Modern Jews not decendants of biblical Jews?

Hi. A friend of mine told me that the modern day Jewish people are not the gentic decendants of the ancient Jews talked about in the bible ect. He said that they were more of a mix from people scattered about various empires who converted. Does anyone have the facts? Thanks.

It’s my understanding that the Khazars, originally a Turkic people living in central Asia (they had a substantial land empire mostly between the Black and Caspian Seas) converted to Judaism sometime between the 6th and 9th centuries. This site has some information. Many modern Jews, especially in the former Soviet Union, will be descended from the Khazars

However, given the Diaspora (the dispersal of the Jews as a consequence of their unsuccessful revolt against the Romans in the first century), an awful lot of “original” middle-eastern Jews were spread over much of Europe, and I think you’d be hard-put to say for definite that any modern Jew had no “original” ancestors.

All IMHO, of course.


The question is not whether the Khazars were real, but what percentage of Ashkenazic Jewry is indeed their descendents. As posted elsewhere, I don’t think the theory is given much credence by serious historians, but it has achieved a certain vogue these days in Arab circles for obvious reasons (if the Jews are descendents of some Russian group they have no claim on Israel)

In addition to what others have mentioned, there have been genetic studies on Jews from many different world communities, which have concluded that there is a high likelihood that they all share a common male ancestor a few thousand years in the past. (I’ll try to find a link.) So in addition to years of oral tradition and well-documented history, science also backs up the notion that modern Jews are a single large family whose root goes way back, and not a collection of converts picked up in more recent times.

Eh, CM, was it the NOVA on “Lost Tribes of Israel” and the Cohanim genetic marker?

*Originally posted by IzzyR, though he was merely quoting other people, and not expressing his own opinion — *

The logic here is difficult for me to follow. Converts have pretty much the same claims, rights, and privileges as a natural-born member, just as a naturalized citizen of a country has essentially the same rights as a born citizen.

(I say “essentially” because of minor exceptions, like how a naturalized American is not eligible to be President, but that is the only exception.)

This is one of those pernicious lies, used by racists (and others) to perpetuate racial stereotyping (“Jews are a mongrel breed and therefore inferior”) and to back up political claims (“Jews are not descendents of Israelites and so have no claim on the land of Israel.”)

One commonly hears such sentiments argued by the more ferocious Arab politicians, those who want to see Israel destroyed entirely – Mr Arafat, for instance. Such people conveniently overlook the documented continuous occupation of the land of Israel by Jews, for around 2500 years. The terrorists would have you believe that this land was “always” Arab lands, and that the “mongrel” Jews are somehow “invadeders.”

The other source of such sentiments are those who try to argue that Judaism was defunct after the death of Jesus, and that modern day Jews are not the descendents of Israelites (hence have no “covenantal claims”). For somey ultra-right wing literalist Christians, the very existence of Judaism is an affront (“Why would Jews continue to exist when their messiah has come and been rejected by them?”) and one way out of that theological paradox is to argue that modern day Jews are somehow not “authentic” Jews.

These arguments fly in the face of the historical and archaeological record, and now (as seems likely) the biological/genetic record. Certainly Judaism has had some converts coming in, including various individuals and groups like the Khazars. The Kohanim within Judaism are the priests, the descendents of Moses’ brother Aaron; since the title Kohan is given from father to son, and since the classification of Jewishness comes from the mother (at least for the last 2000 years), a convert could not be a Kohan. Thus, the biological evidence that indicates that a vast majority of Kohanim, from different national backgrounds, have common biological ancestry is fairly convincing of a direct lineal geneaology.

Not to nitpick, but there seems to be one situation, where a convert, if not a Kohan himself, would at least have the genetic marker of a Kohan. If a Kohan marries a gentile woman, their son will be a gentile. If that son then converts, he would be a convert with the genetic marker of a Kohan. He wouldn’t be a Kohan himself, of course. Sorry…I know the nitpick doesn’t refer to the point of your post, but I just thought of it, and wanted to point it out.

See the post by C K Dexter Haven. IOW, if the Ashkenazic Jews descended from the Khazars, then they are not descendents of people who occupied the land for over a thousand years until being exiled by the Romans. This tends to strengthen the Arab claim on the land.

(I actually once heard a well-known “self-hating Jew”, Ron Kuby, mention offhandedly that “we Ashkenazic Jews trace our ancestry back to the Khazars…” Anything for the cause.)

