The Oldest Bible with Vowels
For more than one thousand years, the oldest complete Hebrew manuscript of the Old Testament was carefully preserved in Tiberias, then Jerusalem, then Egypt, and finally in Aleppo, Syria. But when the United Nations voted in 1947 to establish the state of Israel, riots broke out in Syria, the synagogue in Aleppo was destroyed, and the Aleppo Codex disappeared.
When Jews were driven out of their homeland by the Assyrians in 722 BC, the Babylonians in 586 BC, and the Romans in 70 AD and 135 AD, they no longer spoke Hebrew. They had difficulty reading Scripture, especially since Hebrew did not have any vowels, only consonants.
The Masoretes were scholars and scribes who preserved the Hebrew text of the Bible. They reviewed different readings of Scripture and determined what every word and every letter in the Bible should be. They improved a system developed in Babylon of what are called vowel points. For instance one dot under a letter is an “i”; two dots under a letter is a short “e”; a short line under a letter is a short “a.”
Tiberias, a town on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, became the center of a community of masoretic scholars, including the ben Asher family. In about 930 Aaron ben Asher took a complete manuscript of the Old Testament, proofread it, and added vowel points and masoretic commentary.
Until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Aaron ben Asher’s manuscript, the Aleppo Codex, was the earliest complete
Hebrew manuscript of the Old Testament in existence. This is the manuscript that was lost in 1947.
Fortunately, someone kept most of the manuscript in a secret hiding place, but even so, about one-fourth of it was destroyed or lost. In 1958—11 years after the riots—what remained of the Aleppo Codex was smuggled out of Syria and is now preserved in The Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem.
Efforts to discover the missing parts of the codex have not been successful with the exception of a full page from II Chronicles and a fragment of a page from Exodus. Both were discovered, not in the Middle East, but in Brooklyn, New York, owned by people who had previously lived in Aleppo.