All Jews are cousins

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Not first cousins, perhaps, but fourth or fifth cousins, according to recent articles in Newsweek and the LA Times. In addition, it appears that the myth of The Thirteenth Tribe may have finally been put to rest.

First, the recent research. A team led by Harry Ostrer of New York University studied the DNA of 237 Jewish people from seven regions of the world and compared that DNA with the DNA of 418 non-Jewish people from the same regions. All the Jews in the study had four grandparents from the same region. Ostrer and his colleagues found that the Jews from different regions were more closely related to each other than to the general non-Jewish population in their region. Additionally, they found that Iranian and Iraqi Jews are descended from Persian and Babylonian communities of the fourth through sixth centuries BCE; no surprises there. Finally, they found that European Jews diverged from Middle-Eastern Jews beginning some time during the first millennium BCE.

There is more. The closest non-Jewish relatives of Iranian, Iraqi, and Syrian Jews, for example, are Druze, Bedouins, and Palestinians. Again, no surprises. In addition, we have known for years that European Jews, at least, have genetic links to the Middle East. Related research by Michael Hammer of the University of Arizona examined the Y-chromosomes of Jewish men who identified themselves as Cohanim (the priestly caste) and found over a decade ago that the vast majority had a common ancestor who lived in early Biblical times.

Now the Khazars. Some time between perhaps 750 and 850 CE, the Khazar kingdom on the Caspian Sea and along the Volga River supposedly converted to Judaism, though it is unclear whether that means the nobility or the general population. The history of the Khazar kingdom is also unclear, at least to me, but by 1000 CE the kingdom had been destroyed by the Vikings. In 1976, the novelist and essayist Arthur Koestler published The Thirteenth Tribe, a nonfiction work in which he revived and popularized the theory that European Jews were descended from the remnants of the Khazar kingdom and not from the Middle East. Professional historians were not sympathetic, and Ostrer found only limited interbreeding between Jews and Khazars and Slavs.

One of Koestler’s stated intentions in writing the book was to combat anti-Semitism by demonstrating that modern Jews are not the biological descendants of first-century Jews. Koestler said (and I agree) that the Khazar theory ought to have no bearing on modern Israel. He was apparently unaware, however, that anti-Semitic groups had used just that theory to discredit the State of Israel. Most probably, his book did more harm to his cause than good.

Ostrer’s genetic data, fortunately, probably discredit the already weak Khazar theory once and for all.

30 Comments

One of Koestler’s stated intentions in writing the book was to combat anti-Semitism by demonstrating that modern Jews are not the biological descendants of first-century Jews.

He could have been lying about the claim itself as well as about his motives for making it. In any case, it was insane from the start. The Khazar kingdom would have been far more likely to convert to Christianity than Judaism. And the historical records would have indicated the conversion from the beginning, and there would have been no need for some out-of-nowhere crank to “discover” it.

I HATE revisionist historians!

Dale Husband said:

I HATE revisionist historians!

I’ve been working on the “Pearl Harbor Conspiracy” lately. Civility denies me the option of saying what I think of such folk myself. It’s like trying to read a history book where somebody’s scribbled graffiti all over the pages.

Actually, I’ve seen library books where they’ve done precisely that.

In any case, it was insane from the start. The Khazar kingdom would have been far more likely to convert to Christianity than Judaism. And the historical records would have indicated the conversion from the beginning, and there would have been no need for some out-of-nowhere crank to “discover” it.

The existence of the Khazar kingdom isn’t in dispute. Moreover, that some Khazar’s converted to Judaism seems very probable based on the evidence. We have medieval sources that indicate strongly at minimum the royalty and nobility had converted. The revisionism that Koestler and others were arguing was that modern Askenazic Jews were descended from the Khazars. That’s a separate claim, and the genetic and other evidence shows that this is wrong.

Did the researchers check groups like the Lemba? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lemba, who I believe have proven out to be Jewish in ancestory in previous DNA tests?

Matt,

Interesting study, thanks for bringing it to our attention. It is a little misleading, however, to say that all Jews are fourth or fifth cousins.

First, the researchers actually said that an average pair of Jews in the study group “shared as much of their genome as two fourth or fifth cousins” and that there is a lot of inbreeding. Sharing the same genome due to inbreeding is not the same as being actual fourth or fifth cousins (depending on whether you are using the genetic or lay definition of cousin).

