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April 27, 2010

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anduril

As for the genetic arguments, here are some links and excerpts. From surveying what is undoubtedly a small portion of the literature the impression I get is that prior to, say, 1300 AD there was much more introduction of foreign elements into Jewish populations than after that point.

I will say, the argument that I find most compelling re Khazar origins is non-genetic, which is that the spread of the tiny and nearly exterminated Rhineland Jewish community throughout Eastern Europe seems difficult to credit. I can understand the spread of Yiddish as a trading language to those areas, but the population shift is more difficult. Now there is the claim that Yiddish has a Slavic substrata (Sorbian "relexified" with a German vocab), rather than being a take off from medieval German. I admit I find that far fetched based on my limited knowledge of Yiddish, but one piece of genetic info re Sorbs is intriguing. Anyway, here are some excerpts:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1180600/

Previous Y chromosome studies have shown that the Cohanim, a paternally inherited Jewish priestly caste, predominantly share a recent common ancestry irrespective of the geographically defined post-Diaspora community to which they belong, a finding consistent with common Jewish origins in the Near East. In contrast, the Levites, another paternally inherited Jewish caste, display evidence for multiple recent origins, with Ashkenazi Levites having a high frequency of a distinctive, non–Near Eastern haplogroup.

...

The genetic similarities among these five Jewish data sets range from 0.79 to 1.0. In contrast, the Ashkenazi Levites cluster more with the Slavonic data sets than they do with the other Jewish data sets. The genetic similarities with the other Jewish data sets range from 0.22 to 0.47, whereas the I values with the Sorbian and Belarusian data sets are 0.95 and 0.88, respectively. When a bootstrap test is used, the I value for Ashkenazi Levites with Sorbians and Belarusians is, in both cases, significantly higher than the I value for Ashkenazi Levites with Sephardi Israelites, the most similar Jewish data set to the Ashkenazi Levites (P=.004 for Sorbians and .008 for Belarusians).

[Note. Sorbs are linguistically West Slavs located in southeastern Germany, related to but distinct from Poles; Byelorussians are East Slavs, located to the east of Poland, so separated by a some hundreds of miles and a considerable population of Polish Slavs. The author also says Khazar contributions "can't be ruled out."]

http://www.palestineremembered.com/Acre/Articles/Story1387.html

A team of geneticists studying the ancestry of Jewish communities has found an unusual genetic signature that occurs in more than half the Levites of Ashkenazi descent. The signature is thought to have originated in Central Asia, not the Near East, which is the ancestral home of Jews. The finding raises the question of how the signature became so widespread among the Levites, an ancient caste of hereditary Jewish priests.

The genetic signature occurs on the male or Y chromosome and comes from a few men, or perhaps a single ancestor, who lived about 1,000 years ago, just as the Ashkenazim were beginning to be established in Europe. Ashkenazim, from whom most American Jews descend, are one of the two main branches of Jews, the other being the Sephardim, whose ancestors were expelled from Spain.

...

They say that 52 percent of Levites of Ashkenazi origin have a particular genetic signature that originated in Central Asia, although it is also found less frequently in the Middle East. The ancestor who introduced it into the Ashkenazi Levites could perhaps have been from the Khazars, a Turkic tribe whose king converted to Judaism in the eighth or ninth century, the researchers suggest.

...

Their reasoning is that the signature, a set of DNA variations known as R1a1, is common in the region north of Georgia that was once occupied by the Khazar kingdom. The signature did reach the Near East, probably before the founding of the Jewish community, but it is still rare there. The scholars say they cannot exclude the possibility that a Jewish founder brought the signature on his Y chromosome to the Ashkenazi population, but they consider that a less likely explanation.

http://www.khazaria.com/genetics/abstracts-cohen-levite.html

Approximately 38 percent of Ashkenazi Levites share a particular haplotype that is also found among about 11 percent of Sorbs and about 8.5 percent of Belarusians. (Sorbs and Belarusians are both Slavic peoples.) In The Ashkenazic Jews (1993), Paul Wexler had proposed that Ashkenazi Jews are related to Sorbs, but this was unable to be substantiated using non-genetic data. The DNA affinity with Sorbs may be significant but may not be the only explanation. The study emphasizes that Ashkenazi non-Levite Jews in general do not have a major Khazar or European origin in their Y-DNA.

