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The Oxford Illustrated History of the Bible A richly illustrated account of the story of the Bible written by leading scholars.

The Aleppo Codex

The Aleppo Codex

In the colophon of this manuscript it is stated that the Masorete Aharon ben Asher added the vocalization, accents, and Masoretic notes. It is thought to be the manuscript that Maimonides examined when he pronounced that Ben Asher’s tradition was superior to that of other Masoretes. It should be regarded, therefore, as the authorized edition in Jewish tradition. When Malmonides saw the manuscript, it was kept in Egypt, possibly in the Ben-Ezra synagogue in al-Fustat, which later became famous for its ‘Genizah’. From the later Middle Ages, however, it was kept in Aleppo. In 1948 the synagogue in which it was kept in Aleppo was set on fire and only about three-quarters of the original manuscript were preserved.

The surviving portions are now kept in Jerusalem in the library of the Ben-Zvi Institute. This manuscript forms the basis of a number of Israeli editions of the Hebrew Bible, including the Hebrew University Bible, the edition of M. Breuer, and the modern Rabbinic Bible (Ha-Keter) edited by M. Cohen.

St Petersburg, National Library of Russia, Firkovitch 1 B 19a

The colophon of this manuscript states that it was written in 1009 and subsequently corrected ‘according to the most exact texts of Ben Asher’. It differs slightly from the Aleppo Codex in a few minor details. The manuscript has been preserved in its entirety and it contains the complete text of the Bible. Paul Kahle made this the basis of the third edition of Biblia Hebraica (Stuttgart 1929–37) and it has been used for all subsequent editions. It is also the basis of the edition of the Hebrew Bible by A. Dotan.

In the Middle Ages Hebrew Bible manuscripts were also written with systems of vocalization and accents that differed from those of the Tiberian Masoretic tradition. Some of these systems are adaptations of the Tiberian system, such as the so-called ‘expanded’ Tiberian system, which extends some of the principles found in the standard Tiberian vocalization.

Other systems use different sets of signs. These include the Palestinian and Babylonian systems of vocalization, which are found in numerous manuscripts from the Middle Ages. There is no uniformity within the two systems and it is possible to identify a range of sub-systems. By the late Middle Ages these systems had been almost completely supplanted in manuscripts by the standard Tiberian Masoretic tradition. As far as can be established, the earliest forms of the Palestinian and Babylonian vocalization systems have many features that are independent of the Tiberian system, but gradually the Tiberian tradition exerted its influence and, indeed, some manuscripts are little more than transcriptions of the Tiberian tradition into Babylonian or Palestinian vowel signs.

The model Tiberian codices such as the Aleppo Codex and manuscript Firkovitch 1 B 19a were kept in the libraries of synagogues until modern times. The majority of the popular manuscripts from the Middle Ages and the manuscripts with Palestinian and Babylonian vocalization have been preserved mainly in fragmentary form in the Cairo Genizah. This was a repository for worn-out sacred writings that was discovered by scholars in the Ben-Ezra synagogue of al-Fustat (Old Cairo) in the nineteenth century.

We shall now examine the background of each of the components of the Tiberian Masoretic tradition.

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