The Crown of Aleppo

The Other Bible, the Crown of Aleppo

BY JONATHAN KIRSCH

When it comes to the treasures of biblical antiquity, the Dead Sea Scrolls seem to get all the attention. But there is another Bible that deserves our attention — the so-called Crown of Aleppo.

To be sure, the Dead Sea Scrolls represent the oldest copies of the biblical text, but the earliest and most authoritative copy of the Hebrew Bible in the form of a bound book rather than a scroll is the Aleppo Codex, an object lovingly known in Jewish tradition as “the Crown.” How it was created, preserved and rediscovered is one of the great adventure stories of biblical scholarship.

The story is told in “Crown of Aleppo: The Mystery of the Oldest Hebrew Bible Codex” by Hayim Tawil and Bernard Schneider (Jewish Publication Society: $45.00), a deft, elegant and utterly fascinating introduction to the object itself and its place in Jewish history.

“[I]ts very existence reflects the centuries of exile and upheaval, struggle and rebirth that have shaped the Jewish people,” writer the authors. “Indeed, the Crown of Aleppo, like the Bible itself, contains an important key to understanding Jewish traditions of scholarship and identity.”

Although it was sheltered in the Syrian town of Aleppo for many centuries, the Crown was the handiwork of scribes at work in Tiberius in the early 10th century — Shlomo ben Buya’a put the text down, and Ben Asher added the marks that indicated how the words should be read and sung. They were famous members of the scribal guild, known as the Masoretes, who sought to preserve and transmit the ancient text with the utmost accuracy.

The Crown survived intact for nearly a thousand years, but it was nearly lost during a pogrom in the Syrian town of Aleppo that followed the fateful vote of the United Nations to partition Palestine between the Arabs and the Jews in 1947. The Great Synagogue, where the codex had been safeguarded behind locked iron doors, was gutted by fire, and the Codex was believed to have been destroyed. Then, almost miraculously, rumors began to circulate that a precious fragment of the Jewish patrimony had been saved[…rest here]

HT: J. Lauer

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