Tuesday 16 August 2011

A Few comments on the Aleppo Codex

The new kid on the block, one Alexander (fresh member on Blogger, no information about real identity, two views) refers to Peter Tompa's post on the Aleppo Codex, reportedly damaged by fire in the Aleppo pogrom of 1947, taken ("smuggled") by the keepers of what was left of it out of Syria in 1958 (Tompa links to the Wikipedia article explaining what the document is for those who do not know). As Tompa himself notes, "the Codex left Syria well before academic archaeologists [sic] began to press for repatriation" and "well before the 1970 UNESCO Convention was promulgated". But asks whether in "the archaeological blogosphere" there would be "calls for the return of the Aleppo Codex".

There are two issues here aren't there? Firstly Tompa misleads when he labels all those urging repatriation of stolen or out-of-place items "archaeologists". These calls come from a variety of milieux connected with culture. Art historians too, for example (casus Parthenon bits) ethnologists/graphers (African sculptures and masks), musicians (the Prussian State Library collection), religious scholars/churchmen, and historians. It seems to me that the Aleppo Codex is not a piece of dugup sculpture, pot, metalwork. It is a document and therefore not a direct concern of those "archaeologists" Tompa obviously cannot get out of his head. If there were calls for it to be returned to Syria, they would not be coming just from "archaeologists".

Secondly, this is a "repatriation" issue and not a recently looted item. It was taken to Israel in 1958, so before Syria and Israel became party to international treaties on the movement of such material. This was precisely the same period as a lot of artefacts were leaving the Middle East to enter western collections, both public and private. It is precisely these artefacts, on the market before 1970 that constitute the items which are generally agreed by all to be legitimately on the market for that very reason.

Now I have not looked into the legality of the export, this seems likely to be a complicated issue. But generally if it was moved before 1970, what eventually happens to it would have to be decided on different grounds from a situation which arose after both Israel and Syria became states party to the 1970 UNESCO Convention.

Personally I am more interested in what this "Alexander" suggests, he says Tompa's "archaeological friends, including Mr. Barford" would be suggesting that "that the Codex was taken illegally from its source country, and it should be returned forthwith". As I have said the law is the law, and it remains to be seen if a case can be made and defended that there is a legal case to answer in the case of Syria. I do not know if that is what Alexander thinks is an example of:
Unless Mr. Barford finds some ridiculous and laughable way to squiggle in the other direction. He is very good at that.
He then makes some crass personal comment which is a bit of a puzzler to me, because I have never met "Alexander", I have no idea who he is or what he collects.

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