The mystery of the Aleppo Codex


The oldest and most complete known text of the Hebrew Bible is stored in a secret vault in the Israel Museum.


  • The security around it is airtight, the privileged eyes to see it, few and far between. Except, there is one problem: the Aleppo Codex is missing some 200 pages—and that hasn’t always been the case.
  • Were the pages stolen in transit from Aleppo to Jerusalem? Lost in a riot in Aleppo? Sold to an unnamed wealthy buyer?
  • The theories are numerous, the answers, elusive. Even Mossad, Israel’s famed intelligence service, has emerged empty-handed from its search.
Open Torah in front of Western Wall, Jerusalem, Israel


The Aleppo Codex  ‘Crown of Aleppo’ is a medieval bound manuscript of the Hebrew Bible. The codex was written in the city of Tiberias in the 10th century C.E. under the rule of the Abbasid Caliphate, and was endorsed for its accuracy by Maimonides. Together with the Leningrad Codex, it contains the Ben-Asher masoretic tradition.

The codex was kept for five centuries in the Central Synagogue of Aleppo, until the synagogue was torched during anti-Jewish riots in 1947.

The fate of the codex during the subsequent decade is unclear: when it resurfaced in Israel in 1958, roughly 40% of the manuscript—including the majority of the Torah section—was missing, and only two additional leaves have been recovered since then. The original supposition that the missing pages were destroyed in the synagogue fire has increasingly been challenged, fueling speculation that they survive in private hands.

The portion of the codex that is accounted for is housed in the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum



In 1989, Israel Television appointed Sutton to investigate the whereabouts of the missing pages. Sutton, after immigrating from Aleppo, served as an intelligence officer and a Mossad operative with considerable distinction. He even had experience rescuing precious documents: On June 6, 1967, in the midst of the Six Day War, Sutton, who was responsible for running agents in enemy territory, received an urgent cable instructing him to find an antiquities dealer named Dino, whom they suspected was in possession of one of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Sutton and other officers arrested the man and his son, who both emphatically denied the allegation, but after learning that a conversation they had in their jail cell about the scroll in question had been recorded, they confessed. “He realized that the game was up and began cooperating,” Sutton told me when we met in his home near Jerusalem in late May. “He took us to his home and began counting floor tiles. Five this way, four that way. Then he finds it and brings a plunger for clearing drains, uses it to lift two tiles, under which there’s a layer of straw. I tell him, ‘Pick it up yourself,’ because it may be booby-trapped. He picks up the straw, and under it there’s a shoe box. I go, ‘Lift it.’ So he lifts it. I go, ‘Open it.’ Inside, there’s more straw and two cylinders wrapped in cellophane and tied with red ribbon.” They turned out to be the Temple Scroll, the longest of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

It seemed fitting, then, that Sutton should lead a worldwide investigation into the mystery of the missing codex pages, and the conclusions of his inquiry were groundbreaking. A number of testimonies indicated that the codex survived the fire intact, or almost intact, and that it had also reached Israel intact. The suspicion now shifted from the Aleppo Jews to whoever held it in their possession after Murad Faham brought it to Israel. Shortly before he died, Shlomo Zalman Shragai, whose colleague took the codex from Faham at the port in Haifa, told Sutton that the manuscript reached him almost intact. Earlier this month, Shragai’s son told Ezra Kassin, as part of Kassin’s ongoing investigation, that he was present when the codex was brought to their home and that he definitely saw that “only a few pages were missing, three or four, all the rest were intact.”

Source: NY Times = read more


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