The Aleppo Codex

Until modern times, the Aleppo Codex was the oldest complete text of the Hebrew Bible. Its traditional name is the כֶּתֶר אֲרָם צוֹבָא‎ (Keter Aram Tzova), and it is sometimes referred to in short as the Keter “Crown”.

Unfortunately, the Aleppo Codex was partially destroyed in 1947. Nevertheless, the pages which remain from the Aleppo Codex predate the Leningrad Codex (used as the base of BHS) by several decades.

The Aleppo Codex was considered authoritative for Jewish communities for a thousand years. Many people still consider the remaining pages of the Aleppo codex the most accurate manuscript of the Hebrew Bible available today.

Creation of the Aleppo Codex

The Aleppo codex was created in the 10th century in Tiberius, an important center of Jewish life and scholarship during this period. According to the codex’s colophon, the text was copied by the scribe Solomon ben Buya’a, who came from a family of scribes.

Aharon ben Asher prepared the vowel signs, accent marks, and Masoretic notations on the text. He also proofread the text, checking it for errors. Aharon ben Asher came from a family of Masoretes going back several generations and was known as an important grammarian.

Because the Aleppo Codex came from such an important community of Masoretes, the Aleppo Codex was considered authoritative even when it was created.

Brief History of the Aleppo Codex

The physical volume of the Aleppo Codex has had a very interesting life.

After Aharon ben Asher’s death, the codex remained in Tiberius for a few generations. Then it was sold to a Karaite community in Jerusalem. However, shortly after arriving in Jerusalem it was stolen and taken to Egypt (around the end of the 11th century).

Once in Egypt, the Aleppo Codex was ransomed. The Jewish community in Cairo bought the codex and it stayed in their care for a few hundred years. The great medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides is said to have viewed the scroll when he was Cairo.

In the 14th century, the Aleppo Codex was brought to Aleppo in Syria, where it remained until 1947. The codex was carefully preserved by the Jewish community in Syria for hundreds of years.

Before 1947, many scholars visited Aleppo and a few were permitted access to the manuscript. One such scholar is Umberto Cassuto, whose descriptions of the codex remain important for reconstructing its contents today.

In December 1947, anti-Jewish rioting broke out in Aleppo because of the United Nation’s decision to partition Palestine, thus allowing for the creation of the State of Israel.

Although the exact details of what occurred remain contested, the Great Synagogue in Aleppo and many of its sacred books were burned. Some sections of the Aleppo Codex likely suffered the same fate.

The Aleppo Codex in Modern Times

In 1958,  surviving sections of the Aleppo Codex were smuggled into Israel. The codex was brought to the Israel Museum  in Jerusalem where it remains today.

Although the codex originally had close to 500 pages, only slightly less than 300 pages have been rediscovered. Almost all of the Torah is missing.

In recent years, 2 pages of the Aleppo Codex have been rediscovered and given to the State of Israel. Because of this, there is hope that perhaps more pages will appear in the future.

All of the surviving pages of the Aleppo Codex have been examined and authenticated by a team of Hebrew University scholars. These scholars also worked to publish a modern edition of the Hebrew Bible based upon the Aleppo Codex.

The Aleppo Codex Today

After many years of work, a bible called the Jerusalem Crown was published. The all-Hebrew text of the Jerusalem Crown is based upon the Aleppo Codex, with the information for missing pages provided by other early biblical manuscripts.

Anyone wishing to view actual pages of the Aleppo Codex can visit the Shrine of the Book in the Israel Museum where a few of them are on display. Anyone wishing to read a version of the Hebrew Bible based upon the Aleppo Codex can simply read the Jerusalem Crown.

It remains a tragedy that part of the Aleppo Codex was destroyed in 1947. However, it is fortunate that even part of the Aleppo Codex still exists today.

(Source: Companion Volume to the Jerusalem Crown. Also this site provides helpful additional information)