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World’s Oldest Hebrew Bible Codex Sassoon Set to Go for $50 Million at Auction

Codex Sassoon

Codex Sassoon (Sotheby’s)

Codex Sassoon, a 1,200 year old Hebrew Bible that is the oldest known complete copy of the text, is expected to fetch as much as $50 million. The Bible will be auctioned off by Sotheby’s in May.

Also known as The Damascus Pentateuch (the 5 Books of Moses) and dating back to the 9th century, the Bible became known as the Codex Sassoon for the famed collector David Solomon Sassoon (1880–1942), who bought the codex in Damascus in the early 20th century.

Sotheby’s described Sassoon as a passionate collector of Judaica and Hebraic manuscripts. Codex Sassoon contains all 24 books of the Hebrew Bible – missing only 12 leaves – and precedes the earliest entirely complete Hebrew Bible, the Leningrad Codex, by nearly a century.

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“The Hebrew Bible is the sacred, foundational text for peoples across the globe,” says Sharon Liberman Mintz, a Senior Judaica Specialist in Sotheby’s Books & Manuscripts Department. The 24 books, divided into three parts, contain the canonical Hebrew Scriptures: the Torah, the Nevi’im and the Ketuvim. Christians revere the texts as the Old Testament and Islam teaches that the Torah and the Psalms are divinely revealed books. Arguably, the Hebrew Bible constitutes the most influential book in human history and the bedrock of Western civilization.

“In Codex Sassoon, a monumental transformation in the history of the Hebrew Bible is revealed,” added Mintz. “The biblical text in book format marks a critical turning point in how we perceive the history of the Divine word across thousands of years and is a transformative witness to how the Hebrew Bible has influenced the pillars of civilization – art, culture, law, and politics – for centuries.”

Sotheby’s boasts Codex Sassoon could become the “most valuable historical document ever sold at auction.” Although scholars have been aware of its importance, explains the firm, since the late 1960s, Codex Sassoon has remained largely out of public view for centuries; its last appearance was 40 years ago. A global tour will see the magnificent volume return to display, beginning with an exhibition 22–28 February at Sotheby’s in London, followed by stops in Tel Aviv (where it will be shown at ANU Museum of the Jewish People), Dallas, Los Angeles and New York City.

Shaul Seidler-Feller, a Judaica consultant in Books & Manuscripts, commented, “David Solomon Sassoon built one of history’s most important private libraries of Judaica manuscripts, and Codex Sassoon undoubtedly ranks among the jewels of his collection.”

Codex Sassoon is a landmark for understanding the evolution of the history of the Hebrew Bible, and its appearance at auction this May represents the latest chapter in an incredible story of cultural transmission and heritage declared Sotheby’s.



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