Friday 17 February 2023

World’s Oldest Hebrew Bible Could Become Most Expensive Historical Document Ever Sold

 A Hebrew Bible that is over a thousand years old is on track to break records when it goes up for auction this spring, Sotheby’s, the group auctioning it off, said on Wednesday.

They estimate the Bible will go for $30 to $50 million. If it were to bring in $50 million, it would become the most valuable historical manuscript or document ever sold at an auction. Known as the Codex Sassoon, it consists of 400 pages of parchment sheets — including all 24 books of the Hebrew Bible. Sotheby’s notes that it is missing 12 leaves. Some of the missing pages are the first ten chapters of Genesis, according to The New York Times.

“The biblical text in book format marks a critical turning point in how we perceive the history of the Divine word across thousands of years and is a transformative witness to how the Hebrew Bible has influenced the pillars of civilization – art, culture, law, politics – for centuries,” Sharon Mintz, Sotheby’s senior Judaica specialist, said.

Likely dating to the 9th century, the Bible has notes that include deeds of sale. It was eventually dedicated to a northeast Syrian synagogue. Sometime between the 13th and 14th centuries, the synagogue was destroyed, either by the Mongol Empire or the Timurid Empire. Sotheby’s says it was potentially rebound for the first time while there. Salama ibn Abi al-Fakhr was the man entrusted with the Bible and was expected to return it once the synagogue was rebuilt, the auction house says, which notes that it is still not reconstructed.

The Bible largely stayed out of public view for about 600 years, until 1929, when it was acquired by a collector named David Solomon Sassoon. Since then, it has been in private collections, with its most recent owner being a Swiss financier. Getting its name from Sassoon, the Bible weighs 26 pounds, measures 12 by 14 inches, and is bound in brown leather. “Codex” means a manuscript that is in book form. Mintz told the Times that even in its time, the Bible was expensive, requiring the skins of over 100 animals.

Photo by ED JONES/AFP via Getty Images

“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,” Richard Austin, Sotheby’s global head of books and manuscripts, says. “With such eminence, the Codex has an incomparable presence and gravitas that can only be borne from more than one thousand years of history.”

Carbon dating says that the Codex Sassoon is from the 9th century, making it older than both the Aleppo Codex and the Leningrad Codex, which are two other well-known historic Hebrew Bibles, according to CNBC. Sotheby’s says that “the Codex provides a crucial bridge from the ancient Dead Sea Scrolls to the Bible of today.” The Dead Sea Scrolls are the oldest copies of Biblical text, discovered in caves in 1947 and dating from the third century B.C. to the first century A.D. 

The current record-holder is a first-edition copy of the U.S. Constitution that was bought for $43.2 million in 2021 by hedge fund manager Ken Griffin. The Codex Sassoon will be on display starting next week at Sotheby’s in London, and will subsequently embark on a global tour, stopping in Tel Aviv, Los Angeles, Dallas, and New York City. It will be auctioned off on May 16. Mintz told CNN that “this is the most important document to come to auction ever.”

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