Written in the tenth century, the Aleppo Codex is the most accurate copy of the Hebrew Bible. Named for the Syrian city in which it was kept, the codex is also known as the Crown of Aleppo and was said to protect those who cared for it and curse those who defiled it. Friedman, a Jerusalem journalist, came across part of the Crown in a museum and decided he wanted to write about it—in doing so, he opened a treasure box of history, mystery, conspiracy, and convolutions that would do any biblical thriller proud. There are several intriguing strands in play here. First, there is the history of a vibrant Syrian community, under siege when Israel became a state. Add a cast of academics, spies, merchants, refugees, and bureaucrats, high and low, whose roles in getting the Crown out of Syria and into Israel loop and reloop throughout the narrative. Then there is the ever-evolving topic of the underground market for antiquities, fascinating in itself, but Friedman shows us, in addition, just how much is lost when the very rich purchase rarities and remove them from the public eye. The time line sometimes gets confusing, and so do the players (though an introductory “cast list” helps), but 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.
— Ilene Cooper
May 2012. 320p. Algonquin, hardcover, $24.95 (9781616200404).
Review first published April 1, 2012 (Booklist)