T he Bible is one of the world’s greatest treasures and holds powerful resonance for the three monotheistic religions and their billions of adherents. For thousands of years, its sacred words have been closely studied, contemplated, and analyzed. The Hebrew Bible is composed of twenty-four books divided into three parts: the Pentateuch, the Prophets, and the Writings. Christians call these texts the Old Testament, and Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant sects all incorporate them into their biblical canons. Copied, printed, and translated into scores of languages the world over, the Hebrew Bible arguably constitutes the most influential book of human history and the bedrock of Western civilization. Codex Sassoon, created circa 900, is the earliest surviving example of a single volume containing all the books of the Hebrew Bible with their punctuation, vowels, and accents.
Commissioned and owned by private individuals for its first several centuries, Codex Sassoon was donated to the synagogue in Makisin (Northeastern Syria) in the 13th century. When that synagogue was destroyed, probably in the late 14th century, the manuscript was entrusted to a community member to safeguard it until such time as the synagogue would be rebuilt. It seems, however, that the synagogue never was restored, and so Codex Sassoon disappeared from public consciousness for centuries. In 1929, it resurfaced and was offered for sale to David Solomon Sassoon (1880–1942), a prominent scholar and bibliophile who assembled the most important private collection of Hebrew manuscripts in the 20th century. The codex, which now carries the name of its illustrious owner, stands as a monument to religious faith and human devotion to the divine word.