Mystery Israel: In Deepest Europe May Have Been Origin Of Many Modern Jews
By Michael H. Brown
Years ago I visited Israel on business and was left with a great affinity for the people who live there. I was taken around by wonderful folks from Tel Aviv University, everywhere I went the residents were friendly, and I had conversations with soldiers, giving a lift to a number who were hitch-hiking.
They were great folks, and by the time I left the Holy Land, I could not understand why the Arabs couldn't allow the Jews just this meager sliver of land, which seemed smaller than New Jersey.
I still can't understand it.
I remain favorable toward Israel at the same time that I believe it has overused its military on occasion, and that this has not helped its own cause. Will there ever be a tranquil Middle East? The situation seems intractable. Will Israel figure into coming events?
There are many mysteries about Israel, and of course most have a spiritual aspect. This is the birth place of Jesus! I was later to learn, however, that one of the most astounding mysteries is an anthropological one. It was presented by a famous Jewish writer, Arthur Koestler, in a stunning if scholarly book.
What I found intriguing was Koestler's contention that most modern Jews are not actually ethnic Jews, but rather descendants of a Turkish people once known as Khazars, who converted to Judaism during the Middle Ages. Simply put, many, if not most, modern Jews are converts. According to Koestler, their ancestors occupied a strategic territory in the gateway between the Black Sea and the Caspian, where the great powers of the period -- Christianity to the west, and Islam from the south and east -- confronted each other.
Koestler and other Jewish scholars have hypothesized that Judaism was decided upon by Khazar leaders in Eastern Europe around AD 740 as a compromise between invading Muslims to the east and Christian neighbors to the west -- both of whom respected the Old Testament.
This is just a theory, but it was one that Koestler had marshaled in a restrained and meticulously detailed manner. According to the Jewish author -- who based much of his information on research by historians from Israel -- the Khazars were instrumental in stopping the onslaught of Muslims against Byzantium -- something for which they deserve our thanks.
Khararia was eventually wiped out by the forces of Genghis Khan, but evidence indicates many Khazars made it out and migrated to Poland and surrounding territories -- forming the cradle of Western Jewry.
Thus, many and perhaps even most Jews in Western Europe, North America, and places as far-flung as Australia are not actually from the bloodlines of ancient Israel, Koestler and others asserted. Such is intriguing not only in light of the recent clashes between Israelis and Muslims, but also in the wake of the Holocaust. Millions who were killed were not even the ethnic Jews, Koestler pointed out, and so the story of the Khazar Empire -- as it slowly emerges from the past -- begins to look, he said, "like the most cruel hoax which history has ever perpetrated."
It was the bloodlines with which Hitler was obsessed.
According to Koestler, who was the author of many other weighty and often deeply scientific books, including The Ghost in the Machine and The Roots of Coincidence, Khazar tribes settled in Russia as well as Poland. From there they spread throughout Europe, and eventually through the West.
"This has led several historians to conjecture that a substantial part, and perhaps the majority of eastern Jews -- and hence of world Jewry -- might be of Khazar, and not of Semitic, origin," he pointed out.
"The descendants of this settlement -- those who stayed where they were, those who emigrated to the United States and to other countries, and those who went to Israel -- constitute now the large majority of world Jewry," added A. N. Poliak, professor of Mediaeval Jewish History at Tel Aviv University upon whom Koestler based much of his own research.
Along with another scholar named H. Von Kutschera, Poliak asserted that Khazars also settled in Lithuania, Hungary, and the Balkans, "which in turn became the dominant majority of world Jewry."
The implications are vast. They should also be unifying. For if the hypothesis about modern Jews is correct, said Koestler, "this would mean that their ancestors came not from the Jordan but from the Volga, not from Canaan but from the Caucasus, once believed to be the cradle of the Aryan race; and that genetically they are more closely related to the Hun, Uigur, and Magyar tribes than to the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob."
Stunningly, this means that Hitler may have killed the ancestry of the very race -- Aryanism -- he was trying to promote.
Meanwhile, writes the Jewish author, "should this turn out to be the case, then the term 'anti-Semitism' would become void of meaning, based on misapprehension shared by both the killers and their victims."
It should be stressed that such has never been established as fact and that many Israelis are of Semitic origin. Such is especially true of French and Spanish (or "sephardic") Jews.
But morphological studies and tests with DNA tend to bolster the notion that many of today's Jews are of Eastern European, as opposed to Semitic, origin, although the far-reaching hypothesis has been handled quietly, said Koestler, "with the obvious intent to avoid upsetting believers in the dogma of the Chosen Race."
