DNA, Schmee-NA! The Genetic History Of The Jews

The Jews are an ideal subject for studies in population
genetics, forming as they do an unusually well-defined
"genetic island": small founder group, little
exogamy,

long history
. It is therefore odd that Jewish
scholars have been especially prominent in the
resistance to
population-genetics research
. The paradigm that
dominated the human sciences through the later decades
of the 20th century, of an infinitely plastic human
nature imbedded in a

uniform
, static biological substratum—the

"blank slate"
—was essentially the creation of
anthropologist

Franz Boas
and his student

Ashley Montagu
, both of whom were Jewish. The

paradigm
was

upheld
, and

ferociously policed
, by Jewish scholars of the
following generation:

Stephen Jay Gould,
 Richard
Lewontin
,

Stephen Rose
.

Things look even odder when you factor in the strenuous
efforts undertaken by

religious Jews
to

combat exogamy
. Thus the January 21 issue of
Newsweek
magazine contains a short news item headed
"Sex
and the Synagogue
"
:


“The rise of interfaith marriage is a sensitive issue
among American Jews, and now two powerful forces in the
religion are teaming up to do something about it: rabbis
and

JDate
, the top matchmaking Website for Jewish
single … the site is

offering a bulk rate to rabbis
who want to buy
membership accounts for their congregants …”



"All is race, there is no other truth,"
wrote

Benjamin Disraeli
.

Michelle Obama
might agree, but most Jews of our
time would swoon in horror to hear such a thing said.

Jon Entine
told me that when he showed the cover of
his new book Abraham`s Children: Race, Identity, and the DNA of the Chosen People
to a rabbi of his acquaintance, directing
the rabbi`s attention to the subtitle, the gentleman
shook his head vigorously, saying: "No DNA! No DNA!"
In
the book itself
, Entine writes of a California
businessman named John Haedrick, who was raised as a
Christian but who discovered, after taking a DNA test,
that his ancestry included "a rather populous
pedigree of Ashkenazi Polish Jews."
Mr. Haedrick set
about getting himself accepted as a Jew, only to be
rebuffed by his own local rabbi with: "DNA,
schmee-NA."

DNA is

real stuff
, though. And with the discoveries in
population genetics that have been coming thick and fast
this past few years, it is getting more and more
difficult to find any serious researchers, Jewish or
otherwise, who still cling to the Boasian "blank
slate"
paradigm.

You don`t have to go all the way to Disraeli`s position
to be convinced, by the sheer and fast-accumulating
weight of evidence, that the common processes of
population-genetic change

did not come to a sudden dead stop
when homo
sap.
emerged from the African homeland 60,000 years
ago.

Those changes continued through the Paleolithic, the
isolated endogamous populations of that long era slowly
diverging from each other according to well-understood
biological laws. The
big modern continental races
were probably formed in
very much their present states when the Neolithic
arrived 10,000 years ago. Yet still the genetics of
inbreeding populations continued their slow mutations,
down into recorded history and through to the present
day.

This is not speculation but observed fact. We can tick
off the changes, and even date them reasonably well,
right there on the

human genome
.

You would think that all this would be of absorbing
interest to Jews, who are so keenly interested in their
own group identity, so

fearful
—like the rabbis in that Newsweek
item up above—of that group identity

becoming diluted
, and so proud of their long history
and ancestry. Think of all those "begats" in the
Old Testament.

But there is, of course, much more to Jewish identity
than that. Jon Entine documents it all here: the
history, the migrations and scatterings, the genetics
(including that grimmest of all genetic terms of art,
the

"population bottleneck"
), the paradoxes. So many
paradoxes! For example: The first rule of Jewish
identity—the one currently used by the government of
Israel—is that you are Jewish if your mother is a Jew,
or if you have been formally and

correctly
converted. The identity is therefore
basically matrilineal. And yet, as Entine explains,
"most Ashkenazi Jewish women descended from Gentiles"
!
(A long time ago). Again, in defiance of those rabbis
fretting about exogamy, it is often the case, as Entine
says, that "nothing can be more Jewish than not
wanting to be."

The author himself is of East-European Jewish ancestry,
and was raised as a Reform Jew. He seems now to be an
agnostic or atheist; but of course that gets you a mere
few inches away from your Jewish identity. ("I`m an
atheist,"
pleads the Ulsterman under questioning by
a terrorist gun squad. "All right," snarl the
gunmen, "but are ye a Protestant atheist or a
Catholic atheist?"
)

Entine is the

author
of the 2000 book Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports and Why We Are Afraid to Talk About It.
As can be seen from that title, our author
is

not shy about discussing group differences
. He
certainly pulls no punches here, speaking
straightforwardly about those differences as they relate
to Jewish populations.

