World's oldest Hebrew Bible sells for €35 million

World's oldest Hebrew Bible sells for €35 million

A Hebrew Bible more than 1,000 years old has sold for $38.1 million (approximately €35.23 million), setting a record for the most valuable manuscript ever sold at auction.

The leather-bound Codex Sassoon, which dates to the late ninth to early 10th century, is the earliest near-complete Hebrew Bible known to still exist.

It was sold by Sotheby's in New York following a four-minute bidding battle between two bidders, the auction house said in a statement.

The Bible was bought by Alfred H. Moses, a former U.S. ambassador and president of the American Jewish Committee, who is donating it to the ANU Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv, Israel.

Explaining the purchase, Moses said, "The Hebrew Bible is the most influential book in history and constitutes the bedrock of Western civilization. I rejoice in knowing that it belongs to the Jewish People".

The sale surpassed the $30.8 million (about €28.48 million) that Microsoft founder Bill Gates paid for Leonardo da Vinci's Codex Leicester manuscript in 1994 as the most expensive handwritten document ever sold at auction.

One of the first prints of the US Constitution, which Sotheby's sold for $43 million (around €40 million) in November 2021 remains the most expensive historical document sold.

JACK GUEZ/AFP or licensors
The Codex Sassoon - JACK GUEZ/AFP or licensors

The Codex Sassoon is one of only two codices, or manuscripts, containing all 24 books of the Hebrew Bible to have survived into the modern era.

It is substantially more complete than the Aleppo Codex and older than the Leningrad Codex, two other famous early Hebrew Bibles, Sotheby's said.

The manuscript bridges the Dead Sea Scrolls, which date back as early as the third century BC, and today's modern accepted form of the Hebrew Bible.

It is named after the previous owner David Solomon Sassoon who lived from 1880-1942 and assembled the most significant private collection of ancient Jewish texts in the world.

The manuscript was auctioned for the first time in more than 30 years and had a pre-sale estimate of between $30 million (€27 million) and $50 million (€46 million).

The Codex Sassoon, which has been in numerous locations throughout its history, has only been presented once in the past to the public at the British Library in London in 1982.

According to carbon-14 dating, the Codex Sassoon is older and more complete than the Aleppo version, written in Galilee in the 10th century and brought to Israel in the 1950s after being found in that Syrian city.

The manuscript is also considered to predate the Leningrad Codex, the oldest surviving copy of the Hebrew Bible text in its entirety which dates to the early eleventh century.