We Are a Pilgrim People

Via The Moderate Voice I ran across this interesting report on a study of the genetics of Ashenazic Jews:

Seeking new light in the argument, a study published in the British journal Genome Biology and Evolution, compares the genomes of 1,287 unrelated individuals who hail from eight Jewish and 74 non-Jewish populations.

Geneticist Eran Elhaik of the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland, trawled through this small mountain of data in search of single changes in the DNA code that are linked to a group’s geographical origins.

Such telltales have been used in past research to delve into the origins of the Basque people and the pygmy people of central Africa.

Among European Jews, Elhaik found ancestral signatures that pointed clearly to the Caucasus and also, but to a smaller degree, the Middle East.

The complete study is here. Here’s its conclusion:

We compared two genetic models for European Jewish ancestry depicting a mixed Khazarian–European–Middle Eastern and sole Middle Eastern origins. Contemporary populations were used as surrogates to the ancient Khazars and Judeans, and their relatedness to European Jews was compared over a comprehensive set of genetic analyses. Our findings support the Khazarian hypothesis depicting a large Near Eastern–Caucasus ancestry along with Southern European, Middle Eastern, and Eastern European ancestries, in agreement with recent studies and oral and written traditions. We conclude that the genome of European Jews is a tapestry of ancient populations including Judaized Khazars, Greco–Roman Jews, Mesopotamian Jews, and Judeans and that their population structure was formed in the Caucasus and the banks of the Volga with roots stretching to Canaan and the banks of the Jordan.

The “Khazarian Hypothesis”, the notion that European Jews originated among the Khazars of the Caucasus, dates, to the best of my knowledge, to the 1950s and was popularized in the 1970s by Ernest Koestler. I think its intent was benign, to eliminate anti-Semitism by showing a common racial heritage between European Jews and non-Jewish Europeans.

This study, however, makes me sad. I strongly suspect that it will add fuel to the “they should go back to where they came from” views held, particularly, by Middle Eastern Arabs.

The reality is that we’re all ultimately from somewhere else. “Arabs” of the Middle East (more a linguistic distinction than a genetic one—Saudis are genetically quite different from, say, Moroccans although both peoples are thought of as Arabs), if they’re from anywhere in particular, are from farther south than Palestine. The Druze, at least from a genetic perspective, are from farther east, Iran or even India. I’ve seen studies that found that the Maronites of Lebanon may be the people most closely related to the inhabitants of Palestine of 2,000 years ago.

Although my ancestry is mostly Irish and Swiss, I live in America and I’m an American. It’s been 150 years since anyone in my family has considered themselves anything but American. We’ve never known anything else.

The “native Americans”, American Indians, didn’t originate here. Their ancestors came from East Asia. The most ancient populations in the world, the people of New Guinea or the aborigines of Australia, left South Asia millennia ago. They’re New Guineans and Australians now. The Australians whose ancestors left England in the 19th century or Greece in the 20th century are Australians, too.

There’s no going back. We’ve never known anything else. We are a pilgrim people. We left our previous homes decades, centuries, or millennia ago. Our new homes are our homes.

3 comments… add one
  • There are surprisingly many people in the Middle East who do not consider themselves to be Arab. Christian Copts like to point to their dynastic Egyptian roots; Lebanese, to their Phoenician roots; N. Africans, to their Berber roots. They seek to set themselves apart from the Arabs, in culture, if not in genes.

  • 23andme has put me off to the 19th of February due to holiday volume. I’m curious and curiouser.

    I’m currently reading a book (yes, I can read again) called The Invisible Line: Three American Families and the Secret Journey from Black to White by Daniel J. Sharfstein.

    My people have certainly been in the south long enough to have incorporated some African-American blood.

  • One of the families traced in the book is the Gibsons, and my paternal grandmother is a Gibson.

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