A new study published in nature communications refutes the Behar et al. (2006) ridiculous study that the origin of Ashkenazi women is from four middle eastern women, a truly amazing finding that even more surprisingly fits with the biblical story. How did they do it? that’s very simple, they stopped counting after 4. About 40% of the lineages can be traced with some certainty and there are major and minor lineages. Behar and colleagues simply counted the first 4 of the major lineages. Anyway, the new study concludes that the major contribution to European Jewry was from Europe, not the Middle East, that is, by religion conversion.
This is a blow to the 70 CE Exile nonsense (see Sand 2009) and the notion of Jewsih Diaspora. If Ashkenazi Jews did not emerge in the middle east, they never left Judea… Doron Behar and Karl Skorecki understood it very well: “While it is clear that Ashkenazi maternal ancestry includes both Levantine [Near Eastern] and European origins—the assignment of several of the major Ashkenazi lineages to pre-historic European origin in the current study is incorrect in our view.” Harry Ostrer didn’t quite get it “The major Jewish communities were outside Judea.” Of course they were, but no middle-east origin = no Abraham seed. The Ostrer-Behar-Hammer consortium just lost one of its strongest arguments in favor of a middle eastern origin.
So what about the Khazarian hypothesis and my study to which the authors referred to? Sadly, the authors did not realize that the Greco-Roman and Khazarian hypotheses are not competing and they misunderstood the Khazarian hypothesis. Here are some Q&A I had with the media (as usual, they did not report all the important things), so here it is:
1. Overall, what is your impression of the study? Did you find its results surprising?
The work of Sand (2009) unsealed a “Pandora’s box” of impartial studies in the field of Jewish genetics. The results of yet another study challenging the large body of genetic literature and debunking the Roman exile myth and the myth of Jewish Diaspora are hardly surprising.
2. Behar et al in a 2006 paper (reference 2) said it was likely that the four main founders were Near Eastern in origin. This new paper seems to contradict that. Do you agree with the new paper’s conclusions about the European origin of the founders? Why?
It is barely a challenge to refute studies attempting to legitimize ancient mythologies. Carrying a scientific investigation into the complex history of the Jewish people is a real challenge and the authors should be praised for their efforts. I agree with the authors’ conclusions that about 30% of European Jews may be the descendent Greco-Roman proselytes, but I disagree that this finding contradicts the hypothesis of the Khazarian origin of Eastern European Jews as the two are compatible.
3. The authors say the evidence presented in the paper does not support the idea that European Jews partly descended from the Khazars. Do you agree with the authors’ analysis? How do you reconcile the results of this paper with the results of your GBE paper supporting the Khazarian hypothesis?
The Khazarian Hypotheses states the during the middle ages, Jews from the Byzantine Empire found refuge in Khazaria mixing their genes with those of Turkish-Khazarian tribes who converted to Judaism. After the fall of their Empire, the Judaized Khazars fled to Eastern Europe and from there spread to other parts of Europe mixing once again with Greco-Roman proselytes. A Greco-Roman origin, by itself, cannot explain the vast demographic presence of Jews in Eastern Europe and thus fits alongside a Khazarian ancestry for the bulk of Eastern European Jewry. Unfortunately, the region of ancient Khazaria remains a genetic mystery and may very well explain the origin of the remaining 60% of European Jews (another 10% are clearly explained by the Khazarian Hypothesis). Even though the authors concluded that European Jews are descended of a diverse group of proselytes, they analyzed Eastern and Western European Jews jointly looking for a single origin for each haplogroup, rather than searching for populations with a similar frequency of haplogroups, potentially missing a large Turkic contribution. I expect to publish the final evidence to the Khazarian hypothesis shortly, that along with the findings of the current study, would provide a more complete picture to the ancestry of European Jews.
4. What are strengths (and weaknesses) of the set of mitogenomes used by the authors for the study?
Strength: the heredity nature of mitochondrial lineages allows to track major founders of the population and given a sufficiently reference set allows us to speculate a potential origin. The use of mitogenomes provides a much higher genealogical and chronological resolution.
Weaknesses: the resolution of mtDNA lineages decreases over time and is irrelevant to the time the relevant events have taken place. In other words, by the middle ages all the relevant haplogroups were widespread in Europe and the Caucasus. The reported age of haplogroups by the authors are not realistic and must have a large standard deviation. Only autosomal analysis can be used to investigate recent events during which Judaism was formed. Jews and non-Jews residing in the regions of Khazaria are underrepresented, which biases the results toward Europe as we have seen in many other studies. The authors’ insistence on providing a single origin to all European Jews causes them to ignore major differences between Eastern and Central-Western European Jews and non-Jews that hinder a more complex explanation.
5. Do the results of this study have any implications for people doing medical studies on Ashkenazi Jews?
Understanding the origin of European Jews has a tremendous importance to medical studies due to the effect of population structure. Portraying a young population like Jews as a “genetic isolate” that has emerged out-of-nowhere and maintained perfect endogamy is misleading and interfering with efforts to study the origin and evolution of risk alleles to genetic disorders prevalent in Jews. No human populations has ever been perfectly isolated and certainly not Jews.
6. The authors of the new study say that the results imply significant conversion of women in the early history of Ashkenazi Jews’ time in Europe. Do you agree with that interpretation?
Originally, Judaism was determined by patrilineal inheritance and around ~200 CE it switched to matrilineal inheritance appointing all local females anywhere around the world to be the founding mothers of the revised religion. That particular event does not necessarily imply a large-scale religious conversion. Nonetheless, Judaism survived and spread only due to extensive proselytization events that were indeed very common in the Roman-Byzantine Empire, Khazarian, Persia, and other kingdoms.
Geneticist David Goldstein expressed similar ideas.
My original study: http://gbe.oxfordjournals.org/content/5/1/61