Matti Friedman’s The Aleppo Codex is a book lover’s dream: Not only is it a book about a book, it’s a page-turning thriller. History dishes up some pretty compelling tales, and Friedman uncovered a spellbinder. “I expected to write a heartening story about the rescue of this book,” Friedman writes, “but instead found myself like a person who innocently opens a cupboard and finds himself buried under a pile of forgotten things.”
It’s a tale that involves grizzled secret agents, pious clergymen, shrewd antiquities collectors, and highly placed national figures who would do anything to get their hands on an ancient, decaying book.
About the book
This true-life detective story unveils the journey of a sacred text—the tenth-century annotated bible known as the Aleppo Codex—from its hiding place in a Syrian synagogue to the newly founded state of Israel. Based on Friedman’s independent research, documents kept secret for fifty years, and personal interviews with key players, the book proposes a new theory of what happened when the codex left Aleppo, Syria, in the late 1940s and eventually surfaced in Jerusalem, mysteriously incomplete.
Known as the Crown, the codex provides vital keys to reading biblical texts. By recounting its history, Friedman explores the once vibrant Jewish communities in Islamic lands and follows the thread into the present, uncovering difficult truths about how the manuscript was taken to Israel and how its most important pages went missing. Along the way, he raises critical questions about who owns historical treasures and the role of myth and legend in the creation of a nation.
Click here to listen to Matti Friedman’s podcast on Tablet.
Praise for Matti Friedman’s The Aleppo Codex
“The Aleppo Codex could be read as a thriller. It could also be read as a history of the Jewish people, or as a meditation on history and myth. This great book comes closer to containing everything than any book I’ve read in a long, long time.”—Jonathan Safran Foer
“[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
“Friedman gives a masterful account of a major religious document . . . [he] delivers an atmospheric, tense story about the destruction of a sacred relic, raising inevitable questions about who owns a people’s historical treasures.”—Publishers Weekly, 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 complete, is full of betrayals, controversy and surprises — and raises larger questions about the ownership and preservation of historical treasures.” —Jewish Week
“The Aleppo Codex builds to a moral crescendo more impressive than the climactic fight scene in any thriller.” – Salon
“Thrilling . . . a real-life National Treasure that reads like fantastical fiction.”—CultureMob
“Matti Friedman is a stunningly talented writer, a once-in-a-generation discovery. The Aleppo Codex has enough betrayals, conspiracies, surprise plot twists, sacred flimflam men, and well-dressed contraband dealers for the best of thrillers — but every bit of it is meticulously researched fact. Cancel your appointments, bury your cell phone — you won’t want to be interrupted – and read this book.”—Gershom Gorenberg, Senior Correspondent for The American Prospect and author of The Accidental Empire
“A beautifully woven tale of epic proportions about a sacred book and its all-too-human custodians. I did not put it down until I had finished it at the crack of dawn. Absolutely riveting!”—Oren Harman, author of The Price of Altruism
Read an excerpt from The Aleppo Codex