Gallery > Judaica > Damascus Codices

Damascus Codices

 Damascus Codices

The name keter (lit. crown, in Arabic تاج, tāj)  originally referred to a unique codex, written in Eretz Israel in the 10th century with vocalization and Masorah marks by Aaron ben Asher. The manuscript which was acknowledged by Maimonides as representing the most precise edition of the Masorah, eventually reached the city of Aleppo whence it derived its name, the Aleppo Codex. In 1958, the Codex was brought to Israel and given to its president Itzhak Ben-Zvi. It has since been held in trust by the Ben Zvi Institute. Today it is on display in the Shrine of the Book in the Israel Museum, but in the past, it was displayed in the National Library of Israel.

Over time, the term keter came to include any codex of the Bible or one of its components, including vocalization and Masorah marks. In Yemen, the Arabic term tāj denoted manuscripts (and currently printed books as well) of the Pentateuch with the Aramaic translation of Onkelos and the Arabic translation of Rabbi Sa’adia Gaon.

The Masorah is a set of notations added to the Bible to insure its accurate textual transmission. Notes of the Masorah pertaining to the text, the spelling and vocalization of words were collated chiefly in Eretz Israel circa the 9th century. The Masorah Parva, generally written in the outer side margins, is remarkably concise, whereas the Masorah Magna elucidates the notes of the Masorah Parva, typically at the bottom margin of the page. In elegant manuscripts, particularly from later periods, when the use of the Masorah decreased, the annotations of the Masorah Magna were designed as micrography, i.e. miniature letters serving as ornamental borders. The National Library of Israel currently houses a number of ketarim known as the Damascus Codices. Damascus doesn’t refer to where they were written but rather to where they were located for centuries. Worthy of special mention is a complete Pentateuch, assumed to have been written in Eretz Israel, which is over 1,000 years old.


Text: Dr. Aviad A. Stollman , Judaica Collection Curator at the National Library of Israel
Scientific consulting: Professor Joseph Ofer, Bar-Ilan University
Descriptions are based on Raphael Weiser’s Tezugat Megillot Torah vesifrei Tanakh, Jerusalem 2000