Second, and more important, this finding is only true within the subgroups, not of Jews generally. Moreover, the participants were selected such that their lineage was homogeneous (all four grandparents had to come from the same region), further increasing the chances of being related to others from the same region.

Again, thanks for the great review, aside from the sensationalist headline.

I think Mr. Zelinsky and Mr. jkc are completely correct. Sorry if I implied literal fifth cousins; I didn’t mean to do so. As for the sensationalist headline, you will no doubt be pleased that I did not use something like “The thirteenth tribe is dead.”

Haven’t previous studies already falsified the Khazar hypothesis? Nevertheless, it’s good to know that there’s one more definitive nail on the coffin of that idea, but I’m cynical enough to think that scientific evidence won’t be a factor that sways many people who would be receptive to that belief.

I apologize. I didn’t mean to say that no Khazars converted to Judaism. It’s certainly possible that a few of them did, including one or two of their kings. What I was objecting to was the notion that the entire population converted to it and that most Jews today are somehow descended from the Khazars and not from the ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judah, which is so preposterous that when I first heard about that claim, I assumed it was a made-up anti-Semetic myth.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur[…]tler#Judaism

In The Thirteenth Tribe (1976), he advanced the controversial thesis that Ashkenazi Jews are not descended from the Israelites of antiquity, but from the Khazars, a Turkic people in the Caucasus who converted to Judaism in the 8th century and were later forced westward into present-day Russia, Ukraine and Poland. Koestler argued that by proving Ashkenazi Jews to have no connection with the biblical Jews, European anti-Semitism would lose all basis.

Well, he was certainly WRONG about that! He actually made anti-Semitism WORSE! It was exactly the connection between Biblical Jews and modern ones that fueled Zionism in the 19th and 20th Centuries. What an idiot!

A family branch has the curious legend that they are descended from one of the lost tribes of Israel. Nobody was Jewish however. Family name Gadd; as far as I know this is English name.

I have no idea what the genetic ancestry of people who happen to share the cultural/environmental trait of being Jewish has to do with politics. It’s always wrong to disrespect human rights and dignity, whether the people in question are descended from ancient middle eastern tribes, early medieval central Asian nations, or anyone else.

The medical genetics of the North American Ashkenazi Jewish population, however, does have a special place in the history of medicine and science, and its study has been of enormous potential benefit to all human beings of all cultural traditions.

Jewish people as a whole are obviously not suffering from the medical effects of consanguinity. Indeed, it would be comical to even suggest this, as Jewish populations in developed countries have excellent health statistics and high rates of accomplishment in education, music, and athletics.

However, it is a fact that there are some tragic genetic diseases that are especially prevalent in Ashkenazi Jewish populations, with variants sometimes found in other populations. A number of these are single gene, enzyme related disorders, which were amenable to analysis in the relatively early days of biochemistry and genetics. These diseases happened to come to come to the attention of early scientific medicine, and their investigation greatly advanced the fields of biochemistry, medical genetics, and indeed, genetics a whole. Despite the horrible suffering which these diseases have caused over the centuries, the insights gained from the scientific study of them continue to benefit humanity.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tay-Sachs_disease

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lysoso[…]rage_disease

The medical genetics of the North American Ashkenazi Jewish population, however, does have a special place in the history of medicine and science, and its study has been of enormous potential benefit to all human beings of all cultural traditions.

Thanks for the interesting comment. In fact, the LA Times article notes that the study’s main purpose was medical: to discover genes for “Jewish” diseases such as Gaucher’s and Tay-Sachs, as well as breast cancer.

There is a minor error or misstatement in the Times article, incidentally, where it says that the Jews incorporated Khazars during Roman times; the Khazar kingdom was actually much later. Also, I did not think to mention that the Jewish population of Europe suffered a bottleneck in medieval times.

“One of Koestler’s stated intentions in writing the book was to combat anti-Semitism by demonstrating that modern Jews are not the biological descendants of first-century Jews.”

What a quixotic notion. If a mountain of other historical and scientific facts can’t make anti-semitic bigots think rationally on the issue, why would this one, even if it were true?

Matt Young said:

Also, I did not think to mention that the Jewish population of Europe suffered a bottleneck in medieval times.

You mean they suffered something like the Holocaust back then?

