Home Featured Stories Did You Know? Background Information News On the Web


posted by Lewis Lipkin.
November 21, 2002


In the fall of 1939, Sigmund Freud was safe in England. No longer concerned with the probable negative reaction of Austrian Catholics to his book Moses and Monotheism, he released the complete book with the the admission that up until then, he had withheld it for personal considerations. It was not enough to declare Moses an Egyptian -- Freud implies that Jews are not the Chosen People of the Lord but are the chosen people of Moses. Furthermore, the basis of anti-semitism is the jealousy of the goyim of us, the Chosen. As Moses' chosen, we do not have Divine support, but nonetheless we are persecuted as if we did.

This destructive analysis was published just at the time when the majority of European Jews, Orthodox or otherwise, were well on the way to extermination. Despite Freud's protestations, even a beginning psychoanalyst would consider the book a hostile act.

Arthur Koestler's "13th Tribe" represents a further step in a tradition of European intellectual attacks on the basic supports of the Jewish people. Freud had thrust at our uniqueness, which for most Jews, observant or not, provides some support in the hostile gentile world. Koestler goes further by saying that, except for the Sephardim in Israel, most of the Diaspora Jews are not really of the seed of Jacob. They are the descendants of 7th century semi-barbarian Caucasians, the Khazars.

Both books appear to be scientific and as such they dress up many an anti-Semitic screed.


Arthur Koestler was in many ways typical of the intellectuals of Mitteleuropa. He never completed the science degree he started in Vienna in the early 1920s. Hungarian born, he was certainly as cosmopolitan as any of his Viennese contemporaries. He changed the languages in which he wrote twice, from Hungarian to German and then to English. His professional career as journalist and writer really began as a correspondent for the Berlin Ullstein publishing firm. His energetic private life was punctuated by many affairs, three marriages and ended in suicide in 1983. His material legacy was to establish an Institute for Psychic Research at Edinburgh University.

He was a preacher of many causes, from the support of emigre writers to advocacy of an array of parapsychological phenomena that verged on the occult.

When a cause failed him, he didn't leave quietly or drift away. He lashed out. He started in science and ended up in parapsychology. His best-known allegiance was to Communism, which he later attacked. As he states in the God that Failed (Richard Crossman ed, Harper Bros, N.Y 1949, chapter 1): "I joined the Party (which to this day remains `the' Party for all of us who once belonged to it)" The totality of his initial commitment to Communism was equaled only by the totality of his rejection seven years later after his Spanish Civil War experiences sealed the doubts that had begun as early as 1932 with his "sponsored" trip to the Soviet Union. His subsequent career as an anti-reductionist, anti-communist intellectual resulted in numerous volumes -- novels, essays and autobiographies.

His book Thieves in the Night was partially derived from his early years in the Middle East, and the transitory association with Jabotinsky and the Revisionists. The 13th Tribe, his book on the roots of European Jews, came towards the end of his career.


Part I of The 13th Tribe is, for the most part, a shallow reprise of the scholarly work of D.M. Dunlop's The History of the Jewish Khazars. There is no doubt that from the 7th century C.E. until the Mongol invasions, the region north of the Black Sea, the Caucasus, and the Caspian Sea was the seat of an empire, known most commonly as Khazaria. The Khazars dominated the lower reaches of the Don, the Dneiper and the Volga, and sometimes played a significant role in the balance of power politics between the Christians of the Eastern Roman Empire and the Moslems of the Caliphate.

It is fairly clear that somewhere around 740 C.E., the king of Khazaria converted to Judaism. It is highly likely that some of his courtiers and members of the trading class also converted. But there is nothing in the pitifully meagre evidence that we have to indicate what portion of the Khazars became Jewish. Using the pretence of "setting the scene", Koestler loads the reader down with fragments of detail which are in fact unrelated to the problems of the conversion and the degree of Jewishness of the Khazars as a people.

The Khazars themselves did not provide any documentary records. The first account of them, other than scattered incidental comments in mostly Byzantine history, is the account of an Arab, Ibn Fadlan, some two hundred years after the conversion. He was sent by his Caliph on a mission to the Bulgars, who were unfriendly neighbors and at times unwilling subjects of the Khazars. The problem is that Ibn Fadlan never got to Khazaria. All of his information was obtained second hand from the Bulgars. Koestler devotes more than a dozen pages to Ibn Fadlan, in a somewhat transparent attempt to drown the lay reader in "data", most of which are irrelevant and the remainder hearsay evidence at best. They provide no backing for his sweeping demographic conclusions about the extent of Khazarian Judaism and its ritual status.

