And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.
God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.
Noah is 500 years old before his sons Shem, Ham and Japheth are born.
‘Blessed be the Lord God of Shem‘
Who is Shem?
Shem was one of the sons of Noah in the Bible (Genesis 5-11 and 1 Chronicles 1:4) and the Quran. The children of Shem were Elam, Ashur, Arphaxad, Lud and Aram, in addition to unnamed daughters.
Semites, Semitic peoples or Semitic cultures is an obsolete term for an ethnic, cultural or racial group. The terminology is now largely unused outside the grouping “Semitic languages” in linguistics.
First used in the 1770s by members of the Göttingen School of History, this biblical terminology for race was derived from Shem, one of the three sons of Noah in the Book of Genesis, together with the parallel terms Hamites and Japhetites.
In archaeology, the term is sometimes used informally as “a kind of shorthand” for ancient Semitic-speaking peoples.
The term Semitic in a racial sense was coined by members of the Göttingen School of History in the early 1770s. Other members of the Göttingen School of History coined the separate term Caucasian in the 1780s. These terms were used and developed by numerous other scholars over the next century. In the early 20th century, the racialist classifications of Carleton S. Coon included the Semitic peoples in the Caucasian race, as similar in appearance to the Indo-European, Northwest Caucasian, and Kartvelian-speaking peoples. Due to the interweaving of language studies and cultural studies, the term also came to be applied to the religions (ancient Semitic and Abrahamic) and ethnicities of various cultures associated by geographic and linguistic distribution.
Ancient Semitic-speaking peoples or Proto-Semitic people were people who lived throughout the ancient Near East, including the Levant, Mesopotamia, the Arabian Peninsula, and the Horn of Africa from the 3rd millennium BC until the end of antiquity.
The Semitic family is a member of the larger Afroasiatic family, all of whose other five or more branches have their origin in North Africa or the Maghreb. Largely for this reason, the ancestors of Proto-Semitic speakers were originally believed by some to have first arrived in the Middle East from North Africa, possibly as part of the operation of the Saharan pump, around the late Neolithic.
The Afroasiatic languages (or Afro-Asiatic), also known as Hamito-Semitic, or Semito-Hamitic, and sometimes also as Afrasian, Erythraean or Lisramic, are a language family of about 300 languages that are spoken predominantly in the geographic subregions of Western Asia, North Africa, the Horn of Africa, and parts of the Sahara/Sahel. With the exception of its Semitic branch, all branches of the Afroasiatic family are exclusively native to the African continent.
‘and Canaan shall be his servant.‘
Who is Canaan?
Canaan was a Semitic-speaking civilization and region in the Ancient Near East during the late 2nd millennium BC. Canaan had significant geopolitical importance in the Late Bronze Age Amarna Period (14th century BC) as the area where the spheres of interest of the Egyptian, Hittite, Mitanni and Assyrian Empires converged or overlapped. Much of present-day knowledge about Canaan stems from archaeological excavation in this area at sites such as Tel Hazor, Tel Megiddo, En Esur, and Gezer. The name “Canaan” appears throughout the Bible, where it corresponds to “the Levant”, in particular to the areas of the Southern Levant that provide the main settings of the narratives of the Bible: the Land of Israel, Philistia, and Phoenicia, among others.
The Hebrew bible was translated into Greek in Alexandria at the request of Ptolemy II, who reigned over Egypt 285–246 BCE. Its version of the Table of Nations is substantially the same as that in the Hebrew text, but with the following differences:
- It lists Elisa as an extra son of Japheth, giving him eight instead of seven, while continuing to list him also as a son of Javan, as in the Masoretic text.
- Whereas the Hebrew text lists Shelah as the son of Arpachshad in the line of Shem, the Septuagint has a Cainan as the son of Arpachshad and father of Shelah – the Book of Jubilees gives considerable scope to this figure. Cainan appears again at the end of the list of the sons of Shem.
- Obal, Joktan’s eighth son in the Masoretic text, does not appear.
