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The Aleppo Codex

Date: 06-10-12
Host: Ian Punnett
Guests: Matti Friedman

Ian Punnett was joined by Jerusalem journalist and author, Matti Friedman, who discussed the fascinating and strange journey of a sacred text-- the tenth-century annotated bible known as the Aleppo Codex. He traced the origins of the text to the 70 AD Roman destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, which resulted in Jews being exiled throughout the world. Due to this widespread displacement, Friedman said, Jewish leaders proposed the "revolutionary idea" that the religion could survive if it were "held together by the written word" that was uniform for all Jews across the planet. As such, the Aleppo Codex was the result of a centuries-long process of redacting and editing in order to create "the master copy of the Hebrew Bible."

After being written in 970 AD, the book journeyed to Jerusalem during the 11th century, was recovered in Cairo following the Crusades, and was later sent to the city of Aleppo in Syria. It was there that the sole copy of the text was kept under tight security and protected for 600 years until 1947, when anti-Israel riots burned down the synagogue which housed it. This turn of events caused rumors to spread that the Aleppo Codex had been lost forever in the fire. However, Friedman explained, such tales were spread by the Jewish community in Aleppo to prevent the text from falling into the hands of the Syrian government. In actuality, he said, the sacred book was spirited away to a bazaar in the city where it remained hidden for ten years, ultimately being smuggled to Israel where it was seized by the government under dubious circumstances.

While the Aleppo Codex had been protected from hostile forces and natural disasters for centuries, it was during this tumultuous decade before it arrived in Israel that portions of the text became lost. According to Friedman, the current version in Israel is only 60% of the original and does not include the critical first five books of the Bible, known as the Pentateuch. Although the popular belief is that the missing parts of the Codex were lost in the Aleppo riots, a scientific study on the "singed" parts of the book revealed the marks to actually be from a fungus and not a fire. Based on his research, Friedman surmised that the missing 256 pages of the Codex were stolen and he revealed that portions of the book have been rumored to circulate on the black market, including an astounding 90 pages of text which included the Pentateuch.

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