Rare 14th Century Hebrew Manuscript Shem Tov Bible Estimated To Fetch $7 Million At Auction

A one-of-a-kind 14th century Hebrew manuscript is coming to auction. The Shem Tov Bible, one of the most significant medieval Hebrew manuscripts ever created, is estimated to sell for between $5 million to $7 million at Sotheby’s.

Shem Tov Bible
Shem Tov Bible. (credit: Sotheby’s)

“The Shem Tov Bible, written in 1312 in Soria (Castille) by the illustrious scholar Rabbi Shem Tov Ibn Gaon, is a masterpiece of the scribal arts from the Golden Age of Spain. Throughout its numerous decorated folios, the influences of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic artistic traditions are singularly evident. The text of the Shem Tov Bible is also imbued with mystical significance, as Rabbi Shem Tov added a kabbalistic dimension to the Hebrew letters of the Bible,” Sotheby’s writes in the description lot.

The manuscript was originally created for Rabbi Shem Tov.

According to The Jerusalem Post, the Shem Tov Bible is connected to the now-lost Codex Hilleli, which was created around 600 A.D. The Codex Hilleli has been revered as the most accurate transmission of the text of the Hebrew bible in circulation.

“The Shem Tov Bible has long been recognized as a tour de force of biblical and kabbalistic scholarship and constitutes a monument to the medieval Spanish tradition of Hebrew bible illumination,” Shaul Sedler-Feller, Sotheby’s senior Judaica specialist, books and manuscripts, tells Fine Books & Collections. “There is a compelling mystique to this manuscript, deriving not only from its history and beauty but from the kabbalistic mysteries preserved within.”

The 768-page Shem Tov Bible was believed to be missing for hundreds of years until it was recorded in the 19th century as belonging to the Seror family in Tripoli. In 1909, David Solomon Sassoon, the world’s preeminent collector of Hebrew manuscripts purchased it from the Seror family.

Sassoon considered the Hebrew manuscript to be one of the most important books of his collection.

“The Shem Tov Bible’s distinguished provenance, the recognized accuracy of its text, and the beauty of its magnificently decorated pages epitomize the highest achievements of Hebrew manuscript tradition,” writes Sotheby’s.

The Shem Tov Bible first appeared in a 1984 auction when it set a record price of $825,000 for a Hebrew manuscript at that time.

“The Shem Tov Bible is an essential piece of religious history that plays a critical part in the faithful, accurate transmission of the Hebrew bible as we understand it today,” says Sharon Liberman-Mintz, Sotheby’s international senior Judaica specialist, books and manuscripts, to Fine Books & Collections. “Its connection to the famed Codex Hilleli cannot be overstated, providing a critical bridge to this lost and mythic text. Even more than the deeply important spiritual significance of this text, the pages of the bible, crafted during the Golden Age of Spain, sing with the harmony of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic artistic traditions, and speak to the incredibly fertile moment of cultural dialogue that flourished at the time.”

The manuscript will be on exhibit at Sotheby’s New York from June 21-June 26 and then Sept. 5-Sept. 9. The live auction begins Sept. 10.

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