The traditional history of the Jewish people over the past 2,000 years goes as follows:
After the suppression of the Bar Kohba revolt in 135 AD/CE, the Roman Emperor Hadrian renamed the province of Judea as Syria Palaestina, the city of Jerusalem as Aelia Capitolina, and the Jews were dispersed from their home throughout the Roman Empire and the Middle East.
Recently, a new politically motivated revision has emerged of the history of the Jewish people, in hopes of replacing the traditional history. In the newer narrative, the Jews of Europe (Ashkenazy) do not come from the Holy Land, but are European or Asian converts to Judaism. This narrative is used to support the argument that the Israel has no right to exist, since the inhabitants are not natives returning home, but foreign interlopers with no legitimate claim.
Because of their high rate of single-gene (Mendalian) disorders, Ashkenazy Jews are one of the most genetically studied ethnic groups in the world. A new study published in PLOS Genetics by James Xue, Todd Lencz, Ariel Darvasi, Itsik Pe’er, and Shai Carmi titled “The time and place of European admixture in Ashkenazi Jewish history” helps shed some light on the history of the origins of the Jewish people in Europe and further erode the revisionist historical claim that Jews do not have an origin in the Middle East.
There are rarely silver bullets in genetic studies. Rather, these studies form a tapestry that attempts to tell a story. Like many genetic studies, this one is built on previous studies of the origins of Askenazy Jews. What this study attempts to accomplish is take data from previous studies that show Ashkenazy Jews are made up of a combination or Admixture of both Middle Easterns and Europeans, and determine from that the how, what, where, and when this ad mixture occurred.
The conclusion of the study can be best summarized to the layman using the following chart (Fig 7. A proposed model for the recent AJ history). We will use this chart as a basis for explaining how this study supports the traditional history of the Jewish people after the diaspora.
The first thing to note is that the scientist were able to disqualify more recent revisionist theories of Ashkenazy Jews coming from a “Khazar” or Asia origin.
“The first is that AJ genetics defies simple demographic theories. Hypotheses such as a wholly Khazar, Turkish, or Middle-Eastern origin have been disqualified.”
We know that the origins of Ashkenazy Jews is both mysterious and complex. Those Jews come from an admixture or several people and not of a singular origin – be it Middle Eastern, Turkic, Asian, or European. This is in line with what you would expect from a population that has been dispersed from their place of origin and forced to live among others. A certain amount of co-mingling is to be expected.
What the geneticists who conducted the study were able to determine is that the origins of Ashkenazy Jews was 40 – 65 percent from the Middle East and the remaining 35 – 60 from Southern Europe. Southern Europe refers to modern day Italy and Greece. This is congruent with the traditional story of the diaspora. Jews, having been forced to leave their home in Judea, would naturally travel over land to areas in the Roman empire that offered the most opportunity at the time – Rome itself and the highly developed Greek cities. Approximately 25 to 50 generations ago, the Jews who migrated from the Middle East intermix and procreate with the non-Jews from Southern Europe. In other words, Jews were evicted from their homeland in Judea, they made the arduous journey to Greece and Rome, and lived insular/separate lives until at some point the immigrant Jews began to marry the locals. These are the original Ashkenazy Jews.
In order to dig a little deeper, we must ask the question, “What is a generation?” The scientists note that Jews first begin appearing in the Rhineland (Germany) in the 10th century (900s) and in Poland in the 13th century. They note that the original “Admixture in Southern Europe possibly occurred in Italy” sometime before that. After this admixture, the Ashkenazy population them bottlenecked to a small number of Jews, and then began to grow, migrate north, and then another smaller admixture occurring with Northern/Eastern Europeans approximately 10 generations ago.
So now we begin to get a clearer picture, as noted in Figure 7. This is certainly not the only interpretation of this study, but it is a clear one supported by the story of the Jewish people told over thousands of year. Through the study we can deduce:
The Jewish people left the Middle East (Judea) sometime during the first millennium AD and made their way to modern day Greece and Italy, where they lived separate from other communities (not hard to imagine seeing as how modern day observant Jews live separate from other communities). Then at some point after hundreds of years, they began to marry the local, non-Jewish population. This formed the origin of the Ashkenazy Jews. This group of Jews genetically bottlenecked until they started to expand. Eventually, these Jews spread north and some of them began to marry EasternEuropeans (15-25%).
And there we have the origin of the Jews in Europe, who can trace 40 – 65% of their genetic makeup to the Middle East in spite of being forced to live in the diaspora for 2,000 years. After such a long history of coexistence and intermarriage, one would expect that the percentage of Middle Eastern genetics would be much smaller. This is a testament for the desire of the Jewish people to survive as Jews and to one day return to their homeland.