Sylvie Claire / February 17, 2023
The oldest and most complete Hebrew Bible, more than a thousand years old, will be sold at auction in May for an astronomical price of up to $50 million, Sotheby’s announced Wednesday.
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 $30 million to $50 million, 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, during the classic spring auction season for contemporary, modern and impressionist art, which is organized by the behemoths of the sector in New York: Sotheby’s, owned by the French-Israeli tycoon Patrick Drahi, and its competitor Christie’s, controlled by the holding company Artemis of the French billionaire François Pinault.
Asked about potential buyers of the codex, Mr. Austin said the list of buyers was “a bottomless pit”: it is “a founding text of civilization, 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 again, including abroad” and “whatever the beliefs,” added the expert, referring to Judaism, Christianity
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.
This Bible, more complete than the Aleppo codex, has been authenticated by carbon 14, “confirmed by paleographic and codicological research (…) and has survived more than a millennium in the hands of (collectors) public and private,” 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 of old manuscripts and books. It sold in November 2021 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.