Aleppo Codex

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Closeup of Aleppo Codex, Joshua 1:1
Page from Aleppo Codex, Deuteronomy

The Aleppo Codex (Hebrew: כֶּתֶר אֲרָם צוֹבָאKeter Aram Tzova "Crown of Aleppo") is a medieval bound manuscript of the Hebrew Bible. The codex was written in the 10th century A.D.[1] The codex is considered by some to be the most authoritative document in the masorah ("transmission"), a tradition by which the Hebrew Scriptures have been preserved from generation to generation.[2] Surviving examples of responsa literature show that the Aleppo Codex was consulted by far-flung Jewish scholars throughout the Middle Ages, and some modern studies argue that it is the most accurate representation of Masoretic principles in any extant manuscript, containing very few errors among the roughly 2.7 million orthographic details[3] that make up the Masoretic Text. For these reasons, some scholars view the Aleppo Codex as the most authoritative representative of the masoretic tradition, both its letter-text and its vocalization (niqqud and cantillation), although most of its Torah section and many other parts of the text are now missing and older documents such as the Dead Sea Scrolls have significantly different versions of the Biblical text.[4]

History[edit]

Overview[edit]

The Karaite Jewish community of Jerusalem purchased the codex about a hundred years after it was made.[5] During the First Crusade, the synagogue was plundered and the codex was transferred to Egypt, whose Jews paid a high price for its ransom.[1] It was preserved at the Karaite then Rabbanite synagogue in Old Cairo, where it was consulted by Maimonides, who described it as a text trusted by all Jewish scholars. It is rumoured that in 1375 one of Maimonides' descendants brought it to Aleppo, Syria, leading to its present name.[1]

The Codex remained in Syria for five hundred years. In 1947, rioters enraged by the UN decision to establish a Jewish state in Palestine burned down the synagogue where it was kept.[1] The Codex disappeared, then re-emerged in 1958, when it was smuggled into Israel by Syrian Jew Murad Faham, and presented to the president of the state, Itzhak Ben-Zvi. On arrival, it was found that parts of the codex had been lost. The Aleppo Codex was entrusted to the Ben-Zvi Institute and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Ransom[edit]

Photograph of missing page[6]

The Karaite Jewish community of Jerusalem received the book from Israel ben Simha of Basra sometime between 1040 and 1050.[7] It was cared for by the brothers Hizkiyahu and Joshya, Karaite religious leaders who eventually moved to Fustat in 1050. The codex, however, stayed in Jerusalem until the latter part of that century.[7] After the Fall of Jerusalem (1099) during the First Crusade, the Crusaders held the codex and other holy works for ransom (along with Jewish survivors).[8][9] The Aleppo Codex website cites two letters in the Cairo Geniza that describe how the inhabitants of Ashqelon borrowed money from Egypt to pay for the books.[9] (These Judeo-Arabic letters were discovered by noted Jewish historian S.D. Goitein in 1952.)[10] The Letter of the Karaite elders of Ascalon, the more descriptive of the two, states that the money borrowed from Alexandria was used to “buy back two hundred and thirty Bible codices, a hundred other volumes, and eight Torah Scrolls."[11] The documents were transported to Egypt via a caravan led and funded by the prominent Alexandrian official Abu’l-Fadl Sahl b. Yūsha’ b. Sha‘yā who was in Ascalon for his wedding in early 1100.[12] Judeo-Arabic inscriptions on the first page of the Codex mention the book was then "transferred to the Jerusalemite synagogue in Fustat."[8] The Aleppo codex website reveals how the book exchanged hands. It was "transferred [...] according to the law of redemption from imprisonment [in which it had fallen] in Jerusalem, the Holy City, may it be rebuilt and reestablished, to the congregation in Egypt of Knisat Yerushalayim, may it be built and established in the life of Israel. Blessed be he who preserves it and cursed be he who steals it, and cursed be he who sells it, and cursed be he who pawns it. It may not be sold and it may not be defiled forever."[9]

In Aleppo[edit]

The Aleppo community guarded the Codex zealously for some six hundred years: it was kept, together with three other Biblical manuscripts, in a special cupboard (later, an iron safe) in a basement chapel of the Central Synagogue of Aleppo, supposed to have been the cave of Elijah. It was regarded as the community's most sacred possession: people in trouble would pray before it, and oaths were taken by it. The community received queries from Jews around the world, who asked that various textual details be checked, correspondence which is preserved in the responsa literature, and which allows for the reconstruction of certain details in the parts that are missing today. Most importantly, in the 1850s, R. Shalom Shachne Yellin sent his son in law, Moses Joshua Kimchi, to Aleppo, to copy information about the Codex; Kimchi sat for weeks, and copied thousands of details about the codex into the margins of a small handwritten Bible. (The existence of this Bible was known to twentieth-century scholars from the book ‘Ammudé Shesh by Rabbi S. S. Boyarski, and then the actual Bible itself was discovered by Yosef Ofer in 1989.)

