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Codex Sassoon, oldest near-complete Hebrew Bible, sold at auction for $38.1 million

A Bible believed to date back to the late 9th or early 10th century, known as the Codex Sassoon, was purchased for $38.1 million on Wednesday. 

The Codex Sassoon is the most valuable book ever sold at auction, according to Sotheby's. The record-breaking price surpassed the 1994 sale of Leonardo da Vinci's Codex Leicester manuscript, which sold for $30.8 million.

U.S. Ambassador to Romania Alfred Moses purchased the Codex Sassoon on behalf of the American Friends of ANU. It's being gifted to the ANU Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv.

Auctioneer takes bids for the Codex Sassoon during the auction at Sotheby's.  Sotheby's

"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," Moses said in a press release. "In my heart and mind that place was the land of Israel, the cradle of Judaism, where the Hebrew Bible was originated. In Israel at ANU, it will be preserved for generations to come as the centerpiece and gem of the entire and extensive display and presence of the Jewish story."

Codex Sassoon contains all 24 books of the Hebrew Bible, but is missing 12 leaves. The Bible was commissioned by and owned by private individuals for several centuries before it was donated to a synagogue in northeastern Syria in the 13th century, according to Sotheby's. 

The synagogue was destroyed sometime around the late 14th century, but the Bible was safeguarded by a community member. The Bible resurfaced in 1929 and was offered for sale to David Solomon Sassoon, a scholar with a collection of Hebrew manuscripts. He purchased the Bible and it was named the Codex Sassoon for him. 

Closeup view of a page of Hebrew text in the Codex Sassoon, the earliest and most complete Hebrew Bible ever discovered
A closeup view of a page of the Codex Sassoon, the earliest and most complete Hebrew Bible ever discovered, seen on display at Tel Aviv University in Israel, March 22, 2023. NIR ELIAS / REUTERS

The Bible was displayed at locations around the world before the auction, according to Sotheby's. Sharon Liberman Mintz, a Judaica expert and senior consultant at the auction house, had the opportunity to study the Codex Sassoon for more than a year. 

"Today's record-breaking result directly reflects the profound power, influence, and significance of the Hebrew Bible, which is an indispensable pillar of humanity," she said in a statement. 

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