Matti Friedman, the author of The Allepo Codex, is a modern-day Indiana Jones in both his rugged looks and his deep love of ancient history. Just like the character in the movie, he stumbles into adventures while searching for an ancient relic. This curiosity takes him to interesting places where he often ends up in hot water.
In 2008 Friedman, a correspondent for the Associated Press (AP), became interested in the 1,000-year-old Hebrew Bible known as the Crown of Aleppo.
In his initial wire story about the book, he wrote, “Crusaders held it for ransom, fire almost destroyed it, and it was reputedly smuggled across Mideast borders hidden in a washing machine. But in 1958, when it finally reached Israel, 196 pages were missing – about 40 per cent of the total – and for some Old Testament scholars they [missing pages] have become a kind of holy grail.”
The Codex occupies a vital role for scholars because it helps provide an in-depth understanding to the meanings of biblical texts. It was also used by the 12th-century Jewish philosopher Maimonides, who declared it the most accurate copy of the Old Testament.
Little did Friedman know he, too, would get swept up in the drama of the Crown of Aleppo, also know as The Crown.
When Friedman found himself in Jerusalem looking at the book, one of the most influential in the world, stored underground, something pulled at his curiosity. Intrigued, he set on a mission to learn more about the ancient text.
He explained during an interview via Skype, “I had pictured a nice story about how an important cultural relic was rescued and brought to Israel.” But the more questions he asked about the Codex, the more doors slammed in his face.
“It was strange. Lots of people did not want to answer my questions. I was expecting people would be glad to have a journalist revive the story, but people were very hesitant. Also, when I requested access to documents, people were not forthcoming.”
Friedman became more interested and more persistent once he realized there was a deeper story.
The more pushback he received, the more he realized he had stumbled onto a story that could shake the foundations of history, religion and politics in the Middle East.
Intrigued, Friedman took an extended leave from AP to search for the truth. “I realized that there was a significant story that people did not want me to know. It took months of being persistent. I did what investigative journalists do – if doors close, then go to the window.”
As time went on, he realized official reports of how the Codex had come to Israel were not exactly what they appeared to be. The drama unfolded as he searched, and there was even a trial concerning the Codex.
He grinned, “Eventually people started speaking to me, and eventually I did get access to more of the documents. Quite a bit later I got access to the trial documents.”
A real-life thriller, The Allepo Codex is akin to Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, in which religion and power take centre stage. People are reluctant to talk, and when they do the information is riddled with half-truths. A swirl of stories result as Friedman searches for the truth. He follows a trail that leads him to jump on planes and dig deep in basements. He masterfully tugs at your heartstrings, intertwining heroics and mistaken steps in the quest for finding the complete Codex.
While Friedman was looking for the Codex, one might say also the Codex was looking for him – someone finally brought this ancient relic into the light and into a place of significance once more. Friedman masterfully pulls the cover ff this mystery, leaving the reader interested in learning more.
Masada Siegel is the author of Window Dressing. For more information, visit www.masadasiegelauthor.com. Follow her on Twitter at MasadaSiegel.