However, the community limited direct observation of the manuscript by outsiders, especially by scholars in modern times. Paul Kahle, when revising the text of the Biblia Hebraica in the 1920s, tried and failed to obtain a photographic copy. This forced him to use the Leningrad Codex instead for the third edition, which appeared in 1937.

The only modern scholar allowed to compare it with a standard printed Hebrew Bible and take notes on the differences was Umberto Cassuto. This secrecy made it impossible to confirm the authenticity of the Codex, and indeed Cassuto doubted that it was Maimonides' codex, though he agreed that it was 10th century.

During the riots against Jews and Jewish property in Aleppo in December 1947, the community's ancient synagogue was burned and the Codex was damaged, so that no more than 294 of the original (estimated) 487 pages survived.[13][14] Each page is parchment, 33 cm high by 26.5 cm wide (13 inches x 10.43 inches).[15] In particular, only the last few pages of the Torah are extant[16]

The missing leaves are a subject of fierce controversy. The Jews of Aleppo claim that they were burned. However, scholarly analysis has shown no evidence of fire having reached the codex itself (the dark marks on the pages are due to fungus). Some scholars instead accuse members of the Jewish community of having torn off the missing leaves and keeping them privately hidden. Two "missing" leaves have turned up, one in 1982 and the other in 2007, leaving open the possibility that even more may have survived the riots in 1947.[17] In particular, the 2012 book, The Aleppo Codex by Matti Friedman, calls attention to the fact that eyewitnesses in Aleppo who saw the Codex shortly after the fire consistently reported that the Codex was complete or nearly complete, and then there is no description of it for more than a decade, until after it arrived in Israel and was put in the Ben-Zvi Institute, at which point it was as currently described; his book suggests a number of possibities for the loss of the pages.[18]

The community of Damascus possessed a counterpart of the Aleppo Codex, known as the "Damascus Keter", also written in Israel in the tenth century, which is now kept at the Jewish National and University Library and numbered ms. Heb 5702. It is available online here [1]. (This should not be confused with another Damascus Keter, of medieval Spanish origin.)

In Israel[edit]

Exterior view of the Shrine of the Book

The Israeli writer Amnon Shamosh wrote an account of how it was brought to Israel in his Ha-Keter: Sippuro shel Keter Aram Soba (The Crown: The Story of the Aleppo Codex), published in 1987. The codex was entrusted to the Ben-Zvi Institute and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Attempts to recover its missing parts continue to this day.[19]

In January 1958, the Aleppo Codex was smuggled out of Syria and sent to Jerusalem to be placed in the care of the chief rabbi of the Aleppo Jews. But by the influence of then Israeli President, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, it was secretly taken by the government. In the late 1980s the codex was placed in the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum.[17][17] This finally gave scholars the chance to examine it and consider the claims that it is indeed the manuscript referred to by Maimonides. The work of Moshe Goshen-Gottstein on the few surviving pages of the Torah seems to have confirmed these claims beyond reasonable doubt. Goshen-Gottstein suggested (in the introduction to his facsimile reprint of the codex) that not only was it the oldest known masoretic Bible in a single volume, it was the first time ever that a complete Tanakh had been produced by one or two people as a unified entity in a consistent style.

Later, after the university denied him access to the codex, Rabbi Mordechai Breuer began his own reconstruction of the Masoretic text on the basis of other well-known ancient manuscripts. His results matched the Aleppo Codex almost exactly. Thus today, Breuer's version is used authoritatively for the reconstruction of the missing portions of the Aleppo Codex. The Keter Yerushalayim (כתר ירושלים, "Jerusalem Crown"), printed in Jerusalem in 2000, is a modern version of the Tanakh, based on the Aleppo Codex and the work of Breuer: it uses a newly designed typeface based on the calligraphy of the Codex and is based on its page-layout.[20]

Authoritative text[edit]

The consonants in the codex were copied by the scribe Shlomo ben Buya'a in Israel circa 920. The text was then verified, vocalized, and provided with Masoretic notes by Aaron ben Asher. Ben-Asher was the last and most prominent member of the Ben-Asher dynasty of grammarians from Tiberias, which shaped the most accurate version of the Masorah and, therefore, the Hebrew Bible.

The Leningrad Codex, which dates to approximately the same time as the Aleppo codex, has been claimed to be a product of the Ben-Asher scriptorium. However, its own colophon says only that it was corrected from manuscripts written by Ben-Asher; there is no evidence that Ben-Asher himself ever saw it.

