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Ancient Hebrew Bible Sold For $57 Million

by | Mon, May 22 2023

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The world’s oldest near-complete Hebrew Bible has been sold at a Sothebys auction for A$57 million, one of the highest prices ever paid for a manuscript.

It was bought by American lawyer Alfred Moses on behalf of the American Friends of ANU for the ANU Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv.

The leatherbound Bible known as the Codex Sassoon is believed to have been written around 1,100 years ago between the years 880 and 960.

It is the earliest surviving example of a single manuscript containing all 24 books of the Hebrew Bible with punctuation, vowels and accents.

The writing and layout on 792 pages of sheepskin parchment are very similar to those of the Torah scrolls read in synagogues. Just 8 pages are missing.

It got its name from prolific manuscript collector David Solomon Sassoon who acquired it in 1929 as he assembled the largest private collection of Hebrew manuscripts in the world at his London home.

“It presents to us for the first time an almost-complete book of the Hebrew Bible with the vowel points, the cantillation and the notes on the bottom telling scribes how the correct text should be written,” said Sotheby’s Judaica specialist Sharon Liberman Mintz.

She said the price tag “reflects the profound power, influence, and significance of the Hebrew Bible, which is an indispensable pillar of humanity.”

Mr. Moses said: “The Hebrew Bible is the most influential in history and constitutes the bedrock of Western civilisation. I rejoice in knowing that it belongs to the Jewish people. It was my mission, realising the historic significance of Codex Sassoon, to see that it resides in a place with global access to all people.”

Irina Nevzlin, chair of ANU’s board of directors told JTA: “This is one of the rarest, unique, uniting documents that ever existed. For us to have it in the museum where it will be available for all those millions of people, this is something that can strengthen our roots and our identity, because it’s something eternal.”