Monday, July 30, 2012

The Aleppo Codex Mystery

The New York Times has an interesting article about the mystery how the Aleppo Codex came to Israel and how it might have lost some 200 pages along the way.  It does ask whether the Codex should belong to the Modern State of Israel or Aleppo's Jewish exiles.  It does not suggest, however, like some in the archaeological blogosphere have, that the Codex still belongs in Syria, which conducted a thorough "ethnic cleansing" of its Jewish population well before the Assad regime began its recent bombardment of Aleppo itself. Interestingly, even some associated with the hard line archaeological advocacy group Saving Antiquities for Everyone (SAFE) have begun to acknowledge that perhaps Jewish artifacts are not best off in the hands of governments that have persecuted Jews after all.  Will others in the archaeological blogosphere follow?


Paul Barford said...

Perhaps you could point out where Lisa Preville actually "acknowledge[s] that perhaps Jewish artifacts are not best off in the hands of governments that have persecuted Jews after all"? It seems to me she is setting out two sides of an argument rather than expressing her own opinion on either of them.

You seem to have a very odd reading of this text, it seems to me on reading it that for the author there is no "mystery" about why the object is not now in the hands of the Aleppo Jewish community, nor where the 200 pages have gone, the article seems to point the finger quite effectively.

You seem not to note the involvement of the US dealer in the sorry business of its smuggling and the reference to:
"Ben-Zvi asked them to help sway the rabbis who remained in Syria, and he appealed to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (an organization whose financial aid was necessary for the survival of the remaining community in Aleppo), to cut the flow of funds if the codex was not transferred to Israel"."

It seems it was not just the "Syrians" who were working to see the demise of the Aleppo community.

When we discussed this earlier with the involvement of your pal "Alexander" Aleppo was not being shelled. Nobody (not even the US) can of course guarantee that some time in the future, Jerusalem will in turn come under attack of some sort, can they? If that happens, where would the Codex then be "safe"? What about the missing 200 pages, are you not concerned for their safety too, in the hands in all probability of an anonymous private collector and his heirs? Why is so little said here about that?

Cultural Property Observer said...

By setting forth this position, isn't Preville (whose piece has been highlighted on the first page of the SAFE website) "acknowledg[ing] that perhaps Jewish artifacts are not best off in the hands of governments that have persecuted Jews..."? If it has not already, perhaps SAFE needs to make a clear stand on the issue one way or the other-- they are certainly not shy about such things.

Perhaps you should be clear about this too. Do you think the Codex belongs in Syria under the control of the Assad Government?

Paul Barford said...

Do I think the codex should have been ILLEGALLY removed from Syria in 1957? No, and I'd be surprised if you really did too. Do you?

Cultural Property Observer said...

I'm glad the Codex was removed, legally or illegally from Syria in 1957. By that time, it was already clear the anti-Semitic Syrian State was well on its way towards exterminating the Jewish culture that produced the Codex, and this was the only way to save it. That of course is a different question than whether the Codex should belong to the Aleppo community in exile or the Jewish State. I personally think the former, assuming they can be clearly identified, has a better claim. By your refusal to answer my question, I take it you think otherwise, but simply don't want to admit it clearly.

I've asked what the author of the SAFE piece thinks. Hopefully, she will be more forthright.

Paul Barford said...

No, I have answered your question.

The Codex was removed illegally and 200 pages now reportedly in a London private collection were stolen too.

Are the latter "safer" there through being stolen than left in the Jerusalem museum subject to theft? If so, are you happy that theft took place, because splits the object and puts bits of it in at least two different "safe" (for now) places?

Is theft for you a way forward in protecting the heritage?