The World’s Oldest Hebrew Bible Found….and Up For Sale!

[St. Bartholomew, Ubley: ancient Bible by Basher Eyre, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons]

The oldest Hebrew Bible ever to be found, dating back from over a millennia ago, is going up for sale, and it could be yours if you have a cool 50 million dollars lying around.   

The Guardian reports, “The ninth-century volume, referred to as the Codex Sassoon, is a critical link between the Dead Sea scrolls and the Bible of today. It is being offered by Sotheby’s with an estimate of $30m-$50m, making it the most valuable historical document or manuscript to appear at auction.

Composed of 24 books divided into three parts – the Pentateuch, the Prophets and the Writings – the Hebrew Bible is the foundation of Judaism and other Abrahamic faiths. In Christianity, the texts are referred to as the Old Testament and are incorporated into the biblical canon. Islam also holds the stories of the Hebrew Bible in special regard, with many of them included in the Qur’an and other significant works of Islamic literature.

“The Hebrew Bible is the sacred, foundational text for peoples across the globe,” said Sharon Mintz, Sotheby’s senior Judaica specialist. “For thousands of years, the faithful have closely studied, analysed, mediated on and delved into the holy scriptures – it is the first book of the people of the Book – to acquire wisdom and attain spiritual enlightenment.

“In Codex Sassoon, a monumental transformation in the history of the Hebrew Bible is revealed, bringing to light the full story of the Hebrew Bible that had previously never been presented in book form. [It] marks a critical turning point in how we perceive the history of the divine word across thousands of years, and is a transformative witness to how the Hebrew Bible has influenced the pillars of civilization – art, culture, law, politics – for centuries.”

The holy book moved around a few times before “it ended up in a synagogue in northeast Syria, which was destroyed around the 13th or 14th century. Then it disappeared for nearly 600 years,” according to The New York Times.

“Since resurfacing in 1929, the Bible has been in private collections. But one afternoon last week, there it was sitting in a cradle at Sotheby’s in Manhattan, where Sharon Liberman Mintz, the auction house’s senior Judaica consultant, was turning its rippled pages with a mixture of familiarity and awe.

She pointed out the two versions of the Ten Commandments, a beautifully calligraphic rendering of the Song of Deborah and, more prosaically, places where small tears had been stitched together with thread or sinew.

“It’s electrifying,” Mintz told the Gray Lady. “This represents the first time the text appears in the form where we can really read and understand it.”

In its description, Sotheby’s writes, “The earliest, most complete copy of the Hebrew Bible is actually a book known as Codex Sassoon, named for its most prominent modern owner: David Solomon Sassoon (1880–1942), a passionate collector of Judaica and Hebraic manuscripts. Dating to the late 9th or early 10th century, Codex Sassoon contains all 24 books of the Hebrew Bible – missing only 12 leaves – and precedes the earliest entirely complete Hebrew Bible, the Leningrad Codex, by nearly a century.

Significantly, Codex Sassoon contains faithful notes of the Masorah, commentary that ensures the biblical text’s proper inscription and recitation. One such note refers to “the great teacher, Aaron ben Moses ben Asher” and his work on al-taj, the traditional honorific of the Aleppo Codex, suggesting the Masorete scribe who copied the Masorah of Codex Sassoon may have consulted the revered volume when it resided in Tiberias or Jerusalem in the 10th or 11th century.”

The historical document will go up for sale on May 16, 2023, and will likely become the most valuable historical document ever sold at auction.

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