Source: Google News
PARIS — Jews of European origin are a mix of ancestries, with many hailing from tribes in the Caucasus who converted to Judaism and created an empire that lasted half a millennium, according to a gene study.
The investigation, its author says, should settle a debate that has been roiling for more than two centuries.
Jews of European descent, often called Ashkenazis, account for some 90 percent of the more than 13 million Jews in the world today.
According to the so-called Rhineland Hypothesis, Ashkenazis descended from Jews who progressively fled Palestine after the Muslim conquest of 638 AD.
They settled in southern Europe and then, in the late Middle Ages, about 50,000 of them moved from the Rhineland in Germany into eastern Europe, according to the hypothesis.
But detractors say this idea is implausible.
Barring a miracle –which some supporters of the Rhineland Hypothesis have in fact suggested — the scenario would have been demographically impossible.
It would mean that the population of Eastern European Jews leapt from 50,000 in the 15th century to around eight million at the start of the 20th century.
That birth rate would have been 10 times greater than that of the local non-Jewish population. And it would have occurred despite economic hardship, disease, wars and pogroms that ravaged Jewish communities.
Seeking new light in the argument, a study published in the British journal Genome Biology and Evolution, compares the genomes of 1,287 unrelated individuals who hail from eight Jewish and 74 non-Jewish populations.
Geneticist Eran Elhaik of the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland, trawled through this small mountain of data in search of single changes in the DNA code that are linked to a group’s geographical origins.
Such telltales have been used in past research to delve into the origins of the Basque people and the pygmy people of central Africa.
Among European Jews, Elhaik found ancestral signatures that pointed clearly to the Caucasus and also, but to a smaller degree, the Middle East.
The results, said Elhaik, give sound backing for the rival theory — the “Khazarian Hypothesis.”
Under this concept, eastern European Jews descended from the Khazars, a hotchpotch of Turkic clans that settled the Caucasus in the early centuries AD and, influenced by Jews from Palestine, converted to Judaism in the 8th century.
The Judeo-Khazars built a flourishing empire, drawing in Jews from Mesopotamia and imperial Byzantium.
They became so successful that they sent offshoots into Hungary and Romania, planting the seeds of a great diaspora.
But Khazaria collapsed in the 13th century when it was attacked by the Mongols and became weakened by outbreaks of the Black Death.
The Judeo-Khazars fled westwards, settling in the rising Polish Kingdom and in Hungary, where their skills in finance, economics and politics were in demand, and eventually spread to central and western Europe, according to the “Khazarian Hypothesis.”
“We conclude that the genome of European Jews is a tapestry of ancient populations including Judaised Khazars, Greco-Roman Jews, Mesopotamian Jews and Judeans,” says Elhaik.
“Their population structure was formed in the Caucasus and the banks of the Volga, with roots stretching to Canaan and the banks of the Jordan.”
Many things are unknown about the Khazars, whose tribal confederation gathered Slavs, Scythians, Hunnic-Bulgars, Iranians, Alans and Turks.
But, argues Elhaik, the tale sketched in the genes is backed by archaeological findings, by Jewish literature that describes the Khazars’ conversion to Judaism, and by language, too.
“Yiddish, the language of Central and Eastern European Jews, began as a Slavic language” before being reclassified as High German, he notes.
Another pointer is that European Jews and their ancestral groups in the Caucasus and Middle East share a relatively high risk of diseases such as cystic fibrosis.
The investigation should help fine-tune a fast-expanding branch of genomics, which looks at single-change DNA mutations that are linked with inherited disease, adds Elhaik.
A full copy of Dr Eran Elhaik’s study can be read here:
The Jewish people’s ultimate treasure hunt
By Ofer Aderet
Dec 28 2012
In his search for Jewish ancestry, researcher Eran Elhaik says he has discovered that Jews originated in the Khazar empire, not the kingdom of Judah.
(TEL AVIV Ha’aretz) – “Just imagine a group of blind people who encounter an elephant for the first time in their lives. They place their hands on it and touch it in order to understand what kind of animal it is. But each of them feels a different part of the elephant’s body so that, in the end, each of them gains a different impression as to what sort of animal it is.” Using this ancient Indian parable, geneticist Dr. Eran Elhaik tries to illustrate one of the most controversial issues in the study of history: the origin of the Jewish people.
“For years, scholars have suggested various explanations as to where the Jews come from,” says Israeli-born Elhaik, and lists the different theories proposed over the past century to solve the puzzle. However, each explanation has provided only a partial clue and, to make matters worse, all the explanations contradict one another.
