In an age when the importance of physical books is debated, here is a thrilling story about a book that meant everything.
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.
Matti Friedman’s true-life detective story, The Aleppo Codex, 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. As he points out, “page with the passage Thou shalt not steal was stolen. Also missing are the commandments not to bear false witness, covet another’s property, or commit murder.”
Friedman has unearthed documents kept secret for fifty years, interviewed key plays from around the world, and followed the trail of the missing pages up to the present, including the charged four-year court battle to determine the codex’s rightful owners. He also takes us back in time, revealing the once vibrant Jewish communities in Islamic lands.
It’s a tale that involves grizzled secret agents, pious clergymen, shrewd antiquities collectors, and higly 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 greed, state cover-ups, and the fascinating role of historical treasures in creating a national identity.
As Laura Miller said in her Salon review, “The Aleppo Codex builds to a moral crescendo more impressive than the climactic fight scene in any thriller.”