Bible Proof and Promise – The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Aleppo Crown – the Return of Israel’s National Treasures

In early 1947, just before Israel miraculously became an independent nation, two Bedouin boys found the most important archaeological discovery of the 20th century — the first of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
 
Joshua 1:1 in the Aleppo Codex
Joshua 1:1 in the Aleppo Codex, the most treasured medieval manuscript of the Hebrew Bible.
 
Joshua 1:1 in the Aleppo Codex, the most treasured medieval manuscript of the Hebrew Bible.
Considered the oldest known manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible, they date back to at least 150 BC. These amazing scrolls are still considered to be some of the most important historical and religious documents ever discovered.
The Dead Sea scrolls include commentaries and extra-Biblical writings that give us insight into the time of Yeshua and before.
 
They confirm that the Bible we have today has survived unchanged from antiquity.
IT IS NO COINCIDENCE that as God rebirthed the independent nation of Israel, He gave His people a birthday gift — proof that His promises have been accurately recorded throughout the centuries — including those promises that give the land of Israel to the Jewish People.
 
Among the proof and promises is the entire manuscript of Isaiah, which has been dated to before the time of Yeshua (Jesus).
In it the prophet declares the miracle of the rebirth of Israel as an independent nation:
“Who hath heard such a thing? who hath seen such things? Shall the earth be made to bring forth in one day? or shall a nation be born at once? for as soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children.” Isaiah 66:8 (KJV)
And Israel was miraculously rebirthed in one day — on May 14, 1948 — just as Isaiah foretold.
But for those who doubt that this promise applies to Israel, Isaiah also declared:

 

“For the Lord hath called thee as a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit, and a wife of youth, when thou wast refused, saith thy God. For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee. In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer.” Isaiah 54:6–8 (KJV)
 
David Ben-Gurion (First Prime Minister of Israel) publicly reads the Declaration of the State of Israel, May 14, 1948, beneath a large portrait of Theodor Herzl, founder of modern political Zionism.
It seems that in one year, God began the process restoration of His treasured possessions: His land, His people, and His written Word.
The restoration of His Word did not only include the Dead Sea Scrolls. He also brought back to Israel the Aleppo Codex, known in Hebrew as the Keter Aram Tsova, the Crown of Aram Tzova.
Aram Tzova is the Biblical name for Aleppo, a town in Syria.
The Aleppo Crown has been the most beloved and trusted Bible codex (a book format rather than a scroll) by Rabbinic scholars since it was scribed about 1,000 years ago in Jerusalem.
It later made its way into a special wooden chest in Aleppo’s main synagogue.
It seemed as if this special codex was linked to the Holy Land itself when it came under threat in November 1947 following the United Nations General Assembly vote to partition Palestine into adjacent Jewish and Arab states.
In response to the vote, anti-Jewish violence erupted in Syria and Aleppo’s main synagogue was ransacked and burned. The Crown was thought to be lost forever.
Jewish People around the world grieved the loss of this important handwritten Bible manuscript.
 
The Aleppo synagogue was burned in 1947 after the UN General Assembly voted to partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab states. While Jewish leaders in Israel accepted the partition, Arab leaders did not. If they had accepted, the two-state solution would have been implemented all those years ago along almost the same lines as are being demanded by Palestinians today. Israel has said yes several times, but each time Palestinians came close to gaining what they supposedly want, they declined or sabotaged the deal. What they really want is the entire land including Jerusalem!
There are at least 10 accounts of how the codex was saved. Among them is the story of the synagogue’s sexton, Asher Baghdadi, and his son who apparently returned to the burned synagogue and gathered the scattered pages.
The value of the codex would increase in the eyes of the Syrian government when an American antiquities expert offered $20 million for the manuscript.
 
