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Washington, DC, United States, 2008/09/13 - An important historic document in pieces for decades is slowly coming together. We are looking for pieces of the Aleppo Codex: the oldest complete copy of the Hebrew Bible.
Do you (or someone you know) have a fragment (or a page) of the Aleppo Codex, the oldest complete copy of the Hebrew Bible? The precious document was considered the most authoritative text in Judaism before it was ripped apart and partially burned by Arab mobs in 1947 in protest when the United Nations passed the resolution creating the state of Israel.
Known in Hebrew as the "Crown," the Aleppo Codex was completely missing for a decade. Then, in 1957, nearly 300 pages (out of almost 500) showed up in Jerusalem. Rumors of other surviving parts continue to circulate. Occasionally a part of a page or a page fragment surfaces. In a comprehensive article in the current issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Professor Yosef Ofer of Bar-Ilan University in Israel recounts the travails of the codex. He calls for help to locate still-missing pages, as does the Biblical Archaeology Society.
The biblical books among the Dead Sea Scrolls are a thousand years older than the Aleppo Codex, but they contain no vowel markings which indicate pronunciation, and sometimes meaning, of many words. The Aleppo Codex contains not only vowel markings (nequdot) but also other markings to indicate how the biblical portion is to be chanted in the synagogue (te'amim). There are extensive Masoretic notes on the correct resolution of questionable passages as well. More than 800 years ago, Maimonides used the Aleppo Codex to write the Mishneh Torah.
“In the years after the riots,” recounts Professor Ofer, “pieces of the codex thought to be irrevocably lost began to surface. In the last 20-30 years, Jewish families in America have come forward with fragments of the Codex, and pieces of the missing text have been rumored to be in the possession of Arabs as well. We may never know how these pages and fragments came to be in the hands of people scattered throughout the world, but I feel sure that there are more scenarios like these out there.”
The founder and editor of the Washington D.C.-based Biblical Archaeology Review, Hershel Shanks, has joined Ofer in the quest to locate information about fragments of the codex that may still exist. “It is possible,” speculates Shanks, “that in the confusion following the riots and the urgency of getting Jews safely out of Syria, that surviving parts of the codex were snatched, by Arabs or Jews, and ultimately transported abroad. These people or their survivors may not know what they had or have. We would very much like to see people come forward with information, perhaps in the form of family stories, letters or other documents.”
The article by Professor Yosef Ofer can be viewed online at the Biblical Archaeology Review website. For further information, questions, or to arrange interviews with Professor Ofer or Hershel Shanks, please contact Sarah Yeomans.