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What is the Aleppo Codex?

Aleppo Codex audio

The Aleppo Codex is an ancient, bound manuscript of the Hebrew Bible, written by scribes called Masoretes in Tiberias, Israel, around AD 930. The Masoretes were Jewish rabbis who made it their special work to correct the faults that had crept into the text of the Old Testament during the Babylonian captivity and to prevent any future alterations. The Aleppo Codex is so called because, for centuries, the book was kept in a synagogue in Aleppo, Syria.

As a Masoretic manuscript, the Aleppo Codex is written in Hebrew that contains vowel marks, cantillation signs (to guide pronunciation when chanting the text), and interpretive marginal notes. Originally, the Aleppo Codex contained the entire Hebrew Bible, but almost 200 pages (about 40 percent of the total) are now missing. Each page, containing three columns of text, is made of parchment (dried animal hide); the ink used was made of powdered tree galls (a source of tannin) mixed with soot and iron sulfate. The Aleppo Codex is considered the oldest Hebrew Bible in existence. The Dead Sea Scrolls predate the Aleppo Codex, but those scrolls were not consolidated into a single book.

Another manuscript of the Hebrew Bible from the same time period as the Aleppo Codex is the Leningrad Codex, kept in the Russian National Library in St. Petersburg, Russia. Scholars consider the Aleppo Codex to be superior to the Leningrad Codex. The Aleppo Codex displays an amazing accuracy and attention to detail, earning its title “the Crown of Aleppo,” and leading many to consider it the most authoritative text of the Hebrew Bible. But, since a portion of the Aleppo Codex has been lost, scholars have turned to the Leningrad Codex for producing modern editions of the Hebrew text such as the Biblia Hebraica.

Several important editions of the Hebrew Bible are based on the Aleppo Codex: the Breuer edition (1977 – 1982), the Horev edition (1996), and the Keter Yerushalayim, published by Hebrew University (2000). Partial editions based on the Aleppo Codex have been published by the Hebrew University Bible Project and Bar-Ilan University Press.

The Aleppo Codex is important as a historical world treasure. More than that, it readily shows the care and precision that went into copying and preserving God’s Word. The Masoretic Text has been foundational to most English translations of the Bible, and the Aleppo Codex is considered the best example of the Masoretic text.

Anti-Jewish riots in Aleppo in 1947 resulted in the Aleppo Codex being smuggled out of Syria, and the codex eventually made it to Israel about 10 years later. In the process, about 200 pages of the codex went missing and are presumed destroyed. The Aleppo Codex now resides in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Since 2011, the entire Aleppo Codex—or at least its extant parts—is also available to view online.

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This page last updated: January 4, 2022