Nevertheless, locals continued to protect the location of the codex, believing they would fall under a curse if it left Aleppo.
Throughout its lifetime, the codex developed its own lore and mystery. Much of this might be due to the fact that inside the codex itself are curses pronounced on anyone who would sell, steal, or pawn it.
In 1952, Israel’s second president, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, sought a rabbinical ruling to annul all curses on the book, which some hoped would enable the transfer of the Aleppo Codex back to Israel.
Once again Israel’s rabbinical institution pressed the Aleppo community to release the Crown.
 
Ben-Zvi arranged for the codex to be smuggled to Israel in 1958.
A Jewish merchant from the city, Murad Faham, was chosen by two Aleppo rabbis to deliver the Aleppo Crown into the hands of the chief rabbi of Aleppo Jews in Israel.
The previous caretaker of the codex brought it in a sack to the Faham household, where Faham’s wife wrapped it in cheesecloth and blankets before hiding it in a washing machine.
In the meantime, between 1949 and 1956, archaeologists raced to explore the rest of the Qumran area, finding 10 more caves that were hiding about 800 Dead Sea manuscripts dating from approximately 200 BC to AD 68.
Fragments from every book of the Tanakh (Old Testament) except for the Book of Esther were found along with one complete copy of the scroll of Isaiah and an ancient treasure map dubbed “the Copper scroll” because the scribe penned it on metal sheets.
 
While these two great national treasures are now housed in the climate-controlled Shrine of the Book museum in Jerusalem, they are also very much treasured outside Israel.
The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has listed the codex in the International Memory of the World Register.
Interest remains high in the Dead Sea Scrolls, as well.
Almost 2,000 years after they were written, the Dead Sea Scrolls Project at the Israel Antiquities Authority is digitizing the thousands of tiny Dead Sea Scroll fragments using high-resolution imaging to put them together, much like a gigantic jigsaw puzzle.
“While the longest scrolls we have are around 11 meters (36 feet) in length, the smallest is less than a square centimeter. Some are very small indeed, yet these very small fragments can be the most important as these are from texts that are still unknown,” Dr. Pnina Shor, curator, and director of the Project told MailOnline.
 
We are quite certain that you will find the remarkable history and mysterious journey of the Aleppo Codex and Dead Sea Scrolls back home to the reborn state of Israel just as fascinating as we do.
 
We are uncovering the providence of God in the history of two of the most ancient and sacred texts known to Judaism — the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Aleppo Codex.
Although some would argue that their discovery and return at the same time as the rebirth of the modern state of Israel is mere coincidence or serendipity (the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way,) they are evidence of the God of Israel fulfilling end-time prophecy concerning Israel.
These ancient texts were His birthday gift to us and confirmation to the world that the Bible we have today is accurate. They are also confirmation of the rightful place of Jerusalem in God’s plans:

 

“And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” Isaiah 2:3 (KJV)
Now, we will uncover the mystery and intrigue of how God’s hand moved to keep most of these texts hidden and safe so that they can be studied, digitized, and made available for free to both Jew and Gentile alike.
 
God Inaugurates His Special Treasures
Fifty days after God led the Israelites out of Egypt, they stood before Mount Sinai. The Spirit of the Lord descended on the mountain in fire and smoke and Israel was given the Torah (instruction/ law). (Exodus 19:16–18, 20:1–17, 34:32)
Jewish tradition says that God gave the Israelites this gift on the Feast of Shavuot (meaning Weeks in Hebrew), which many call Pentecost (meaning 50 in Greek).
As a new nation who had known the sinful decrees of their Egyptian slave owners, God promised the people freedom. They were to be His treasured possession (segulah) out of all nations if they fully obeyed His voice and kept the covenant He made with them at Sinai, which included His laws — the Torah (Exodus 19:5).
Over the centuries, the words of the Torah (the first five books of the Bible), and later those of the Prophets (Neviim) and Writings (Ketuvim), were preserved on scrolls of parchment or animal skins. Together, all of these books form the Tanakh (Old Testament).
The process of copying or scribing the Tanakh has always been a very serious vocation. Even one mistake would render an entire leaf of writing to the scrap pile; however, skeptics have always doubted exactly how accurately our modern Tanakh reflects ancient copies.
 