The Aleppo Codex was the manuscript used by Maimonides when he set down the exact rules for writing scrolls of the Torah, Hilkhot Sefer Torah ("the Laws of the Torah Scroll") in his Mishneh Torah.[9] This halachic ruling gave the Aleppo Codex what is for Jews the seal of supreme textual authority, even though Maimonides only quoted it for paragraphing and other details of formatting, and not for the text itself (see discussion). "The codex which we used in these works is the codex known in Egypt, which includes 24 books, which was in Jerusalem," he wrote. Rabbi David ibn abi Zimra testifies to this being the same codex that was later transferred to Aleppo.

Contents[edit]

When the Aleppo Codex was complete (until 1947), it followed the Tiberian textual tradition in the order of its books, similar to the Leningrad Codex, and which also matches the later tradition of Sephardic biblical manuscripts. Torah and Nebi'im appear in the same order found in most printed Hebrew bibles, but the order for the books for Ketubim differs markedly. In the Aleppo Codex, the order of Ketubim is: Chronicles, Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ruth, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, Esther, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah.

The current text is missing almost the entire Torah (Genesis through most of Deuteronomy). It begins with the last word of Deuteronomy 28:17 (ומשארתך, "and your kneading trough"). After that, the books of Nebi'im appear in their traditional order (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the twelve minor prophets). However, part of Amos after Amos 8:12, Obadiah, Jonah, and the beginning of Micah to 5:1 are missing. The Ketubim follow as above, but currently end at the last leaf with בנות ציון in Song of Songs 3:11 ("daughters of Zion..."). Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, Esther, Daniel, and Ezra-Nehemiah are missing.

Modern editions[edit]

Several complete or partial editions of the Tanakh based on the Aleppo Codex have been published over the past three decades in Israel, some of them under the academic auspices of Israeli universities. These editions incorporate reconstructions of the missing parts of the codex based on the methodology of Mordechai Breuer or similar systems, and by taking into account all available historical testimony about the contents of the codex.

Complete Tanakh: These are complete editions of the Tanakh, usually in one volume (but sometimes also sold in three volumes). They do not include the masoretic notes of the Aleppo Codex.

  1. Mossad Harav Kuk edition, Mordechai Breuer, ed. Torah (1977); Nebi'im (1979); Ketubim (1982); full Tanakh in one volume 1989. This was the first edition to include a reconstruction of the letters, vowels, and cantillation marks in the missing parts of the Aleppo codex.
  2. Horev publishers, Jerusalem, 1996-98. Mordechai Breuer, ed. This was the first edition to incorporate newly discovered information on the parashah divisions of the Aleppo Codex for Nebi'im and Ketubim. The text of the Horev Tanakh has been reprinted in several forms with various commentaries by the same publisher.[21]
  3. Jerusalem Crown: The Bible of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2000. Edited according to the method of Mordechai Breuer under the supervision of Yosef Ofer, with additional proofreading and refinements since the Horev edition.[21]
  4. Jerusalem Simanim Institute, Feldheim Publishers, 2004 (published in one-volume and three-volume editions).[21][22]

Complete online Tanakh:

  • Mechon Mamre provides an online edition of the Tanakh based upon the Aleppo Codex and related Tiberian manuscripts. Its reconstruction of the missing text is based on the methods of Mordechai Breuer. The text is offered in four formats: (a) Masoretic letter-text, (b) "full" letter-text (unrelated to masoretic spelling), (c) masoretic text with vowels (niqqud), and (d) masoretic text with vowels and cantillation signs. See external links below.
  • "Miqra according to the Mesorah" is an experimental, digital version of the Tanakh based on the Aleppo Codex with full documentation of the editorial policy and its implementation (English-language abstract).

Partial editions:

  • Hebrew University Bible Project (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel). Includes the masoretic notes of the Aleppo Codex.
  • Mikraot Gedolot Haketer, Bar-Ilan University (1992–present). A multi-volume critical edition of the Mikraot Gedolot, sixteen volumes published to date including Genesis (2 vols.), Exodus (2 vols.), Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua & Judges (1 vol.), Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Minor Prophets, Psalms (2 vols.), Five Megillot (1 vol.). Includes the masoretic notes of the Aleppo Codex and a new commentary on them. Differs from the Breuer reconstruction and presentation for some masoretic details.
  • Torat Hayim, published by Mosad ha-Rav Kook (Torah and Five Megillot).
  • Chorev Mikraot Gedolot by Hotzaat Chorev (Torah only).

