The quest to trace the Jewish Patriarchs has been going on for millennia. According to mythology, the Judaeans descended from three Patriarchs—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—who are buried in the Cave of the Patriarchs (Cave of Machpelah) in Hebron along with Adam and Eve and the four Matriarchs—Sara, Rebecca, and Leah (Rachel is supposedly buried elsewhere).
The cave was never excavated, but on top of it is a relatively modern building, which Herod the Great built, likely to honor his Edomite ancestors. From the more scientific efforts in this quest, recent DNA analyses of Ashkenazic Jews revealed that their maternal line is European and that their autosomal DNA has only 3% ancient Levantines ancestry, similar to what Europeans share with Neanderthals. So if the remains in the cave are neither that of the Israelites’ nor modern-day Jews’ Patriarchs, where can we find the Jewish Patriarchs?
During the 6th century, the Gok-Turkic tribe of Ashina were forced to migrate westwards toward the Caucasus. Thanks to their organizational and military skills, the Ashina united the Caucasus tribes and formed the Khazar Khaganate. Offering freedom of worship and taxing trade, the Khaganate quickly rose to power, threatening the Byzantine Empire and Umayyad Caliphate.
As it turned out, uniting dozens of Eurasian tribes was a relatively small matter compared with matters beyond their borders. The Pagan Ashina realized very quickly that being situated on the Silk Roads means potentially high income but also tension with their monotheistic neighbors.
At that time, most of the world’s Jews were in Iran. They were descendants of the refugee elite of the Assyrian and Babylonian exiles, the Jews of Habayeb, but mainly converts. The DNA of Iranian and Iraqi Jews look like the DNA of the local populations. The tolerance of the Persians encouraged the Jews to adopt Persian names, words, traditions, and religious practices, and climb up the social ladder gaining a monopoly on trade. To maintain their monopoly, they invented secret languages and converted populations along the Black Sea to expand their global network.
DNA of Yiddish speakers could have originated from four ancient villages in northwest Turkey.
Among these converts were the Alans, Greeks, and Slavs who resided along the south shores of the Black Sea. Upon conversion, they translated the Bible into Greek, built synagogues, and continued expanding the Jewish trade network. Their Judaism, however, was an anomaly in the Old World. These Jews enjoyed good relationships with the Romans, had female community leaders, and rejected circumcision. In these respects, the Jews of Asia Minor were pre-Reform. Living in the mythological land of Noah’s great-grandson and knowing the Biblical legends of their mighty Scythians neighbors, these Jews adopted the name Ashkenaz. The DNA of Ashkenazic Jews can be traced to “Ancient Ashkenaz,” an intersection of trade routes in Eastern Turkey, adjacent to four primordial villages whose name derived from the word “Ashkenaz.”
The Ashkenazic Jews began migrating to central Europe and the Caucasus, where they were disappointed to learn that the political wisdom of the Ashina outshone their financial wisdom. Like their religion, the pre-capitalistic Jewish trade was strange to the Ashina, but they were convinced that Judaism was the solution to their problems. Indeed, following their Judaization the Ashina (or Ansa) became legendarily rich and lived in relative peace with their neighbors. The Khazar Jews adopted Slavic practices and began developing Yiddish as a new secret language suitable to Slavic lands. At that time, Jews acquired the Y chromosomal haplogroups Q1b-L275 (Q-Y2200) and R1a-Z94 that likely originated from the Ashina elite and other core Khazar Clans. The R1a-Z94 haplogroup is found in Jews with the priestly surname “Levi,” perhaps indicating their Shaman origin.
When the Jewish Empire began to collapse, by the 10th century, the Jews migrated to Ukraine and Italy. The global Jewish trade network collapsed, East separated from the West, and the Jews of Iran and Ashkenaz reunited only after a millennium. By the 16th century, Yiddish became the lingua franca of Ashkenazic Jews. Continuously evolving, it absorbed German words, but maintained its Slavic grammar, earning the pejorative “broken German.” The global Central European trade moved to the hands of the Italians, Dutch, and English, and the Jews were pushed aside. When asked to adopt surnames during the 17th and 18th centuries, many chose the surnames: Kohen, Khahan, Kogan, and their derivatives, which echoed their Khazarian origin and their Khagan ruler.
The Ashina and core Khazar Clans were absorbed by the Ashkenazic Jews. Browsing through the Y haplogroup of prominent Jewish figures like the Gaon of Vilna and the Banker family Oppenheim reveals their East Asian origins, which tells us that these Clans continue to hold positions of spiritual and financial leadership. Interestingly, the Israeli Prime minister noted that he is a descendant of the Gaon of Vilna, a bearer of the Q Y chromosomal haplogroup.
This story could not be told without the use of genetic technology (like STRs, GPS Origins, Ancient GPS, and TPS) that track the past of modern-day people. Though they may not be able to pinpoint a burial site, these tools allow a new appreciation of the Ashina and Khazar Clans from which some of the real Jewish Patriarchs came from.
A similar article was published in Hebrew, in the Hayadan.
A short version of this article was published in The Conversation. It is the #1 most-read piece in September and #27 most popular article of all times.