The Jews of the Middle Ages, steeped in the misery of the Galut, were fascinated by the rumors of a far-off land ruled by a Jewish King. Koestler acknowledges that the principal Jewish source is the "Khazar Correspondence," which was an exchange between the minister of the Cordova Caliph, Hasdai Ibn Shaprut, and Joseph, the king of the Khazars (between 954 and 961 C.E.). The letter of Joseph confirms the initial conversion of King Bulan, nobles and merchants. It doesn't mention the lower classes.

Koestler notes that Bulan's grandson Obadiah instituted a sort of revival. "....he..reformed the Rule, fortified the Law ....assembled a multitude of Israel's sages,.....made them interpret the twenty-four [sacred] books, the Mishna ...and the Talmud and the order in which the liturgies are to be said." (It has been suggested that the Khazarians were Karaites, i.e., that they upheld the Torah and not the Commentaries.)

Dunlop suggests the conversion was a political act, attempting to take a middle ground between the Christians of Byzantium and the Moslems of Baghdad.


To bolster his thesis, Koestler ignores several major issues in part I of his book:

The presence of other Jews

Some Jews had to have been already present in Khazaria for the conversion to have taken place.

We know that there were Jews in many parts of the Roman Empire, especially in trading areas, which included the Black Sea Coast. The Crimea was home to an old established Jewish Community.

During the 1st millenium C.E., there were many expulsions of Jews from Byzantine territory, most of whom transferred into Khazar territory. Less common expulsions from the Caliphate (then a major site of Jewish population) had a similar result.

The degree of admixture

These migrating Jews did NOT have Khazar ethnicity. But we don't know how many there were, so we can't guess what their numeric contribution to the total of Khazarian Jewry was. It might have been negligable. It might have been overwhelming.

To further complicate the problem of admixture, we have no data on the intermarriage rate between Khazar converts and the Semitic Jews who were already there, and with those that were later invited for teaching or trade.

The proportion of converts to the whole Khazar population

It is almost certain that the initial conversion was not of the entire Khazarian people. The reform or revival under Obadiah was almost as unlikely to have been ethnically complete as the initial one under Bulan. Early in the book Koestler characterizes the Khazars as semi-nomadic, an ethnic type scarcely susceptible to conversion by persuasion.

Of the first conversion the historian Bury states of Bulan: "He allowed the mass of his people to abide in their heathendom and worship their idols" (p 59). One can ask, in terms of Judaism, whether the Jews of Caucasian origin diluted the number of Semitic Jews, rather than the reverse.

This question becomes even more pertinent when we ask what proportion of the Khazars later avowed Judaism. Even Koestler gives evidence that this may have been far from a majority (cf. pg 57).

"The custom in the Khazar capital is to have seven judges. Of these two are for the Muslims, two are for the Khazars, judging acccording to the Torah...2 for the Christians, judging according to the Gospels, and one for the Saqualibah, Rus and other pagans, judging according to pagan law..."

The Khazars appear to have been remarkably democratic, in that they allowed the different ethnic groups to be judged by their own laws.

Koesler's use of non-data

Koestler chose to assume the Khazars became completely and undilutedly Jewish. He compounds his error in part II where he chronicles the dispersion after the Mongol invasion: he assumes that ALL the Khazars were non-Semitic Jews. And he assumes that the Judaism of the 8-12th centuries persisted undiminished with the dispersal of the Khazars.

Even if the Khazar genes were predominant, they could not have been exclusive. Comman sense suggests that the progroms introduced some admixtures of other lineages among the Jewish people. The vicissitudes of the Galut entailed an occasional violation of a Jewess. The humane reaction of her husband and family was to accept a resultant child.

There is a larger problem with the notion of a non-Semitic origin of Ashkenazic Jews: where did the Cohanim (Priests) among the East European Jews come from? To anticipate the final section of this paper, a Cohen or Priest can only be the son of a Priest and there is ample scientific evidence that this constraint has been carefully observed among Priestly families for at least two millenia.


Part II of the 13th Tribe is titled The Heritage, and deals with the events following the decline of the Khazars and their purported migrations before and during the Mongol Invasions.

Population Statistics in the Khazar Migrations

Most historians seem to accept the association of some Khazar elements with the Hungarians that moved to the region of the Danube. On the question of Poland, Koestler is driven to raise the question: (p 150)

"... of the approximate size and composition of the Khazar immigration into Poland. Regarding the numbers involved, we have no reliable information to guide us."

Despite this admission, he then proceeds to an exaggerated maximum estimate of number of Khazars in the 13th century based on Ibn Fadlan's estimate of the number of tents of the Volga Bulgars in the tenth century. He bases another inflated estimate of Khazar numbers on Arab accounts of Khazar armies that defeated them in the eighth century. He asserts that the

"migration began in the eleventh century" and that "Altogether this population transfer was spread out over 5 or 6 centuries of trickle and flow."

