Are Ashkenazi Jews descended from the Khazars? It’s a hot question. Many people, both Jews and non-Jews, have thought so, but nowadays it has become anti-Semitic to say it. I’m not exactly sure when it became taboo to question scientific research.
At one time, many years ago, I thought Arthur Koestler made a slam-dunk case for the Ashkenazi as descendants (primarily) of the Khazars (The Thirteenth Tribe: The Khazar Empire and its Heritage, 1976). “Khazaria was finally wiped out by the forces of Genghis Khan, but evidence indicates that the Khazars themselves migrated to Poland & formed the cradle of Western Jewry.”
Then, after more reading, I decided there is room for doubt.
Then I read Eran Elahik and was back onboard.
Back and forth.
It’s been a few years now. It feels like it’s time for me to re-visit this question, but I’m not making any headway.
Last time I jumped in, I was struck by one specific problem–no one is really sure how to resolve a basic problem with the DNA. There is no good proxy for the DNA of the ancient Khazars. Choose this group and evidence “proves” the Eastern European Jews must Khazars. Choose that group and clearly they are not. all this back and forth comes out of a problem with DNA.
That choice is grounded in politics, not science, no matter how dressed up it is.
Here’s an example that seems to be a well-considered dismissal. Until you notice all the strawman arguments and leaps of logic. I was looking for science, not diatribe.
- Casual Historian, “Ashkenazi Jews are not Khazars,” YouTube.com, Dec. 10, 2018.
The main argument against the Khazar Hypothesis is that if Jews are descendants of the Khazars then their occupation of Palestine is illegitimate. Anyone who believes it is trying to de-legitimize Israel, and is therefore anti-Semitic.
That strikes me as a particularly specious argument. I can see how it gets emotional play, but really, it’s already a stretch to think that Jews have enhanced rights to the territory their ancestors left 2 thousand years ago. You don’t need a link to the Khazars.
- Gil Atzmon, et al., “Abraham’s Children in the Genome Era: Major Jewish Diaspora Populations Comprise Distinct Genetic Clusters with Shared Middle Eastern Ancestry,” American Journal of Human Genetics 86(6) (June 11, 2010): 850–859.
- Doron M. Behar, et al., “The genome-wide structure of the Jewish people,” Nature 466.7303 (2010): 238-242.
- Doron M. Behar, et al., “No Evidence from Genome-Wide Data of a Khazar Origin for the Ashkenazi Jews,” Human Biology Open Access Pre-Prints, Paper 41, 2013.
- Shai Carmi, S., et al., “Sequencing an Ashkenazi reference panel supports population-targeted personal genomics and illuminates Jewish and European origins,” Nature Communications 5:4835 (2014).
- Eran Elhaik, “The Missing Link of Jewish European Ancestry: Contrasting the Rhineland and the Khazarian Hypotheses,” Genome Biology and Evolution 5(1) (January 2013): 61–74.
- Jon Entine, “Jewish researcher attacks DNA evidence linking Jews to Israel,” Genetic Literacy Project, retrieved Sept. 16, 2021.
- M. F. Hammer, et al., “Jewish and Middle Eastern non-Jewish populations share a common pool of Y-chromosome biallelic haplotypes,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 97(12) (June 6, 2000): 6769–6774.
- Heritage Daily, “New information is discovered about the ancestry of Ashkenazi Jews,” Oct. 9, 2013.
- Shlomo Sand, The Invention of the Jewish People (New York: Verso, 2009).
- James Xue, et al., “The time and place of European admixture in Ashkenazi Jewish history, PLoS Genetics 13(4) (Apr. 2017).