“My study is the first to propose a comprehensive theory that explains all the seemingly contradictory findings,” asserts the young scholar in a telephone conversation from his home in Maryland. The 32-year-old Elhaik conducted his research at the School of Public Health of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. Earlier this month, he published his findings in an article, “The Missing Link of Jewish European Ancestry: Contrasting the Rhineland and the Khazarian Hypotheses,” in the journal Genome Biology and Evolution, published by Oxford University Press. One of the scholars who reviewed the article before its publication described it as more profound than all the previous studies on the ancestry of the Jewish people.
In our telephone interview, Elhaik, who does not hide his light under a bushel, describes his study as a “breakthrough” and says he has provided the scholarly foundations for an ancient and controversial theory claiming that European or Ashkenazi Jews are descendants of the Khazars. The Khazar Empire consisted of various peoples (Iranians, Turks, Slavs, Caucasians and others ), and ruled over a vast territory stretching from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea during the medieval period. According to this theory, the Khazars converted to Judaism in the eighth century and their descendants are the “European” or Ashkenazi Jews who live today in Israel and the Diaspora.
The commonly accepted narrative considers the Jews to be descended from residents of the Kingdom of Judah who were exiled and returned to their native land – the modern-day State of Israel – only after thousands of years of exile. In contrast, this new study supports the theory that the Jews are descended from different peoples who lived in various regions in the Mediterranean Sea Basin, and who converted to Judaism in different eras. According to that theory, the story of the exile from Judah, the exilic life led by Jews in the countries of the Diaspora and their continual longing for their native homeland can be considered a myth.
“My research refutes 40 years of genetic studies, all of which have assumed that the Jews constitute a group that is genetically isolated from other nations,” notes Elhaik. His study is based on comprehensive genetic data published in other studies. In the absence of such data on the Khazars themselves, Elhaik – following a procedure commonly used by researchers in his field – relied on figures relating to populations that are genetically similar to the Khazars, such as Georgians, Armenians and Caucasians. Elhaik says “they have all emerged from the same genetic ‘soup.’”
After conducting numerous analyses utilizing various techniques, some of which have never been employed before, the researcher discovered what he describes as the Khazar component of European Jewry. According to his findings, the dominant element in the genetic makeup of European Jews is Khazar. Among Central European and East European Jews, this component is the most dominant in their genome, accounting for 38 and 30 percent, respectively.
What other components constitute the genome of European Jews?
Elhaik: “[They are] primarily of Western European origin, which is rooted in the Roman Empire, and Middle Eastern origin, whose source is probably Mesopotamia, although it is possible that part of that component can be attributed to Israeli Jews.”
The latter datum is of considerable importance because it “reconnects” European Jews to Israel. However, that connection amounts to only a small part of the makeup of the genome, and that figure is not statistically significant enough to establish that the origin of the Jews is the Kingdom of Judah.
According to Elhaik’s study, there is a genetic continuum linking the Jews of Iran, the Caucasus, Azerbaijan and Georgia with the European Jews. In other words, it is possible that these groups share common ancestors – namely, the Khazars.
The geneticist goes on to explain that, among the various groups of European and non-European Jews, there are no blood or family connections: “The various groups of Jews in the world today do not share a common genetic origin. We are talking here about groups that are very heterogeneous and which are connected solely by religion.”
The bottom line, he claims, is that the “genome of European Jews is a mosaic of ancient peoples and its origin is largely Khazar.”
Similar research conducted by other scholars, some of whom are celebrated professors in Israel and other countries, presents very different results. Last summer, for example, Oxford University Press published “Legacy: A Genetic History of the Jewish People,” which attempted to sum up the various studies that have related to this subject over the past two decades. The author, the Yeshiva University professor Dr. Harry Ostrer, who teaches in the departments of pathology, genetics and pediatrics in the university’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine, argues that all Jews have a common genetic origin and similar genetic characteristics. According to Ostrer, this common origin is not Khazar but rather Middle Eastern. Thus, in line with his theory, the Jews are descendants of residents of that region who resided there thousands of years ago, were exiled and recently returned to their native land – that is, modern-day Israel.
Unlike Elhaik, Ostrer found no significant evidence attesting to any connection between the Jews and the Khazar kingdom. Moreover, from the genetic standpoint, the Jews, he argues, are closer to the Palestinians, Bedouin and Druze than to the Khazars. His findings lend a solid basis to the argument that the Jews originated in the Middle East.
Elhaik, who disputes Ostrer’s study, claims that previous research on the subject “has no empirical basis, sometimes even contradicts itself and offers conclusions that are simply not convincing.”
“It is my impression,” he adds, “that their results were written before they began the research. First they shot their arrow – and then they painted the bull’s-eye around it.”