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Fragment of ancient parchment given to Jewish scholars
  2. ^ M. H. Goshen-Gottstein, "The Aleppo Codex and the Rise of the Massoretic Bible Text" The Biblical Archaeologist 42.3 (Summer 1979), pp. 145-163.
  3. ^ The numerical estimate is based on the sums compiled in this chart as part of the Westminster Leningrad Codex. An "error" is usually a conflict between a manuscript's letter-text and its masoretic notations.
  4. ^ Tov, Emanuel (2001). Textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible (3rd ed., rev. and expanded ed.). Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress. ISBN 0800696646. 
  5. ^ M. Nehmad, Keter Aram Tzova, Aleppo 1933; Fragment of ancient parchment given to Jewish scholars
  6. ^ Photo taken in 1910 by Joseph Segall and published in Travels through Northern Syria (London, 1910), p. 99. Reprinted and analyzed in Moshe H. Goshen-Gottstein, "A Recovered Part of the Aleppo Codex," Textus 5 (1966):53-59 (Plate I)Missing page
  7. ^ a b Olszowy-Schlanger, Judith. Karaite marriage documents from the Cairo Geniza: legal tradition and community life in mediaeval Egypt and Palestine. Etudes sur le judaïsme médiéval, t. 20. Leiden: Brill, 1998 (ISBN 9004108866), pg. 148
  8. ^ a b Olszowy: pp. 54-55 and footnote #86
  9. ^ a b c d The Vicissitudes of the Aleppo Codex – See 4.4 The Crusades and the Ransoming of Books. Retrieved on 2008–03–04.
  10. ^ Kedar, Benjamin Z. "The Jerusalem Massacre of July 1099 in the Western Historiography of the Crusades." in The Crusades (Vol. 3). ed. Benjamin Z. Kedar and Jonathan S.C. Riley-Smith. Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2004 (ISBN 075464099X), pg. 59
  11. ^ Goitein, S.D. A Mediterranean Society: The Jewish Communities of the Arab World as Portrayed in the Documents of the Cairo Geniza. Vol. V: The Individual: Portrait of a Mediterranean Personality of the High Middle Ages as Reflected in the Cairo Geniza. University of California Press, 1988 (ISBN 0520056477), pg. 376
  12. ^ Goitein: pp. 375–376 and footnote #81 on pg. 612
  13. ^ One more piece of famed ancient Bible comes to Jerusalem
  14. ^ Hayim Tawil & Bernard Schneider, Crown of Aleppo (Philadelphia, Jewish Publication Soc., 2010) page 110; there have been various reports and estimates of the original number of pages; Izhak Ben-Zvi, "The Codex of Ben Asher", Textus, vol. 1 (1960) page 2, reprinted in Sid Z. Leiman, ed., The Canon and Masorah of the Hebrew Bible, an Introductory Reader (NY, Ktav Pubg. House, 1974) page 758 (estimating an original number of 380 pages).
  15. ^ Hayim Tawil & Bernard Schneider, Crown of Aleppo (Philadelphia, Jewish Publication Soc., 2010) page 110; Izhak Ben-Zvi, "The Codex of Ben Asher", Textus, vol. 1 (1960) page 2, reprinted in Sid Z. Leiman, ed., The Canon and Masorah of the Hebrew Bible, an Introductory Reader (NY, Ktav Pubg. House, 1974) page 758.
  16. ^ The surviving text begins with the last word of Deuteronomy 28:17; Izhak Ben-Zvi, "The Codex of Ben Asher", Textus, vol. 1 (1960) page 2, reprinted in Sid Z. Leiman, ed., The Canon and Masorah of the Hebrew Bible, an Introductory Reader (NY, Ktav Pubg. House, 1974) page 758.
  17. ^ a b c Ronen Bergman (July 25, 2012). "A High Holy Whodunit". New York Times. Retrieved 2012-07-26. 
  18. ^ Matti Friedman, The Aleppo Codex (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2012) chapt. 24 and passim (the book would benefit from an index!)
  19. ^ "Ben-Zvi Institute calls for return of Aleppo Codex fragments", Haaretz, December 3, 2007.
  20. ^ official version
  21. ^ a b c In this edition, the masoretic text and symbols were encoded and graphic layout was enabled by the computer program Taj, developed by Daniel Weissman.
  22. ^ "After consultation... with the greatest Torah scholars and grammarians, the biblical text in this edition was chosen to conform with the Aleppo Codex which as is well known was corrected by Ben-Asher... Where this manuscript is not extant we have relied on the Leningrad Codex... Similarly the open and closed sections that are missing in the Aleppo Codex have been completed according to the biblical list compiled by Rabbi Shalom Shachna Yelin that were published in the Jubilee volume for Rabbi Breuer... (translated from the Hebrew on p. 12 of the introduction).

External links and further reading[edit]