Bible Review 17:5, October 2001

Bible Books: The Oldest Text of the Hebrew Bible

The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the recovery of the two oldest manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible—the Aleppo Codex and the Leningrad Codex—all occurred in the past 75 years; together they have revolutionized textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible in ways hardly imagined just decades ago.

The Aleppo Codex dates to about 915 C.E. and is the work of Aaron ben Asher, considered the greatest of the Masoretes, rabbinic Jewish (or, possibly, Karaite) scribes who specialized in the text of the Bible. The codex’s reputation as the best Hebrew Bible manuscript was secured when Maimonides, the great medieval Jewish scholar, declared that he relied on the work of ben Asher. In 1947, however, rioters in the Syrian city of Aleppo who were violently opposed to a Jewish state in Palestine set fire to the city’s ancient synagogue and almost all of the Torah from the Aleppo Codex was destroyed (the remainder was later smuggled to Israel).

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