1,100-year-old Hebrew Bible sells for $38m, will head to Israel

One of the world’s oldest surviving bible manuscripts will be placed in the Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv.

A page of the codex with Hebrew manuscript
The ancient document sold for one of the highest prices at auction for a manuscript [File: John Minchillo/AP Photo]

A 1,100-year-old Hebrew Bible, one of the world’s oldest surviving biblical manuscripts, has sold for $38m in New York on Wednesday.

The Codex Sassoon, a leather-bound, handwritten parchment volume containing a nearly complete Hebrew Bible, was purchased by Alfred H Moses, a former United States ambassador to Romania.

Moses acquired the ancient text on behalf of the American Friends of ANU — Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv, where it will join the collection, the auction house Sotheby’s said in a statement.

The manuscript was exhibited at the ANU Museum in March as part of a worldwide tour before the auction.

Sotheby’s Judaica specialist Sharon Liberman Mintz said the $38m price tag, which includes the auction house’s fee, “reflects the profound power, influence and significance of the Hebrew Bible, which is an indispensable pillar of humanity”.

It is one of the highest prices for a manuscript sold at auction. In 2021, a rare copy of the US Constitution sold for $43m. Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Leicester sold for $31m in 1994, or approximately $60m in today’s dollars.

Mintz said she was “absolutely delighted by today’s monumental result and that Codex Sassoon will shortly be making its grand and permanent return to Israel, on display for the world to see”.

The Codex Sassoon is believed to have been fabricated sometime between 880 and 960.

It got its name in 1929 when it was bought by David Solomon Sassoon, the son of an Iraqi Jewish business magnate who filled his London home with his collection of Jewish manuscripts.

Sassoon’s estate was broken up after he died and the biblical codex was sold by Sotheby’s in Zurich in 1978 to the British Rail Pension Fund for about $320,000, or $1.4m in today’s dollars.

The pension fund sold the Codex Sassoon 11 years later to Jacqui Safra, a banker and art collector who bought it in 1989 for $3.19m ($7.7m in today’s dollars). Safra was the seller on Wednesday.

Source: The Associated Press