The Aleppo Codex: A True Story of Obsession, Faith, and the Pursuit of an Ancient Bible Has Won The 2013 Sophie Brody Medal

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Matti Friedman’s “The Aleppo Codex: A True Story of Obsession, Faith, and the Pursuit of an Ancient Bible” has won the 2013 Sophie Brody Medal for outstanding achievement in the field of 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.

Written in the tenth century, the Aleppo Codex named for the Syrian city in which it was kept, the codex is also known as the Crown of Aleppo and was said to protect those who cared for it and curse those who defiled it. Friedman came across part of the Crown in a museum and decided he wanted to write about it—in doing so, he opened a treasure box of history, mystery, conspiracy, and convolutions that would do any biblical thriller proud. There are several intriguing strands in play here.

First, there is the history of a vibrant Syrian community, under siege when Israel became a state. Add a cast of academics, spys, merchants, refugees, and bureaucrats, high and low, whose roles in getting the Crown out of Syria and into Israel loop and reloop throughout the narrative. Then there is the ever-evolving topic of the underground market for antiquities, fascinating in itself, but Friedman shows us, in addition, just how much is lost when the very rich purchase rarities and remove them from the public eye.

The time line sometimes gets confusing, and so do the players (though an introductory “cast list” helps), but 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.

Matti Friedman‘s work as a reporter has taken him from Lebanon to Morocco, Cairo, Moscow and Washington, D.C., and to conflicts in Israel and the Caucasus. He has been a correspondent for the Associated Press, where he specialized in religion and archaeology in Israel and the Palestinian territories, and for the Jerusalem Report, and currently writes for the Times of Israel. He grew up in Toronto and lives in Jerusalem.

The Aleppo Codex, his first book, was published in May 2012 by Algonquin Books. Editions have been published or are pending in Israel, Australia, Holland, France, Germany, the Czech Republic and Korea.

The Aleppo Codex: A True Story of  Obsession, Faith, and the Pursuit of an Ancient Bible” by Matti Friedman [Kindle Edition] is available for iPhone,  iPod Touch,  iPad with free Amazon app (download app – here), get Amazon app for BlackBerry – here,  for Android – here and for PC– here

File Size: 1011 KB
Print Length: 320 pages
Publisher:  Algonquin Books (May 15, 2012)
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Language: English
Price: $14.75 (Buy now)


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