ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 138

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'A masterpiece of scribal art'

Codex Sassoon, oldest near-complete Hebrew Bible, set to fetch up to $50m at auction

1,000-year-old codice, likely to become most expensive book or historical document ever sold, touted as ‘undeniably one of the most important and singular texts in human history’

The 'Codex Sassoon' bible is displayed at Sotheby's in New York on February 15, 2023. (Ed Jones/AFP)
The 'Codex Sassoon' bible is displayed at Sotheby's in New York on February 15, 2023. (Ed Jones/AFP)

NEW YORK — A Hebrew Bible more than 1,000 years old is set to be sold at auction in New York for up to an estimated $50 million, Sotheby’s announced Wednesday.

The Codex Sassoon — which dates to the late ninth to early tenth century — is the earliest, most complete Hebrew Bible ever discovered.

It will become the most expensive historical document or manuscript to ever go under the hammer when Sotheby’s puts it up for auction in May.

“(It) is undeniably one of the most important and singular texts in human history,” said Richard Austin, Sotheby’s global head of books and manuscripts.

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.

It is substantially more complete than the Aleppo Codex and older than the Leningrad Codex, two other famous early Hebrew Bibles, Sotheby’s said.

The ‘Codex Sassoon’ bible is displayed at Sotheby’s in New York on February 15, 2023. (Ed Jones/AFP)

The manuscript bridges the Dead Sea Scrolls — which date back as early as the third century BCE — and today’s modernly accepted form of the Hebrew Bible.

It is named for previous owner David Solomon Sassoon (1880-1942) who assembled the most significant private collection of ancient Jewish texts in the world.

The book was considered lost for over 600 years following the destruction of a synagogue in northeast Syria where it was kept, until it reemerged in 1929, according to the New York Times. It has been in private hands since and is currently owned by Swiss financier and collector Jacqui Safra.

“This represents the first time the text appears in the form where we can really read and understand it,” Sharon Liberman Mintz, Sotheby’s senior Judaica consultant, told the US newspaper.

Regarding the high price tag, Mintz said the codice was expensive at the time, with over 100 animal skins needed to make. She added that it was written by a single scribe.

“It’s a masterpiece of scribal art,” she said.

She also noted it contains marks tracking the different owners over the years, which show the manuscript’s last owner before it went missing when the synagogue in the present-day Syrian city of Markada was destroyed until Sasoon purchased it in Frankfurt.

The document is being auctioned for the first time in more than 30 years, with a pre-sale estimate of between $30 million and $50 million.

In November 2021, Sotheby’s sold one of the first prints of the US Constitution for $43 million, a record price for a historical manuscript.

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