Estimated to be more than 1,000 years old, the oldest and most complete Hebrew Bible is on course to break a stunning record when it goes up for auction this spring.
Sotheby’s, the auction house selling the Bible, is estimating the ancient text, known as Codex Sassoon, will go for upwards of $30 to $50 million when it’s presented May 16, the group announced recently.
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The relic dates back to the late 9th or early 10th century, containing all 24 books of the Hebrew Bible, though it is missing 12 leaves. The Tanakh — or the Old Testament — isn’t divided into as many books as seen in the Christian Bible, containing both the Old and New Testaments. For example, the Hebrew text doesn’t split Samuel, Kings, or Chronicles into two parts, nor does it separate Ezra and Nehemiah or the 12 Minor Prophets into several books.
The Hebrew manuscript is named after its most famous owner, David Solomon Sassoon, who died in 1942, according to CBS News. Incredibly, Sassoon had committed to memory the prayers for the whole liturgical year and knew by heart nearly the entire Hebrew Bible by the time he was just eight years old, Sotheby’s reported.
Sassoon acquired the historically significant Bible in 1929, bringing the text back into public view after some 600 years. Since Sassoon’s passing, the leather-bound religious artifact, weighing 26 pounds and measuring 12 by 14 inches, has been held in private collections.
While there are older biblical manuscripts in existence, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Aleppo Codex, the Codex Sassoon stands apart as both the oldest and most complete collection of Scriptures. It is nearly 100 years older than the Leningrad Codex, the oldest fully complete Bible.
“In Codex Sassoon, a monumental transformation in the history of the Hebrew Bible is revealed,” explained Sotheby’s senior Judaica specialist Sharon Liberman Mintz. “The biblical text in book format 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.”
Mintz told The New York Times that, even in its day, a Bible like the Codex Sassoon would have been very expensive, because — among other things — its construction required the skins of more than 100 animals.
Richard Austin, Sotheby’s global head of books and manuscripts, said the 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.”
“With such eminence,” he added, “the Codex has an incomparable presence and gravitas that can only be borne from more than 1,000 years of history.”
Beginning next week, the Codex Sassoon will be on display in London. From there, it will travel around the world, stopping for observation in Tel Aviv, Los Angeles, Dallas and, lastly, New York City, where it will be auctioned off to the highest bidder.
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