The Aleppo Codex: A True Story of Obsession, Faith, and the Pursuit of an Ancient Bible
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Winner of the 2014 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature
A thousand years ago, the most perfect copy of the Hebrew Bible was written. It was kept safe through one upheaval after another in the Middle East, and by the 1940s it was housed in a dark grotto in Aleppo, Syria, and had become known around the world as the Aleppo Codex.
Journalist Matti Friedman’s true-life detective story traces how this precious manuscript was smuggled from its hiding place in Syria into the newly founded state of Israel and how and why many of its most sacred and valuable pages went missing. It’s a tale that involves grizzled secret agents, pious clergymen, shrewd antiquities collectors, and highly placed national figures who, as it turns out, would do anything to get their hands on an ancient, decaying book. What it reveals are uncomfortable truths about greed, state cover-ups, and the fascinating role of historical treasures in creating a national identity.
“I won’t answer what I have against Rabbi Dayan. There are things I won’t say to avoid denigrating Rabbi Dayan’s honor,” the merchant said. “I ask the court to force the witness to answer what he has against Rabbi Dayan,” the Aleppo lawyer demanded, turning to the three judges. They overruled him, but the lawyer had already done his job. He had raised doubts about Faham’s story and had introduced the court to hints of collusion, forced or voluntary, between the witness and his new
were touching something unpleasant, something people didn’t want to talk about,” Shamosh said. “The feeling was that everyone wanted me to leave them alone, not to write about them.” Why was that? I asked. “Because two hundred pages are missing, every one worth . . .” His voice trailed off. “I was not given the authority of a policeman,” he said. “I was given only the authority to interview people and ask them questions.” The officials in charge of the Crown were concerned about
the story, Shragai received the Crown on January 23, 1958, and brought it to the president the next day. Both men explicitly put forward that amended chronology later on, and it was enshrined as fact in the book published by the Ben-Zvi Institute. But while it is true that the codex reached Ben-Zvi on January 24, it is not true that it reached Shragai only the day before. According to his own testimony in court, Shragai was given the manuscript not on January 23 but on January 6, seventeen days
Aleppo to the Syria-Turkey border and then on to Alexandretta, where they asked for Silo’s store. They had been told the Israeli representative would put them up for a few days and book their passage to Haifa. Naftali’s mother was carrying a bag with her gold jewelry and several silver kiddush cups, used on the Sabbath for the blessing over the wine, which had long been in their family. Silo told them they risked having the valuables seized by Turkish officials and suggested leaving the bag with
relative, whom I interviewed in the United States. He was clearly useful, and this must have trumped other considerations. It might also have trumped the disappearance of part of an old manuscript that passed through his hands and that he, an Aleppo Jew himself, would certainly have recognized as an object of immense value. There is no indication in the archives that Ben-Zvi did anything with the information from Faham, but he must have been asking around. In the summer of 1960, in one of