Masoretic Text

Massoretic Text

Leningrad Codex

Aleppo Codex

The Aleppo Codex / Author: Yosef Ofer

The Aleppo Codex, the most splendid, old, and accurate manuscript of the Bible, is presented here for the first time in full color photograph, permitting the reader to examine the handiwork of the greatest of the Masoretes, who were active in Tiberias in the tenth century, Aharon Ben Moshe Ben Asher, and to gain an impression of the way the Masoretes worked to preserve the accurate text of the Bible and the reading tradition.
The Aleppo Codex is a full manuscript of the entire Bible, which was written in about 930. For more than a thousand years, the manuscript was preserved in its entirety in important Jewish communities in the Near East: Tiberias, Jerusalem, Egypt, and in the city of Aleppo in Syria. However, in 1947, after the United Nations Resolution establishing the State of Israel, it was damaged in riots that broke out in Syria. At first people thought that it had been completely destroyed. Later, however, it turned out that most of the manuscript had been saved and kept in a secret hiding place. In 1958, the Aleppo Codex was smuggled out of Syria to Jerusalem and delivered to the President of the State of Israel, Izhak Ben-Zvi.

Once the Aleppo Codex reached Israel, precise study of it began in many areas. Scholars of the Masora and of the text of the Bible took note of its special status among the manuscripts related to it. It was found that the match between the spelling of the Aleppo Codex and the comments of the Masora was excellent, far better than the match of other manuscripts. Similarly, the vocalization signs in the Aleppo Codex were examined and described, along with the cantillation marks, the system of ge’iyot (a kind of accent mark), and the apparatus of the Masora. All of these terms will be explained and demonstrated in this site.

The Aleppo Codex, as it reached Israel has 294 parchment pages, written on both sides. Examination revealed that many pages were missing as a result of the damage to the Codex in 1947. Mainly the first part of the manuscript was damaged, the Pentateuch, of which only the last eleven pages remained. Almost all the Five Books of Moses had been lost, except the final chapters of the Book of Deuteronomy, which were preserved. The final pages of the Aleppo Codex are also missing, including part of the Song of Songs, and all of Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, and Nehemiah. In the rest of the books of the prophets, some pages are missing. In all, the Aleppo Codex originally had 487 pages.

Many efforts were made to locate the missing pages of the Aleppo Codex or to reconstruct what was written in them. Despite these efforts, it is difficult to determine clearly today what happened to the missing pages. Were they burned or destroyed? Or were they, perhaps, hidden somewhere? These efforts met with many disappointments. Nevertheless, there were two successes: an entire page of the Aleppo Codex, from Chronicles, reached New York and was preserved by a family from the city of Aleppo. Eventually, that page was given to the National Library in Jerusalem and added to the Aleppo Codex. And another clue was discovered, from the missing part of the Pentateuch: a piece of a page from the Book of Exodus had been preserved in the United States in the wallet of a man from Aleppo, who used it as a kind of lucky charm. This piece of parchment has not yet reached Jerusalem, but a photograph of it has been published. The two fragments that were discovered are described in this site, along with much testimony by rabbinical scholars who examined the Aleppo Codex over the generations, inquiring and clarifying the way certain words were written or vocalized, or the way in which the poems and sub-divisions were laid out.

This entire web site is dedicated to the Aleppo Codex. It was constructed in 2004 at the initiative of the Ben Zvi Institute for the Study of Jewish Communities in the East, which is responsible for preserving the Aleppo Codex and maintaining it properly. The web site was established with the support of The George Blumenthal Foundation, New York.

This site enables people to see photographs of the entire Aleppo Codex in a quality that had not hitherto been presented. You can leaf through the Codex, look for a certain verse in a certain book, and even see an enlargement of details from the photograph. Take note of the detailed instructions for browsing.

In addition to the photograph itself, the site has three sections:

The first section is an extensive presentation of the status of the Aleppo Codex with respect to other manuscripts and printed editions of the Bible from various periods, beginning with the most ancient remnants from the Dead Sea Scrolls, through old manuscripts from the near East, from Yemen, Spain, and Germany, and including printed editions, both the early ones and the most recent ones of our generation.

The second section describes the achievements of the Masoretes, among whose ranks arose Aharon Ben Asher, the Masorete responsible for the Aleppo Codex. The great and famous achievement of the Masoretes was the codification of the Hebrew vowel signs, which serve us to this day. Along with these were the cantillation marks, which are a kind of musical notation for chanting the Bible, and at the same time they serve as punctuation marks, assisting in the fluent reading of the Bible. To preserve the biblical text, an extensive and sophisticated apparatus of Masoretic commentary was developed, which is written on the margins of the page. Some of these comments are explained and demonstrated in this section.

The third section presents in detail the parts of the Aleppo Codex which are extant today, along with photographs that document the lost parts of the Codex and evidence about the Aleppo Codex gleaned from various sources over the generations. Along with this evidence are references to studies that deal with it.

The fourth section recounts the vicissitudes of the Aleppo Codex during its long history: it was written in Tiberias and reached the Karaite community in Jerusalem. It fell into captivity during the Crusades and came into the possession of a Jewish community in Egypt. The Aleppo Codex then came into the hands of Maimonides, who designed the layout of the Torah Scroll that he wrote himself according to it. The Torah Scrolls of all Jewish communities follow this precedent. Hundreds of years later, the Aleppo Codex passed from Egypt to Syria, and we have already mentioned the fate that befell it there.

The fifth and final section deals with the status of the Aleppo Codex today and the actions that have been taken on its behalf in recent years. Public and legal struggles led to the establishment of an official commission, whose purpose is to supervise everything done with the Aleppo Codex. Recently, the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem has been refurbished, and a large space is dedicated to exhibiting the Aleppo Codex itself and items connected to it.

In all the sections, interested readers will find many links and references to articles and books dealing at length with the topics surveyed here in brief.

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