The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls has helped to assure the world that the Tanakh we have today is highly reliable, despite minor discrepancies between manuscripts.
“Some of the Dead Sea Scrolls actually have more in common with the Greek Septuagint than the traditional Hebrew Masoretic Text, showing that the Greek translators must have been translating from Hebrew texts that resembled the Dead Sea Scrolls,” writes Noah Weiner for Bible History Daily.
While Bible critics emphasize discrepancies, these minor differences, which are mostly spelling variants, do not relate to the instructions of God, His covenants with Israel, or the prophecies about the coming Messiah and the salvation of the world.
The foundation of the Jewish faith and God’s plans for mankind are rock solid regardless of which manuscript we translate from.
But how did the Dead Sea Scrolls end up in caves around the Dead Sea?
Scholars theorize that between 150 BC and AD 70, overlapping Rome’s conquests in the Holy Land, the Jews of Qumran scribed approximately 800 scrolls of various biblical and extra-biblical texts.
Another theory states that with the destruction of the Holy Temple in AD 70, Rome dispersed most of the Jewish people in Israel to the four corners of the earth and they took with them the scrolls from Jerusalem, hiding them at Qumran before crossing the Dead Sea.
Whichever is the case, the scrolls of Qumran remained hidden and forgotten.
The Rise of the Aleppo Codex: Ancient Melodies and Pronunciation
With the Dead Sea Scrolls still hidden, north of Jerusalem, about 860 years after the Romans “left not one stone [of the Temple] on top of another” (Matthew 24:2), the Masorete scholars developed a system of pronunciation marks for the Tanakh.
These vocalization marks indicate the sounds of the unwritten vowels between written consonants.
They also developed cantillation marks to “convey the tradition of the melody of the reading, which was also passed on from generation to generation,” the Aleppo Codex website states.
“… on the basis of old and reliable manuscripts, they decided how to write every single word [and every single letter] in every place in the Bible,” the website continues, “and in passages where they found differences between texts and ways of reading, they issued a decision and ruled as to which opinion was correct.”
While the exquisite handwritten text of the Aleppo Codex is attributed to Shlomo Ben Boya’a, the vowels, cantillation marks, and commentary were added by Tiberias-born Aharon Ben Asher, who apparently took over the work from his father, Moshe Ben Asher.
 
Records indicate that the codex might have remained in Tiberias for more than a hundred years before a Babylonian Karaite bought it and dedicated it to the Karaites of Jerusalem — at which point it would have arrived in Jerusalem in the mid-1000s.
The Karaites — from the Hebrew word kara (read) — are a minor Jewish sect that some scholars argue originated during the Second Temple period. Others trace their origins to the 8th century.
Image of photograph of a now-missing page from the Aleppo Codex
Image of a photograph of a now-missing page from the Aleppo Codex
Karaite Jews believe only in the authority of the Tanakh, rejecting later additions to the Hebrew Bible such as the Rabbinic Oral Law (Mishnah and Talmud). They contend that every individual can and should read the Tanakh and do not need to rely on commentaries to comprehend it.
Despite differences, both Karaites and Rabbinical Jews were permitted access to the codex, and it became an authorized source for the text of the Bible. (Aleppocodex)
 
