Genetics of the Jews

Daniel Calder

Source -

23be237d4402652525634a31b155a5b3 [Jewish man]. 

The following is a summary of the summary of the data concerning the genetic origins of the modern (European) Jew, from Jon Entine's "Abraham's Children: Race, Identity, and the DNA of the Chosen People."

According to a controversial hypothesis about the European "Ashkenazi" Jews, the latter are descended from a medieval empire known as Khazaria. The empire existed in Eurasia between the 7th and 10th centuries A.D. The hypothesis (it is almost more a kind of folklore) has to do with King Bulan, in the 8th or 9th century, hosting a religious debate between the three major monotheistic religions. The Jewish side, he decided, won the debate, and his successor, Obadiah, studied the Talmud and invited Jews into the kingdom. While the story reports the conversion of the Khazari royalty, some versions have the entire kingdom converting.

What actually happened, of course, is a mystery, as the historical information from the history of the Jews throughout Europe are quite scant throughout history. The Khazars, the hypothesized ancestors of Ashkenazi Jews, were a seminomadic group of people consisting primarily of what we would now call "Turks." The Khazari Empire reached from the Byzantine north to Russia as well as to Ukraine. The Khazaries put up a particularly valiant tfight against the Arabs, as the latter attempted to invade Europe.

It was in the beginning of the 20th century that intellectuals began to speculate about the possibility that eastern Caucasian "Mountain Jews" may have descended from the Khazari (they also suggested this of certain Turks and Muslims). The hypothesis became more popular during the 1950s, in spite of pure speculation in the complete absence of any convincing historical or archaeological evidence.

Jewish leftists were particularly enamored with the idea, since it problematized the notion of race, to which they were opposed. If the Jews were not a race, furthermore, many Jews believed, they would escape anti-Semitism, and further problematize the Nazi racial theories to which they had been subject. Anti-Zionist leftist Jews were especially keen on using it against the ethno-nationalist movement of the Zionists, both on the grounds that it ended up victimizing Jews and Palestinians.

The popularity of the hypothesis reached its zenith in 1976, with the publication of Arthur Koestler's "The Thirteenth Tribe," which argues that the converted Jews of the dissolved Khazari empire made their way to Eastern Europe. Here, as before, despite the purely speculative nature of the hypothesis, it qtuickly became dogma in many circles. Ironically enough, while the hypothesis has its origins among Jews who were hostile to the idea of race, and attempting to discredit it, the hypothesis would eventually come to be adopted by white supremacists.

A great deal of debate has revolved around the reliability, or lack thereof, of various historical accounts and speculation, but it was not until the 1990s that possessed sufficiently advanced genetic technology to be able to actually determine with virtual certainty whether or not the hypothesis had any credence. In1993 in particular,Italian scientists compared Y-chromosomal markers of Sephardim and Ashkenazim with the non-Jews of Czechoslovakia.

The Ashkenazim and Sephardim were genetically extremely similar to one another, and both were genetically very different from the Czechs. Both exhibited unmistakable genetic evidence that they shared genetic ancestry with other Semitic groups, such as Arabs, currently living in the Middle East. In particular, these Jews were genetically a great deal closer to the Lebanese than to the inhabitants of Czechoslovakia. Today, the Khazari hypothesis is of little more than historical interest.

Following this study, geneticists from South Africa, the Un.S., Europe and Israel attempted a now-famous study of 1,400 Jewish and non-Jewish males from 29 different populations. As before, these Jews could clearly trace their ancestry to ancient Palestine, and shared genetic information with Palestinians and Arabs. In fact, despite living among gentiles for a long time, there was very little racial mixture with them.

From a more technical standpoint, there were two Jewish Y-chromosomal lineages: One became known as "the J haplotype" and "YAP+4." Jews all over the world were shown to exhibit a high degree of genetic affinity with Arab populations, such as Syrians and Palestinians. Ethiopian Jews, on the other hand, lack the genetic similarity to these Semitic groups. Jews in general, whether Ashkenazi or Sephardic, shared some genetic similarityto Turks and Greeks. Jews from Morocco, Iraq and Tunisia were identified as most likely to be the closest living relatives to the Hebrews of the Bible. The relevant haplotype markers, however, were clearly shared by all Jews, with the exception of the Ethiopian Jews, and were clearly traceable to the ancient Middle East.

