“A brilliant non-fiction thriller about an ancient copy of the Torah. Highly recommended.”
—Paulo Coelho, author of The Alchemist
Winner of the 2014 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature
A thousand years ago, the most perfect copy of the Hebrew Bible was written. It was kept safe through one upheaval after another in the Middle East, and by the 1940s it was housed in a dark grotto in Aleppo, Syria, and had become known around the world as the Aleppo Codex.
Journalist Matti Friedman’s true-life detective story traces how this precious manuscript was smuggled from its hiding place in Syria into the newly founded state of Israel and how and why many of its most sacred and valuable pages went missing. It’s a tale that involves grizzled secret agents, pious clergymen, shrewd antiquities collectors, and highly placed national figures who, as it turns out, would do anything to get their hands on an ancient, decaying book. What it reveals are uncomfortable truths about greed, state cover-ups, and the fascinating role of historical treasures in creating a national identity.
Friedman gives a masterful account of a major religious document, housed with the better known Dead Sea Scrolls in Jerusalem's Shrine of the Book. The Aleppo Codex, a volume of parchment folios written in Tiberius circa 930 C.E., is considered the most accurate text of the Hebrew Bible. Stolen by Crusaders from a Jerusalem synagogue, the codex made its way to Egypt, was used by the great 12th-century scholar Maimonides and later brought to Aleppo, Syria, by a descendant of Maimonides. After being carefully kept in Aleppo's Great Synagogue, the codex was damaged in 1947 by Arab rioters angered by the U.N. resolution to partition Palestine. Friedman plumbs two mysteries relating to the codex: how did it end up in the hands of Israeli authorities after being rescued from the Great Synagogue? And what happened to its missing pages (which caused a scandal when the government revealed their absence)? Facing missing court documents and the "conspiracy of silence" surrounding the codex, AP reporter Friedman sleuths out the answers, revealing a highly disturbing tale. Friedman delivers an atmospheric, tense story about the destruction of a sacred relic, raising inevitable questions about who owns a people's historical treasures. Photos.