Israel Loses Its Crown to Egypt
The Aleppo Codex did not remain in Jerusalem.
Between June and July AD 1099, after an appeal by Pope Urban II to recover the Holy Land from the “infidels,” the Crusaders besieged Jerusalem for five weeks.
Finally, the Catholic army broke into Jerusalem, “massacring most of the city’s non-Christian inhabitants,” writes Jewish Virtual Library. “Barricaded in their synagogues, the Jews defended their quarter [in the Old City of Jerusalem], only to be burnt to death or sold into slavery.”
One theory maintains that the Crusaders stole the Aleppo Codex from Jerusalem, intending to seek a ransom for the holy book. The Israel Museum of Jerusalem offers a second theory: the Muslim Seljuk Turks smuggled the codex out of Israel in 1071.
Thereafter, the codex was taken into Egypt, ransomed by the local Jews living in ancient Cairo, and taken to a synagogue in Fustat, a town near Cairo.
Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon (Maimonides or the “Rambam”) served as a leader of that Jewish community in the 12th century, and he confirmed the book’s authority.
At the conclusion of the Mishneh Torah, Maimonides states: “In these matters we relied upon the codex, now in Egypt, which contains the twenty-four books of Scripture and which had been in Jerusalem for several years. It was used as the standard text in the correction of books.”
“Everyone relied on it, because it had been corrected by Ben Asher himself, who worked on its details closely for many years and corrected it many times whenever it was being copied,” he states. “And I relied upon it in the Torah scroll that I wrote according to Jewish Law” (Sefer Ahavah, Hilkhot Sefer Torah 8:4).
 
Syria Hosts Israel’s Crown
Both Maimonides’ closest disciple, Yosef Ben Yehudah Even Shim’on (to whom his Guide of the Perplexed is dedicated) and Maimonides’ great-grandson’s grandson, Rabbi David Ben Yehoshu’a, moved from Egypt to Aleppo — the latter in AD 1375.
In Aleppo, Shim’on built a House of Study to teach the Law, while Ben Yehoshu’a took many manuscripts with him from Egypt, including Maimonides’ commentary on the Mishnah.
Nevertheless, how the Crown made it to Syria remains a mystery. A record of it being used in the Aleppo Jewish community only emerged in the second half of the 15th century. (Biblical Archaeology Review)
The Aleppo Codex remained fully intact for most of its 600 years in the Aleppo Jewish community. It rested there in a crypt safe beneath the Aleppo synagogue.
Several attempts to retrieve the codex failed — until the rebirth of Israel.
 
Israel’s Riches are Restored
Both the Aleppo Codex (which was smuggled into Israel in 1958) and the Dead Sea Scrolls are kept in special climate-controlled rooms in the Shrine of the Book museum in Jerusalem. However, not all of the Aleppo Codex has been recovered.
All but the last 11 pages of the Torah, as well as the books of Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Ecclesiastes, and Lamentations, are missing. Were they burned by an Aleppo mob or destroyed in some other manner? Or are they being held to this day as someone’s treasured possession?
The Aleppo Codex: A True Story of Obsession, Faith and the Pursuit of an Ancient Bible, by Canadian-Israeli journalist Matti Friedman details a compelling saga of antiquities espionage and murder.
London Judaica mogul Shlomo Moussaieff told Israel’s Channel 1 News in 1993 that he was offered about 90 pages of the codex at a price of $1 million. Moussaieff tried to get a good deal at $300,000. Someone else bought them for $400,000.
In 1989, the seller was found dead in a Plaza Hotel room in Jerusalem. Moussaieff has refused to release the buyer’s name. (p. 232; NYT)
 
Since the recovery of the majority of the codex in 1958, two missing pieces have publicly emerged. Forensic testing on a piece from Exodus, presented by a Syrian Jewish family in the 1980s, showed no evidence that the codex had burned at all.
“Some of it did possibly burn or could have been stolen,” Yosef Ofer told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in December 2007. “Other parts could be with people, but so many years have passed that it might be in the hands of the second or third generation who do not realize what they have in their hands.”
In late 2007, another fragment of the Aleppo Codex returned to Israel after spending decades in a wallet in Brooklyn, NY. Businessman Sam Sabbagh had explained to his family that he had found the small parchment of the Biblical text on the floor of the Aleppo synagogue during the Syrian riots in 1947.
After his death in 2000, Sabbagh’s family began to negotiate with authorities over the return of the fragment to Israel. The family also described how Sabbagh had kept it close by, even during open-heart surgery — feeling that the written Word of God on the Aleppo Codex had sacred powers. (JTA)
The fragment was found to be a small part of the missing five Books of Moses. Upon it are written the words that began the chronicle of God’s Treasured Possession:
Let my people go, that they may serve me.”
 
 

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