Indeed, the fervent support of many evangelicals for defense of Israel is based on the notion -- clearly stated in Scripture -- that Israel belongs to the Jews. And there are certainly ethnic Jews in the Holy Land, so as not to intrude into the politics of the Middle East conflict (and provoke anti-Semitism).
But there are also Khazars, and the mystical dimension is another story.
According to legend, the Khazars had a great king named Bulan and an angel appeared to him in his dreams, "exhorting him to worship the only true God, and promising that in exchange He would 'bless and multiply Bulan's offspring, and deliver his enemies into his hands, and make his kingdom last to the end of the world.'"
"This of course was inspired by the story of the Covenant in Genesis; and it implies that the Khazars too claimed the status of a Chosen Race, who made their own Covenant with the Lord, even though they were not descended from Abraham's seed," wrote Koestler -- who adds that their descent could be traced "not to Shem but to Japheth."
The converts to Judaism inhabited a land that resembles a territory described by a Westphalian monk named Christian Druthmar of Aquitania as where "there exist people under the sky in regions where no Christians can be found, whose name is Gog and Magog, and who are Huns; among them is one, called the Gazari, who are circumcised and observe Judaism in its entirety."
Mysteriously, this remark was aligned with Matthew 24:14.
The spread of Khazar Jews was via Ukraine toward the end of the first millennium, said Koestler -- accelerating during the Mongol conquest and completed by the 16th century, by which time the steppes of Khazaria had emptied.
Those Jews who were actual descendants of ancient Palestine tended to be from Bohemia, Eastern Germany, and the Alpine countries, he wrote, and seemed culturally superior to the Khazars, although their numbers were small.
But has this not proven to be with modern Jews also? Have they not shown special adroitness -- Jews that Koestler claims derived from the Khazars?
As I said, Koestler was a controversial figure, and his hypothesis has never been fully proven. For a while during the 1930s, as a young man, he was a Communist, and while he lived for a period in the Holy Land, he also disowned his ancestry and later committed suicide (he was a proponent of euthanasia) with his wife. He researched the paranormal and was involved in drug experiments at the University of Michigan. He was also an atheist. At other points in his life, he was an anti-Nazi and anti-Soviet activist (after shunning the lie of Communism), spent time detained in a Nazi concentration camp, and wrote on the evils of Stalinism.
A mixed bag.
The danger of his hypothesis?
That it would stoke anti-Semitism -- or rather, anti-Jewry (since many Jews, if the scholars he quotes can be believed, are not Semitic).
But there are lessons in all this and what seems like at least a germ of truth.
Jewish groups show considerable differences among themselves with regard to blood type -- and marked similarities to Gentiles.
If true it gives us all the more reason never to discriminate based on race or religion.
For the vast majority of us are a mix and are related to each other.
When we look at Scripture, we see that Joseph married Asenath, who was Egytpian, Moses married a Midianite, and that Samson -- a great Jewish hero -- married a Philistine. King David's great grand mother was a Moabite.
Even before the diaspora, the Israelites were already a highly hybridized race. Contrary to general misperceptions, there is no biblical tribe that has maintained its racial purity throughout the ages.
We are all one. We are all equal in the eyes of God. And I thank the Lord that the Jews have protected the Christian treasures in the Holy Land, shuddering to think what would happen if radical Muslims were ever in charge.
I left the Holy Land with a love for the Jews at the same time that I felt they should better assimilate elsewhere -- that in lands where they settle, such as the U.S., they should not separate themselves. None of us should.
This is tribalism and stokes animosity.
At the same time, I believe evangelicals and fundamentalists often make too much of the "chosen race" viewpoint, and that this feeds into conflict.
Just last Thursday, four top Christian clerics in Jerusalem, including an official from the Vatican, slammed Christian Zionists for advancing "racial exclusivity and perpetual war."
The "Jerusalem Declaration on Christian Zionism" was signed by Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah, the top Roman Catholic official in the Holy Land, and by bishops of the Episcopal, Evangelical Lutheran and Syrian Orthodox Churches in Jerusalem.
Said the report: "Christian Zionists form a growing part of the pro-Israel lobby in the United States, the Jewish stateís main ally. They believe the return of Jews to the Holy Land and establishment of Israel are proof of Godís promises to biblical patriarchs."
Many Christian Zionists are evangelical Protestants, and the declaration was seen as a sign of a growing struggle between the groups.
Must we always let the devil divide us? Can we not finally come to terms with everyone as a child of God?
As for prophecy:
Oh, yes, the mysticism.
Will Israel figure into coming events?
But perhaps not quite to the extent that many evangelical prophets posit.
We should be looking for common ground, not what distinguishes us. We are all loved by God. We are all "chosen."
Indeed, as Galatians says, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus."
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