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Ancient Hebrew Bible sells for $38 million at auction

An 1,100-year-old Hebrew Bible recently sold for $38 million in an auction at Sotheby’s auction house in New York City.

Known as The Codex Sassoon, the leather-bound, handwritten volume containing a nearly complete Hebrew Bible was purchased by former U.S. Ambassador to Romania Alfred H. Moses on behalf of the American Friends of ANU and donated to ANU Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv, where it will join the museum’s collection. This ancient copy of the Bible is believed to have been compiled sometime between A.D. 880 and 960. The auction house’s completed auction page lists it as “Circa 900” and as “The earliest most complete Hebrew Bible.”

“We wanted it to come home, “said Irina Nevzlin, chair of the museum’s board of directors. “This is something that connects us all to our roots and gives us a foundation of who we are — for everybody in the world.”

Scholars consider this Bible to be the earliest and most complete collection of Hebrew writing gathered into a book instead of spread across a scroll. The book contains 24 smaller books that sweep across the Old Testament, better known to Jews as the Tanakh.

Sotheby’s Judaica specialist Sharon Liberman Mintz said the $38 million price tag, which includes the auction house’s fee, “reflects the profound power, influence and significance of the Hebrew Bible, which is an indispensable pillar of humanity.”

Mintz said she was “absolutely delighted by today’s monumental result and that Codex Sassoon will shortly be making its grand and permanent return to Israel, on display for the world to see.”

The Bible was renamed “Codex Sassoon” by the auction house in honor of David Solomon Sassoon, who purchased it in 1929. The son of an Iraqi Jewish business magnate, Sassoon filled his London home with his collection of Jewish manuscripts. Sassoon’s estate was broken up after he died and the biblical codex was sold by Sotheby’s in Zurich in 1978 to the British Rail Pension Fund for around $320,000, or $1.4 million in today’s dollars.

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