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May 9, 2023 11:17 am

World’s Earliest, Most Complete Hebrew Bible Goes on Display in New York Before Auction


avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

The Codex Sassoon. Photo: Sotheby’s

The Codex Sassoon, the world’s earliest and most complete copy of the Hebrew Bible, is currently on display in New York City at Sotheby’s, an auction house, before it goes up for auction later this month.

The exhibition opened on Sunday and will run until May 16, a day before the Bible is expected to sell in New York for an estimated $30-$50 million. It is also estimated by Sotheby’s to be the most valuable printed book, manuscript or historical document ever offered at auction.

More than 1,000 years old, the Codex Sassoon is composed of 24 books divided into three parts: Torah (Pentateuch), Nevi’im (Prophets), and Ketuvim (Writings). The writings create the foundation for Judaism but the texts are also revered by Christians, who refer to it as the Old Testament, and many biblical stories are in the Qur’an and other significant Islamic works, according to Sotheby’s.

Dating back to the late ninth or early tenth century, it is “the earliest surviving example of a single codex containing all the books of the Hebrew Bible with their punctuation, vowels, and accents.” It contains almost the entire Bible and is missing only eight parchment leaves.

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The Codex Sassoon is named after its former owner David Solomon Sassoon (1880–1942), who had one of the largest private collections of Judaica and Hebrew manuscripts in the world, with a particular interest in Bibles. The Codex now comes to auction for the first time in 30 years from the renowned collector Jacqui Safra.

“In Codex Sassoon, a monumental transformation in the history of the Hebrew Bible is revealed, bringing to light the full story of the Hebrew Bible that had previously never been presented in book form,” said Sharon Liberman Mintz, a senior Judaica specialist in Sotheby’s books and manuscripts department. “Codex Sassoon 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, politics—for centuries.”

The last time the Codex Sassoon went on display was 40 years ago. Ahead of the auction on May 17, Sotheby’s organized a worldwide exhibition tour starting Feb. 22–28 in London followed by stops in Tel Aviv, where it was shown at ANU Museum of the Jewish People, Dallas, Los Angeles and now New York City.

“Codex Sassoon has long held a revered and fabled place in the pantheon of surviving historic documents and is undeniably one of the most important and singular texts in human history,” said Richard Austin, Sotheby’s global head of books and manuscripts. “With such eminence, the Codex has an incomparable presence and gravitas that can only be borne from more than one thousand years of history.”

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