Unlike other researchers, Elhaik does not believe in the existence of a uniquely Jewish gene: “Each human being is a genetic amalgam. No population group has ever lived in total seclusion from other groups.” He also refutes the claim that the genome of many Jews contains a Middle Eastern component, proving that the Jews originated in that region: “The majority of Jews do not have the Middle Eastern genetic component in the quantity we would expect to find if they were descendants of the Jews of antiquity.
“Ironically,” observes Elhaik, “some of the Khazars were of Iranian origin. I think it is safe to assume that the Iranians have made a not-inconsiderable contribution to the Jewish mosaic.”
Haaretz has in recent weeks turned to a number of scholars from Israel and abroad, including historians and geneticists, and asked them what they thought of the new article. The historians refused to respond, arguing that they had no expertise in the field of genetics. For their part, the geneticists were unwilling to cooperate for other reasons. While some of them simply ignored the request from Haaretz, others claimed they were unfamiliar with the specific discipline of population research or too pressed for time to respond.
The only scholar who agreed to give his opinion (and did so with great enthusiasm ) was Tel Aviv University professor of history Shlomo Sand, author of the best-seller, “The Invention of the Jewish People,” published in Hebrew in 2008 by Resling Press (an English translation by Yael Lotan was published by Verso in 2009 ). On the bookshelves in his small office at TAU are translations of his book, now available in 22 languages.
Sand has some tough words of criticism for geneticists looking for Jewish genes: “For an ignoramus like me, genetics had always appeared to be crowned with a halo – as a precise science that deals with quantitative findings and whose conclusions are irrefutable.” When he began reading articles on the subject of the Jews’ origin, he found he had been mistaken: “I discovered geneticists – Jewish geneticists – whose knowledge of history ended at what was necessary for their high-school matriculation exams. Which is how I would describe my knowledge of biology. In high school they had learned that there is one Jewish nation, and, on the basis of this historical narrative, they reconstruct their scholarly findings.”
“Their search for the origin of a common gene in order to characterize a people or a nation is very dangerous,” says Sand. With several reservations, he cites the example of the Germans, “who also searched for a common component of blood ties.” The historical irony, he emphasizes, is expressed in the fact that “whereas, in the past, anyone who defined the Jews as a race was vilified as an anti-Semite, today anyone who is unprepared to define them as a race is labeled an anti-Semite.
“I used to think,” Sand adds, “that only in such disciplines as history and literature can facts be given various interpretations, but I then discovered that the same thing is done in genetics. It is very easy to showcase certain findings while marginalizing others and to present your study as scholarly research. In general, specialization in genetics can create an incredibly high level of ignorance in history.”
Highlight: Out of Khazaria—Evidence for “Jewish Genome” Lacking
By: Danielle Venton
Source: Genome Biology and Evolution
Dec 20 2012
Hebrew language and Jewish culture have been around for thousands of years. For much of that history, the Jews man- aged to maintain their heritage and cultural identity in the absence of a geographical state. Wanderings, settlements, and dispersal were thus a big part of their history. Is evidence for that history preserved in genome data?
Eran Elhaik, a geneticist at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, thinks so. In a recently published study in Genome Biology Evolution (Elhaik 2012), he is calling for a rewrite of commonly held assumptions about Jewish ancestry. Instead of being primarily the descendants of the 12 tribes of Israel, present-day Jewish populations are, finds Elhaik, pri- marily the children of a Turkish people who lived in what is now Russia, north of Georgia, east of Ukraine. This civilization, the Khazars, converted from tribal religions to Judaism between the 7th and 9th centuries.
The controversy cut into by Elhaik’s work runs deep, far past the lab bench. Among some circles, his conclusions are bound to be unpopular. “This is the first scientific paper to prove the Khazarian Hypothesis and reject the Rhineland Hypothesis,” he says, “and with it about 40 years of research.” Although his findings will not be welcome in all circles, Elhaik’s interest is more medical than political.
“All I want is to help my colleagues who are studying gen- etic disorders,” he says. “I hope this work will open up a new era in genetic studies where population stratification will be used more correctly.
Jewish populations are used in many disease studies because of their presumed genetic homogeny. Some condi- tions, such as Tay–Sachs disease, are more common among select Jewish populations than other populations. However, Elhaik says, the acceptance of a flawed origin narrative is hampering the best science.
For several decades, two hypothetical backgrounds of present-day European Jews have seemed plausible to histor- ians and geneticists. In the favored “Rhineland Hypothesis,” Jews descended from Israelite–Canaanite tribes who left the Holy Land for Europe in the seventh century, following the Muslim conquest of Palestine. Then, in the beginning of the 15th century, a group of approximately 50,000 left Germany, the Rhineland, for the east. There they reproduced rapidly, in a kind of “hyper–baby boom.” Their breeding outpaced their non-Jewish neighbors by an order of magnitude—despite dis- ease, persecutions, wars, and economic hardship—ballooning to approximately 8 million strong by the 20th century. Under this history, European Jews would be very similar to each other and would have Middle Eastern ancestry.
