity of the Scrolls and today’s version of the Hebrew Scriptures.
The Sassoon Codex gets its name from its previous owner—David Solomon Sassoon (1880-1942), who amassed the world’s most extensive private collection of ancient Jewish texts at the time. Almost 700 years ago, the synagogue in northeast Syria where the codex was housed was destroyed. The manuscript was thought to be lost or destroyed. But then, in 1929, it reemerged and entered Sassoon’s collection. It is currently owned by a Swiss collector, Jacqui Safra.
“This represents the first time the text appears in the form where we can really read and understand it,” said Sotheby’s senior Judaica consultant, Sharon Liberman Mintz. If the estimated auction price tag seems high, Mintz said that the codex was expensive even when it was first made. It was written by a single scribe and took 100 animal skins to produce. “It’s a masterpiece of scribal art,” she said.