1,100-Year-Old Hebrew Bible Fetches $38.1M At Auction

    1,100-Year-Old Hebrew Bible Fetches $38.1M At Auction
    Last updated May 19, 2023
    Image credit: fox


    • On Wednesday, the Codex Sassoon, one of the world's oldest surviving nearly-complete biblical manuscripts, sold for $38.1M at the Sotheby's auction house in New York.[1]
    • Thought to have been written about 1,100 years ago, US lawyer and former ambassador Alfred Moses bought it for the American Friends of ANU – Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv, Israel.[2]
    • The seller — Swiss financier, and collector Jacqui Safra — had owned the leather-bound manuscript since 1989. Handwritten on 792 pages of sheepskin, it includes all 24 books of the Hebrew Bible and is missing only about eight pages.[2]
    • Irina Nevzlin, chair of ANU's board of directors, commented that Israel is the right "home" for the Bible, adding that the rarest and "oldest Torah in existence" would help "strengthen our roots and our identity because it's something eternal."[3]
    • Meanwhile, Sotheby's Judaica specialist Sharon Liberman Mintz said the $38.1M price tag "reflects the profound power, influence, and significance of the Hebrew Bible, which is an indispensable pillar of humanity."[4]
    • The winning bid fell short of the record for a historical document sold at auction which was set in 2021 by investor Ken Griffin, who bought a rare copy of the US Constitution for $43.2M.[5]


    Pro-establishment narrative

    The Hebrew Bible is the foundation of the three Abrahamic faiths, which is why its value is universal. It is certainly positive news that the item didn't go to an anonymous collector who would have locked it in a vault and likely reauctioned it for a profit later. This book will finally be treated and displayed as a holy item, allowing the faithful to see it.

    Establishment-critical narrative

    While it is good news that this item is headed for Israel, the huge financial value imbued in it highlights the twisted way in which principles of private ownership can deny the vast majority access to objects morally intended for public use. There is an awkward dissonance in the way lucrative collecting practices can preserve and protect heritage items while, at the same time, making their use by society as cultural objects entirely dependent on the philanthropy of the ultra-wealthy.

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