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Friday, October 12, 2012

Audio Book Review: The Aleppo Codex by Matti Friedman

This may sound dry but it is ultimately a quite fascinating documentary thriller.
The Aleppo Codex: A True Story of Obsession, Faith, and the Pursuit of an Ancient Bible
by Matti Friedman

  • Audio CD: 450 pages (6 discs)
  • Publisher: HighBridge Company; Unabridged; 7.5 hours edition (May 15, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1611747724
  • ISBN-13: 978-1611747720
Genre: History, Documentary
My Rating: 4.5 0f 5.0

Book Description for Audio version
Publication Date: May 15, 2012
 A true-life thriller about the journey of one of the world’s most precious manuscripts—the 10th century annotated Hebrew Bible known as the Aleppo Codex—from its hiding place in an ancient Syrian synagogue to the newly-founded Israel. Using his research, including documents which have been secret for 50 years and interviews with key players, AP correspondent Friedman tells a story of political upheaval, international intrigue, charged courtroom battles, obsession, and subterfuge.

Book Description for Print version
Publication Date: May 15, 2012
In an age when physical books matter less and less, here is a thrilling story about a book that meant everything. 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 Matti 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.

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.

The Aleppo Codex is an ancient, sacred handwritten version of the Hebrew Bible which dates back to the tenth century. The Codex, also known as the Crown of Aleppo, was protected for centuries by a strong Jewish  community living in Aleppo, Syria.

AP correspondent Matti Friedman set out to do an article about the Aleppo Codex and discovered a mysteries in its condition, ownership and history.  This book contains two adventurous journeys. One is Mr. Friedman’s journey of research as he struggled to gather information from reluctant sources and conflicting witnesses and interviews.  As he delved into the past written texts on the Codex it became clear that there were inconsistencies, and many facts still uncovered, some perhaps intentionally. This book documents the extensive digging he had to do to piece together the second journey - the historical trail of The Aleppo Codex from the tenth century to its current home.

The sacred text went through dangers during the Christian Crusades before settling for years of hidden safety.  During rebellion in Syria in the 1940s the precious book was removed from the attacked Temple that had been its hiding place. The fragile parcel went through upheaval, threats of destruction and rumors of burning. Although Jewish authorities sought the book on and off, it continued to be hidden by Aleppo Jews before being smuggled out of Syria to Jerusalem in the 1950s.

The Codex faced a tug of war trial between the Jewish government and Aleppo leaders until a settlement was reached placing the text, or what pieces then remained, into Trust. Unfortunately the Trust locked the Codex away instead of making it available for others to see and share this wondrous piece of history.

I was pleasantly surprised by the danger and excitement revealed by this documentary. Mr. Friedman does an excellent job of laying out the details, moving back and forth between his research efforts and the history of the Codex to keep the information interesting.   Woven through the story is a good deal of history of the Jewish people.  Mr. Friedman provokes thought too on the rights to historical treasures that are removed during times of invasion and war.

AUDIO Observations:
The audio version is narrated by Simon Vance, an extremely talented and respected narrator. I felt he did an excellent job keeping a good pace to enhance the interest in the history and evoking emotions in response to the work.  Both author and narrator help make the reader feel the trauma of the Aleppo Jews at losing possession of the book and the even greater sadness for all caring Jews, scholars and those who respect great historical works at the damage the precious book suffered.  As a book lover, imagine the sorrow you might experience upon discovering an ancient, revered work and learning that 40% of the pages have gone missing, perhaps as the result of greed.

At first glance you might think you wouldn’t enjoy this documentary work, but I assure you it is a worthwhile listen.  I recommend this to readers who like mystery thrillers as well as those who would enjoy the historical significance.

I appreciate receiving this Audio Book for Review from HighBridge Audio through AudioBook Jukebox.

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