IN THE SUMMER of 2008, in a dark underground room at Israel's national museum in Jerusalem, I encountered one of the most important books on earth. I had never heard of it. Up a winding flight of stairs from where I stood, in a hushed sanctuary dedicated to the Dead Sea Scrolls, a busload or two of tourists filed reverently past the glass cases containing the parchment celebrities of Qumran, but in the gallery below I was alone.
Off to one side, a bulky volume was open under a dim light. I was struck by a certain air of dignity about it, a refusal to beg for attention: This book boasted no gold leaf, no elaborate binding, no intricate illuminations in lapis lazuli or scarlet, nothing at all but row after row of meticulous, handwritten Hebrew in dark brown ink on lighter brown parchment, twenty-eight lines to a column, three columns to a page. The margins contained tiny notes added by a different hand. It was open to the book of Isaiah. From the labels I learned that the volume was no less than the most perfect copy of the Hebrew Bible, the singular and authoritative version, for believing Jews, of God's word as it was sent into the world of men in their language. This lonely treasure and millennium-old traveler was the Aleppo Codex, and it would come to occupy much of my life for the next four years.
- from page xiii, The Aleppo Codex