In the process of these accounts one has to read carefully to note that without acknowledgement or justification, the total numbers of Khazars has become the total numbers of Jews. He has slyly slid into his preferred position. He continues to pile mounds of not very relevent data on the unsuspecting reader.

He tends to overlook the total chaos produced by the Mongols and neglects, in these and other calculations, the possibility of northward or southward displacement of defeated Khazar contingents.

Linguistic Evidence and Ethnic Traits

Koestler's labored analogies of place names and correspondences of ethnic characteristics have no more validity than his population figures.

Most historians have placed the origin of East European (Polish) Jews to early migrations from Western Europe. There is documentary evidence that Jews, because of their financial and craft skills, were invited to settle in Poland as early as the 12th century. Koestler denies that there was a sufficient source of Jews in the West to supply a population of any significant size. He neglects the fact that the Jews of the Diaspora had spread throughout the Roman Empire, especially along sea coasts and trading routes. And evidently they had persisted in many places including the city of Rome itself.

He reinforces this pseudo-quantitative objection by linguistic evidence, citing the researches of Mathias Mieses in the 1920s. Koestler asserts that Mieses found no medieval German words in Yiddish (not dated), and trumpets this as evidence that the Jews of Poland could not have come from the West. On the other hand, Dunlop cites other linguistic work that shows a southern and eastern German influence on Yiddish. Linguistic evidence is in a very real sense often subjectively based, especially in research done prior to the grammatical era begun by Zelig Harris and his students in the 1930s and so one should regard Koestler's sources with caution.

Were the Khazars blond? What color were their eyes? We don't know. There is no reliable evidence. Koestler's concluding body of so-called evidence deals with such characteristics as blondness and blue eyes in Jews, the Jewish nose and some other not very precise anthropological data. In an attempt to cap his thesis with "genetic" data, Koestler indulges in a bit of empty mathematization to characterize the differences in major blood types between local Jewish groups and their neighbors. Comparisons of this sort are statistically empty in the absence of data on the number of measurements and the standard errors of those measurements. As they stand, his formulae are mere paraphrases of differences of unestablished significance. Their unnecessary introduction is an obvious ploy to impress the mathematically naive reader -- yet another example of this self proclamed expert's shallow and superficial treatment of possibly significant data.

The best that can be said about Koestler's thesis is that it is not proven. At the end of his masterly History of the Jewish Khazars, Dunlop concludes:

"It only remains now to consider the theory that the modern Jews of eastern Europe, or more particularly those in Poland are the descendants of the mediaeval Khazars. This can be dealt with very shortly, because there is little evidence which bears directly upon it, and it unavoidably retains the character of a mere assumption. ....."

"....But to speak of the Jews of eastern Europe as descendants of the Khazars seems to involve the Ashkenazim in general, i.e., by far the greater part of the Jewish people in the world today, and would be to go much beyond what our imperfect records allow."


Developments in the science of genetics has given us data on human lineages that are statistically firmly based, objective and reproducible. These data enable the researcher to make valid estimates of the times at which such lineages were established.

All human cells, with the exception of mature gametes (sperm and ova), have a double genic component. The 22 pairs of somatic chromosomes bear corresponding genes in each pair. Each member of each pair is more or less equal in size, and each has essentially a set of chromosomes corresponding to its mate pair. The exceptions are the sex chromosomes, which in mammals are designated X and Y. If you are a male, all of your cells contain the 22 pairs of somatic chromosomes and an X and a Y. If you are a female, you have 22 pairs of somatic chromosomes and no Y, but almost invariably 2 X chromosomes. When the body is ready to generate gametes, each sperm or ovum is provided with one each of a chromosome pair. Since a male will have both X and Y chromosomes in the gamete generating cells, he will produce sperm which may have either an X or a Y. If a sperm having a Y chromosome succeeds in fertilizing an egg, the result is a baby boy. Sperm with an X produce girls.

In humans, as in mammals in general, sex is determined by the presence or absence of the Y chromosome in the fertilized egg. The minuscule Y chromosome determines that the zygote will develop into a male. The only source of Y chromosome for egg fertilization is the male sperm. The immediate consequence of this is that men inherit their Y chromosomes from their fathers and thus the Y chromosome may be used to trace paternity.

