February 8, 2013

The Aleppo Codex by Matti Friedman

Due to the combination of my 1 1/2 year-old son's horrifyingly bad case of jet lag, my wife's strep throat and my own jet lag, I was able to make some headway this last month on my new year's resolution "to read more books outside of my normal reading area (biblical archaeology, ancient Near East, historical fiction, science fiction)."  This pursuit started with a fascinating book called "The Aleppo Codex" by Matti Friedman.

I briefly met Friedman this past summer as he came and excavated for a day in my area at Tell es-Safi/Gath - he provided an excellent report that our director, Aren Maeir, referred to as "outstanding." This judgment certainly applies to Friedman's book, "The Aleppo Codex." The subject of his book - the Aleppo Codex - is the saga of the most ancient (around 930 AD/CE) complete text of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament.

To put that in perspective we must understand that every single English Bible from the King James' Version up until the mid-20th century did not have the earliest complete source of the Old Testament at its disposal when translating the Bible into English. 1947, is probably the most significant year for for textual criticism as both the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Aleppo Codex began their respective journeys to Jerusalem and eventually to the ends of the earth (modern translations). For the basics on the Aleppo Codex and its significance see here.

The unique significance of the Aleppo Codex is shown throughout the book and underscores the fascinating controversies within its saga and travels from Tiberias to Aleppo to Jerusalem (well, at least 60% of it).  This true story is exceptionally well researched and written, those were the things Friedman could control. What he could not control was the mysterious twists and amazing turns in the story of the Aleppo Codex. If this were adapted as a TV drama for AMC or HBO it would have great ratings, but people (e.g. my dad) would call it "too unrealistic." That's what is amazing about this account - the events really occurred! It is a real life version of a Dan Brown thriller without the bad theology and terrible Tom Hank's locks. "The Aleppo Codex" is well-worth your time and will hold your attention to the end.

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