worlds oldest bible

Sotheby’s auction house sold a 1,100-year-old Hebrew Bible for $38 million in New York. It’s one of the world’s oldest surviving biblical manuscripts and brought the second-most highest price for a historical document at auction.

The 26-pound book, whose five-inch stack of parchment has 396 pages, sold after a five-minute battle between two bidders competing over the phone. According to the Wall Street Journal, the final price, including Sotheby’s fees, fell short of breaking the record held by a $43.2 million copy of the U.S. Constitution bought two years ago by billionaire Ken Griffin. In 1994, Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Leicester sold for $31 million or around $60 million in today’s dollars.

In a statement, Sotheby’s said the Codex Sasson, a leather-bound, handwritten volume with an almost complete Hebrew Bible, was purchased by former U.S. Ambassador to Romania Alfred H. Moses for the American Friends of ANU and donated to the ANU Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv, where it’ll join the museum’s collection.

This antique copy of the Bible is believed to have been assembled between 880 and 960 A.D. The auction house’s auction page listed it as “Circa 900” and “the earliest, most complete Hebrew Bible.” The Bible’s seller, Jaqui Safra, paid for carbon dating to date the manuscript’s origin definitively. Sotheby’s said testing confirmed the book’s dates to the late ninth century or early 10th century.

Scholars believe this Bible is the earliest and most complete collection of Hebrew writing gathered into a book, not spread across a scroll. According to the Wall Street Journal, the book has 24 smaller books that sweep across the Old Testament, known to Jews at the Tanakh. “We wanted it to come home,” Irina Nevzlin, chair of the museum’s board of directors, told the outlet. Nevzlin said the museum aspired to own the codex after displaying it for a week in March, where it proved an immediate hit with the public.

She continued, “This is something that connects us all to our roots and gives us a foundation of who we are—for everybody in the world.” Sotheby’s Judaica specialist Sharon Liberman Mintz said the $38 million price tag, including the auction house’s fee, “reflects the profound power, influence, and significance of the Hebrew Bible, an indispensable pillar of humanity.” Mintz added that she was “absolutely delighted by today’s monumental result and that Codex Sassoon will shortly be making its grand and permanent return to Israel, on display for the world to see.”

The Bible was renamed “Codex Sassoon” by the auction house in honor of David Solomon Sassoon, who purchased it in 1929. The son of an Iraqi Jewish business magnate, Sassoon filled his London home with his collection of Jewish manuscripts. Sassoon’s estate was broken up after he died, and the biblical codex was sold by Sotheby’s in Zurich in 1978 to the British Rail Pension Fund for around $320,000, or $1.4 million in today’s dollars.

The pension fund sold the Codex Sassoon 11 years later to Safra, a banker and art collector. He bought it in 1989 for $3.19 million ($7.7 million in today’s dollars).

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