World’s oldest near-complete Hebrew Bible sells for $38 mn

A more than 1,000-year-old Hebrew Bible sold for $38.1 million at auction in New York on Wednesday, setting a record for the most valuable text ever sold at sale.

The Codex Sassoon, which dates from the late ninth to early tenth centuries, is the oldest near-complete Hebrew Bible still known to exist.

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Sotheby’s claimed in a statement that 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 an American foundation that will 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 transaction exceeded the $30.8 million paid for Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Leicester manuscript by Microsoft founder Bill Gates in 1994 as the most expensive handwritten document ever sold at auction.

The most expensive historical document remains one of the earliest prints of the US Constitution, which Sotheby’s sold in November 2021 for $43 million.

The Codex Sassoon is one of just two codices, or manuscripts, that have survived into the contemporary day and include all 24 books of the Hebrew Bible.

According to Sotheby’s, it is more complete than the Aleppo Codex and older than the Leningrad Codex, two other notable early Hebrew Bibles.

The manuscript connects the Dead Sea Scrolls, which date back to the third century BC, with today’s widely accepted version of the Hebrew Bible.

It was named after previous owner David Solomon Sassoon (1880-1942), who amassed the world’s most significant private collection of ancient Jewish manuscripts.

The book was auctioned off for the first time in almost 30 years, with a pre-sale estimate of $30 million to $50 million.

According to Orit Shaham-Gover, chief curator of the Museum of the Jewish People, the Codex Sassoon has only been displayed to the public once before, in 1982, at the British Library in London.

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

The manuscript is also thought to predate the Leningrad Codex, the earliest surviving complete copy of the Hebrew Bible text, and is dated to the early eleventh century.

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