A Wandering Bible: The Aleppo Codex
---The Birth of the Aleppo Codex
The Aleppo Codex, known as the keter (crown) in Hebrew or the taj in Arabic – a title of honor given to select ancient manuscripts, mainly in Eastern countries – was written at the beginning of the 10th century CE. Its colophon (an inscription placed at the end of a manuscript), copied by Professor Umberto Cassuto when he visited Aleppo in 1943, states that the manuscript, which comprised all twenty-four books of the Bible, was copied in the land of Israel by a scribe named Solomon ben Buya‘a, scion of a well-known family of scribes who specialized in copying biblical manuscripts; the vocalization, cantillation marks, and masoretic comments were added by Aaron ben Asher, the last of the Masoretes and the final link in this great chain of tradition.
The Aleppo Codex is considered to be the most accurate existing manuscript of the Masoretic text (another well-known manuscript is the Leningrad Codex of 1009). Its text is practically identical to the pre-Masoretic version of the biblical text that has been preserved in some of the biblical scrolls found at Qumran (approximately one thousand years older than the Codex) and the somewhat later scroll fragments found at Masada and the vicinity, as well as some of the biblical fragments discovered in the Cairo Genizah. The Codex originally contained 380 leaves, but, unfortunately, only 295 of them have survived, representing some three-quarters of the Bible.
We do not know who commissioned the Aleppo Codex. We do, however, know from the colophon that it was purchased, many years after its completion, by a wealthy Karaite of Basra, Iraq, named Israel Simhah, who donated it to the Karaite synagogue in Jerusalem. In the late 11th century CE it was smuggled out of the country, either by Seljuks in 1071 or by Crusaders 1099, and offered for sale in Egypt.