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0 thoughts on “New genetic study: More evidence for modern Ashkenazi Jews’ ancient Hebrew patrimony

  1. Swisstoons

    Interesting piece. But I believe "Levantine" refers to the Levant (Lebanon & Syria), not to the descendants of Levi.

  2. dyinglikeflies

    Science and proof will not discourage those who insist todays Jews have no historical connection to the land, Jews are colonists there, ancient Jews and the Holy Temple never existed (sound crazy? Arafat said that), Jews are directly descended from monkeys (check with your friendly neighborhood Muslim preacher on that one) etc. etc. But finding out we have always had a shot with Italian girls is good to know.

  3. Bodil Zalesky

    I agree with Swisstoons, this is very interesting. And also that "Levantine" has to do with "levante" (Italian) i.e. from where the sun rises (the East) as "ponente" means from where the sun sinks (the West) - but that is of course only a small detail in this text.

  4. Martin Mould

    I assumed that the author used Levantine in its geographic sense (eastern Mediterranean origin), not as a misunderstood connection with Levites. It's also intriguing that those who "accuse" Ashkenazim of Khazar ancestry point to how Slavic-Germanic we look, whereas the Khazars were/looked Turkic-Georgian.

  5. Ellie Kesselman

    I am curious regarding the researchers' choice of population sample. According to my father and grandfather, Cohans are by definition, the patrilinear descendants of Aaron the High Priest, younger brother of Moses. The second of the three, um, strata of Jews of the Diaspora were Levites, the descendants of Levi, as SwissToons said. There was nothing particularly Levantine about the Levites. They were the artistic class, and cared for the synagogue. Well, that was my understanding.

    I am glad for resolution to the Khazar origin myth. Minor issue: This word choice jarred, "If Ashkenazis were the spawn of Khazar royals, their DNA would show it." Spawn? We're not spawn!

    I like the map of Israel, very much. Might there be any provenance information? I'd to view more of it!

  6. Bruce Goldman

    Ellie Kesselman: Aaron himself was Levite, making Kohanim a subset of that tribe. And while I admit to indulging my sense of wordplay, I meant the term "Levantine" as a geographical reference (dictionary definition: "a person who lives in or comes from the Levant"), not a cultural one. That is, Levites' genes show that they sprang from the Levant, not the Caucasus.

    I can see how the term "spawn" could be jarring, and I assure you that I used it ironically (I'm an Ashkenazi myself).

  7. Bruce Goldman

    Ellie Kesselman: I forgot to mention that if you click on the link highlighting the words "Photo by cod_gabriel" you will be directed to the Flickr.com page containing a larger version of the map and, among other things, an information icon ("i" in a circle) that will provide attribution guidelines.

  8. Norm

    Dear Bruce,
    Perhaps I am missing something here, and I see that the Khazar theory is the primary focus here, but is it not quite as clear cut? If as you say it is true that there are those clear cut ancient DNA markers to a specific region, and this appears to be to my understanding the case, and therefore the Khazar conversion idea is void, are these not still just one aspect of the DNA markers. Back to antiquity, but as I understand it, it is unlikely that 'purity' will be found in DNA and that 'other' markers can also be present. A recent study found that European women, and hence Europeans (possibly Rome, or Northern Italy) were also present in the DNA markers of European Jews. The exact percentage is still being debated. But this intermixing of Jews and Europeans from antiquity would appear to be interesting. I also wonder, would it not also be possible for particular Arabs living in Israel/Palestine, or elsewhere, to also share some of the same 'ancient' DNA markers as Jewish people? Thanks again, for the very interesting article.

  9. Bruce Goldman

    Norm, the study discussed in the New York Times article you linked to is the one I was referring to in the second-to-last paragraph of my blog entry. There's no contradiction here. It appears that male Hebrews mated with female Italians, and our genes tell that story. The point still stands that those males (and their Levite descendants) trace their ancestry back to ancient Israel, according to modern genetic geography. There is no question that Arabs, like the Jews a semitic people, also originated in the Levant. I'm not anything resembling a geneticist, but I would assume Jews and Arabs share all kinds of genetic features (although not the one I wrote about in the blog entry above), as they emanate from the same part of the globe.

  10. Ellie Kesselman

    Thank you so much!

    I forgot to mention how much I enjoyed this post. I shared it on Quora and Twitter and elsewhere too :O)

  11. Steven Strimling

    The irony is that Koestler wrote "The Thirteenth Tribe" in order to lessen antisemitism, essentially to say "You shouldn't hat us, we're not really Jews." Now, the antisemites trot out his theory in order to justify their hatred of us. "That's why we hate you. You're colonists who stole Arab lands. The Arabs got along with real Jews, the Mizrahi."

