World's earliest most complete Hebrew Bible coming to SMU

A rare 1,100-year-old Hebrew Bible will be exhibited to the public at SMU’s Bridwell Library April 18-20

Hebrew Bible

DALLAS (SMU) – A rare 1,100-year-old Hebrew Bible will be exhibited to the public at SMU’s Bridwell Library April 18-20, before coming up to auction at Sotheby's in New York this May, where it will be offered with an estimate of $30 to $50 million. The exhibition marks the first public appearance of the Bible in the United States, following recent exhibitions in London and Tel Aviv.

 The Bible, known as the Codex Sassoon, is named for its 1929 purchaser, David Solomon Sassoon, a renowned collector who assembled the most significant private collection of Judaica and Hebraica manuscripts in the world. The nearly 800- page Bible was carefully lettered by a master scribe in Hebrew on parchment. It includes 24 books of the Hebrew Bible, divided into the Torah, or “Penateuch;” the Nevi’im, or “prophets;” and the Ketuvim, or “writings.” The Hebrew Bible is the basis for what Christians call the Old Testament. 

The Codex Sassoon will be on exhibit from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 18, and from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Wednesday, April 19, and Thursday, April 20, at Bridwell Library, 6005 Bishop Blvd. on the SMU campus. Admission is free, but tickets are required. Learn more about tickets, registration, parking instructions and other information about special related events. 

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“The reach, impact and transformative value of the Codex Sassoon makes it one of the most influential artifacts in world history to emerge over the last 1,000 years,” said Anthony Elia, director of SMU’s Bridwell Library and associate dean for special collections and academic publishing. “As the only university to exhibit the Codex on its tour, SMU and Bridwell Library are honored to share this treasure with the public.”

Masoretic Hebrew texts, such as this one, were different from previous forms of the Hebrew Bible in their inclusion of critical and explanatory notes on the text. The Codex Sassoon was created in the late ninth or early 10th century by a Masorite scribe who copied it from another text over a period of one to two years. A second scholar added notes before the 13th century, when the Codex reached a synagogue in Makisin, Syria. The synagogue was destroyed by invaders and the Codex was given to a member of the Jewish congregation for safekeeping until the synagogue was rebuilt. The synagogue, however, was never rebuilt, and the Codex disappeared for 600 years until it appeared in 1929 and was purchased by David Sassoon.

The Codex Sassoon now stands as the earliest most complete Hebrew Bible extant, and provides the basis of Biblical translations used today by Jews and Christians. Islam also teaches that the Torah and Psalms contained within the Hebrew Bible are divinely revealed books.

“The Codex Sassoon is one of those things that tie people together,” says Roy Heller, professor of the Hebrew Bible at SMU’s Perkins School of Theology. 

Missing approximately eight parchment leaves of Biblical text, the Codex Sassoon is the earliest, most complete Hebrew Bible extant. In comparison, the Aleppo Codex, the only other Hebrew Bible dating around the tenth century, is missing more than two-fifths of its pages, making Codex Sassoon significantly more complete.

“The Codex Sassoon reflects the long tradition of scribal activity,” Heller says. “There were probably thousands of copies of the Hebrew Bible and, yet, we don’t have them because of forces that would subject them to being destroyed or because they decayed or wore out over time.

“The Codex Sassoon is a wonderful thing – it’s a treasure that has been hidden,” he says.

The Hebrew Bible will be at home among the other rare religious texts at Bridwell Library, SMU’s theology and religious studies library. One of the leading theological research institutions in the United States, Bridwell’s collections include ancient Egyptian and Assyrian artifacts, a 6th century papyrus fragment of Paul’s epistle to the Romans, more than 220 illuminated manuscripts – hand-written and illustrated religious texts dating to 1100; pages of the 1455 Gutenberg Bible and the first Bibles printed in German, Greek and English. The collection covers the history of Christianity, including materials from early Catholicism, the Protestant Reformation, the Counter-Reformation and the history of the United Methodist Church.

“Codex Sassoon resonates with undeniable presence—the incredible sense of history within this sacred text is truly palpable. Following our two very successful exhibitions in London and Tel Aviv, which attracted thousands of visitors at each stop, we are excited to share this remarkable book with SMU and Dallas, and hope the excitement of Codex Sassoon will be experienced by all who come to see it,” said Sharon Liberman Mintz, Sotheby’s senior Judaica specialist. 

“To unveil Codex Sassoon for the first time in America in North Texas is a tremendous privilege that speaks to the area’s incredibly rich cultural history and interfaith tradition. With its extensive theological holdings, SMU’s Bridwell Library is the ideal partner for presenting this important manuscript,” says Charlie Adamski Caulkins, Sotheby’s head of office for Dallas.

For full background on Codex Sassoon, please refer to Sotheby’s press release.



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