Which was the son of Jacob, which was the son of Isaac, which was the son of Abraham, which was the son of Thara, which was the son of Nachor, Which was the son of Saruch, which was the son of Ragau, which was the son of Phalec, which was the son of Heber, which was the son of Sala, Which was the son of Cainan, which was the son of Arphaxad, which was the son of Shem, which was the son of Noah, which was the son of Lamech,
Eber is an ancestor of the Ishmaelites and the Israelites according to the “Table of Nations” in the Book of Genesis (Genesis 10–11) and the Books of Chronicles (1 Chronicles 1).
The Ishmaelites were a collection of various Arabian tribes, confederations and small kingdoms described in Islamic tradition as being descended from and named after Ishmael, a prophet according to the Quran, the first son of Abraham and the Egyptian Hagar.
According to the Bible, the Israelites are the descendants of Jacob, who was later renamed Israel. Following a severe drought, Jacob and his twelve sons fled to Egypt, where they eventually formed the Twelve Tribes of Israel. The Israelites were later led out of slavery in Egypt and subsequently brought to Canaan by Moses; they eventually conquered Canaan under the leadership of Joshua. Modern scholars agree that the Bible does not provide an authentic account of the Israelites’ origins, and instead view it as constituting their national myth. However, it is accepted that this narrative does have a “historical core” to it.
But of the cities of these people, which the Lord thy God doth give thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth: But thou shalt utterly destroy them; namely, the Hittites, and the Amorites, the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee:
Amarna Letter EA8 is a continuation of correspondence between Napḫurureya, king of Egypt, and Burra-Buriyaš the king of Karaduniyaš. Within the Moran edition, the letter is translated by Ebeling. The letter is written in the language Akkadian, and dates to a period circa 1349 to 1334 B.C., The letter is part of a series of correspondences from Babylonia to Egypt, which run from EA2 to EA4 and EA6 to EA14. EA1 and EA5 are from Egypt to Babylonia.
The inscription reads:
Say to Napḫurureya, king of Egypt, my brother Thus Burra-Buriyaš Great king the king of Karaduniyaš your brother For me all goes well For you your country your household your wives your sons your magnates your horses your chariots may all go very well.
My brother and I made a mutual declaration of friendship and this is what we said ‘Just as our fathers were friends with one another so will we be friends with one another Now my merchants who were on their way with Aḫu-ṭabu were detained in Canaan for business matters After Aḫu-ṭabu went on to my brother in Ḫinnatuna of Canaan Šum-Adda the son of Balumme and Šutatna the son of Šaratum of Akka having sent there men killed my merchants and took away their money I send … post haste Inquire of him so that he may inform you Canaan is your country and its kings are your servants In your country I have been despoiled Bring them to account and make compensation for the money they took away Put to death the men who put my servants to death and so avenge my blood And if you don not put these men to death they are going to kill again be it a caravan of mine or your own messengers and so messengers between us will there-by be cut-off And if they try and deny this to you Šum-Adda having blocked the passage of one man of mine retained him in his company and another man having been forced into service by Šutatna of Akka is still serving him These men should be brought to you so you can investigate inquire whether they are dead and thus become informed As a greeting gift I send to you one mina of lapis-lazuli Send off my messenger immediately so I may know my brother’s decision Do not detain my messenger Let him be off to me immediately
The Merneptah Stele, also known as the Israel Stele or the Victory Stele of Merneptah, is an inscription by Merneptah, a pharaoh in ancient Egypt who reigned from 1213–1203 BCE. Discovered by Flinders Petrie at Thebes in 1896, it is now housed at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. The bulk of the inscription deals with Merneptah’s victory over the Libyans, but the last 3 of the 28 lines shift to Canaan:
The princes are prostrate, saying, “Peace!”
Not one is raising his head among the Nine Bows.
Now that Tehenu (Libya) has come to ruin,
Hatti is pacified;
The Canaan has been plundered into every sort of woe:
Ashkelon has been overcome;
Gezer has been captured;
Yano’am is made non-existent.
Israel is laid waste and his seed is not;
Hurru is become a widow because of Egypt.
‘God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.‘
Who is Japheth?