Not having read the paper or the links pertaining to it, your mention of a bottleneck raises an interesting question. Did this coincide with the advent of the first European occurence of the Bubonic Plague? It’s a reasonable question to ponder, since a severe bottleneck would have occurred from a rapid die-off due to a severe epidemic such as the Plague:

Matt Young said:

The medical genetics of the North American Ashkenazi Jewish population, however, does have a special place in the history of medicine and science, and its study has been of enormous potential benefit to all human beings of all cultural traditions.

Thanks for the interesting comment. In fact, the LA Times article notes that the study’s main purpose was medical: to discover genes for “Jewish” diseases such as Gaucher’s and Tay-Sachs, as well as breast cancer.

There is a minor error or misstatement in the Times article, incidentally, where it says that the Jews incorporated Khazars during Roman times; the Khazar kingdom was actually much later. Also, I did not think to mention that the Jewish population of Europe suffered a bottleneck in medieval times.

I just finished reading the Wikipedia entry on the Khazars, and it points out that the conversion followed a period where large numbers of Jews fleeing from Byzantine and Persian persecution migrated into Khazar territory. So it seems reasonable to postulate that the conversion may have been at least partially “bottom-up” in origin.

The article also goes on to point out that, caught between Christians on one side and Muslims on the other, the Khazar leadership may have decided to choose a middle ground that was an important part of the religious background of, and therefore nominally neutral to, both sides. Whether this would’ve been a good strategy is debatable of course. :-)

(It’s amazing how much I’m learning these days about the history of areas that were never covered in my classes. I was also reading just the other day about the Tibetan empire, for example. Incredible stuff.)

You mean they suffered something like the Holocaust back then?

I’d have to read the paper, but I will note, based on basic European history, that there were several periods during the middle ages during which European Jewish populations suffered severe environmental stress.

The severe epidemic of plague* which was first noticed as a major epidemic in the mid-14th century did indeed cause a large number of deaths in a short period of time. It also seems to have had local recurrences throughout the period. Its effects varied by geography, and it presumably impacted the entire population. Despite the severe mortality, it came nowhere near producing a general genetic bottleneck effect. Millions died but millions also did not die. There is no reason to think that Jewish populations were more susceptible, but they were probably more urban, and urban populations may have been more impacted.

*It’s actually controversial whether the disease that caused the most severe epidemic of the mid-fourteenth century was bubonic plague spread by Y. pestis. For full disclosure, I think the arguments against it a very strong. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Causes[…]_Black_Death

However, it is depressing to note that the history of Europe offers other potential (not mutually exclusive) capacity to have caused a bottleneck.

At around the time of the first crusade - perhaps coincidentally or perhaps not, around the time the paganism was basically eliminated from northwestern Europe - antagonism and violence toward Jewish populations became widespread in Western Europe. This tendency waxed and waned over several centuries, with some communities being brutally affected at the same time that others were not. Nevertheless, the attacks on long-established Jewish populations were severe and brutal almost to the point of being bizarre, even by late medieval standards. The net effects could have been significant.

We can thus note that although almost all Europeans of the period were impacted by the severe epidemic, and many, many were impacted by severe local conditions of war and brutality, the Jewish population may have been more susceptible to the former, and was unquestionably more susceptible to the latter, overall. Although we are talking about a period of several centuries, repeated severe stessors may have had an impact.

(Although it is somewhat irrelevant, I should note that I am an admirer of late medieval/early renaissance art and architecture. It was a very harsh and peculiar time in human history; one aspect was a fascinating explosion of great art.)

Samaritans are people who claim descent from Israelites who did not go on the Exile to Babylon. They don’t use the Hebrew word for Jew to refer to themselves, although they follow similar religious practices. Some DNA analysis has been done that shows the relationships to Jews and Druze. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samaritan

A few points here. First is such a sample of descendents of breeding populations actually accurate. I’m not saying it isn’t but in all these things i question these small numbers and the options for variables interfering in results. Matt Young, says that “anti-Semitic’ groups opposed to israel claim this and that. What groups? Are they anti-semetic or just see Israel as a injustice to the native Arab population in those areas. I thought it a strange comment on motives.

It makes sense to me most jews are related biologically and I thought it was jews who said they were not that pure of race but a mixture of the peoples whose countries they moved too. Indeed therefore it is true that Jews are a different people, even race, and not the same people of a different religion as sometimes said.

