World's Oldest And Most Complete Hebrew Bible Sold For $38.1M

The Codex Sassoon was bought by former U.S. ambassador Alfred H. Moses and is now among the most expensive documents ever sold at an auction. 

Sotheby’s just sold one of the oldest and most intact Hebrew bibles in the world during a May 17 auction. Alfred H. Moses, the winning bidder, paid $38.1 million for the document. This surpasses the price of Leonardo da Vinci’s coveted Codex of Leicester, which was sold to Bill Gates for $30.8 million in 1994. It also beats the $35 million fetched by a printer’s manuscript of The Book of Mormon in 2017. 

While it hasn’t beaten the $43.2 million value of a first edition U.S. Constitution sold in 2021, it’s still one of the most expensive documents in recent memory. 

The Codex Sassoon
The Codex of Sassoon on display during Sotheby’s historic auction/Photo via Instagram @sothebys

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Moses, who’s the president of the American Jewish Committee, intends to give the precious book to the ANU Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv, Israel. 

The Codex Sassoon for auction
Photo via Instagram @sothebys

The bible was renamed “Codex Sassoon” as a tribute to David Solomon Sassoon, an established Judaica and manuscript collector. Sassoon purchased the book in the 1920s for £350; it was under his estate’s ownership until 1978, when it was sold to the British Rail Pension Fund for $320,000. Shortly after, the fund sold it to its most recent owner, Jaqui Safra, for $3.1 million in 1989.

Kept in Pristine Condition

The bible is a rarity, even among similar books with equally long histories. A carbon dating analysis found that the volume dates back to the ninth to 10th century, making it even older than other early Hebrew bibles like the Aleppo Codex. 

What’s more, the book is almost complete—a feat that not even the Aleppo Codex could achieve due to losing a number of pages during a synagogue fire. 

The Codex of Sassoon is only missing 12 pages, and contains every original detail down to punctuation, vowels, and accents. It has a total of 792 pages made from animal skin, which according to Sotheby’s senior Judaica specialist Sharon Mintz, was a pricey material that only the wealthiest could afford. The valuable document contains 24 books from the Old Testament, which the Jewish people refer to as the Tanakh.

The Codex Sassoon
A closer look at the precious document, whose pages are relatively intact and complete/Photo from the Sotheby’s official website

While the book has long been hidden from the public eye, it will soon be taking its rightful place in a repository of Jewish culture and history for everyone to appreciate. The ANU Museum of the Jewish People actually put the volume on display during a week-long exhibition in March that was well-received, according to the institution. 

“We wanted it to come home,” shared Irina Nevzlin, the chair of the museum’s board of directors, with the Wall Street Journal. “This is something that connects us all to our roots and gives us a foundation of who we are—for everybody in the world,” she continued. 

Banner photo via Instagram @sothebys.

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