He “Sassoon Codex”, the oldest and most complete copy of the Hebrew Bible of which there is evidence, was auctioned this Wednesday in New York for a final price of $38.1 million (€35.1 million).
The Sotheby’s auction house, which valued it at between 30 and 50 million, indicated that the price reached in the auction, which lasted about five minutes, is the highest for any handwritten documentthough it didn’t break the record for a historical document.
The buyer was known after the auction: ANU, the Jewish People’s Museum of Tel Aviv (Israel), whose representatives stressed that it was a “historic moment” and with the purchase they get the Bible back “to home”.
Dating around the year 900 AD and coming from a territory between present-day Israel or Syria, the manuscript brings together, in the absence of about twelve pages, the 24 books of the Hebrew Bible including vowels, punctuation, accents and annotations.
Those 24 books, divided into three parts – the Pentateuch, the Prophets and the Writings – form the basis of Judaism, as well as other monotheistic religions: Christianity (which calls it the Old Testament) and Islam.
How is the specimen that “comes home”
The 792-page copy was likely copied by a scribe within a year or two on sheepskin vellum, requiring significant resources that make it an “object of extreme luxury and rarity,” says Sotheby’s.
It changed hands until it was donated to the Makisian synagogue (northeast Syria) in the 13th century, but was destroyed at the end of the following century and the manuscript was given to a member of the community for safekeeping until the reconstruction of the temple, which never happened.
The whereabouts of the codex then remained unknown for several centuries until it was released on the market in 1929 and was acquired by David Solomon Sassoon (1880-1942), the greatest collector of Hebrew and Judaic manuscripts of the 21st century.
The copy is older and more complete than another known copy of the Hebrew Bible, the Aleppo codex, but its date of origin had not been scientifically determined until recently, when its current – unknown – owner submitted it to scientific and charcoal tests.
Before auctioning it in New York, Sotheby’s embarked on a world tour of the codex that began in Israel, where it has attracted great interest.
The Sassoon Codex fills a gap between the current modern form of the Hebrew Bible and the most archaic record of its writings, the Dead Sea Scrolls or Qumran Scrolls, from 250 BC to AD 66, which after their discovery in 1947 are considered one of the great archaeological finds of the 20th century.
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