Codex Sassoon: 1,100 year-old Hebrew Bible sells for £30m at auction and heads to Israel

18 May 2023, 09:43 | Updated: 18 May 2023, 13:23

A copy of the Hebrew Bible, thought to be 1,100 years old and one of the world's oldest intact books, has been sold at auction for $38m (£30m).

The Codex Sassoon, a leather-bound, handwritten parchment volume, was bought by Alfred H Moses, a former US ambassador to Romania, in New York on Wednesday.

It is thought to have been made sometime between 880CE (AD) and 960CE (AD).

A codex is defined as "an ancient manuscript text in book form" by Oxford Languages.

Mr Moses, who was representing the American Friends of ANU, donated it to the ANU Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv, auctioneers Sotheby's said in a statement.

Anu means "we" in Hebrew, according to the organisation's website.

The Bible, which was displayed at the museum in March as part of a worldwide tour, will join the collection there.

The Codex Sassoon got its name when it was bought in 1929 by David Solomon Sassoon, the son of an Iraqi Jewish business magnate who had a home in London that he filled with a collection of Jewish manuscripts.

The Bible was later owned by the British Rail pension fund until it was bought by the current seller, Swiss-Lebanese-Syrian billionaire Jacqui Safra, in 1989 for $3.19m (£2.5m).

Hebrew Bibles are similar to the Christian Old Testament, but differ in various ways.

Sotheby's Judaica specialist, Sharon Liberman Mintz, said the price, one of the highest for a manuscript sold at auction, "reflects the profound power, influence, and significance of the Hebrew Bible, which is an indispensable pillar of humanity".

In 2021, a rare copy of the US Constitution sold for $43m (£34m).

Bill Gates paid $31m (£25m) for Leonardo da Vinci's Codex Leicester, in 1994.

Ms Mintz said she was "absolutely delighted" by the sale and that the "Codex Sassoon will shortly be making its grand and permanent return to Israel, on display for the world to see".

While the Codex Sassoon is the earliest surviving example of a single manuscript of the Hebrew Bible - containing all 24 books with punctuation, vowels and accents - there are older examples that are incomplete, including the Dead Sea Scrolls, fragments of which are from the Hebrew Bible and date to before and just after the time of Christ, according to the Biblical Archaeology Society.

Other older Christian Bibles in existence include the Codex Sinaiticus, part of which is in the British Library and the Codex Vaticanus, in the Vatican - both of which date from the 4th century, and the Codex Alexandrinus, which is also in the British Library and dates from the 5th century.

The St Cuthbert's Gospel, which is just the Gospel of St John in the New Testament, is also in the British Museum and dates from 8th or 7th century.