Japheth is one of the three sons of Noah in the Book of Genesis, in which he plays a role in the story of Noah’s drunkenness and the curse of Ham, and subsequently in the Table of Nations as the ancestor of the peoples of the Aegean Sea, Anatolia, and elsewhere. In medieval and early modern European tradition he was considered to be the progenitor of the European peoples, while Islamic traditions also include the Chinese people among his descendants.
Anatolia, historically known as Asia Minor, is a large peninsula in Western Asia and is the western-most extension of continental Asia. The land mass of Anatolia constitutes most of the territory of contemporary Turkey. Geographically, the Anatolian region is bounded by the Turkish Straits to the north-west, the Black Sea to the north, the Armenian Highlands to the east, the Mediterranean Sea to the south, and the Aegean Sea to the west. Topographically, the Sea of Marmara connects the Black Sea with the Aegean Sea through the Bosporus strait and the Dardanelles strait, and separates Anatolia from Thrace in the Balkan peninsula of Southeastern Europe.
Ashkenaz is one of the descendants of Noah. Ashkenaz is the first son of Gomer, and a Japhetic patriarch in the Table of Nations. In rabbinic literature, the descendants of Ashkenaz were first associated with the Scythian cultures, then later with the Slavic territories, and, from the 11th century onwards, with Germany and northern Europe, in a manner similar to Tzarfat or Sefarad. His name is related to the Assyrian Aškūza (Aškuzai, Iškuzai), the Scythians who expelled the Gimirri (Gimirrāi) from the Armenian highland of the Upper Euphrates area.
Ashkenazi Jews are a Jewish diaspora population who coalesced in the Holy Roman Empire around the end of the first millennium CE. Their traditional diaspora language is Yiddish (a West Germanic language with Jewish linguistic elements, including the Hebrew alphabet), which developed during the Middle Ages after they had moved from Germany and France into Northern Europe and Eastern Europe. For centuries, Ashkenazim in Europe used Hebrew only as a sacred language until the revival of Hebrew as a common language in 20th-century Israel.
The geographical origin of the Biblical “Ashkenaz,” Ashkenazic Jews (AJs), and Yiddish, are among the longest standing questions in history, genetics, and linguistics.
Uncertainties concerning the meaning of “Ashkenaz” arose in the Eleventh century when the term shifted from a designation of the Iranian Scythians to become that of Slavs and Germans and finally of “German” (Ashkenazic) Jews in the Eleventh to Thirteenth centuries (Wexler, 1993). The first known discussion of the origin of German Jews and Yiddish surfaced in the writings of the Hebrew grammarian Elia Baxur in the first half of the Sixteenth century (Wexler, 1993).
AJs were localized to modern-day Turkey and found to be genetically closest to Turkic, southern Caucasian, and Iranian populations, suggesting a common origin in Iranian “Ashkenaz” lands (Das et al., 2016). These findings were more compatible with an Irano-Turko-Slavic origin for AJs and a Slavic origin for Yiddish than with the Rhineland hypothesis, which lacks historical, genetic, and linguistic support (Table 1) (van Straten, 2004; Elhaik, 2013). The findings have also highlighted the strong social-cultural and genetic bonds of Ashkenazic and Iranian Judaism and their shared Iranian origins (Das et al., 2016).
Set ye up a standard in the land, blow the trumpet among the nations, prepare the nations against her, call together against her the kingdoms of Ararat, Minni, and Ashkenaz; appoint a captain against her; cause the horses to come up as the rough caterpillers. Prepare against her the nations with the kings of the Medes, the captains thereof, and all the rulers thereof, and all the land of his dominion. And the land shall tremble and sorrow: for every purpose of the Lord shall be performed against Babylon, to make the land of Babylon a desolation without an inhabitant.