Note that last plural: the processes of group-genetic
change have caused divergence among Jews themselves. The

sensational average IQ scores
of

Ashkenazi Jews
, for example, are not found in
populations of Sephardim and Oriental Jews.

The variety of sub-populations within world Jewry is, in
fact, another of those paradoxes that give Jewish
identity its weird optical-illusion character.
Abraham`s Children
tells the full astonishing story
of the

Lemba, a black South African tribe
who carry the
ancient Cohen Modal Haplotype at high frequency, and
whose menfolk are therefore in direct line of
patrilineal descent from Aaron. There is another
sub-populations scattered among Hispanics in the
American Southwest, who have a tendency to

discover
, to their

surprise
, that they descend from Jewish
conversos
in late-medieval Spain. (Entine missed
one of

my own favorites
: the non-Sephardic

Romaniotes of Greece,
who have a

fine old synagogue
in

New York`s Broome Street,
right opposite the first
lodgings I ever had in the U.S.A. I used to sit at my
window on idle Saturday mornings watching the minyan
assemble.)

Some other lineages claimed as Jewish are shown by
genetics to be not part of the common ancestry:
the

Falashas of Ethiopia
, for instance, and the
Bene-Menashe of far northeastern India. Myths are
exploded, too. The

Khazars
of early-medieval central Asia did not
supply the founding stock of East European Jewry, as

claimed
in Arthur Koestler`s 1976 book The Thirteenth Tribe.


“The studies of the Y chromosome and mtDNA do not
support the once-popular notion that Jews are descended
in any great numbers from the Khazars or some Slavic
group, although it`s evident some Jews do have Khazarian
blood. … Perhaps not every Jew is descended solely from
the ancient populations in Judea and Samaria … but most
Jews do share a common ancient ancestry. Most Jewish
males appear to have originated in the eastern
Mediterranean, with at most 20 percent showing a central
Asian origin similar to that of most Europeans. After
being

expelled from the Middle East
, and after diaspora
stops along separate routes in Italy and Asia, Jews
trickled into Europe. They brought with them some wives,
but more often than not, they coupled with local women.”

Note, however, that:


“[
University of Arizona geneticist]

Michael Hammer
has calculated that after the initial
trysts and founding of various Jewish villages, less
than 0.5 percent of each succeeding generation of
Ashkenazi women had children with non-Jewish Europeans.”

In the matter of myths, genetic studies have also
exploded the story

told in the Book of Mormon
that

American aborigines
are descended from the ten Lost
Tribes. Nor is there any substance to claims by the

British Israel
movement that the Island Race is an

offshoot of the Chosen People
. Those ten tribes
seem, in fact, to be well and truly lost—absorbed,
probably, into Middle Eastern and West Asian
populations.


Abraham`s Children

is a fascinating book, packed with well-researched
information on every conceivable aspect of
Jewish history
and

identity
, as illuminated by our marvelous new
understandings of the human genome. The basic framework
of the book is historical—it contains within itself, in
fact, a good outline history of the Jews. All the
interesting byways are thoroughly explored, though.
There is, for instance, a very good account of

characteristically Jewish diseases
, with a full list
of them in an appendix.

Entine visited key people and places when making the
book, and includes appropriate interviews and
travelogue. One of the interviews is with

Kevin MacDonald
, whose

name will be known to VDARE.com readers
. MacDonald
has

taken exception to the interview`s published version
.
However, Entine`s account seems fair to me. (I have read
MacDonald`s trilogy on the Jews` "group evolutionary
strategy,"
and

reviewed the third volume
for The American
Conservative.
)

Entine has done a splendid job here, writing in a clear
and unpretentious style, uncovering many curious facts,
and putting everything together in a good connected
narrative.


How odd
Of God
To choose
The Jews

murmured

W. N. Ewer
. Possibly so: but if He had not chosen
them, the

world would have been a much less interesting place
.The population geneticists of today would have much less
good material to work with; and we curious laypersons
would have been deprived of at least two very fine
recent books: Yuri Slezkine`s The Jewish Century
and
Jon Entine`sAbraham`s Children: Race, Identity, and the DNA of the Chosen People.


John Derbyshire [email him] writes an


incredible amount

on all sorts of subjects for all kinds of outlets. His


most recent book
is Unknown Quantity: A Real and Imaginary History of Algebra.
(see!)