The absolute structure of chromosomes is not cast in concrete. Each gene in each chromosome is subject to very rare, very minute spontaneous changes termed mutations. Many such changes are lethal for the individual cell line in which they occur, but some are not and these changes, small as they are, if they occur in a cell that is a gamete precursor, will persist in succeeding generations. It is these small changes that enable us to not only use the Y chromosome to establish paternity, but also to separate out lineages -- that is, to track descendants of the individual in which the mutation first occurred. The detectable difference resulting from such a mutation is termed a haplotype, if it occurs in a Y chromosome.

Recently, statistically valid investigations of paternal lineages have been the basis of numerous demographic studies. For example studies of populations in North Africa and the Iberian peninsula provide very strong evidence against extensive mixing of African and Iberian populations. What is surprising is the small effect of the eighth century Islamic rule in Spain of the paternity of present day Spaniards. Further, and significantly,

"The high-resolution analysis of the Y chromosome allows us to separate successive migratory components and to precisely quantify each historical layer" (E. Bosch et al., High-resolution of Human Y-chromosome Variation, Am. J. Hum. Genetics, 2001, Apr, v 68, p 1019-29.)

The specific problem of the lineage of the Cohanim is decisively dealt with in a set of papers, two of which appeared in the journal Nature. The first of these appeared in Jan, 1997, (v 385, p 32) authored by Karl Skorecki et al. The article, entitled Y chromosomes of Jewish priests begins:

".....Designation of Jewish males to the priesthood continues to this day, and is determined by strict patrilineal descent. Accordingly, we sought and found clear differences in the frequency of Y-chromosome haplotypes between Jewish priests and their lay counterparts. Remarkably the difference is observable in both the Ashkenazic and Sephardic populations despite the geographical separation of the two communities."

After discussing some technical details concerning the six studied Y-chromosome haplotypes, the authors go on to state:

"We further identified subjects as being of Askenazic or Sephardic origin. This refers to the two chief separate communities which developed within the diaspora during the past millennium......the same haplotype distinction can be made between priests and lay members within each population. This result is consistent with an origin for the Jewish priesthood antedating the division of world Jewry into Ashkenazic and Sephardic communities."

Another paper, appearing 18 months later, also in Nature (vol 394, p 138), was by Mark G. Thomas et al. Entitled Origins of Old Testament Priests, it confirmed and continued this work. Further, it examined the historical connotations of the genetic findings:

".......The Cohen modal haplotype may therefor be useful for testing hypotheses regarding the relationship between specific contemporary communities and the ancient Hebrew population."

Carrying the previous research a step further they

"....estimate the time at which Cohen chromosomes were derived from a common ancestral chromosome (coalescence time)"
After a section outlining the statistical and genetic considerations involved, they arrive at:
" estimate of 106 generations,which for a generation time of 25 (30) years gives an estmate of 2,650 (3,180) years before the present, dating the coalescence of the Cohanim chromosomes to between the Exodus and the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BC(E)."

Following a further discussion of the complexities involved in caclculating the possible error of the above estimates, they report a 95% confidence interval for the range (between 84 and 130 generations) for the combined data.

This work clearly establishes that at least one genetic marker exists for tracing the lineages of Cohanim. In view of recent progress in molecular cytology and genetics, it is likely that others may shortly appear. This will enable refinements in data that will enable more detailed and informative historical and demographic inferences and conclusions. It will also stimulate less exotic-seeming experiments. For example, tombstones of Cohanim are usually denoted by a figure of the hands held in the manner used by them in the priestly blessing. Many Jewish cemetaries remain in Eastern Europe. Tombstones are dated, so we have implicit lineages in a historical context, which could be compared to descendant lineage data.

What is the reason for the persistence of this marker? Rules for Cohanim marriage and sexual relations are stringent.

"A woman that is immoral or profane, they shall not marry. Neither shall they marry a woman divorced from her husband." (Leviticus: Chapter 21, Verse 7).

Adultery on the part of the wife of a Cohain resulted not only in divorce but the rejection of any offspring for the priviledges of priesthood. Involuntary intercourse -- such as rape -- would result in the same strictures. The care taken to ensure legitimate offspring is so great that the Cohain avoided separation from his wife for any significant time. I've been told the charming story of one Cohain who travels regularly with his wife during her overseas business trips.

Now that we can objectively identify Cohanim in a population, the Cohanim may be properly regarded as a marker for what may be termed Semitic (as opposed to more recently converted) Jewry. This has the early consequence of totally dismantling Koestler's 13th tribe hypothesis.

Does this mean we have no Khazar genes? Of course not. Jews have absorbed genes from many genetic groups. Converts are as much Jewish as a descendant of someone who stood at the foot of Mount Sinai. But the canard that we Jews are not of the seed of Jacob can be laid to rest.

Return_________________________End of Story___________________________Return

Home Featured Stories Did You Know? Background Information News On The Web