Home Interior Design The Codex Sassoon, an ancient Hebrew Bible, fetched $33.5 million at Sotheby’s, making it one of the most valuable manuscripts ever sold

The Codex Sassoon, an ancient Hebrew Bible, fetched $33.5 million at Sotheby’s, making it one of the most valuable manuscripts ever sold

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The Bible may be the most produced book in the world, but there are few, if any, like the Codex Sassoon. Produced by a single unknown scribe in the Levant around 1,100 years ago, it disappeared for 600 years before reappearing in the 20th century as the oldest and most complete Hebrew Bible.

Almost a century after it was acquired by British bibliophile David Solomon Sassoon for £350 (about $35,000 today), the Bible was sold on May 17 at Sotheby’s New York for $33.5 million, rising to $38.1 million with buyer’s premium. The buyer was Ambassador Alfred H. Moses and it is offered to the ANU Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv. The result is at the lower end of his estimate of $30-50 million.

Codex Sassoon

The Codex Sassoon had a pre-auction estimate of $30-50 million. Photo courtesy of Sotheby’s.

In preparation, the auction house said few objects could claim such monumental significance, with the Codex Sassoon being a cornerstone of civilizations and communities around the world. Led by auctioneer Ben Doller, the sale, however, didn’t quite live up to the hype. After a first wave of bids quickly raised the price from $26 million to $33 million, there was a prolonged lull with the final winning bid over the phone after a delay of several minutes.

Nevertheless, the price makes the Codex one of the most expensive rare books and manuscripts ever sold and puts it between $30.8 million. Bill Gates paid for Leonardo da Vinci’s “Codex Leicester” and the $43.2 million Ken Griffin paid for a first printing of the United States Constitution.

“It was my mission, realizing the historical significance of the Codex Sassoon, to ensure that it resides in a place with global access for all,” Moses said in a statement. “It will be preserved for generations to come as a centerpiece and jewel of the full and extensive display and presence of Jewish history.”

Prior to the auction, Sotheby’s took Codex Sassoon on a whirlwind publicity tour, giving people in London, Tel Aviv, Dallas, Los Angeles and New York the chance to see a text that had only been shown once. times publicly at the English Museum in 1982. The Codex was, Sotheby’s proclaimed as the auction approached, “unmistakable presence and gravity”. Collectors obviously didn’t entirely agree.

Codex Sassoon

The Codex Sassoon is the oldest and most complete Hebrew Bible. Photo courtesy Sotheby’s.

Although Dead Sea Scrolls listed as the oldest Biblical manuscript discovered, the third-century BCE text is far from complete. The Codex Sassoon forms a sort of vaunted biblical trinity alongside the Aleppo Codex, which was created around 930 CE but is missing 40% of its pages, and the Leningrad Codex, which is complete and dates from 1008 CE.

The Codex Sassoon measures 12 by 14 inches with the pages made up of over 100 animal skins held in a brown leather binding dating from the beginning of the 20th century. Part of the scientific value of the Codex derives from the bridge it provides from the earliest biblical scroll fragments that were discovered to the early medieval period. Complete codices of the Hebrew Bible did not appear until the 9th century, as oral traditions took precedence.

The Codex Sassoon arrived at Sotheby’s thanks to Jacqui Safra who bought it in 1989 for $3.19 million.

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