This Is One of the Priciest Books Ever Sold

1.1K-year-old Hebrew Bible fetches $38.1M
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted May 18, 2023 7:36 AM CDT
1.1K-Year-Old Hebrew Bible Among Priciest Books Ever Sold
Sotheby's unveils the Codex Sassoon for auction, Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023, in the Manhattan borough of New York.   (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

A 1,100-year-old Hebrew Bible, among the world's oldest biblical manuscripts, is now also among the world's most expensive books. The handwritten manuscript on 792 leather-bound pages of sheepskin, dubbed Codex Sassoon after a previous owner, sold for $38.1 million at a Sotheby's auction in New York on Wednesday and will head to Israel for public display. The oldest near-complete Hebrew Bible, missing only 12 leaves from its 24 books, was purchased by Alfred H. Moses, former US Ambassador to Romania, on behalf of the American Friends of ANU, who donated it to the ANU Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv, per the AP. That's a relief to some who feared it would end up in private hands, per the Times of Israel.

It last sold at auction in 1989 for $3.19 million. Its new price tag—a little shy of the $43.2 million paid for a rare copy of the US constitution in 2021—"reflects the profound power, influence, and significance of the Hebrew Bible, which is an indispensable pillar of humanity," says Sotheby's Judaica specialist Sharon Liberman Mintz, per the AP. It's "one of the rarest, unique, uniting documents that ever existed," Irina Nevzlin, chair of ANU's board of directors, tells the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. "For us to have it in the museum where it will be available for all those millions of people—this is something that can strengthen our roots and our identity, because it’s something eternal."

The purchase was made possible by a donation from Moses, per the New York Times. "It was my mission, realizing the historic significance of Codex Sassoon, to see that it resides in a place with global access to all people," he says in a statement, adding "the Hebrew Bible is the most influential book in history and constitutes the bedrock of Western civilization." This particular version is written by a single scribe on the skins "of easily more than 100 animals," meaning it would've been a pricey object at the time it was created in present-day Israel or Syria between 880 and 960, per the NY Times. Still "remarkably legible," the document includes inscriptions that trace its ownership across 200 years, beginning in the year 1000. (More Bible stories.)

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