A Wandering Bible: The Aleppo Codex
---From Egypt to Aleppo
At the end of the 14th century, the Aleppo Codex was brought from Egypt to Aleppo, Syria, and placed in the “Cave of Elijah” in the city’s ancient synagogue, in a metal chest sealed with a double lock, far from public view. The Jews of Aleppo saw the Codex as the most important manuscript in their possession – so much so, that judges were sworn in with it, and magical, protective powers were attributed to it. It was strictly forbidden to sell the Codex or even remove it from the synagogue, as written on the title page, “Sacred to the Lord. . . . It shall be neither sold nor redeemed. . . . Blessed be he who guards it, accursed be he who steals it . . . .” The members of the community believed that if this injunction were violated, they would be severely punished.
Besides the Aleppo Codex, the Jewish community of Aleppo owned three other important codices. One of them, known as the “Small Codex,” was probably written in Italy in 1341 by an Ashkenazi scribe. Its main part comprises the Pentateuch, with vocalization and cantillation marks and an Aramaic translation. Masoretic notes are inserted between the columns, and Rashi’s commentary appears in the upper and lower margins. The Small Codex also includes an additional text of the Pentateuch in tiny Hebrew letters – without the translation, vocalization, and cantillation marks – as well as the Song of Songs with Rashi’s commentary, the Five Scrolls, the sections from the Prophets read in the synagogue after the Torah reading (haftarot
), and a commentary (midrash
) on the Masorah. It is currently on display at the Shrine of the Book.