Skip to content

The Oldest And Most Expensive Hebrew Bible Returns To Israel After An Auction

The Codex Sassoon was purchased at a Sotheby's auction at $38.1 million, making it the most manuscript ever.

The oldest and most expensive Hebrew Bible has returned to Israel after an auction.

The 1,100-year-old Codex Sassoon, the oldest and most complete Hebrew Bible, was purchased at a Sotheby’s auction in New York for $38.1 million on May 17, making it the most expensive Jewish manuscript ever sold.

ANU Chairwoman Irina Nevzlin with the Codex Sassoon. Photo by Perry Bindelglass
ANU Chairwoman Irina Nevzlin with the Codex Sassoon. The oldest Hebrew Bible was sent back to Israel. PERRY BINGELGLASS/JNS

The codex will become part of the core exhibition and permanent collection of ANU — Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv. (Anu means “us” in Hebrew.)

The Codex Sassoon — named after its most notable owner, Judaica collector David Solomon Sassoon, who died in 1942 — dates to around 900 CE and consists of 24 books presented in 792 pages made from several hundred sheepskins. The Codex weighs a total of 26 pounds.

The rare Bible is said to have been written by a Jewish scribe in the Levant and was last publicly displayed 30 years ago.

It was purchased by the American Friends of ANU through a donation from American attorney and diplomat Alfred H. Moses of Washington, D.C., and the Moses family.

“The Hebrew Bible is the most influential book in history and constitutes the bedrock of Western civilization,” Moses said.

“Accepting the Sassoon Codex into our museum collection is like winning the lottery of history.,” said ANU Chief Curator Orit Shechem Gober.

“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. In my heart and mind that place was the land of Israel, the cradle of Judaism, where the Hebrew Bible was originated,” she said.

Irina Nevzlin, chair of ANU’s Board of Directors, noted that the manuscript is returning to Israel “on the eve of Shavuot, the holiday of giving the Torah, to a place where it will forever be available to the general public.”

ANU embodies the Jewish narrative and safeguards the values, legacy, heritage and identity of the Jewish people,” Nevzlin said.

“We will be eternally grateful to Ambassador Moses and his family for ensuring that the most treasured, historic and complete Bible in existence will be permanently displayed at the world’s largest Jewish museum.”

“Accepting the Sassoon Codex into our museum collection is like winning the lottery of history,” Orit Schechem Gober said. “There are almost no words to describe how exciting it is for us as a museum to present an item so significant to the history and culture of the Jewish people. This is undoubtedly the most important event in my life as a curator.”

Produced in association with ISRAEL21c

Edited by Alberto Arellano and Sterling Creighton Beard

“What’s the latest with Florida Man?”

Get news, handpicked just for you, in your box.

Check out our free email newsletters

Recommended from our partners