Another group of scientists has waded into the decades-old controversy over the origin of Europe’s Ashkenazi Jews, publishing their findings that show a mass conversion of European women to Judaism about 2,000 years ago.
The study, based on tracing the lineage of mitochondrial DNA — a type handed down only from the mother’s side of the family — shows only that women were converts.
“Jewish men may indeed have migrated into Europe from Palestine around 2000 years ago,” said one of the study’s co-authors, Martin Richards of the University of Huddersfield.
Those men appear to have married European women who then converted to the religion of their husbands.
Ahkenazi Jews are the largest ethnic group among the world’s Jewish population. The word means “German” in Yiddish and is used to label jews who live in, or migrated from Eastern Europe. But how a large contingent of Jews showed up in Eastern Europe in the first place has long posed a puzzle.
The subject is a contentious one, due to the Jewish people’s claim on the land that is now Israel, formerly called Palestine. If modern Jews, or a large segment of them, were shown to have originated somewhere other than that land in ancient times, the Jewish people’s historical claim to Israel could be perceived as invalid.
The writer Arthur Koestler in his 1976 book The Thirteenth Tribe, argued that Ashkenazi Jews did not originate in Palestine but in fact were descended from Turkish converts known as the Khazars. But Koestler was writing before the widespread availability of genetic tracing technology. Historians and scientists now consider his hypothesis largely discredited.
Numerous genetic studies since the advent of that technology have shown that modern-day Ashkenazi Jews carry genetic markers that link them not only to Jews from other ethnic groups from other areas of the world, but also to Arabs and Palestinians.
Those studies led to the “Rhineland hypothesis,” the scientific theory that the vast majority of modern Ashkenazi Jews trace their ancestry to about 20,000 Jewish men who migrated from the Middle East.
But the new study focuses only on women. It finds that most of the female ancestors of modern Ashkenazis have DNA that can be traced back to areas that is now Europe, 10,000 years ago.
SOURCES: Science Daily, Bloomberg News, Forbes, Wikipedia