The earliest most complete Hebrew Bible, known as Codex Sassoon, is set to be offered at an auction organized by Sotheby’s. The auction is scheduled to begin on 16 May 2023, with the auction house expecting the manuscript to fetch a price between $30 and $50 million. If this turns out to be the case, it will become the most valuable historical document to be sold at an auction.
The Hebrew Bible that will appear on auction is believed to date back to the 9th or early 10th century. According to Sotheby’s, the document consists of 400 sheets of parchment paper and includes all 24 books that make up the Hebrew Bible.
While Codex Sassoon is missing 12 leaves, its importance is immeasurable. It predates the earliest-known Hebrew Bible, Leningrad Codex, by almost 100 years. Also, the manuscript “contains faithful notes of the Masorah, commentary that ensures the biblical text’s proper inscription and recitation,” according to Sotheby’s.
“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,” says Sharon Mintz, Senior Judaica Specialist at Sotheby’s.
The first known location of Codex Sassoon was a synagogue in present-day Syria. It was moved from there in the 13th or 14th after the synagogue was destroyed and remained in possession of a man named Salama bin Abi al-Fakhr.
While al-Fakhr intended to hold onto the manuscript until the synagogue was rebuilt, that never happened. The Hebrew Bible went missing for centuries before resurfacing again in the early 20th century when it was purchased by David Solomon Sassoon, a well-known collector of Hebrew manuscripts and documents. The document changed hands several times since, and it is currently in possession of Swiss collector Jacqui Safra.