The auction house Sotheby’s recently sold a 1,100-year-old Hebrew Bible for $38 million in New York. It is one of the world’s oldest surviving biblical manuscripts and brought the second-most highest price at auction for a historical document.
The 26-pound book, whose five-inch stack of parchment contains 396 pages, sold following a five-minute battle between two bidders vying mainly over the telephone. The final price, with Sotheby’s fees, fell short of breaking the record currently held by a $43.2 million copy of the U.S. Constitution bought by billionaire Ken Griffin two years ago, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Leicester sold for $31 million in 1994 or around $60 million in today’s dollars.
Known as The Codex Sassoon, the leather-bound, handwritten volume containing a nearly complete Hebrew Bible, was purchased by former U.S. Ambassador to Romania Alfred H. Moses on behalf of the American Friends of ANU and donated to ANU Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv, where it will join the museum’s collection, Sotheby’s said in a statement.
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This ancient copy of the Bible is believed to have been put together sometime between 880 and 960 AD. The auction house’s completed auction page lists it as “Circa 900” and as “The earliest most complete Hebrew Bible.”
Jaqui Safra, the Bible’s seller, paid to have carbon dating done to try to definitively date the manuscript’s origin. Testing confirmed the book’s dates to the late ninth century or early 10th century, Sotheby’s said.
Scholars consider this Bible to be the earliest and most complete collection of Hebrew writing gathered into a book instead of spread across a scroll. The book contains 24 smaller books that sweep across the Old Testament, better known to Jews as the Tanakh, according to The Wall Street Journal.
“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.
“This is something that connects us all to our roots and gives us a foundation of who we are—for everybody in the world,” she said.
Sotheby’s Judaica specialist Sharon Liberman Mintz said the $38 million price tag, which includes the auction house’s fee, “reflects the profound power, influence, and significance of the Hebrew Bible, which is an indispensable pillar of humanity.”
Mintz said 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).