A Hebrew Bible over a millennia old is going up for auction, and Sotheby’s hopes it will sell for at least $30 million.
The Codex Sassoon is 1,100 years old. It’s handwritten on parchment and leather-bound, and a nearly-complete copy of the Hebrew Bible. It was scribed sometime between the ninth and tenth century in either Egypt or the Levant. We know from marks inside that it was owned by Khalaf ben Abraham, then Isaac be Ezekie al-Attar, and then his sons Ezekiel and Maimon. In the 13th century,, it was given to a synagogue in Makisin (now known as Markada, Syria). When that synagogue was destroyed, it passed to Salama ibn Abi al-Fakhr, and then disappeared from history.
In 1929, it was ‘discovered‘ when it was purchased in Germany by Jewish book collector David Solomon Sassoon. It passed from him to his descendants until 1978 when they sold it to the British Rail Pension Fund through Sotheby’s. That was the first time it passed through Sotheby’s hands.
On May 16th, they will oversee its sale for a forth time. The current owner, investor Jacqui Safra, has sent it on a display tour before its upcoming auction. It will be on public display in London, Tel Aviv, Dallas, Los Angeles, and New York City before the auction date.
“There are three ancient Hebrew Bibles from this period,” said Yosef Ofer, a professor of Bible studies at Israel’s Bar Ilan University: the Codex Sassoon and Aleppo Codex from the 10th century, and the Leningrad Codex, from the early 11th century.
Only the Dead Sea Scrolls and a handful of fragmentary early medieval texts are older, and “an entire Hebrew Bible is relatively rare,” he said.
A Hebrew Bible is not the same thing as a Torah, being written more for the common reader, with vowels and punctuation and other annotation about how to correctly recite the contents.
Photo: Dwi Rustiyanto / Shutterstock