Today’s Wednesday Writers guest is Terry Brennan, award winning Pulitzer Prize journalist and author of The Jerusalem Prophecies series. Today he’ll be talking about book number three in the series, The Aleppo Code, as well as some interesting background research he discovered while working on the book.
The Aleppo Code, which won the ACFW’s Carol Award in August as the best Suspense/Thriller of 2016, is an adventure story on a grand scale. The third book of the Jerusalem prophecies series, the novel moves from the late nineteenth century byways of London, to the ancient stone streets of Jerusalem, to the Supreme Ruler’s palace in Tehran, Iran, to a naval battle in the Persian Gulf to the crumbling ruins of the once-majestic city of Babylon … with many other stops along the way … in a search for the most powerful weapon in the history of the world.
Countless hours of research were poured into the series and I discovered things I never dreamed of when I started, so it’s hard to settle on just one. But let’s do this. I’ll tell you a little about the Aleppo Codex and include an excerpt about the most powerful weapon.
The Aleppo Codex—safe in a vault in Jerusalem’s Israel Museum—is the oldest, most accurate, and most comprehensive compilation of the Tanakh, the twenty-four holy books of the Hebrew bible. It was written as a Masoretic text, meaning notes were added in the margins of the text to help Talmudic readers with pronunciation of words (which were written only in consonants) and to provide explanation to difficult passages. Created by a group of rabbinical scholars in Tiberias, near the Sea of Galilee, the codex was completed around 930 AD, captured by the crusaders, ransomed to the Jewish community in Alexandria, Egypt, and – in the fourteenth century – taken to Aleppo, Syria, where it was hidden in a cave below the Great Aleppo Synagogue.
But only half of the codex now resides in the Israel Museum. The most fascinating element of the codex’s history is what became of it after a riot in 1947 destroyed the Aleppo Synagogue. Was part of the codex destroyed in a fire? Or were parts of the codex stolen by those who conspired to return the codex to Israel?
That mystery remains unsolved and is at the center of a book written by Canadian-Israeli journalist Matti Friedman, The Aleppo Codex: A True Story of Obsession, Faith and the Pursuit of an Ancient Bible. In 2012, the New York Times Magazine ran a fascinating story about the codex and Friedman’s research—“A High Holy Whodunit” by Ronen Bergman, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/29/magazine/the-aleppo-codex-mystery.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0.
A driving plot element of The Aleppo Code is that the notes that surround the twenty-ninth book of Jeremiah in the original Codex provide clues to the location of the most powerful weapon in the history of the world.
The Aleppo Code
By Terry Brennan
Video for The Aleppo Code: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8fkvSrh1j58
As the world shudders amidst a series of apocalyptic conflicts – a naval battle in the Persian Gulf; a radical Islamic plot to bankrupt the economies of Europe; and a US/Israeli conspiracy to crush Iran that goes disastrously wrong – Tom Bohannon and his team struggle to unravel the final secret of Abiathar’s messages … the location of history’s most powerful weapon.
From the throne rooms of Arabia, to the back rooms of politics, the vaults of international banking and the birthplace of civilization, Bohannon is one step in front of The Prophet’s Guard, but he may be one step behind Armageddon.
Excerpt – The Aleppo Code – Chapter Three:
“The story written in the margins of the book of Jeremiah was Abiathar’s third message: where to find the power.
“The Ark of the Covenant was not powerful in itself. What was inside the Ark provided the power . . . the shepherd’s staff . . . the most powerful weapon in the history of the world.” He looked across the room to the sofa. “Rabbi, I think you better take it from here.”
Fineman was staring through a darkened window, gazing absently into the Jerusalem night. “Did you know it was Aaron’s staff specifically that brought forth six of the ten plagues against Egypt?” He turned from the window and crossed the room to a bookcase, speaking as he searched the shelves. “Moses or Aaron stretched out their hand and used the staff to call down the plagues of blood, frogs, gnats, hail, locusts, and darkness.
“It was Aaron’s staff that Moses waved over the Red Sea to part the waters and lead Israel to safety, the staff that called down fire from heaven to destroy the rebellious Hebrews as Israel wandered in the desert for forty years.”
Fineman removed an old book from the shelves, carried the book across the room and laid it in Bohannon’s hands. “In rabbinical literature, particularly in this Haggadic Modification, it is taught that this staff has been handed down from generation to generation throughout the biblical history of man. That it passed through the hands of Shem, Enoch, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Ancient Jewish authors claim that Joshua used the staff to part the waters of the Jordan River and to hit the walls of Jericho before they came crashing down; that David used it to slay Goliath; that Solomon used it as his scepter when he sat on the throne of Israel; and that when Messiah comes—when the Temple is rebuilt and sacrifice returns to the Temple—Messiah will receive Aaron’s staff as his scepter of authority.”
“The Temple?” said Bohannon. “We’re back to the Temple?”
“Getting pretty interested now?” asked Rizzo, patting Bohannon on his good arm.
There was a glimmer of light flickering at the edges of Rizzo’s eyes, a sliver of that impish smile nudging the corners of his mouth. Life, struggling for space. For the first time in days, Bohannon felt hope.
But Fineman’s words, about the origins of Aaron’s staff, seized Bohannon’s attention once again.
“Rabbinical literature asserts that this staff was delivered into the hands of Adam when he was driven out of Paradise. The story is told that Aaron’s staff is a fragment of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, severed from the tree by God, for man to carry until the Messiah returns.”
“You’re kidding, right?” Bohannon slid forward in his chair, holding the book in front of him.
“Aaron’s staff was part of the Tree of Life?” asked Rodriguez.
“No,” said Fineman, returning to the sofa and sitting next to McDonough. “There were two trees in the garden—the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. It was the latter that God commanded Adam and Eve not to eat. When they sinned and God exiled them from the garden, God severed the staff from the tree and gave it to Adam. From there it passed down through the ages in the hands of Israel’s leaders.”
Bohannon looked at Fineman and McDonough. “Okay. So what does this Aleppo Codex book and Aaron’s staff have to do with us?”
“Only half of the original Aleppo Codex remains intact,” Fineman said. “Over two hundred pages have either been lost or destroyed, including three chapters in the book of Jeremiah. But the Masoretic notes surrounding what remains of the book of Jeremiah tell a story that Jeremiah was the last person known to have possession of the Ark of the Covenant, the Tent of Meeting, and Aaron’s staff. We know what happened to the Tent. We don’t know what happened to the staff or the Ark.”
Are you intrigued yet? I am. You can find Terry’s book at:
About the Author:
A Pulitzer Prize is one of the many awards Terry Brennan accumulated during his 22-year newspaper career. The Pottstown (PA) Mercury won a Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Writing for a two-year series of editorials published while Brennan was the newspaper’s Editor.
Starting out as a sportswriter in Philadelphia, Brennan became an Editor and Publisher for newspapers in Pennsylvania, Illinois, and New York and in 1988 moved to the corporate staff of Ingersoll Publications (400 newspapers in the U.S., Ireland and England) as Executive Editor of all U.S. newspaper titles.
In 1996 Brennan transitioned into the nonprofit sector, spending 12 years as VP Operations for The Bowery Mission and six years as Chief Administrative Officer for Care for the Homeless, NYC nonprofits that serve homeless people.
Terry and his wife, Andrea, live in the New York City area. Terry’s first novel series, THE JERUSALEM PROPHECIES, was released by Kregel Publications: The Sacred Cipher in July of 2009, The Brotherhood Conspiracy in June of 2013 and The Aleppo Code in October, 2015.