The Codex Sassoon, the oldest complete Hebrew Bible, written approximately 1,100 years ago, is on display at ANU – Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv, but only for one week - March 23-29.
The Bible, named after David Solomon Sassoon, a book collector who bought it in 1929 for 350 British pounds (about $425 USD), will be auctioned at Sotheby’s in May, where it is expected to sell for between $30 to $50 million. The Codex Sassoon is currently owned by Jacqui Safra of a renowned Jewish banking family.
Dr. Orit Shacham Guber, the chief curator of the ANU Museum, said she has never presented an exhibit as important as the Codex Sassoon.
“In all of my career as a curator, I never presented an exhibit that tells such a massive story. When we built the museum, the exhibits were chosen not for their beauty or monetary value, but for the story they tell. The story has always been what motivated us to choose one exhibit over another,” she said.
“Behind the Codex, there’s a story of the preservation of Hebrew tradition and the passing of the torch, allowing Hebrew to be preserved through the years,” Guber said. “Additionally, there are stories of people, wanderings, mystery, disappearance and rebirth. We’re proud and excited to present such a significant part of the Jewish story.”
During its history, the Codex was primarily owned by Jews in the area that is present-day Syria. When Sassoon acquired the Bible, it had been missing for 600 years. It is unclear where the Codex was between the time of the destruction of the synagogue where it had been kept and the time when Sassoon bought it.
The Bible has been in private collections for the past century and was only briefly put on display at the British Museum in 1982.
Professor Yosef Ofer from the Department of Bible Studies at Bar-Ilan University said he hopes the Tel Aviv exhibition will not be its last, even as the Bible will be sold to a new owner in May.
“I have known about this manuscript for years, but only indirectly, through black-and-white photographs that were transferred to the National Library,” he said. “I hope and pray that the buyer will also allow the public access to the ancient Bible in the future.”
The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.