The genetic origin of Ashkenazi Jews is important for medical research, because many disease association studies use the group as a benchmark of a ‘genetically closed’ group. A 2006 paper published by Behar et al. (The Matrilineal Ancestry of Ashkenazi Jewry: Portrait of a Recent Founder Event) backed the notion:
Here, using complete sequences of the maternally inherited mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), we show that close to one-half of Ashkenazi Jews, estimated at 8,000,000 people, can be traced back to only 4 women carrying distinct mtDNAs that are virtually absent in other populations, with the important exception of low frequencies among non-Ashkenazi Jews.
Harry Ostrer expanded on that idea in his book Legacy: A Genetic History of the Jewish People. We sincerely hope nobody has the misfortune of reading Ostrer’s book. Going through it gave us strong migraine, because we could never be sure where the science stopped and fiction started. You encounter ridiculous claims such as this in every few pages –
Non-Semitic lines of inheritance may absolve Jews from Christ killing — it really wasn’t them and their ancestors; it was someone else.
Geez !! In which century does this guy live?
Thankfully, others are spared from reading his book, because a new paper published in Nature Communications debunks the ‘4 women’ claim made by Behar et al. and hence the precision assumed in Ostrer’s book.
The origins of Ashkenazi Jews remain highly controversial. Like Judaism, mitochondrial DNA is passed along the maternal line. Its variation in the Ashkenazim is highly distinctive, with four major and numerous minor founders. However, due to their rarity in the general population, these founders have been difficult to trace to a source. Here we show that all four major founders, ~40% of Ashkenazi mtDNA variation, have ancestry in prehistoric Europe, rather than the Near East or Caucasus. Furthermore, most of the remaining minor founders share a similar deep European ancestry. Thus the great majority of Ashkenazi maternal lineages were not brought from the Levant, as commonly supposed, nor recruited in the Caucasus, as sometimes suggested, but assimilated within Europe. These results point to a significant role for the conversion of women in the formation of Ashkenazi communities, and provide the foundation for a detailed reconstruction of Ashkenazi genealogical history.
A new study published in nature communications refutes the Behar et al. (2006) ridiculous study that the origin of Ashkenazi women is from four middle eastern women, a truly amazing finding that even more surprisingly fits with the biblical story. How did they do it? that’s very simple, they stopped counting after 4. About 40% of the lineages can be traced with some certainty and there are major and minor lineages. Behar and colleagues simply counted the first 4 of the major lineages. Anyway, the new study concludes that the major contribution to European Jewry was from Europe, not the Middle East, that is, by religion conversion.
This is a blow to the 70 CE Exile nonsense (see Sand 2009) and the notion of Jewsih Diaspora. If Ashkenazi Jews did not emerge in the middle east, they never left Judea… Doron Behar and Karl Skorecki understood it very well: “While it is clear that Ashkenazi maternal ancestry includes both Levantine [Near Eastern] and European origins—the assignment of several of the major Ashkenazi lineages to pre-historic European origin in the current study is incorrect in our view.” Harry Ostrer didn’t quite get it ”The major Jewish communities were outside Judea.” Of course they were, but no middle-east origin = no Abraham seed. The Ostrer-Behar-Hammer consortium just lost one of its strongest arguments in favor of a middle eastern origin.
We asked Dr. Elhaik, what the new discoveries mean regarding his Khazar hypothesis and he pointed us to the following paragraph.
3. The authors say the evidence presented in the paper does not support the idea that European Jews partly descended from the Khazars. Do you agree with the authors’ analysis? How do you reconcile the results of this paper with the results of your GBE paper supporting the Khazarian hypothesis?
The Khazarian Hypotheses states the during the middle ages, Jews from the Byzantine Empire found refuge in Khazaria mixing their genes with those of Turkish-Khazarian tribes who converted to Judaism. After the fall of their Empire, the Judaized Khazars fled to Eastern Europe and from there spread to other parts of Europe mixing once again with Greco-Roman proselytes. A Greco-Roman origin, by itself, cannot explain the vast demographic presence of Jews in Eastern Europe and thus fits alongside a Khazarian ancestry for the bulk of Eastern European Jewry. Unfortunately, the region of ancient Khazaria remains a genetic mystery and may very well explain the origin of the remaining 60% of European Jews (another 10% are clearly explained by the Khazarian Hypothesis). Even though the authors concluded that European Jews are descended of a diverse group of proselytes, they analyzed Eastern and Western European Jews jointly looking for a single origin for each haplogroup, rather than searching for populations with a similar frequency of haplogroups, potentially missing a large Turkic contribution. I expect to publish the final evidence to the Khazarian hypothesis shortly, that along with the findings of the current study, would provide a more complete picture to the ancestry of European Jews.
For additional discussion on the topic, please check this commentary in The Scientist.
Not everyone agrees with Elhaik however.
We requested Dr. Salzberg to provide better scientific reasoning than a reference to where a paper is published for judging its merit and will update, when we hear from him. For example – does he consider both Behar et al. paper and the current paper as dodgy?