A Bidding War Could Fetch $50 Million For The Oldest Nearly Complete Hebrew Bible In Existence

A Bidding War Could Fetch $50 Million For The Oldest Nearly Complete Hebrew Bible In Existence
Courtesy of Sotheby’s

In the event that the 1100-year-old volume is sold at auction, it will become the most valuable historical document ever sold at auction.

The auction house Sotheby's has announced plans to put up for auction the oldest surviving nearly complete Hebrew Bible, called the Codex Sassoon, which was discovered in the 18th century. According to estimates, the 1,100 year old volume is expected to fetch $30 million to $50 million at auction, which could make it the most valuable historical document to ever sell on the open market.

There was a businessman, philanthropist, and Judaica collector named David Solomon Sassoon who owned and once owned the Codex before it was donated to the Vatican. According to Rich Report, this tome predates the Leningrad Codex, which is considered the oldest completely complete Hebrew Bible, by nearly a century. Even though the Aleppo Codex in the Israel Museum is older than the Codex Sassoon, almost two-fifths of its pages have been lost over the centuries. 

“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,” said Richard Austin, Sotheby's international head of books and manuscripts in a press release. “With such eminence, the Codex has an incomparable presence and gravitas that can only be borne from more than one thousand years of history.”

Courtesy of Sotheby’s 

The Codex Sassoon contains Masoretic notes from scholars of the early Middle Ages describing how certain words in the Hebrew Bible's twenty-four books should be spelled, read, pronounced, and accented within them. 

As well as transcriptions, commentary, and ownership records, it also contains over a millennium's worth of annotations, transcriptions, and commentary. A statement by Sotheby's said that this document provides an even greater insight into the way Abrahamic religions developed and spread across the ancient Levant area during the Middle Ages, and how they developed.

As part of the cost analysis, it took into account the production cost of more than 100 animal skins, as well as the meticulous amount of calligraphy done by one writer and its monumental historical significance. As part of its analysis, it also took into account the two prior record-breaking sales of historical documents that had occurred. 

A first printing of the US Constitution was purchased by billionaire and Top 200 art collector Ken Griffin in November 2021 for $43.2 million, a price that smashed Bill Gates' 1993 purchase of the Codex Leicester, a Leonardo da Vinci manuscript. It was written by Leonardo da Vinci and was the original copy.

World's oldest Hebrew Bible could fetch $50 million at auction
Courtesy of Sotheby’s 

In the present, the Codex Sassoon is owned by Jacob (Jacqui) Safra, heir of the Syrian Lebanese-Swiss banking fortune born out of a Syrian mother and a Swiss father. Safra has sold two paintings by the Italian 17th-century painter Artemisia Gentileschi through an auction called the Old Masters at Sotheby's New York held in January, during which the paintings were up for auction.

It was in 1982 when the Codex Sassoon was last exhibited in public at the British Museum in London that there was an exhibition of it. A major tour of the collection will be organized by Sotheby's in the near future, with stops in London, Tel Aviv, Dallas, Los Angeles, and New York, as well as the ANU Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv.

On the morning of May 16, Sotheby's will hold the live auction auction for the object at Sotheby's in New York City.

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