Monday, July 07, 2014

Khazars, Samaritans, Jews, and genetics

A COUPLE OF RECENT LINES OF RESEARCH have a bearing on the supposed relationship between Jews and the Khazars (and the Samaritans come in too). First, in The Forward there is an article on historical research by Prof. Shaul Stampfer of the Hebrew University: Why Ashkenazi Jews Are Not Descended From Khazars — and What It Means. Mass Conversion Claim Cast Doubt on Mideast Origins (Ofer Aderet). Excerpt:
Stampfer, an expert in Jewish history, analyzed material from various fields, but found no reliable source for the claim that the Khazars – a multiethnic kingdom that included Iranians, Turks, Slavs and Circassians – converted to Judaism. “There never was a conversion by the Khazar king or the Khazar elite,” he said. “The conversion of the Khazars is a myth with no factual basis.”

As a historian, he said he was surprised to discover how hard it is “to prove that something didn’t happen. Until now, most of my research has been aimed at discovering or clarifying what did happen in the past … It’s a much more difficult challenge to prove that something didn’t happen than to prove it did.”

That’s because the proof is based primarily on the absence of evidence rather than its presence – like the fact that an event as unprecedented as an entire kingdom’s conversion to Judaism merited no mention in contemporaneous sources.

“The silence of so many sources about the Khazars’ Judaism is very suspicious,” Stampfer said. “The Byzantines, the geonim [Jewish religious leaders of the sixth to eleventh centuries], the sages of Egypt – none of them have a word about the Jewish Khazars.”
The claim that Ashkenazi Jews descend from converted Khazars received wide attention after the publication of Shlomo Sands's controversial book The Invention of the Jewish People in 2008, which argued for this conclusion. For reviews etc. see here and follow the links.

Second, Prof. Steven Weitzman e-mails to alert PaleoJudaica to some relevant biological research:
May I call your attention to the following just published special volume of the journal Human Biology, which contains some very new genetics research of potential interest to your audience (including research bearing on the Samaritans, on the Khazar theory of Jewish origins, and other pertinent topics).

The scientists involved, including colleagues at Stanford, are considered leading population geneticists and their publication reflects research only possible in the last 5-10 years (though there may be more they can learn from the relevant historiography). The volume represents an attempt to bridge between Jewish Studies and genetics, and the experience has taught me that the two fields still have much to learn from the other.
Here's the TOC of the issue:
Table of Contents

Introduction: From Generation to Generation: The Genetics of Jewish Populations

Noah A. Rosenberg and Steven P. Weitzman


Genetics and the History of the Samaritans: Y-Chromosomal Microsatellites and Genetic Affinity between Samaritans and Cohanim

Peter J. Oefner, Georg Hölzl, Peidong Shen, Isaac Shpirer, Dov Gefel, Tal Lavi, Eilon Woolf, Jona- than Cohen, Cengiz Cinnioglu, Peter A. Underhill, Noah A. Rosenberg, Jochen Hochrein, Julie M. Granka, Jossi Hillel, and Marcus W. Feldman

No Evidence from Genome-wide Data of a Khazar Origin for the Ashkenazi Jews

Doron M. Behar, Mait Metspalu, Yael Baran, Naama M. Kopelman, Bayazit Yunusbayev, Ariella Gladstein, Shay Tzur, Hovhannes Sahakyan, Ardeshir Bahmanimehr, Levon Yepiskoposyan, Kris- tiina Tambets, Elza K. Khusnutdinova, Alena Kushniarevich, Oleg Balanovsky, Elena Balanovsky, Lejla Kovacevic, Damir Marjanovic, Evelin Mihailov, Anastasia Kouvatsi, Costas Triantaphyllidis, Roy J. King, Ornella Semino, Antonio Torroni, Michael F. Hammer, Ene Metspalu, Karl Skorecki, Saharon Rosset, Eran Halperin, Richard Villems, and Noah A. Rosenberg


Jewish Genetic Origins in the Context of Past Historical and Anthropological Inquiries

John M. Efron

Who Are the Jews? New Formulations of an Age-Old Question

Susan Martha Kahn

Letter to the Editor

Genetics and the Archaeology of Ancient Israel

Aaron J. Brody and Roy J. King
Some of Professor Weitzman's other work has also been mentioned in posts here and here.