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December 05, 2004

Kohanim far and wide

DNA Clears the Fog Over Latino Links to Judaism in New Mexico. I am pretty shocked. I had found the model presented in The Atlantic Monthly piece, Mistaken Identity? The Case of New Mexico's "Hidden Jews", that the "hidden Jews" in the Southwest were actually Judaizers who had been influenced by Seventh Day Adventist missionaries (who arrived after the Civil War) persuasive.1 Additionally, I found it plausible that their claims of Jewish ancestry were attempts to deflect the reality that "Hispanos" of the Southwest had a great deal of indigenous blood (assertions made by ethnologists based on physical inspection). I have read in places like Caracas Jewish heritage is prestigous precisely because it suggests no admixture with blacks or indigenous people.

Well, many of these Jews were tested, and they displayed the Cohen Modal Haplotype that indicates a relationship to the Jewish priestly class at an extremely high frequency. This almost certainly implies that a large community of Marronos did escape to the Southwest, large enough to have left a genetic imprint. Like the Lemba Jews or the Bene Israel of Bombay, no doubt they have been greatly impacted by admixture. Additionally, it also offers up evidence of the salience of sociohistorical conditions, because without the presence of numerous, prestigous and powerful Askhenazi community in close proximity I doubt that the "Jewishness" of these people would have been rediscovered and nourished by some. Rather, like the Kaifeng Jews they might have melted into the genetic background and been absorbed.2

Addendum: Here is a fierce rebuttal to The Atlantic Monthly piece that has be taken seriously now. Here is a more "scholarly" review of the situation. It is clear that the editors of The Atlantic Monthly were looking for a sexy story and the writers gave them one. It is interesting that the second link suggests that the issue of crypto-Jews is insoluable (making references to our "postmodern age" and focusing on the motivations of the researchers who are proponents of crypto-Jewishness), totally unaware of the advances in genetic science even in 2002....

1 - I have a bias for what seem to be prosaic and less "sexy" answers.

2 - My study of of the Cochin Jewish community of India suggests its orthodox vibrancy is a direct function of periodic reenforcement by Jews from the West, as late as the 16th century Jews fleeing pogroms in Central Europe made their way to Cochin, not to mention Middle Eastern Jews. In contrast, the Bene Israel of Bombay were practicing an attenuated form of pre-Talmudic Judaism and seemed on the verge of absorption into their social milieu (recontact with the world Jewry had reversed this trend).

Posted by razib at 12:40 PM