It is, IMO, extremely unlikely that the Khazars contributed a significant amount of material to the modern Jewish gene pool. To my understanding it was only the Khazar elites that converted. And it is to be assumed that the majority of those elites were expunged when the Varangians broke their state. Or, even if a certain number survived in the Khazar rump-state North of the Caucasus that persevered for awhile, they likely were eventually swamped out by the Polovsty/Cumans/Kipchaks. That’s my educated guess, anyway.

That said, I’m sure it is fair to say that there has probably been a certain amount of admixing with other populations of the millenia. Though given the historical insularity of the Jewish community, it may have been less than we might otherwise expect, given the period of time covered. However this is pretty irrelevant as far as I’m concerned. The Jews have maintained their cultural and religious ( those that didn’t are obviously no longer Jews ) identity. And that, at the end of the day, is what really matters.

  • Tamerlane

Err…over the millenia.

  • Tamerlane the non-previewer

A point of clarification;

To my somewhat hazy recollection of the genetic studies for Jews and notably the Kohanim marker studies the following observations hold:

(1) It is a slight majority or minority (60-40, but I forget which direction) of men with the surname Cohen or some variation thereof which carry this marker.

(2) I do believe there are other studies with other markers suggesting some degree of common ancestry for most Jewish groups. I could find this material if anyone wanted, but cavaet: this fine level of resolution for genetic studies by populations remains controversial, that is we don’t have a full set of data to catch over-generalizations etc. Mind you I’m not saying this is not useful, but for the moment its good to take this as an area of knowledge subject to revision.

(3) I don’t think that is either morally or practically useful for any group to use this science to justify holding or not holding land. That goes for both sides.

Insofar as that goes, I completely agree with Tamerlane. Until this century or perhaps the late 19th century, none of these “biologically” based concepts of identity were functional. IMHO it something of a gross distortion to use this as a political yardstick now. Great to know about our descent but…

For the record, this “Khazar” thing is mainly used by anti-semitic Aryan Nations/Identity types.

The whole point is to argue that modern day jews aren’t the same people as the ones in the bible, but vicious satanic counterfeits. You’ll rarely find a website that makes this claim without also finding the claim that Hitler was misunderstood, that blacks are mud people, that the founding fathers were fundamentalist christians, etc, etc.

Not that this neccesarily invalidates the claim or anything, but it certainly damages the credibility of anyone making the claim.

Clearly a FEW modern day Jews are not desended from the Tribes. Jews do allow (but somewhat discourage) conversions. It is unlikley that Sammy Davis jr, eg, had relatives that were a member of the “12 tribes”.

However, that being said- in general- a majority+ of modern Jews would certainly seem to be able to trace their linage back to Isreal(or more likely, Judah).

Erm… Judaea maybe? Hard to believe that Judah was quite so prolific.

People that do not have biblical Jewish ancestry are probably very rare.

Even before the colonization of the Australia and the Americas there were two thousand of years of conversions, affairs, intermarriages, prostitution, invasions, relocations, rapes, etc. between the populations of Asia, Africa and Europe. The same population-mixing activities have continued in the New World.

We all have some Egyptian, Etruscan, Persian, Ch’un Ch’iu, Judean, etc. mixed in.

I agree with what Zot said (q.v.). Odds are pretty good that 90 percent of the world’s population has ancestry from the middle east, so old Sammy Davis is statistically likely to be a descendant of the patriarchs as most others.

Since when does logic enter into the claims of religious zealots? My understanding is that Islam got started around 700 AD when Mohammed was alive, which would seem to give Muslims even less claim to the area than Christians.

Ahhh. no. 90% of the world’s population would not have ancestry in the Middle East (if we’re talking about ME circa Biblical times, now given that an Out of Africa exit c. 100000 YPB would naturally pass through the region there is some metaphorical truth to the statement.)

**Re Claim to the Land: **

Folks, what it gets down to is who has the people on the land now. The modern Jews have the land, its theirs now. Keeping it is a matter of either strength or acquired legitimacy from the folks who might want it back (who themselves might have taken it --ad nauseum to the very beginning). Historical justifications from whichever side chosen are all going to be matters of great subjectivity etc.

e.g. Muslims there are largely going to be descended from converts from the pre-Islamic population of the area (be it Hellenized, Jewish or Xtian or other), so descent-wise they’re largely cousins. And of course its easy to forget there large numbers of Xtian Palestinians. Does any of this really decide the question? No, its all fuel for various agit-prop for both sides.

I don’t think there is a “Muslim” claim on the land - it’s an Arab one.