Shabbat Mevarchim

THE OLDEST BIBLE IN THE WORLDComing to London next week is a most remarkable book.
It will be on display at Sotheby’s for a week before moving on to other selected locations around the world before being auctioned in New York in May. With an estimate reserve of $30-$50 million, it may well become the most expensive book in history.
Why would anyone want to spend $50 million on a book?
Let’s consider the background.
The Torah, which we received at Mt. Sinai, in the events, described in last week’s and this week’s parasha, is written on parchment in a scroll. The text of that has been faithfully handed down over the generations and is the original of the Sefer Torah we use in our synagogues today. The oldest known scrolls of the bible are the Dead Sea Scrolls, dating from the 3rd century BCE to the 1st century CE.
The scrolls are without punctuation and vowel points. The way the text should be pronounced was transmitted, from generation to generation. In due course, so that the tradition should not become lost, a group of scholars, known as the Masorites, undertook the development of a system of punctuation and vocalization of the text to preserve the way to read the bible. The fruits of their labours were produced in volumes known as codexes. A codex was a bound collection of manuscript pages rather than a scroll. Its function was to provide a master copy of the text for the community.
The book coming to London is the Codex Sassoon. It is the oldest most complete copy of the Hebrew Bible. For the past forty years, it has been in the private collection of Jacqui Safra and carbon dating has now confirmed that it was written in the late 9th century – more than 1000 years ago!
Until recently, the oldest volume of this type was believed to be the Aleppo Codex written in 930 CE, in Jerusalem. Now, the carbon dating has shown the Codex Sassoon to be even older. Written on 400 parchment pages, it weighs over 26lb. The book’s markings indicate its various owners. In the 13th century, it was in the synagogue in Makisin, a town in northeast Syria. That town was destroyed and the book resurfaced in Frankfurt in the 19th century. It was bought by the collector David Sassoon who recognized its importance.
The bible is the most influential book in world history and the bedrock of Western civilization. To us, as Jews, it is the foundation of our faith. This volume represents a key link in the chain of our history.