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The Aleppo Codex: A True Story of Obsession, Faith, and the Pursuit of an Ancient Bible Hardcover – May 15, 2012


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books; 1st Edition, 1st Printing edition (May 15, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1616200405
  • ISBN-13: 978-1616200404
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.8 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (94 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #340,754 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Written in the tenth century, the Aleppo Codex is the most accurate copy of the Hebrew Bible. 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, a Jerusalem journalist, 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. --Ilene Cooper

Review

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


More About the Author

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.

Customer Reviews

A true story with all the twists and turns of a mystery or spy story.
blooms
The story of the Aleppo Codex is told by Matti Friedman, an Israeli journalist through a variety of angles.
DWD's Reviews
A well written and researched book that makes for fascinating reading.
rmg

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

60 of 61 people found the following review helpful By Paul Shaviv on May 21, 2012
Format: Hardcover
The genre of 'academic thrillers' - mysteries centred around old manuscripts or artefacts - has its following; in this case, however, the story has the added, great advantage of being true! Anyone interested in the transmission of the Hebrew bible -- the basic text of Western civilization -- very quickly comes across the work of the ninth-century grammarians and scholars, the Ben Asher family. Their work in establishing a 'standard text' (the 'Masoretic text') incredibly survives in a manuscript of the Bible written under the direction of Aaron Ben Asher. This actual book was regarded by Maimonides as the most accurate Hebrew text. It travelled around the MIddle East and finally came to rest in the synagogue of Aleppo, where it was kept guarded for centuries, and referred to as the 'Keter', or 'Crown'.

Following the establishment of Israel in 1948, it was removed from the synagogue; hidden; and finally smuggled into Israel in 1958. To safety. Well, no..... In this excellently written book, journalist Matti Friedman disentangles the murky story of how the codex was smuggled into Israel, and how it came to be in the possession of the government-sponsored Ben-Zvi Institute. But there is more, because he also disentangles the scandal that the most important part of the 500-leaf mss - the Pentateuch, or most of it - went 'missing' - almost certainly AFTER the book arrived in Israel. The missing pages have never been found. Matti Friedman points a (surprising) finger in a certain direction. This is a great read, combining scholarship, drama, espionage, money, scandal and even a body. In its pages you meet professors, statesmen, scholars, cheese merchants, rabbis, spies, eccentric millionaires and a further cast of characters.

My only complaint - it lacks an index. But if you enjoyed the award-winning Israeli film 'Footnote', also about the arcane world of Hebrew scholarship. you will love this book!
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Jojobone on June 19, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Addling to the other marvelous reviews...

I take away from this book an understanding of the important historical events leading to the birth of the New Israel; I am ashamed to say that I was not as learned as I should have been about this important segment of world history; what led from pre-WWII to the birth of the Israels new home? The author brings deep understanding alive!

Researching, discovering and telling the story of the shadowy travels of the Aleppo Codex cloaked in secrecy by players of many levels takes on the mystery and excitement of a modern spy novel.

The author's style of carefully knitting the story of the mysterious codex travels with the world of politics and history (to amplify the story) makes it a completely satisfying tapestry.

Read this book, become smarter, and enjoy the process!
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By A. Rubin on June 8, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a terrific account of the recovery of the Aleppo Codex, perhaps the most important surviving manuscript of the Hebrew Bible. The story of this codex is well known -- or should I say, thought to be well konwn. Friedman shows that much of the story surrounding this codex is false. He tells his quest for the true story in a very compelling manner. I highly recommend this book. It is far, far better than the other recent account of the codex, which now sells for over $100 on amazon.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Gary L. Misch on December 23, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Plus -

1. The Aleppo Codex, including its ancient and modern history, is worth reading about. You will learn more about it here than you will in Wikipedia, &c.
2. The discussion of the Israeli government's treatment of the sacred texts of North African and Arabian Jewish communities that were resettled in Israel is is a sidelight, but interesting. It's also illustrative of the attitude of the the secular Jews who founded modern Israel. They placed the culture of these ancient communities in museums, while pushing their people into the modern socialist framework.

Minus -

There simply isn't enough here for a book length piece. Too much conjecture, both on the part of the author and many of the interviewees. Overall, I'm glad the author took the time to do the leg work.

I bought the Kindle version.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By J. Katz on November 24, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I read this book straight through in two days -- I literally couldn't put it down! It's a combination of a great story, thorough detective work uncovering surprising new information about an old mystery, and evocative writing.

I gave it four stars because I found this book lacking when it came to the codex itself and its importance. You will find only one, short chapter discussing the writing of the codex, and no discussion about *why* the codex is important for Biblical study, no discussion about textual analysis of the Bible, no discussion about variant texts and the establishment of the Masoretic text, and no mention of other important codices of the Hebrew Bible. In fact, there is relatively little information about the history of the codex before 1947 at all. I wouldn't call this a flaw --- the author just made a conscious choice to emphasize the travels of the codex after 1947. Readers should be aware of this, however, so they won't be disappointed as I was.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Asher Gabbay on September 3, 2012
Format: Hardcover
One of the major differences between the Jewish Torah (the first five books of the Bible) and the Christian scriptures (the New Testament) is consistency. Whilst you can find hundreds of versions of the New Testament, some with major differences in the text, any two Torah scrolls from anywhere in the world will be virtually identical. The reason for this is the halacha (Jewish law) that prohibits reading from the Torah scroll if even the smallest of mistakes is found. As small a mistake as a broken letter (ink not properly joined) or two joint letters. The scroll is closed and is not read from again until the mistakes are corrected.

By far the most important and earliest manuscript of the Torah is the Aleppo Codex. Written in the 10th century C.E. in Tiberias, Israel, it is the most authoritative document when it comes to the text of the Jewish Bible, the Tanach. "The Aleppo Codex" ("תעלומת הכתר") by Matti Friedman is the story of this document.

The Codex was verified and annotated by Aharon Ben Asher, the last member of a dynasty of Hebrew grammarians, around the year 920. The Codex was purchased by a community in Jerusalem and later found its way to Cairo, after being ransomed from crusaders who stole it. The Rambam (Maimonides) himself used it, describing it as a trusted text. From Egypt it found its way to Aleppo, Syria, where it was guarded by the Jewish community there for centuries, hidden in a cave in the synagogue. In 1947, after the UN announced its partition plan for Palestine, rioters burned down the synagogue. From here starts a journey riddled with mystery and intrigue, a journey masterfully described by Friedman in this thrilling book.
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