All Israel News Staff | Published: October 6, 2023
The Codex Sassoon, the oldest and most complete copy of the Hebrew Bible available in the world, will be on permanent display at ANU Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv beginning Oct. 11. The Codex Sassoon landed in Israel on an El Al flight from New York on Thursday. It was purchased by former U.S. Ambassador to Romania Alfred H. Moses for $38 million on behalf of the American Friends of ANU in an auction at Sotheby’s in New York in May. Moses purchased the Codex specifically to donate it to the ANU museum.
“The Hebrew Bible is the most influential book in history and constitutes the bedrock of Western civilization. I rejoice in knowing that it belongs to the Jewish people. 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 originated,” Moses said in a statement. “Its return now to the possession of the Jewish people fills my heart with excitement and joy, I asked to make sure that it will return to a permanent residence in a place that is accessible to the general public and that will be a focal point for visitors from all over the world,” Moses said.
The Codex Sassoon is believed to be at least 1,100 years old, dating to the period shortly after the copying of the Aleppo Codex. Based on an analysis of the parchment and the writing style, it has been dated to the 10th century A.D. and was probably produced in Syria. The Codex is named after the book collector David Solomon Sassoon, who acquired it in 1929 for 350 British pounds, the equivalent of about $28,000 today. 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 purchased 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.
Codex Sassoon has Masorah, vocalization and cantillation marks, indicating how to pronounce each word, where each verse ends, and how to chant the texts. The Masorah (which means ‘tradition’ in Hebrew) was originally transmitted orally by scribes and cantors before being written down in the 7th-8th centuries by scribes in Babylonia and Tiberias. The Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest known biblical texts, do not contain these pronunciation guides or verse indications. Traditionally, Torah scrolls used in synagogue liturgy also do not contain Masorah.
The Aleppo Codex was the oldest complete Hebrew Bible with Masorah, however, following the establishment of the State of Israel, the Aleppo Codex was brought to Israel, where it was found to be missing several hundred pages. Since then, the Sassoon Codex is the oldest complete Hebrew Bible with Masorah.