Codex Sassoon Hebrew Bible from tenth century goes to auction, estimated value is USD 30-50 million

NEW YORK —  An old Hebrew Bible from the late ninth or early tenth century A.D. will go up for sale at auction house Sotheby’s in New York this May. The so-called Codex Sassoon has an estimated value of USD 30-50 million and will be on public display in New York, Tel Aviv, London, Tel Aviv, Dallas, and Los Angeles before being auctioned off.

The Codex will go into auction for the first time in more than 30 years. The current owner is Jacqui Eli Safra from the Syrian-Lebanese-Swiss Jewish Safra banking family.

According to Sotheby’s, the Codex Sassoon is the earliest most complete Hebrew Bible and the earliest surviving example of a single codex containing all the books of the Hebrew Bible – 24 books divided into three parts, the Pentateuch, the Prophets and the Writings – with their punctuation, vowels, and accents. It only misses five pages, several chapters of the book of Genesis.

The text preserved in the Codex Sassoon is known as the Masoretic text, Judaica and Sotheby’s consultant Sharon Mintz told the New York Times. It is named after the Masoretes, scholar-scribes who lived in Palestine and Babylonia (Iraq) from about the sixth to the ninth centuries and developed systems of annotation to ensure that the text would be read and transmitted properly.

The sale price will have to exceed USD 43 million if the Codex Sassoon is to become the most expensive historical document or manuscript ever. The previous record was one of the first printings of the US Constitution, which sold for USD 43 million in 2021.

The Codex Sassoon is the nearly most complete Hebrew Bible but not the oldest. The Dead Sea Scrolls are the earliest known biblical manuscripts in Hebrew (with some written in Aramaic). The Dead Sea Scrolls were found at Qumran, then Palestine, and date from the third century B.C. to the first century A.D.

In the late 1950s, Syriac Orthodox metropolitan of Palestine and Trans-Jordan, Athanasius Yeshu’ Samuel, played a role in finding the scroll fragments. He acquired many of the Qumran manuscripts from a Bedouin tribe. In January 1949, amidst turmoil in the Holy Land following the establishment of the state of Israel, the archbishop went to the US to bring the Scrolls to the attention of the world community.