Oldest known Hebrew Bible on display in Israel
Sotheby's estimates the price of this treasure to be between 30 and 50 million dollars, which would make it "the most expensive manuscript ever sold at auction"
The oldest known near-complete Hebrew Bible will go on public display at the Jewish People's Museum on Thursday for a week, before being auctioned off in New York in May.
The Codex Sassoon, named after its best-known owner, David Solomon Sassoon, is believed to date from the 10th century C.E. or even the late 9th, according to Sotheby's, which will conduct the sale.
"This Bible was written around the year 900, in Israel or Syria," explained Sharon Mintz, a specialist in Jewish texts at Sotheby's. It contains the 24 books of the Hebrew Bible, also called the Tanakh, as well as passages in Greek and Aramaic.
A bill of sale shows that it was sold in the year 1000 and kept in the synagogue of Makisin in northeastern Syria (now Markada) until about 1400.
"The manuscript then disappeared for about 500 years and reappeared in 1929 sold to David Solomon Sassoon, one of the greatest collectors of Hebrew manuscripts," she continued.
The book is in an exceptional state of preservation, with only 12 pages missing. Mintz emphasized the historical value of this ancient and "almost complete copy, with the dots marking the vowels, the cantillation and the footnotes indicating to the scribes how to write the text correctly."
For Orit Shaham Gover, curator of the Museum of the Jewish People, the Sassoon codex has cultural significance in addition to linguistic and historical value. "The Bible plays a central role for anyone with even a fleeting connection to Western culture, and it is the first Bible to survive history," she said.
"It is the cradle of Jewish culture. As an Israeli and a Jew, I think it's very important that the people of Israel be able to see this vitally important Bible," she continued. "This ancient Bible reflects the history of the Jewish people from antiquity to the present day."
It's a moment that is all the more "rare and moving," since the Codex Sassoon, which has "wandered in all sorts of places throughout history," has only been presented to the public once in the past, in 1982, at the British Library in London, she pointed out.
According to carbon-14 dating, the Sassoon Codex is older and more complete than the Aleppo Codex, which was written in Galilee in the 10th century and brought to Israel in the 1950s, after being found in that Syrian city.
The manuscript is also considered to predate the Leningrad Codex, the oldest surviving copy of the text of the Hebrew Bible in its entirety, dated to the early eleventh century.
Before arriving in Israel, the Sassoon Codex was presented in London. It will next be presented to the public in the United States, in Dallas, Los Angeles and New York, where it will be sold in May during the classic spring auction season.
Sotheby's estimates the price of this treasure to be between 30 and 50 million dollars, which would make it "the most expensive manuscript ever sold at auction" according to the auction house.