Oldest known copy of a Hebrew Bible could fetch $50 million at auction

The Codex Sassoon is 1,100 years old and will be on display in New York in May.


Codex Sassoon (late ninth to early 10th century). Credit: Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

By Adam Kovac, The Forward

The oldest known copy of the Hebrew Bible could soon be yours for the low price of $30 million.

The Codex Sassoon, which dates to around the year 900, is composed of all 24 books of the Hebrew Bible, including the punctuation, vowels and accents that make for a more user-friendly reading experience than what is found in Torah scrolls. It will be put up for sale by auction house Sotheby’s on May 16, where it could sell for as much as $50 million, making it the most expensive historical document to ever be auctioned. The low estimate for the sale price is $30 million.

Sotheby’s will put the Codex Sassoon on display for the first time in 40 years prior to the auction, including stops in London, Tel Aviv, Dallas, Los Angeles and, from May 7-16, New York City.

“In Codex Sassoon, a monumental transformation in the history of the Hebrew Bible is revealed,” Sharon Liberman Mintz, a senior Judaica specialist in Sotheby’s books and manuscripts department, said in an article on the auction house’s website. “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.”

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The Codex Sassoon is named for its former owner, David Sassoon, who died in 1942. During his lifetime, he amassed the largest collection of Hebrew manuscripts in the world, with the codex as his collection’s crown jewel. But the 400-page tome’s long history has been traced to a 13th-century Syrian synagogue, passing hands through the centuries to its current owner, Jewish Swiss investor Jacqui Safra.

According to a New York Times report, the Sassoon Codex was originally believed to be newer than the Aleppo Codex, a similar document currently held by the Israel Museum. But where the Aleppo Codex is missing 40% of its pages, the Sassoon Codex is far more complete, missing only five pages, making up most of the book of Genesis. But carbon dating now indicates the Sassoon Codex is the older of the two. Currently, the most expensive historical document ever sold was the 2021 sale of an early copy of the U.S. Constitution to hedge fund chief Ken Griffin. In 2015, a 16th-century copy of the Talmud was sold for $9.3 million while a copy of the Bible autographed by Albert Einstein fetched $68,500 in 2013.

This article was originally published on the Forward.