A Bridge From the Past: The Sassoon Codex 1053

by | May / June 2023

One of the world’s great historical treasures is coming up for auction at Sotheby’s this May. Expected to break all records and sell for upwards of $50 million, Codex Sassoon 1053 is the oldest, most complete Hebrew Bible in existence. A codex differs from a book in that this older genre is handwritten on parchment rather than printed on paper or vellum sheets. The history behind this magnificent book is a story in itself.

Sometime in the late ninth century, in the Galilee region, an unknown sofer (scribe) copied the entire Jewish Bible by hand over a period of years on leaves of sheepskin parchment. This Tanakh contains all the books of the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings. Albeit a little sloppy in some of the vowels and spelling, this only adds to the mystique of this seven hundred- and ninety-two-page manuscript.

Historically, Torah and Haftarah scrolls were written completely without vowels or punctuation, as all of the pronunciations and chants were passed on exclusively through oral tradition. The Codex Sassoon is the first Bible known written in the Masoretic text.
In the early Middle Ages, mostly at Tiberias in the Galilee, the great sages of old, rabbis and scribes known as Masoretes, created a body of notes that standardized the Hebrew text of the Scriptures.

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