Oldest near-complete Hebrew Bible, Codex Sassoon, auctioned by Sotheby’s

A near-complete copy of the Hebrew Bible from round 1,000 years in the past — lacking only some pages — will go up for public sale in New York in May. The price ticket? An estimated $30 to $50 million, mentioned Sotheby’s, which is dealing with the sale.

The “earliest, most complete Hebrew bible ever discovered,” Sotheby’s mentioned, may additionally “become the most valuable historical document ever sold at auction.” In 2021, the public sale home offered a primary printing of the U.S. Constitution for $43 million, setting a report for that class.

The Codex Sassoon — named after its former proprietor, British collector David Solomon Sassoon — is believed so far from the late ninth or early tenth century.

It is one among solely two surviving codices from that interval of historical past that comprise “almost the entire Hebrew Bible,” Sotheby’s says. The different, referred to as the Aleppo Codex, dates from 930 however is lacking roughly 40 % of its pages. Carbon courting confirmed the Codex Sassoon is of an identical age, however “significantly more complete.” Sotheby’s auctioneers consider the Codex Sassoon is sort of a century older than the earliest full Hebrew Bible, the Leningrad Codex.

“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 world head of books and manuscripts, mentioned in a information launch on Wednesday saying the public sale.

Because the Codex Sassoon has survived via the ages in near-complete kind — containing all 24 books of the Hebrew Bible, with only some pages lacking — it gives “critical insight into the development and spread of Abrahamic religions as well as the broader transition from oral to literary traditions,” Sotheby’s mentioned.

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It additionally offers a window into “the history of the Levant in the Middle Ages,” with inscriptions and markings that hint its possession and travels via time.

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According to Sotheby’s, the Codex Sassoon was created throughout a interval wherein Jewish scholar-scribes referred to as Masoretes labored to codify and standardize the textual content of the Hebrew Bible to make sure it might be transmitted down precisely via generations. Their markings, which point out punctuation and vowels, amongst different issues, made it doable to pronounce and interpret early biblical texts, such because the Dead Sea Scrolls, which have been written on scrolls and have been troublesome to parse via.

The manuscript is thought to have modified arms many instances, starting shortly after its creation, when it was offered by businessman Khalaf ben Abraham to Isaac ben Ezekiel al-Attar, who then handed it onto his sons.

In the thirteenth century, the Codex Sassoon was devoted to the synagogue within the metropolis of Makisin, in northeast Syria, which is situated close to Syria’s modern-day border with Iraq. After Makisin was destroyed within the thirteenth or 14th century, “the Codex was entrusted for safekeeping to Salama ibn Abi al-Fakhr, who was required to return it once the synagogue was rebuilt,” Sotheby’s mentioned.

But the synagogue was by no means rebuilt, and “the Codex’s odyssey continued” — till Sassoon, a collector of Judaica from a outstanding household that made its fortune within the 18th century in India and China, purchased it in 1929. It was finally acquired by its present proprietor, Swiss investor Jacqui Safra.

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The modern-day public sale of the doc is noteworthy as a result of “the Hebrew Bible is the sacred, foundational text for peoples across the globe,” Sharon Liberman Mintz, a senior Judaica specialist at Sotheby’s, mentioned in a information launch.

Sotheby’s mentioned that, whereas spiritual students have identified concerning the historic significance of the codex for over 60 years, the doc “has remained largely out of public view for centuries,” final showing in public 40 years in the past.

That is now set to alter: Ahead of the public sale in May, the Codex Sassoon can be exhibited in London, Tel Aviv, Dallas, Los Angeles and New York in a “global tour” the public sale home possible hopes will enhance curiosity within the historic sale.

“In Codex Sassoon, a monumental transformation in the history of the Hebrew Bible is revealed,” Mintz mentioned. “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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