Indeed this means Jews are not white Europeans but middle eastern types.

i noticed many years ago myself how Jewish people out of proportion suffered from cancer. i think its many cancers and not just a few. I presumed it was because of exclusive breeding did not allow a mixture or vigor in the body. Possibly likewise they have less problems with other diseases. Possibly studying this could open doors to solving cancer in people before old age.

By the way. The measures of mans times are and still are B.C. and A.D. Not these odd other things which have no authority with our civilization. It sure looks like aggression to change our measures here because someone don’t like ages divided by Christ and by Christian civilization’s historic tradition. Unless there is a referendum or legislature vote its the moral and decent thing to leave us our measures of time like it belongs to us the people and not obscure circles. Its nasty , its unkind, its not moral and so its not legal to usurp the peoples will in our own homes. Ask first. (It might of helped in Palestine too!!) You can negociate anything.

Robert Byers said:

A few points here. First is such a sample of descendents of breeding populations actually accurate. I’m not saying it isn’t but in all these things i question these small numbers and the options for variables interfering in results. Matt Young, says that “anti-Semitic’ groups opposed to israel claim this and that. What groups? Are they anti-semetic or just see Israel as a injustice to the native Arab population in those areas. I thought it a strange comment on motives.

It makes sense to me most jews are related biologically and I thought it was jews who said they were not that pure of race but a mixture of the peoples whose countries they moved too. Indeed therefore it is true that Jews are a different people, even race, and not the same people of a different religion as sometimes said.

Indeed this means Jews are not white Europeans but middle eastern types.

i noticed many years ago myself how Jewish people out of proportion suffered from cancer. i think its many cancers and not just a few. I presumed it was because of exclusive breeding did not allow a mixture or vigor in the body. Possibly likewise they have less problems with other diseases. Possibly studying this could open doors to solving cancer in people before old age.

By the way. The measures of mans times are and still are B.C. and A.D. Not these odd other things which have no authority with our civilization. It sure looks like aggression to change our measures here because someone don’t like ages divided by Christ and by Christian civilization’s historic tradition. Unless there is a referendum or legislature vote its the moral and decent thing to leave us our measures of time like it belongs to us the people and not obscure circles. Its nasty , its unkind, its not moral and so its not legal to usurp the peoples will in our own homes. Ask first. (It might of helped in Palestine too!!) You can negociate anything.

You know how hypocritical it is to use science references when it suits you and disregard science when it goes against your dogmas?

I am struck by this sentence:

“Indeed this means Jews are not white Europeans but middle eastern types.”

May the God that you continually outrage forgive you, Robert Byers. You’re more a moron than a bigot, I think, but it’s a close-run thing.

It’s always funny when trolls come up with a line that’s already been discredited.

I already pointed out -

Jewish people as a whole are obviously not suffering from the medical effects of consanguinity. Indeed, it would be comical to even suggest this, as Jewish populations in developed countries have excellent health statistics and high rates of accomplishment in education, music, and athletics.

.

But here goes Byers…

i noticed many years ago myself how Jewish people out of proportion suffered from cancer. i think its many cancers and not just a few. I presumed it was because of exclusive breeding did not allow a mixture or vigor in the body. Possibly likewise they have less problems with other diseases. Possibly studying this could open doors to solving cancer in people before old age.

You noticed wrong, you bigoted moron. Why didn’t you check the facts before spewing?

Matt Young, says that “anti-Semitic’ groups opposed to israel claim this and that.

This is true.

What groups?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aryan_Nation. Example.

Are they anti-semetic or just see Israel as a injustice to the native Arab population in those areas.

These are completely separate issues. A humane person will strongly condemn human rights violations by the state of Israel, without endorsing irrational and equally inhumane bigotry against all Jews or all Israelis.

A bigot who hates Jews will rant against Jews and Israel no matter what they do. (Just as a bigot who hates non-Jewish middle eastern people will defend horrible abuses against them.)

The American media currently tries to conflate these two completely different things.

Arabic is a Semitic language, as are many languages in northeast Africa. (However, the term “anti-Semite” is often accurate, at least with regard to non-Islamic bigots, as a bigot who hates Jews is also likely to hate Arabs, Ethiopians, Eritreans, etc.)

Harold: “A bigot who hates Jews will rant against Jews and Israel no matter what they do.”

Unless he’s an armageddon-lovin’, last-days-hopin’ evangelical christian, like, oh maybe Jerry Falwell or David Koresh used to be (I don’t keep up with the extant ones). They love Israel because it’s part of their end-of-the-world fantasy, while hating Jews and Judaism: they’re all going to hell unless they convert to evangelical protestant fundamentalist Christianity at the last minute.

