Synopses & Reviews
In an age when physical books matter less and less, here is a thrilling story about a book that meant everything. This true-life detective story unveils the journey of a sacred text—the tenth-century annotated bible known as the Aleppo Codex—from its hiding place in a Syrian synagogue to the newly founded state of Israel. Based on Matti Friedman’s independent research, documents kept secret for fifty years, and personal interviews with key players, the book proposes a new theory of what happened when the codex left Aleppo, Syria, in the late 1940s and eventually surfaced in Jerusalem, mysteriously incomplete.
The codex provides vital keys to reading biblical texts. By recounting its history, Friedman explores the once vibrant Jewish communities in Islamic lands and follows the thread into the present, uncovering difficult truths about how the manuscript was taken to Israel and how its most important pages went missing. Along the way, he raises critical questions about who owns historical treasures and the role of myth and legend in the creation of a nation.
"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. Agent: Judy Heiblum, Sterling Lord Literistic." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
“The Aleppo Codex could be read as a thriller. It could also be read as a history of the Jewish people, or as a meditation on history and myth. This great book comes closer to containing everything than any book I’ve read in a long, long time.”
—Jonathan Safran Foer
“Matti Friedman is a stunningly talented writer, a once-in-a-generation discovery. The Aleppo Codex has enough betrayals, conspiracies, surprise plot twists, sacred flimflam men, and well-dressed contraband dealers for the best of thrillers—but every bit of it is meticulously researched fact.”
—Gershom Gorenberg, senior correspondent for the American Prospect and author of The Accidental Empire
“A beautifully woven tale of epic proportions about a sacred book and its all-too-human custodians . . . Absolutely riveting!”
—Oren Harman, author of The Price of Altruism
Booklist's Top 10 Religion and Spirituality Books
"A superb work of investigative journalism that reads like a detective thriller."--The Wall Street Journal
"Friedman's clear writing and dogged pursuit of some otherwise overlooked assumptions read more like a detective novel than history . . . Friedman has written an important account in accessible, gripping prose."--The Christian Science Monitor
"A thrilling, step-by-step quest to discover what really happened to Judaism's most important book . . . Many of [The Aleppo Codex's] most astute and well-earned revelations are also its biggest surprises." --The Boston Globe
"The Aleppo Codex builds to a moral crescendo more impressive than the climactic fight scene in any thriller."--Salon
"Friedman creates a riveting story, one that the reader will have a hard time putting down."--The Advocate
"Thrilling . . . a real-life National Treasure that reads like fantastical fiction."--CultureMob
"[Friedman] opened a treasure box of history, mystery, conspiracy, and convolutions that would do any biblical thriller proud . . . Friedman has done a remarkable job--finding sources and digging through archives--of getting the Crown's fascinating story out of the shadows and into the light. In the process, he's become the latest in the long line of the Crown's protectors."--Booklist, starred review
"Sharply etched . . . A carefully paced narrative of purloined Judaica."--Kirkus Reviews
"Friedman's account of how the Codex was taken from Syria in the 1940s, later to resurface in Jerusalem, although no longer
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.
About the Author
Matti Friedman’s first book, The Aleppo Codex, won the Sami Rohr Prize, the American Library Association’s Sophie Brody Medal, and the Canadian Jewish Book Award. It was selected as one of Booklist’s top ten religion and spirituality titles in 2013 and received second place for the Religion Newswriters Association’s 2013 nonfiction religion book of the year. The book was published in Israel, Australia, Holland, France, Germany, the Czech Republic, Russia, and South Korea. Friedman has worked as a correspondent in the Jerusalem bureau of the Associated Press news agency, where he specialized in religion and archaeology, and reported from Lebanon to Morocco, Cairo, Moscow, and Washington, D.C., as well as Israel, the Palestinian territories, and the Caucasus. In addition to the AP, his work has appeared in the Atlantic and the New York Times, among other publications. Friedman grew up in Toronto, moved to Israel as a teenager, and served three years in the Israeli military. Today he lives in Jerusalem with his wife and three children. He lectures frequently in Israel, the United Kingdom, and the United States.