16 February 2023

Ancient copy of Hebrew Bible expected to fetch up to £41.5m at auction

16 February 2023

An ancient codex, believed to be the earliest, most complete copy of the Hebrew Bible ever discovered, is expected to fetch up to 50 million dollars (£41.5 million) at auction.

Codex Sassoon is one of a handful of rare historical artifacts that has survived throughout the centuries to allow a window into the past and develop modern cultural understanding.

The book, which dates back to the ninth or tenth century, is due to come up for auction at Sotheby’s in New York in May for the first time in more than 30 years.

According to the auction house, it has long been a foundational cornerstone to civilisations and communities around the globe and is arguably the most influential book in human history.

Composed of 24 books divided into three parts – the Pentateuch, the Prophets and the Writings – the Hebrew Bible makes up the foundation for Judaism as well as the other Abrahamic faiths.

Codex Sassoon provides a bridge between ancient Dead Sea scrolls to the Bible of the modern day.

The book is named after its modern owner, David Solomon Sassoon, who assembled the most significant private collection of Judaica and Hebraica manuscripts in the world.

He died in 1942 and the codex will come to auction from renowned collector Jacqui Safra after a decades-long stewardship.

With an estimate of 30 million to 50 million dollars (£25 million to £41.5 million), Codex Sassoon will be the most valuable printed manuscript or historical document by estimate ever offered at auction.

Despite being recognised for its importance by scholars for generations, the book has remained virtually out of public view for centuries and will be exhibited for the first time in 40 years next week at Sotheby’s London.

After its UK exhibition it will travel across the world for displays in Tel Aviv, Dallas and Los Angeles before the auction in New York.

“Codex Sassoon has long held a revered and fabled place in the pantheon of surviving historic manuscripts and is undeniably one of the most important and singular texts in human history,” said Richard Austin, Sotheby’s global head of books and manuscripts.

“Now that the Codex has been definitively dated as the earliest, most complete text of its kind, it stands as a critical link from the ancient Hebrew oral tradition to the modern, accepted form of the Hebrew Bible that remains the standardised version used today.

“With such eminence, the Codex has an incomparable presence and gravitas that can only be borne from more than 1,000 years of history.”

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