Ararat, cognate with Assyrian Urartu, of a kingdom that existed in the Armenian Highlands in the 9th–6th centuries BC. In the 19th century Wilhelm Gesenius speculated an origin from Arjanwartah, an unattested Sanskrit word without any clear cognates, supposedly meaning “holy ground.” Some Armenian historians, such as Ashot Melkonyan, link the origin of the word “Ararat” to the prefix of a number of placenames in the Armenian Highland (“ar–”), including the Armenians. The mountain is known as Ararat in European languages, however, none of the native peoples have traditionally referred to the mountain by that name. This mountain was not called by the name Ararat until the Middle Ages; early Armenian historians considered the biblical Ararat to be in Corduene.
Urartu (Ararat) is a geographical region and Iron Age kingdom also known as the Kingdom of Van, centered around Lake Van in the historic Armenian Highlands. The kingdom rose to power in the mid-9th century BC, but went into gradual decline and was eventually conquered by the Iranian Medes in the early 6th century BC. Since its re-discovery in the 19th century, Urartu, which is commonly believed to have been at least partially Armenian-speaking, has played a significant role in Armenian nationalism.
Northern Kingdom of Israel
Following Solomon’s death in c. 926 BCE, tensions between the northern part of Israel, containing the ten northern tribes, and the southern section, dominated by Jerusalem and the southern tribes, reached a boiling point. When Solomon’s son and successor, Rehoboam, dealt tactlessly with economic complaints of the northern tribes, in about 930 BCE (there are differences of opinion as to the actual year) the Kingdom of Israel and Judah split into two kingdoms: the northern Kingdom of Israel, which included the cities of Shechem and Samaria, and the southern Kingdom of Judah, which contained Jerusalem.
The Kingdom of Israel (or the Northern Kingdom or Samaria) existed as an independent state until 722 BCE, when it was conquered by the Neo-Assyrian Empire. The Kingdom of Judah (or the Southern Kingdom) existed as an independent state until 586 BCE, when it was conquered by the Neo-Babylonian Empire.
Tiglath-Pileser III was the king of the Neo-Assyrian Empire from 745 BC to his death in 727. One of the most prominent and historically significant Assyrian kings, Tiglath-Pileser ended a period of Assyrian stagnation, introduced numerous political and military reforms and more than doubled the lands under Assyrian control. Because of the massive expansion and centralization of Assyrian territory and establishment of a standing army, some researchers consider Tiglath-Pileser’s reign to mark the true transition of Assyria into an empire. The reforms and methods of control introduced under Tiglath-Pileser laid the groundwork for policies enacted not only by later Assyrian kings but also by later empires for millennia after his death.
Tiglath-Pileser early on increased royal power and authority through curbing the influence of prominent officials and generals. After securing some minor victories in 744 and 743, he defeated the Urartian king Sarduri II in battle near Arpad in 743. This victory was significant since Urartu had for a brief time equalled Assyrian power; Sarduri had eleven years earlier defeated Tiglath-Pileser’s predecessor Ashur-nirari. After defeating Sarduri, Tiglath-Pileser turned his attention to the Levant. Over the course of several years, Tiglath-Pileser conquered most of the Levant, defeating and then either annexing or subjugating previously influential kingdoms, notably ending the kingdom of Aram-Damascus. Tiglath-Pileser’s activities in the Levant were recorded in the Hebrew Bible.
The Kingdom of Aram-Damascus was an Aramean polity that existed from the late-12th century BCE until 732 BCE, and was centred around the city of Damascus in the Southern Levant. Alongside various tribal lands, it was bounded in its later years by the polities of Assyria to the north, Ammon to the south, and Israel to the west.
The Ten Lost Tribes were the ten of the Twelve Tribes of Israel that were said to have been exiled from the Kingdom of Israel after its conquest by the Neo-Assyrian Empire c. 722 BCE. These are the tribes of Reuben, Simeon, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Manasseh, and Ephraim; all but Judah and Benjamin (as well as some members of Levi, the priestly tribe, which did not have its own territory). The Jewish historian Josephus (37–100 CE) wrote that “there are but two tribes in Asia and Europe subject to the Romans, while the ten tribes are beyond Euphrates till now, and are an immense multitude, and not to be estimated by numbers”.
2 Kings 17:6
In the ninth year of Hoshea the king of Assyria took Samaria, and carried Israel away into Assyria, and placed them in Halah and in Habor by the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.
