NEW YORK: In a historic auction in New York, a remarkable Hebrew Bible over 1,000 years old was sold for a staggering $38.1 million, setting a new record for the most valuable manuscript ever sold at auction.
The Codex Sassoon, dating back to the late ninth to early 10th century, represents one of the earliest near-complete Hebrew Bibles still in existence. Sotheby’s, the auction house, reported a fierce four-minute bidding battle between two buyers before the Bible was acquired by former US diplomat Alfred Moses on behalf of an American nonprofit organization.
The significance of the Hebrew Bible as the most influential book in history and the foundation of Western civilization was emphasized by Moses, who served as an ambassador under President Bill Clinton. This sale surpassed the previous record set in 1994 when Bill Gates purchased Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Leicester manuscript for $30.8 million.
While the Codex Sassoon claimed the title of the most expensive handwritten document ever sold at auction, the highest-priced historical document remains one of the first prints of the US Constitution, which fetched $43 million in November 2021.
The Codex Sassoon holds a unique position as one of only two surviving codices containing all 24 books of the Hebrew Bible. Its completeness surpasses the famous Aleppo Codex and predates the Leningrad Codex, both of which are renowned early Hebrew Bibles. Serving as a bridge between the ancient Dead Sea Scrolls and the accepted modern form of the Hebrew Bible, this manuscript carries immense historical and cultural significance.
Named after its previous owner, David Solomon Sassoon, who assembled one of the most significant private collections of ancient Jewish texts in the world, the Codex Sassoon’s auction marked its first public appearance in over 30 years.
Throughout its journey, the manuscript has traversed various locations, and it was presented to the public only once in 1982 at the British Library in London. Carbon-14 dating has revealed that the Codex Sassoon predates the Aleppo Codex, which was written in Galilee in the 10th century and later brought to Israel in the 1950s after being discovered in Syria. Furthermore, the Codex Sassoon is considered to predate the Leningrad Codex, the oldest existing complete copy of the Hebrew Bible text, which is estimated to be from the early eleventh century.