***

The geneticists who discovered the R1a1 signature among the levites, a team that included Skorecki, Hammer and Goldstein, note that outside the Jewish community the R1a1 chromosome is relatively common in the region north of Georgia, in the Caucasus, that was once occupied by the Khazar kingdom. The Khazars were a Turkic tribe whose king converted to Judaism in the eighth or ninth century AD. The geneticists propose that one or more of the Khazar converts may have become levites, accounting for the R1a1 signature among today's Ashkenazic levites. But Shaye Cohen, an expert on Jewish religious history, believes it unlikely that converts would become levites, let alone founding members of the levite community in Europe. The Khazar connection is ''all hypothesis'' in his view."

****

Only about half, or less (40-45%), of Ashkenazi Jewish Cohens have the so-called "Kohen gene". A somewhat greater percentage of Sephardic Cohens have the gene. But it doesn't approach 100 percent. Tell that to the staff of Karl Skorecki's institution, Technion University, who claim here "Professor Karl Skorecki discovered genetic proof that all Jews belonging to the Cohen family are descendents of the biblical high priest Aaron Hacohen." If that's not misrepresentation I don't know what is. [Dr. Skorecki himself does not approve of the university's use of the word "all" and has asked them to fix their description of his research.]

Daniel Friedman observes: "Ashkenazi and Sephardic Cohanim (left two columns in the chart below) show significant differences in the occurrence frequencies of the haplotypes said to make up the 'Cohen gene'. Israelite populations from both populations (right two columns) do not show the same differences. If the 'Cohen gene' comes from a single Biblical ancestor, the Cohanim seem to have had different genetic histories since the split between Sepharad and Ashkenaz."

Y.

anduril,

The origins of R1a1 are unknown and the founding population is small, so we can't reach your conclusions.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haplogroup_R1a_(Y-DNA) mentions possible origins in South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East:

"A survey study as of December 2009, including a collation of retested Y-DNA from previous studies, makes a South Asian R1a1a origin the strongest proposal amongst the various possibilities"

"Central Asia is still considered a possible place of origin by Mirabal et al. (2009) after their larger analysis of more recent data. However these authors also consider other parts of Asia, particularly South Asia, to likely places of origin."

"A Middle Eastern origin for R1a has long been considered a possibility, and is still considered to be consistent with known data."

So we have at least three big possibilities...

Worse, the study you quoted strikes down the most obvious hypothesis:

"Furthermore, if there had been a large influx of founder lineages, the haplotype frequency distribution of the source population would be expected to match the haplotype frequency distribution found in Ashkenazi Levites today. Such a matching source population has yet to be identified. In the case of the two non-Jewish populations of Eastern European origin examined in this study, neither the Sorbians nor the Belarusians would be suitable candidates. This is because, in both cases, the modal haplotype within haplogroup R1a1 for the Sorbians and the Belarusians is either completely absent or found only as a singleton within the Ashkenazi Levite sample."

So this leaves us with an unknown. The authors then speculate on matters of history using very outdated sources, but it's at best one possible speculation out of many. I find this to be one of the weaker possibilities, since we do not even know the Khazar had R1a1. Many groups likely related to the Khazar have low levels of R1a1 or none at all [1]. Again, any kind of founder event could have created this footprint...

[1] From the wiki:

"Although levels are comparatively low amongst some Turkic-speaking groups (e.g. Turks, Azeris, Kazakhs, Yakuts), levels are very high in certain Turkic or Mongolic-speaking groups of Northwestern China such as the Bonan, Dongxiang, Salar, and Uyghurs.[29][32][33] R1a1a is also found among certain indigenous Eastern Siberians, including:Kamchatkans and Chukotkans, and peaking in Itel'man at 22%.[34]" (I do find speculating about a Siberian ancestor to some Askhenazi Levites to be most amusing to me. Maybe the Mormon have a point when they argue American Indians are related to Jews! /joke)

and

"Further to the north of these Middle Eastern regions on the other hand, R1a levels start to increase in the Caucasus, once again in an uneven way. Several populations studied have shown no sign of R1a, while highest levels so far discovered in the region appears to belong to speakers of the Karachay-Balkar language amongst whom about one quarter of men tested so far are in haplogroup R1a1a.[2]"

Y.

Yes, it's an "argument from silence", but it's still important that the only sources for Khazaria are secondary and dubious, while the primary sources are all silent. Lets remember we're talking about an extraordinary event in the first place (alleged conversion of a Kingdom to unpopular, typically unproselytizing religion), so asking for serious proof is in my opinion reasonable. Again, I'm asking for the same standard used when scrutinizing Israelite history.

