World's oldest Hebrew Bible sells for $38 million
The Codex Sassoon was purchased for one of the highest prices for a manuscript sold at auction. It is set to be displayed at the ANU Museum in Israel
A leather-bound, handwritten Hebrew Bible believed to be around 1,100 years old sold for $38.1 million (€35.1 million) in New York, auction house Sotheby's said on Wednesday.
The Codex Sassoon's price surpasses the $30.8 million paid in 1994 for Leonardo da Vinci's Codex Leicester manuscript but is below the world-record $43.2 million paid in 2021 for a first edition of the US Constitution.
Its price tag "reflects the profound power, influence, and significance of the Hebrew Bible, which is an indispensable pillar of humanity," said Sotheby's Judaica specialist Sharon Liberman Mintz.
Codex Sassoon to go to ANU Museum
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."
Former US ambassador and president of the American Jewish Committee Alfred H. Moses bought the codex on behalf of the non-profit American Friends of ANU. It will be donated to the ANU Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv, Israel.
"The Hebrew Bible is the most influential book in history and constitutes the bedrock of Western civilization. I rejoice in knowing that it belongs to the Jewish People," said Moses.
Before the auction, which Sotheby's said lasted for 4 minutes and was between two buyers, the manuscript was exhibited at the ANU Museum in March as part of a worldwide tour.
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Who owned the Codex Sassoon before?
The codex, which was named after its previous owner David Solomon Sassoon, is believed to have been written between 880 and 960.
Sassoon, who assembled a private collection of ancient Jewish texts, acquired it in 1929. After his death, Sassoon's estate was broken up, and Sotheby's sold the codex in 1978 to the British Rail Pension Fund for around $320,000, or $1.4 million in today's dollars.
In 1989, the pension fund sold it for $3.19 million ($7.7 million in today's dollars) to banker and art collector Jacqui Safra, who sold it on Wednesday.
According to Sotheby's, Safra had recently had the manuscript carbon dated to confirm it was older than the Aleppo Codex and the Leningrad Codex, two other major early Hebrew Bibles.
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