The oldest, most complete Hebrew Bible could make $40m at auction

In May 2023, the Codex Sassoon, with all 24 books that have survived for around 1,100 years, will go up for auction at Sotheby’s.
Christopher McFadden
It is the oldest and most complete Hebrew bible ever found.


The Codex Sassoon, also known as the "Sassoon Bible," is a landmark document in the history of the Hebrew Bible. It is thought that a scribe in Egypt or the Levant made it around 1,100 years ago.

It is the oldest complete Hebrew Bible with all 24 books, punctuation, vowels, and accents that have survived. This makes it an extraordinary piece of history, as it provides scholars and the public with a rare glimpse into the early development of the Hebrew Bible.

The Codex Sassoon will be up for auction at Sotheby's in New York in May, with an estimated value of $30 million to $50 million. If it sells for over $43.2 million, it will become the most expensive historical document ever sold at auction, surpassing a rare first-edition copy of the US Constitution. Its high value is due to its rarity, completeness, and historical significance.

One of the most important aspects of the Codex Sassoon is its Masoretic notes, which ensure the proper inscription and recitation of the biblical text. The Masoretes, a group of Jewish scholars who worked to standardize the Hebrew Bible's text in the early Middle Ages, added a set of annotations and comments to the Hebrew Bible's text known as the Masoretic notes.

The notes in the Codex Sassoon are precious, as they provide insight into the development of the text of the Hebrew Bible and the methods used to preserve it.

In addition to its Masoretic notes, the Codex Sassoon tells us a lot about how the Abrahamic religions grew and spread. Its annotations and inscriptions from the Middle Ages show us the history of the Levant. Its significance lies not only in its content but also in its journey throughout history.

Only 12 pages of the Codex are missing, and David Solomon Sassoon acquired them in 1929. It was dedicated to a synagogue in Makisin, now the site of Markada in present-day Syria, in the 13th century.

The manuscript was likely rebound for the first time then. But the town of Makisin was destroyed by the Mongol Empire in the 1300s or the Timurid Empire in the 1400s, and Salama ibn Abi al-Fakhr was given the Codex to keep safe. He had to give it back when the synagogue was rebuilt.

The Codex Sassoon is an extraordinary document that provides a glimpse into the early development of the Hebrew Bible and the history of the Levant in the Middle Ages.

It is a landmark for understanding the evolution of the history of the Hebrew Bible, and its appearance at auction this May represents the latest chapter in an incredible story of cultural transmission and heritage. Its high value reflects its rarity, completeness, and importance as a piece of human history that has influenced the pillars of civilization - art, culture, law, and politics - for centuries.

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