Life & Culture

The oldest Hebrew Bible to be auctioned for $30-50 million

According to Sotheby’s of New York, the Sassoon Codex is the oldest and most complete Hebrew Bible ever discovered and will be offered at auction with an estimate of US$30-50 million. This makes it the most valuable printed text or historical document ever offered.

The oldest and most complete Hebrew Bible, more than a thousand years old, will be auctioned in May 2023 for an astronomical price of up to $50 million, Sotheby’s announced on Wednesday.

“A founding text
The Sassoon codex, named after its most famous owner, David Solomon Sassoon (who died in 1942), dates from 900 AD and is “the most complete Hebrew Bible (…) estimated at between 30 and 50 million dollars, among the most expensive manuscripts ever sold,” Richard Austin, head of ancient books and manuscripts at Sotheby’s told AFP.

The sale will take place in May 2023, during the classic spring auction season for contemporary, modern and impressionist art held by the industry’s behemoths in New York: Sotheby’s, owned by French-Israeli tycoon Patrick Drahi, and rival Christie’s, controlled by French billionaire François Pinault’s holding company Artemis.

Asked about potential buyers for the codex, Richard Austin said the list of buyers was “a bottomless pit”: it is “a founding text of civilisation, and it would be difficult to find a text that has had more influence than the Bible in the history of humanity”.

This Bible in Hebrew – the original language of the Old Testament which also contains passages in Greek and Aramaic – “belonged to important collectors in the 20th century; it is obviously possible that it will go to an institution to be studied there, including abroad” and “whatever the beliefs”, added the expert, referring to Judaism, Christianity, Islam or atheism.

In perfect condition
This Sassoon codex, in a visibly exceptional state of preservation and with only a few pages missing, links 24 books of the Hebrew Bible taken from the famous Dead Sea Scrolls dating from the 3rd century BC.

The bible, which is more complete than the Aleppo codex, has been authenticated by carbon 14, “confirmed by palaeographic and codicological research (…) and has survived for more than a millennium in the hands of public and private collectors,” Sharon Liberman Mintz, a specialist in Jewish texts at Sotheby’s, told AFP.

The art auction company boasts in a press release that it is the specialist in the market for old manuscripts and books. In November 2021, it sold an original copy of the Constitution of the United States of America for the record price of 43 million dollars. The document was acquired by the American billionaire Kenneth Griffin, owner of the investment company Citadel, who was to lend it to a museum in Arkansas.