Comparing Ancient Biblical Manuscripts

The Leningrad Codex and the Aleppo Codex are from the same period, so which is superior?

Comparing Ancient Biblical Manuscripts

In this photo, verses extolling the sanctity of the Biblical text run through the Leningrad Codex’s “carpet page,” a page of geometric designs often included in the illumination of ancient Biblical manuscripts. Photo: Bruce and Kenneth Zuckerman, West Semitic Research, in Collaboration with the Ancient Biblical Manuscript Center, Courtesy Russian National Library.

Although there are many ancient Biblical manuscripts, the importance of the Leningrad Codex and the Aleppo Codex, codices created by the Masoretic scholars, lies in the annotations that the texts contain. Ancient Biblical manuscripts written in Hebrew are largely without vowels, so even if there is no question regarding the letters of a given text, there still may be a question as to how a particular word should be pronounced and what it means.

Likewise, ancient Biblical manuscripts—such as the Dead Sea Scrolls—may contain no indication as to how the Torah portions and the prophetic readings should be chanted in the synagogue.

Codices such as the Leningrad Codex and the Aleppo Codex contain vowel markings (nekkudot) in the form of subscripts and superscripts. They also contain other markings (te’amim) indicating pitch relationships (neumes or pneumes, in Greek) to guide the cantor in chanting the prescribed Torah or prophetic (haftara) portion. Most importantly, they contain massive marginal notations (masora) concerning cruxes in the text that are crucial to interpretation.

Until it was damaged and partially lost, the Aleppo Codex was considered to be the “crown” of ancient Biblical manuscripts, and was the version of the Hebrew Bible that was ultimately considered the most authoritative text in Judaism. Its loss was an enormous blow to Jewish scholarship. However, another complete codex still exists: The Leningrad Codex. How does it compare to its more distinguished cousin?

Interested in the history and meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls? In the free eBook Dead Sea Scrolls, learn what the Dead Sea Scrolls are and why are they important. Find out what they tell us about the Bible, Christianity and Judaism.

The only complete copy of the Hebrew Bible from the same period as the Aleppo Codex is the Leningrad Codex in St. Petersburg. It is similar to the Aleppo Codex in many respects—in both date (to within a few decades at most) and in distinction. Like the Aleppo Codex, the Leningrad Codex includes vowel markings, cantillation signs and extensive textual notes (masora).

In the minds of many scholars, however, the Aleppo Codex is superior in its accuracy and masora scholarship.

For much of the world today, however, the standard scholarly text of the Hebrew Bible is the Biblia Hebraica, which now uses the Leningrad Codex, rather than the Aleppo Codex, as its base text. The first two editions of the Biblia Hebraica used the Rabbinic Bible of 1524 printed in Venice. The third edition, prepared by two great German Biblical scholars, Paul Kahle and Rudolf Kittel, used the Leningrad Codex. However, in his preface to this edition Paul Kahle notes his preference for the Aleppo Codex:

“Rudolf Kittel and I had hoped to be able to replace the Leningrad Ms., L, which was used as the basis of the Biblia Hebraica in the course of our work, with the model codex of ben Asher himself [the Aleppo Codex], which is kept in the Synagogue of the Sephardim in Aleppo. That had not been possible since the owners of the codex would not hear of a photographic copy. Moreover, the personal representations made by Gotthold Weil and Hellmut Ritter in Aleppo have had no success.”

It is for this reason that the Biblia Hebraica editions have traditionally been based upon the Leningrad Codex, and this applies also to the new fifth edition, Biblia Hebraica Quinta, which began to appear in 2004.

Since the destruction of the Aleppo Codex after Israel’s declaration of independence, the Leningrad Codex has had another advantage. It alone is complete. Editions of the Hebrew Bible based on the Aleppo Codex now have to look to other sources to complete the missing parts.

Based on “Leningrad vs. Aleppo,” Biblical Archaeology Review, September/October 2008.


More on the Aleppo Codex and the Leningrad Codex in the BAS Library:

Yosef Ofer, “The Mystery of the Missing Pages of the Aleppo Codex,” Biblical Archaeology Review, July/August 2015.

Yosef Ofer, “The Shattered Crown: The Aleppo Codex, 60 Years After the Riots,” Biblical Archaeology Review, September/October 2008.

James A. Sanders and Astrid Beck, “The Leningrad Codex,” Bible Review, August 1997.

Paul Sanders, “Missing Link in Hebrew Bible Formation,” Biblical Archaeology Review, November/December 2015.


Posted in Bible Versions and Translations, Hebrew Bible.

Tagged with , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

Add Your Comments

4 Responses

Stay in touch with the conversation, subscribe to the RSS feed for comments on this post.

  • Robin says

    It is curious to note that you have called for repentence, a turning back to the LORD, and to trust in Jesus. I find this taught in the scriptures viz a viz Acts 2:36-38 et al. But I have not found the phrase “accept Jesus as your Lord and Saviour” for salvation? Rather I find faith / belief, repentence, confession, immersion in water and walking faithfully with the Lord. (Act 2:36ff, 8:4-13, 8:26-39 and so on). I 100% agree Roman Catholism is wrong. Any and every addition or suntraction is sinful.
    Could we agree to simply doing that which the scripture teaches?

  • David says

    What is the kingdom of God? It’s a world conquering earth wide government:

    “And the kingdom and the rulership and the grandeur of the kingdoms under all the heavens were given to the people who are the holy ones of the Supreme One. Their kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all rulerships will serve and obey them.’ Daniel 7:27.

    Jesus was telling the Jewish ruler Nicodemus, who no doubt believed he was in line for such duties as a “holy one of the supreme one,” that being born a Jew wasn’t enough anymore.

    Those who inherit the kingdom, including fleshly Jews, now had to become part of a new nation, a new Israel, spiritual Israel, the Christian congregation or the Israel of God:

    Peter referring to the Christian congregation called it: “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation…1Peter 2:9-11.

    John speaking of this holy nation, chosen race, and royal priesthood, who rule with Christ from heavenly Mt Zion, gives us their complete number, Revelation 7:1-8.

  • mark says

    I believe the text reasd “born from above” but, as you stated correctly, doesn’t refer to water baptism (baptismo or emertion).” Romans Road” is, as reffered in your comment, a most complete understanding of salvation.

  • Chris says

    *PLEASE read this! John 3:3 “…Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are BORN AGAIN.” This is spiritual rebirth! Receive the Holy Spirit! This isn’t water baptism!* Confess to God that you’re a sinner. REPENT of your sins, turn to God, and TRUST in JESUS! Accept Jesus as your LORD and SAVIOR! Give your life to Jesus! *Romans 8:9 “…He who does not possess the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Christ.”*Is the Holy Spirit living in you? *Revelation 3:16 “So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”* Don’t be a lukewarm Christian! Be on fire for JESUS! *Hebrews 12:14 “….without holiness no one will see the Lord.”* CATHOLIC DOCTRINE is FALSE! Share the gospel!

  • Some HTML is OK

    or, reply to this post via trackback.

Send this to a friend

Hello! Your friend thought you might be interested in reading this post from
Comparing Ancient Biblical Manuscripts!
Here is the link:
Enter Your Log In Credentials...

Change Password