The Leningrad Codex and the Aleppo Codex are from the same period, so which is superior?
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?
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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.
A version of this post appeared previously in Bible History Daily on July 22, 2011
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