Another study attempted to study the genes of the descendants of the Khazars with the aim of testing the hypothesis from another perspective. Unfortunately, this is somewhat difficult to test, since we do not really know who they are. If we were able to locate even a few thousand of them, however, we would be able to determine with a great deal of probability whether or not there is some grain of truth in the idea. Geneticists decided to test the genes of the Jews in the Caucausus, such as Georgian Jews and Mountain Kavkaz Jews. Georgian Jews matched the genetics of other European groups, as well as non-Jewish slavs. Mountain Jews were genetically related to other Jews. Neither matched what would be expected of the Khazars.

There is some evidence, however, that some Jews may have some Khazari ancestry. This comes from genetic testing of those ostensibly descended from the Levites and the Cohanim. Despite antiquity of the latter, there is no distinct "Levite" marker. This group would presumably, however, be genetically similar to the Cohanim; the latter being one of many groups of Levite preists in Jewish communities. The Levites do not seem to have been as scrupulous about keeping Jewish law. 60 percent of Jewish priests are descended from a common ancestor several thousands of years old, but this is, for the most part, not true of the Levites.

In fact, over 50 percent of Ashkenazi Levites possess a dominant Y-chromosome haplogroup typical of eastern Europeans, and those who live where the Khazari once did. Around 12 percent of Ashkenazim have this genetic marker, and it likely dates back to Eurasians. It is certainly possible that these Eurasians may have been Khazari, particularly since it is dated to around 650 years ago, which is when the Khazari empire collapsed, and its inhabitants fled to Eastern Europe.

Haplogroup Q, furthermore, is a marker found in 5 percent of Ashkenazim. Geneticists believe that it is possible that this marker can be traced to the Khazars. Surprisingly enough, it is a genetic marker also found in certain Native American groups and Scandinavians. It is possible that Khazari royalty who may have converted, sought out the Jewish priesthood. While this is typically forbidden in Jewish law, this is not necessarily the case among junior Levites. Indeed, the paternal line among the Levites has historically not been nearly as protected. It is certainly possible that some Khazars entered the paternal line of Levites.

"Could the rabbis who presided in Khazari when the king and his court decided to convert have fudged the rules to bestow upon these new Jews the privileged status of the Levites? Considering the tiny size of the European Jewish population when Khazari broke up, even this limited conversion, magnified by the bottleneck effect, could well explain the distinct and surprisingly significant imprint in the genomic record"(Entine, 2007)

While quite speculative, it is quite possible that something like this may have affected a significant minority of the Ashkenazi Jewish population. Of course, considerations of the ancestry of the Jews has been dominated by examination of the Y-chromosome. Relatively few considerations of the maternal lines of the Jews have been examined. It is quite common for wives to adopt the religion of their husbands, and Deuteronomy 21 expicitly allows for the marriage of non-Jews, provided they convert.

Boaz's marriage to Ruth is a particularly well-known example of this. Indeed, it is quite remarkable that the sexual taboos of Leviticus 18 and 20 do not mention any sort of prohibition against race-mixing. Since inter-marriage with other tribes and ethnicities was as rampant among Jewish men as any other, it should come as no surprise that a significant amount of Ashkenazim would have a significant amount of non-Jewish blood from their maternal lines.

Indeed, most Ashkenazi females are descended from non-Semitic Europeans, according to a study conducted in 2002 by researchers from the Center for Genetic Anthropology. In one study, 40 percent of Central and Eastern European Jews were found to descent from 1 of 4 females. Who these women were, however, is anyone's guess. The women could have been European, Israelite, or Eurasian (Khazars). The other 60 percent of Ashkenazim are descended from Middle Easterners or Europeans.

Jon Entine summarizes the significance of the data:

"Taken together, the Jewish male and female lineages offer a fascinating, if controversial, narrative of the ancestry of Ashkenazi Jewry, even though it is based on only two loci, the male and female genetic marker - very tiny, if revealing, slices of the human genome. The studies of the Y chromosome and mtDNA do not support the once-popular notion that Jews are descended in any great numbers from the Khazars or some Slavic group, although it's evident that some Jews do have Khazarian blood. The Khazarian theory has been put to rest, or at leaset into perspective"(Entine, 2007).