The Thirteenth Tribe

The Thirteenth Tribe

"The Thirteenth Tribe" (1976) is a book by Arthur Koestler. It advances the controversial thesis that North/East European Jews and their descendants, or Ashkenazim, are not descended from the Israelites of antiquity, but from a group of Khazars, a people originating in the Caucasus region (historical Khazaria) who converted to Judaism in the 8th century and were later forced to move westwards into current Eastern Europe (Russia, Hungary, Ukraine, Poland, Belarus, and other places). Koestler stated that part of his intent in writing the book was to defuse anti-Semitism by undermining the identification of European Jews with the Jews of the Bible, rendering anti-Semitic epithets such as "Christ killer" inapplicable. [Koestler, p. 223.] Arthur Koestler himself was a Hungarian Ashkenazi Jew by ancestry.

Koestler himself was sympathetic to Zionism on secular considerations, and did not see alleged Khazar ancestry as diminishing the claim of Jews to Israel, which he felt was based on the United Nations mandate, and not on Biblical covenants or genetic inheritance. In his view, "The problem of the Khazar infusion a thousand years ago ... is irrelevant to modern Israel". In addition, he was apparently "either unaware of or oblivious to the use anti-Semites had made to the Khazar theory since its introduction at the turn of the century." [Barkun, Michael, "Religion and the Racist Right: The Origins of the Christian Identity Movement", UNC Press, ISBN 0807846384, pp. 144-145.] Nevertheless, in the Arab world the Khazar theory has been adopted by anti-Zionists and anti-Semites; ["Arab anti-Semitism might have been expected to be free from the idea of racial odium, since Jews and Arabs are both regarded by race theory as Semites, but the odium is directed, not against the Semitic race, but against the Jews as a historical group. The main idea is that the Jews, racially, are a mongrel community, most of them being not Semites, but of Khazar and European origin." Yehoshafat Harkabi, "Contemporary Arab Anti-Semitism: its Causes and Roots", in Helen Fein, "The Persisting Question: Sociological Perspectives and Social Contexts of Modern Antisemitism", Walter de Gruyter, 1987, ISBN 311010170X, p. 424.] such proponents argue that if Ashkenazi Jews are primarily Khazar and not Semitic in origin, they would have no historical claim to Israel, nor would they be the subject of God's Biblical promise of Canaan to the Israelites, thus undermining the theological basis of both Jewish religious Zionists and Christian Zionists. [Plaut, Steven. [ "The Khazar Myth and the New Anti-Semitism",] "The Jewish Press", May 9, 2007]


No modern mainstream scholars support Koestler's hypothesis. As Bernard Lewis wrote:

This theory… is supported by no evidence whatsoever. It has long since been abandoned by all serious scholars in the field, including those in Arab countries, where the Khazar theory is little used except in occasional political polemics.Lewis, Bernard. "Semites and Anti-Semites", W.W. Norton and Company, ISBN 0-393-31839-7, p. 48.]

Koestler's historiography has been attacked as highly questionable by many historians; it has also been pointed out that his discussion of theories about Ashkenazi descent is largely unsupported; to the extent that Koestler referred to place-names and documentary evidence his analysis has been described as a mixture of flawed etymologies and misinterpreted primary sources. ["E.g.", Abramsky, Chimen. "The Khazar Myth." "Jewish Chronicle" (April 9, 1976): 19; Maccoby, Hyam. "Koestler's Racism." "Midstream" 23 (March 1977).] Commentators have also noted that Koestler mischaracterized the sources he cited, particularly D.M. Dunlop's "History of the Jewish Khazars" (1954). [McInnes, Neil. [ "Koestler and His Jewish Thesis."] "National Interest". Fall 1999.]

Recent genetic evidence

Recent genetic research studies have largely disproven the main thesis of "The Thirteenth Tribe". For example, a 2000 study of haplotypes by Hammer "et al" indicates that the Y chromosomes of most Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews are of Middle Eastern origin, containing mutations that are also common among Palestinians and other Middle Eastern peoples, yet are uncommon in the general European population. These results strongly suggest that most male ancestors of the Ashkenazi Jews can be traced primarily to the Middle East.cite journal| title=Jewish and Middle Eastern non-Jewish populations share a common pool of Y-chromosome biallelic haplotypes| first=M. F.| last=Hammer| coauthors=A. J. Redd, E. T. Wood, M. R. Bonner, H. Jarjanazi, T. Karafet, S. Santachiara-Benerecetti, A. Oppenheim, M. A. Jobling, T. Jenkins, H. Ostrer, and B. Bonné-Tamir| journal=Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences| month=May 9| year=2000| doi=10.1073/pnas.100115997| volume=97| pages=6769| pmid=10801975]

A second study (2006) by Behar "et al", based on haplotype analysis of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), also indicates that about 40% of the current Ashkenazi population is descended matrilineally from just four women. These four "founder lineages" were "likely from a Hebrew/Levantine mtDNA pool" originating in the Near East in the first and second centuries CE.cite journal| url=| title=The Matrilineal Ancestry of Ashkenazi Jewry: Portrait of a Recent Founder Event| first=Doron M.| last=Behar| coauthors=Ene Metspalu, Toomas Kivisild, Alessandro Achilli, Yarin Hadid, Shay Tzur, Luisa Pereira, Antonio Amorim, Lluı's Quintana-Murci, Kari Majamaa, Corinna Herrnstadt, Neil Howell, Oleg Balanovsky, Ildus Kutuev, Andrey Pshenichnov, David Gurwitz, Batsheva Bonne-Tamir, Antonio Torroni, Richard Villems, and Karl Skorecki| journal=The American Journal of Human Genetics| month=March| year=2006| volume=78| issue=3| pages=487–97| pmid=16404693| doi=10.1086/500307]


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