Sotheby’s London have on show the Sassoon Codex, the oldest complete Hebrew Bible, prior to its sale in New York in May. It will travel to Tel Aviv before being shown in the USA, where it’s expected to fetch about $40m. I went to see it on Friday in a room where there is also on display, appropriately enough, a collection of paintings by Marc Chagall. The codex is named after a previous owner, David Solomon Sassoon, a bibliophile and conoisseur of Hebrew manuscripts who had, by his death in 1942, accumulated a large and precious collection. Sotheby’s are selling it on behalf of its current owner Jacqui Safra, a Swiss-Lebanese investor associated with the film industry.

David Solomon Sassoon, a previous owner of the codex.

The Sassoons are a rich and eminent Jewish Iraqi family with branches in in England. Siegfried Sassoon was a nephew of David Solomon Sassoon and Sir Phillip Sassoon a cousin. Vidal Sassoon was descended from the Thessaloniki branch and Claudia Roden is descended from the Cairo branch.

The Sassoon Codex dates from the late 9th or early 10th century and is complete but for 12 leaves. It predates the final, authoritative Masoretic text and has tiny marginal notes by Masoretic scribes. It’s written with vowels and cantillation marks to indicate the correct way of pronouncing and chanting the text.

The Codex open at Chronicles, Chapter 20

Apart from the intrinsic fascination of being able to see this extremely rare book, hand-written Bibles of this sort are beautiful on account of their lovely handwriting. The flowing calligraphy is characteristic of manuscripts from the near east.

2 thoughts on “THE SASSOON CODEX

  1. Dear Marshall- These objects were beautiful and admirable because of the time and training necessary to make them. Today only trained calligraphers can create anything approaching ancient manuscripts, and then only as ‘art objects’. The typewriter and its newer relation the computer/smartphone has caused us to speed up and thus loose time! Is there some contradiction here I am missing? The more labour saving devices we have the more time we have not. Jonathan.


    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for this. Very special and interesting.  Well worth a visit.  

    Best regards




    Sent from my iPhone


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