And reject evolution, of course.

Just Bob -

Yes, many, many thanks for pointing that out.

Unless he’s an armageddon-lovin’, last-days-hopin’ evangelical christian, like, oh maybe Jerry Falwell or David Koresh used to be (I don’t keep up with the extant ones). They love Israel because it’s part of their end-of-the-world fantasy, while hating Jews and Judaism: they’re all going to hell unless they convert to evangelical protestant fundamentalist Christianity at the last minute.

But of course, it’s also prophesied that they won’t convert.

Yes, indeed, the US fundamentalist support for Israel is most hypocritical indeed. Let’s send all the Jews back to ancient Judeah. Then we can “support” them for a few years, until they’re destroyed in Armageddon and go to hell.

Ah, well. If people didn’t have religion they’d find some other excuse to kill each other.

Dale Husband said:

Robert Byers said:

A few points here. First is such a sample of descendents of breeding populations actually accurate. I’m not saying it isn’t but in all these things i question these small numbers and the options for variables interfering in results. Matt Young, says that “anti-Semitic’ groups opposed to israel claim this and that. What groups? Are they anti-semetic or just see Israel as a injustice to the native Arab population in those areas. I thought it a strange comment on motives.

It makes sense to me most jews are related biologically and I thought it was jews who said they were not that pure of race but a mixture of the peoples whose countries they moved too. Indeed therefore it is true that Jews are a different people, even race, and not the same people of a different religion as sometimes said.

Indeed this means Jews are not white Europeans but middle eastern types.

i noticed many years ago myself how Jewish people out of proportion suffered from cancer. i think its many cancers and not just a few. I presumed it was because of exclusive breeding did not allow a mixture or vigor in the body. Possibly likewise they have less problems with other diseases. Possibly studying this could open doors to solving cancer in people before old age.

By the way. The measures of mans times are and still are B.C. and A.D. Not these odd other things which have no authority with our civilization. It sure looks like aggression to change our measures here because someone don’t like ages divided by Christ and by Christian civilization’s historic tradition. Unless there is a referendum or legislature vote its the moral and decent thing to leave us our measures of time like it belongs to us the people and not obscure circles. Its nasty , its unkind, its not moral and so its not legal to usurp the peoples will in our own homes. Ask first. (It might of helped in Palestine too!!) You can negociate anything.

You know how hypocritical it is to use science references when it suits you and disregard science when it goes against your dogmas?

What? I’m consistent. I use science accurately. Origin issues are not scientific ones largely. They are about unobserved events and processes leading to the events. Science is about repeating or testing processes and so events also are explained. In fact in this subject I only quoted others points of medical stuff and my own observations and speculations. I didn’t do science here. How hypocritical? Are you saying I’m wrong?

Please do not feed the Byers troll.

Am I missing something here?

If the Ashkenazi diverged from the Mizrahi as early as the first millennium BCE, then this separation wasn’t cause by the diaspora following the Great Revolt, as I was always taught, but must have happened much earlier.

But I wanna, Matt. He’s so, sooooo stupid:

Matt Young said:

Please do not feed the Byers troll.

John Kwok said:

But I wanna, Matt. He’s so, sooooo stupid:

Do it and I’ll report you to the ASPCA for cruelty to dumb animals.

Altair IV said:

I just finished reading the Wikipedia entry on the Khazars, and it points out that the conversion followed a period where large numbers of Jews fleeing from Byzantine and Persian persecution migrated into Khazar territory. So it seems reasonable to postulate that the conversion may have been at least partially “bottom-up” in origin.

The article also goes on to point out that, caught between Christians on one side and Muslims on the other, the Khazar leadership may have decided to choose a middle ground that was an important part of the religious background of, and therefore nominally neutral to, both sides. Whether this would’ve been a good strategy is debatable of course. :-)

The History of the Medieval World (2010, Susan Wise Bauer) notes exactly that. Ms. Bauer uses anothor text (The Jews of Khazaria, 2006, Kevin Brook) to come to the conclusion that a Khazar king had his people convert because it was a middle path and seemed the best way to assert independance. Ms. bauer’s book is terrific, btw.

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This page contains a single entry by Matt Young published on June 5, 2010 9:00 AM.

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