The oldest, most complete Hebrew Bible that went missing for 600 years sells for a record $38 million

  • An ancient Hebrew Bible has just sold at Sotheby's auction house in New York for $38 million.

  • The ancient text, written in around 900 AD, is the most complete early copy of the Hebrew Bible.

  • The auction house describes it as "the most significant early biblical manuscript in private hands."

The oldest Hebrew Bible in the world was sold at Sotheby's auction house in New York for $38 million.

The ancient leather-bound, handwritten parchment volume, which dates from around 900 AD., "contains almost the entirety of the Hebrew Bible," making it the most complete early copy to exist, according to Sotheby's.

It's known as the Codex Sassoon — named after its former owner, David Solomon Sassoon, a collector who amassed a significant collection of Judaica and Hebraica manuscripts in the 20th century, Insider's Lakshmi Varanasi previously reported.

It was sold following 10 minutes of bidding to Alfred Moses, a US lawyer and former ambassador, who will donate it to the ANU Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv, Israel.

The sum was a record for a manuscript, per The Financial Times, surpassing the $31 million Microsoft's Bill Gates paid for Da Vinci's Codex Leicester in 1994. Billionaire Citadel founder Ken Griffin set the record for a historical document in 2021 when he paid $43 million for an original printed copy of the US Constitution.

Codex Sassoon
Roy Rochlin / Contributor/Getty Images

The Codex Sassoon was written by an unknown master scribe over a period of two years, according to the website of the Southern Methodist University in Dallas, which displayed the prized Bible in its Bridwell Library last month.

A second scholar added notes in the 13th century when it waS housed in a synagogue in Syria. When invaders destroyed the synagogue, a member of the Jewish community hid it away for safekeeping to be returned when it was rebuilt. It never was, and the Codex officially disappeared for 600 years until it appeared in 1929 and was purchased by David Sassoon, said the SMU website.

The Codex Sassoon

The only other nearly complete Hebrew Bible to survive from the tenth century is known as the Aleppo Codex, which was created in around 930 AD, per Sotheby's. However, around two-fifths of the manuscript were lost between the late 1940s and late 1950s, under what the auction house describes as "mysterious circumstances."

Hence, the auction house says the nearly 800-page Codex Sassoon is "definitively the most significant early biblical manuscript in private hands."

It includes 24 books of the Hebrew Bible, divided into the Torah, or "Pentateuch," the Nevi'im, or "prophets," and the Ketuvim, or "writings." The Hebrew Bible is the basis for what Christians call the Old Testament.

Sharon Liberman Mintz, Sotheby's Judaica specialist, said the gigantic $38 million price tag "reflects the profound power, influence, and significance of the Hebrew Bible, which is an indispensable pillar of humanity," per the Associated Press.



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