Y.

bunkerbuster,

First, a cowardly disclaimer: I do not know Nethanyahu, and all that follows is my speculation. I cannot support it except by gut feeling.

Now, there are two big question: What does Nethanyahu want, and what is he going to do? I know that many Centrist (and even many Leftist) Israelis have despaired and do not believe a chance for peace is possible in the near term. Given Nethanyahu's heritage, I strongly suspect he has at least the same position. Possibly he wanted some form of Jordianian option**, and that's why he held on agreeing to "two states" in the negotiations with Livni (or maybe he wanted to blow the negotiations anyway?)? When Obama insisted, Nethanyahu relented and decided to go into "damage control" mode. I suspect for him now the main priority is to reduce the damage in the near term from Obama, deal (or not) with Iran, and plan for the next breakout of violence.

** I neglected to mention this earlier: the idea is that Egypt will take responsibility over Gaza, and Jordan will take over the parts of the WB not kept by Israel. Some people are more comfortable with this since both these countries have already signed a peace accord ending all further claims and since it's somewhat similar to the pre-67 situation.

While theoretically this is an interesting idea, I don't see how one would get Jordan to agree to this.

anduril

Yes, it's an "argument from silence", but it's still important that the only sources for Khazaria are secondary and dubious, while the primary sources are all silent. Lets remember we're talking about an extraordinary event in the first place (alleged conversion of a Kingdom to unpopular, typically unproselytizing religion), so asking for serious proof is in my opinion reasonable. Again, I'm asking for the same standard used when scrutinizing Israelite history.

Only secondary and dubious if you bend over backwards to summarily dismiss sources identified as primary by the leading experts in the field. :-)

Most of those who accept the conversion as fact speak not of the conversion of a kingdom but of an elite element.

Sand's argument is that at certain points in history, mostly well in the past, Judaism showed a proselytizing side, and even on occasion forced conversions (the Idumaeans, highly ironic given the initial attitude of the returnees from Babylon). Certainly in the NT we find many references to proselytes, and I found a reference (which I've lost now) indicating a fair amount of that in the Roman community. Whatever the meaning of the genetic data, one thing seems clear: at some point in the past there was a degree of mixing that ceased (comparatively speaking) about a thousand years ago.

You won't find me arguing from silence while discussing Israelite history. Well, maybe. Depends on the case. The relative paucity of historical data re Khazaria and the relative remoteness of its core area makes it less surprising to me. The Byzantine sources you cited didn't seem to indicate close relations.

Well, I think we've pretty well exhausted these topics, but I've enjoyed it. Learned a fair amount, too.

Y.

Well, I guess we can agree to disagree. As for Sand, particularly grating to me is the way he lies about the ideas of the people he attacks[1]. The Israeli historians are well aware of the conversions, and the "racial purity" thesis is an invention of Sand. I think if anything emotions led them in the opposite direction: discounting doubt where there should be doubt...

[1] http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/999386.html

"When I reread the entry on the Khazars, my mind was put at rest. It was not the Zionist education to which I, as an Israeli teenager, was exposed that tried to make me forget the fact that the members of gentile tribes converted to Judaism in the Khazar Kingdom; instead, it is the author of this book about the "invention of the Jewish people" who has invented an ethno-biological Zionist historiography."

anduril

Well, I guess we can agree to disagree.

To me it seems more a matter of emphasis.

As for Sand, particularly grating to me is the way he lies about the ideas of the people he attacks[1].

I wish I could believe you on this, but the problem is that the rebuttal is published in Haaretz and I know now, courtesy of nate and Clarice, that Haaretz always, always, always publishes lies. :-(

I agree that he seems to be very much of a self promoter and doesn't care about fairness if that gets in his way.

The Israeli historians are well aware of the conversions, and the "racial purity" thesis is an invention of Sand.

But it seems that you resist any notion of conversions--you seem to be reacting to something. My reaction is to the kind of populist Zionism that I've experience in person, on the internet and at JOM. Can you understand that? In fact, the author of that article and I probably agree on a lot.

I think if anything emotions led them in the opposite direction: discounting doubt where there should be doubt...

I'll confess to a fondness for revisionist history, warm blooded dinosaurs, etc. Anyway, thanks for the civil discussion. Doesn't happen often enough around here. My real objections to Zionism are philosophical in nature.

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