    Patently false, but just like the blood libels, this one won't go away, despite the facts not supporting it.

  12. Anthony Weber-Rice

    The term Levantine refers to Israel, Syria and Lebanon. It does not specially refer to the Levites and definitely does not refer to Italians. I believe that the Ashkenazim are of many different origins. I believe the Khazar theory to be one of many accurate theories explaining the origins of some Ashkenazim. I also believe that some Jews are of Israeli ancestry and or a near by area. There is not one single place of origin. The Jews are first a religious group and then a culture. It is possible to convert to a religion in any area which would mean that there could be several places of origin according to logic.

  13. Bruce Goldman

    Anthony Weber-Rice: None of the study's authors claim that "Levantine" refers to Italians, nor do I. The study in question indicates that Levites originated in what historians call ancient Israel during a time period consistent with Jews' historical claims. This supports other genetic studies indicating a similar geographic origin for Ashkenazi Jews. The Khazar theory has very poor genetic support. The Jewish religion has historically been a very difficult and demanding one to convert to, and numerous studies show that Ashkenazis (obviously there are exceptions) bear copious genetic signs of a common genetic ancestry. You've made a lot of assertions (above) for which you provide no supporting evidence. But of course you're entitled to your opinions!

  14. Tondeleia

    Levant: region on the E Mediterranean, including all countries bordering the sea between Greece & Egypt. It has always referred to Israel, never to Syria

  15. Stephen

    love science, always spoils the party where a good story bears no relation to fact. Great blog thanks

  16. AspiringWriter.

    love the punning between levite and levantine.
    I am surprised by the high degree of Italian mitochondrial DNA: why would you convert to Judaism in such difficult circumstances?

  17. Bruce Goldman

    AspiringWriter: I believe the reasoning is that early Jewish communities in Italy (which undoubtedly precede a larger, forced immigration of Jewish laborers imported to Rome after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD) were largely seeded by Jewish male arrivals, who set up house with Italian women. So mitochondrial DNA, but not Y-chromosome DNA, bears evidence of significant Italian input. Prior to the Romans' abolition of Israel and sacking of Jerusalem, prejudice against Jewish men may not have been high in Italy (and for all I know literate, fairly prosperous, relatively hygienic Jewish men may have been considered a good catch).

  18. Donald Stahl

    Thanks for a very interesting article. But may I ask, how does "Jewish" transfer, in your vocabulary, down the male line?

  19. Bruce Goldman

    Thanks back to you for the kind words, Donald Stahl, but I'm not sure I understand your question. For the purposes of this study (and my blog post), "Jewish" refers to a purely father-to-son genetic lineage, as transferred by the Y chromosome. (It's a safe bet that the male Ashkenazis forming that line from its origin to the present, in the case of those analyzed in the study, was also solidly Jewish culturally and religiously throughout.) Does that answer the question you were asking?

  20. Bruce Goldman

    Albert Knight, Although the researchers who are active in this field do have such markers in abundance, I can't point you to any specific place for an overall "Hebrew heritage" analysis. However, at least one consumer-genomics company I'm aware of -- 23andMe -- that comes close, in that it does provide specific info as to the customer's Ashkenazi (European Jewish) heritage. As for Mizrahi and Sephardic components, I'm afraid I can't be of much help.

  21. Bruce Goldman

    Yes, greg. That's entirely consistent with the notion that most of the world's Jews (not only Ashkenazis, Sephardim, and Mizrahi but also members of lost tribes such as have turned up in Ethopia, India, Burma and elsewhere) trace back to a common time (~3,500 years ago), a common place (ancient Israel/Judea) and - in some cases, such as the one you mention or the one described in the blog entry above - a common ancestor.

  22. Eliyel

    Question 1:Is it true that researchers that had the DNA genetic material of Avraham Avinu or Avraham ben Terah, could definitely identify all his revenge. Question 2: Without the original DNA material these claims are all based on assumptions and educated guesses that the paternal DNA belongs to Levi or another original member of the twelve, the information is not a 100%, that it belongs to Levi or any of the original Patriarchs.

  23. Bruce Goldman

    Eliyel: To translate, Avraham Avinu means "Abraham our father" and "Avraham ben Terah" means "Abraham sone of Terah" -- in other words, the original, Biblical Abraham, father of Isaac, grandpa of Jacob, great-grandfather of Levi. Of course the answer to your question is no. Nor would that be a requirement for lineage tracing via molecular genetics, which by definition proceeds from the present to the past. Thus, the answer to "question #2," which was not stated as a question at all but rather as a proposition, is that in science nothing is ever 100% -- but it has nothing at all to do with the answer to question #1.