Several scholars prefer the “Khazarian Hypothesis,” Elhaik included. This suggests the Jewish-convert Khazars, with reinforcements from Mesopotamian and Greco-Roman Jews, formed the basis of Eastern Europe’s Jewish population when they fled northeast, following the collapse of their empire at the 13th century.
Elhaik first became fascinated by this idea 10 years ago when reading Arthur Koestler best-selling book The Thirteenth Tribe, published in 1976. Koestler calculated that Jews could not have numbered 8 million in Eastern Europe without the Khazar contribution. Upon reading his ideas, “I couldn’t wait for genetic data that would allow someone to publish an evaluation of this hypothesis,” says Elhaik.
When Behar et al. published “The genome-wide structure of the Jewish people” in 2010, Elhaik decided to investigate the question that had intrigued him for so long. Using data published by Behar, he calculated seven measures of ancestry, relatedness, and geographical origin. Though he used some of the same statistical tests as prior studies, he chose different comparisons.
“Results in the current literature are tangled,” Elhaik says. “Everyone is basically following the same assumption: Ashkenazi Jews are a population isolate, so they are all similar to one another, and this is completely incorrect.”
Previous studies had, for example, combined the question of similarity among and between Jewish populations and the question of ancestry and relatedness to non-Jewish popula- tions. Elhaik viewed these questions separately. Jewish com- munities are less homogeneous than is popularly thought, he says, with Jewish communities along the former Khazarian border showing the most heterogeneity.
His second question centered on ancestry: When comparing Jewish communities to their non-Jewish neighbors, Caucasus or Levant (Middle Eastern) populations—which is the closest to Jews? “All Eurasian Jewish communities are closer to Caucasus populations,” he writes, with Central European Jews closer to Italian non-Jews as the exception. Not one of the eight evaluated Jewish populations were closer to Levant populations.
“I had the hardest time clearing myself from the mindset (of previous work),” Elhaik says. “I was on the train, thinking hard, when it came to me how to separate the questions. It was a great moment.” However, it would be a mistake, Elhaik says, to conclude present-day Jews have nothing to do with the ancient Judeans. “I found a signature of the Middle East. I’m not certain whether it suggests Judean or Iranian ancestry, but it’s there.” Iranian, as well as Judean, Jews began joining the Khazarian empire as early as the 5th century B.C.E. “It might be strange given today’s political situation, but it makes a lot of historical sense.”
For Shlomo Sand, history professor at Tel Aviv University and author of the controversial book The Invention of the Jewish People, Elhaik’s paper was a vindication of his long- held ideas.
“It’s so obvious for me,” says Sand. “Some people, historians and even scientists, turn a blind eye to the truth. Once to say Jews were a race was anti-Semitic, now to say they’re not a race is anti-Semitic. It’s crazy how history plays with us.“
“There is no Jewish genome and certainly no Jewish gene,” says the Israeli-born Elhaik. Instead, all humans are a mix of the same building blocks, built with slightly different architectures. “The confusion about European Jews results from their tragic history of persecutions and deportations, creating multiple links between ancestry and geography. By dismantling our notions of genetically distinct populations and understanding our kinship, we can better appreciate our common history, and more importantly, our shared future.“
Elhaik E. 2012. The missing link of Jewish European Ancestry: contrasting the Rhineland and Khazarian hypotheses. Genome Biol Evol., doi:10.1093/gbe/evs119, Advance Access publication December 14, 2012.
Behar DM, et al. 2010. The genome-wide structure of the Jewish people. Nature 466:238–242.
MuslimVillage.com Editor’s note:
This study is of enormous significance as it uses scientific evidence to refute the commonly accepted narrative that Jews are descended from residents of the Kingdom of Judah who were exiled and returned to their native land – the modern day State of Israel.
We are sure that this article will prove controversial and create plenty of discussion.
We ask that this article not be used as a justification to start any anti Jewish debates or comments from those that hold such sentiments. This is unacceptable and is to be condemned.
For those that want to argue that this article is “anti-semetic”, we ask you to debate using scientific evidence to refute the findings of the study.
This study, which was conducted by Dr Eran Elhaik a geneticist from the prestigious John Hopkins School of Public Health and was also peer reviewed before being published in the Genome Biology and Evolution by Oxford University Press.
In fact one of the scholars who reviewed the article described it as more profound than all the previous studies on the ancestry of the Jewish people. (T/MuslimVillage.com/E1)
Mi’raj News Agency (MINA)