15th Century Pentateuch Up for $2m Auction

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A rare volume of the first printed work combining all five books of the Torah will be on sale at a Christie's auction in Paris on April 30.

The 15th-century Italian volume, estimated to be worth between $1.38 million and $2.07 million, marks a major turning point in the history of Hebrew books and of printing in general, said the Christie's department of books and manuscripts.

The Hebrew volume, printed on vellum in Bologna in January 1482, did not just put all five books of the Torah together but was also the first time that vowels and cantillation marks appeared in the text and the first time that the biblical text was accompanied by the explanations provided by the medieval French biblical commentator Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki, better known as Rashi, and the Aramaic translation by Onkelos.

These changes make it easier to read the text correctly and study it in depth. It is still the classic format used today, more than five centuries later.

Just two other copies of this rare edition have come to auction over the past 100 years: a complete vellum version sold in 1970 and a paper version sold in 1998 with eight pages missing.

The Italian volume will be on exhibit in New York on March 27-31 and April 1, said Christies.

In 2012 the auction house sold an illuminated Tuscan mahzor (holiday prayer book), estimated to be from the 1490s, for 1.85 million euros.

A Torah parchment scroll on display in a museum. Credit: AP
An ultra-Orthodox scribe completing a Torah scroll. Combining all five books together revolutionized Hebrew printing.Credit: AP

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