Thousand-year-old Hebrew Bible sells for more than $38 million at auction

The Codex Soon, presented on February 15, 2023 in Manhattan, New York.

A thousand-year-old Hebrew Bible, the oldest known almost complete, was bought at auction on Wednesday May 17 in New York for 38.1 million dollars (35.1 million euros) by an American philanthropist, Alfred Moses, who donated it to the Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv. It took four minutes of bidding, “between two determined buyers”at Sotheby’s headquarters in Manhattan, to complete the sale at this record price for a manuscript book, the auction company said.

The religious book sold on Wednesday, which would date from the Xe century of our era, even from the end of the IXe century, had been exhibited before the sale in this museum located on the campus of Tel Aviv University. Called “Codex Soon”, named after its best-known owner, David Solomon Soon (died 1942), it binds twenty-four books of the Hebrew Bible taken from the famous scrolls of the Dead Sea Scrolls dating from the IIIe century before our era. It also contains pages in Greek and Aramaic and is in a visibly exceptional state of preservation. Only twelve leaves are missing.

“The Bible plays a central role for anyone with even a fleeting connection to Western culture, and it is the first Bible that has survived in history”had pointed out to Agence France-Presse (AFP) the curator of the Museum of the Jewish People, Orit Shaham Gover, during her presentation.

A manuscript that disappeared “for about 500 years”

According to Sotheby’s, the Bible was written around the year 900, in Israel or Syria. A deed of sale shows that it was sold in the year 1000 and kept in the synagogue of Makisin, in northeastern Syria (now Markada), until around the year 1400. “The manuscript then disappeared for about 500 years and reappeared in 1929, when it was offered for sale to David Solomon Soon, one of the greatest collectors of Hebrew manuscripts”explained Sharon Mintz, specialist in the texts of Judaism at Sotheby’s.

The Codex Soon, which has “wandered in all sorts of places throughout history”was presented only once in the past to the public, in 1982, at the British Library in London, also specified Orit Shaham Gover.

According to carbon-14 dating, the Soon Codex is older and more complete than the Aleppo Codex, written in Galilee in the 10the century and brought back to Israel in the 1950s after being found in the Syrian city. The manuscript is also believed to predate the Leningrad Codex, the earliest surviving copy of the text of the Hebrew Bible in its entirety and dated to the early 11th century.e century.

The record for a historical document, printed or handwritten, was reached in November 2021 with an original copy of the United States Constitution of 1787 (43 million dollars).

The World with AFP

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