Insight & Analysis

Codex Sassoon: ancient Hebrew Bible sells for £30m

Published: May 2023

A copy of the Hebrew Bible, Codex Sassoon, which is thought to be 1,100 years old and one of the world’s oldest intact books, was recently sold at auction for a record-breaking £30m.

The leather-bound, handwritten, most complete parchment volume, known as the Codex Sassoon was bought at auction by Alfred H Moses, a former US ambassador to Romania, recently in New York. The codex, described by Oxford Languages as “an ancient manuscript text in book form” is thought to have been made somewhere between 880CE (AD) and 960CE (AD).

Sotheby’s, the auctioneers, confirmed that Mr Moses, who was representing the American Friends of ANU, donated the Bible to the ANU Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv.

The name Codex Sassoon came about when it was bought in 1929 by David Solomon Sassoon, the son of an Iraqi Jewish business magnate who filled his London home with a collection of Jewish manuscripts.

The Bible was then owned by the British Rail pension fund until – in 1989 – it was bought by the current seller, Jacqui Safra, the Swiss Lebanese Syrian billionaire for almost for £2.5m.

Sharon Liberman Mintz, a specialist at Sotheby’s said the price, which is one of the highest for a manuscript sold at auction and surpasses the US$31m Bill Gates paid for Leonardo da Vinci’s Code Leicester in 1994, “reflects the profound power, influence and significance of the Hebrew Bible, which is an indispensable pillar of humanity.”

Ms Mintz said she was “absolutely delighted” by the sale and confirmed the “Codex Sassoon will shortly be making its grand and permanent return to Israel on display for the world to see.”

Although the Codex Sassoon, which contains 24 books with punctation, vowels and accents is the earliest surviving example of a single manuscript of the Hebrew Bible – there are older incomplete examples such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, parts of which are from the Hebrew Bible and date to before and just after the time of Christ, according to the Biblical Archaeology Society.

There are other older Christian Bibles in existence – the Codex Sinaiticus, part of which is in the British Library and the Codex Vaticanus, currently house in the Vatican and both of which date from the 4th century. Also kept in the British Library is the Codex Alexandrinus from the 5th century.

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