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January 23, 2004

The blood of the Jews

Abiola & I have been having a discussion about where Jews are on the people -> religion spectrum over at his blog. Kind of silly-an African African American (had to type that!) and a South Asian American debating about Jews. GNXP readers are encouraged to contribute their opinions-particular the Judaic ones.

But-I would appreciate it if readers browsed some of the links below. Much research on Jewish genetics has come out in the past few years (most readers have read press releases of course)-

Y Chromosomes Traveling South: The Cohen Modal Haplotype and the Origins of the Lembathe "Black Jews of Southern Africa". This full text article confirms that the Lemba group of southern Africa does have some genetic connection to the world Jewish Diaspora, their traditional priestly class carries the traditional Jewish priestly marker ("The Cohen Modal Haplotype"). Here is the site of the NOVA documentary on this issue.

India's children of Israel find their roots. This popular press article reports on the research by Tudor Parfitt (who also did the research on the Lemba above) that indicates the Bene Israel, a Jewish community in India that traditionally has resided in the region to the south of Bombay, also exhibit the "Cohen Modal Haplotype," in other words, they too have genetic connections with the world Jewry.

The Y Chromosome Pool of Jews as Part of the Genetic Landscape of the Middle East. Full text article asserts:
1) Kurdish and Sephardic Jews cluster
2) Ashkenazi Jews "slightly, yet significantly," different from the above two Jewish groups (posit gene flow from European populations)
3) The Jewish groups resemble groups from the northern part of the Fertile Crescent (Turks, Armenians & Kurds) more than Arabs, at least according to the measure of a major Y chromosomal haplogroup.

High-resolution Y chromosome haplotypes of Israeli and Palestinian Arabs reveal geographic substructure and substantial overlap with haplotypes of Jews. Basically many Arab and Jewish paternal lineages have a relatively recent comment ancestry, though Arabs in particular have some lineages that are absent among Jews at high levels, indicating recent admixture (this sort of pattern was found in the above article).

Y-Chromosome DNA Haplotypes in Jews: Comparisons with Lebanese and Palestinians. Sephardic Jews, but not Oriental Mizrachi or Ashkenazi, share certain haplotype frequencies.

The Two Common Mutations Causing Factor XI Deficiency in Jews Stem From Distinct Founders: One of Ancient Middle Eastern Origin and Another of More Recent European Origin. Full text of an older article (1997) indicating the common origin of the world's major Jewish communities.

MtDNA evidence for a genetic bottleneck in the early history of the Ashkenazi Jewish population. Study of mtDNA of the Ashkenazi, the maternal lineage, indicating an early (~100 generations before present) population bottleneck, after which there was rapid expansion.

Multiple origins of Ashkenazi Levites: Y chromosome evidence for both Near Eastern and European ancestries. The Levites, the helpers of the Cohens, have a (possibly) more diverse ancestry than the Cohens, and don't dovetail as easily into the religio-historical narrative of the Jews.

Founding Mothers of Jewish Communities: Geographically Separated Jewish Groups Were Independently Founded by Very Few Female Ancestors. Full text of the article that contends that the various Jewish communities have local maternal lineages and but common paternal lineages. With groups like the Lemba, Bene Israel and Black Cochin Jews of India, this seems pretty hard to dispute. With Sephardic and Mizrachi Jews, making these sort of assertions through visual inspection are more difficult since the host populations are far closer together in phenotype, while Ashkenazi are somewhere in between.

Origins of Falasha Jews studied by haplotypes of the Y chromosome. Concludes that the Falasha/Beta Israel are converts to Judaism (note that Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity is in practice closer to Judaism than the more Hellenized variety that we are familiar with).

Here is a site listing many studies and popular presentations of them (on the Khazaria site-buyer beware).

There are many more studies out there-but I hope that the above citations will disabuse the two binary alternatives presented by ideologues:
1) Jews are an alien people among their hosts, by blood, custom and confession.
2) Jews are socially constructed, local gentiles that took up the Torah and Talmud, who have no genetic connection transnationally.

Posted by razib at 05:39 PM