The Medes were an ancient Iranian people who spoke the Median language and who inhabited an area known as Media between western and northern Iran. Around the 11th century BC, they occupied the mountainous region of northwestern Iran and the northeastern and eastern region of Mesopotamia located in the region of Hamadan (Ecbatana). Their consolidation in Iran is believed to have occurred during the 8th century BC. In the 7th century BC, all of western Iran and some other territories were under Median rule, but their precise geographic extent remains unknown.
According to the Histories of Herodotus (440 BC): The Medes were formerly called by everyone Arians, but when the Colchian woman Medea came from Athens to the Arians, they changed their name, like the Persians [did after Perses, son of Perseus and Andromeda]. This is the Medes’ own account of themselves.
The list of Median rulers and their period of reign is compiled according to two sources. Firstly, Herodotus who calls them “kings” and associates them with the same family. Secondly, the Babylonian Chronicle which in “Gadd’s Chronicle on the Fall of Nineveh” gives its own list. A combined list stretching over 150 years is thus:
- Deioces (700s–675 BC)
- Phraortes (675–653 BC)
- Scythian rule (652–624 BC)
- Cyaxares (624–585 BC)
- Astyages (585–549 BC)
However, not all of these dates and personalities given by Herodotus match the other near eastern sources.
GOG OF MAGOG
And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog, and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them.
Gog and Magog appear in the Bible and the Quran as individuals, tribes, or lands. In Ezekiel 38, Gog is an individual and Magog is his land; in Genesis 10, Magog is a man and eponymous ancestor of a nation, but no Gog is mentioned; by the time of Revelation 20:8 Jewish tradition had long since changed Ezekiel’s “Gog from Magog” into “Gog and Magog”.
The Gog prophecy is meant to be fulfilled at the approach of what is called the “end of days”, but not necessarily the end of the world. Jewish eschatology viewed Gog and Magog as enemies to be defeated by the Messiah, which would usher in the age of the Messiah. One view within Christianity is more starkly apocalyptic, making Gog and Magog, here indicating nations rather than individuals, allies of Satan against God at the end of the millennium, as described in the Book of Revelation.
A legend was attached to Gog and Magog by the time of the Roman period, that the Gates of Alexander were erected by Alexander the Great to repel the tribe. Romanized Jewish historian Josephus knew them as the nation descended from Magog the Japhetite, as in Genesis, and explained them to be the Scythians. In the hands of Early Christian writers they became apocalyptic hordes. Throughout the Middle Ages, they were variously identified as the Vikings, Huns, Khazars, Mongols, Turanians or other nomads, or even the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel.
The Scythians or Scyths, and sometimes also referred to as the Classical Scythians and the Pontic Scythians, were an ancient Eastern Iranian equestrian nomadic people who had migrated from Central Asia to the Pontic Steppe in modern-day Ukraine and Southern Russia from approximately the 7th century BC until the 3rd century BC.
Skilled in mounted warfare, the Scythians replaced the Cimmerians as the dominant power on the Pontic Steppe in the 8th century BC. In the 7th century BC, the Scythians crossed the Caucasus Mountains and frequently raided West Asia along with the Cimmerians. After being expelled from West Asia by the Medes, the Scythians retreated back into the Pontic Steppe and were gradually conquered by the Sarmatians. In the late 2nd century BC, the capital of the largely Hellenized Scythians at Scythian Neapolis in the Crimea was captured by Mithridates VI and their territories incorporated into the Bosporan Kingdom. By the 3rd century AD, the Sarmatians and last remnants of the Scythians were overwhelmed by the Goths, and by the early Middle Ages, the Scythians and the Sarmatians had been largely assimilated and absorbed by early Slavs. The Scythians were instrumental in the ethnogenesis of the Ossetians, who are believed to be descended from the Alans.
Scythia or Scythica, also known as Pontic Scythia, was a kingdom created by the Scythians during the 6th to 3rd centuries BC in the Pontic–Caspian steppe. The Pontic Scythian kingdom was formed as a result of the migration of the Scythians, an ancient Iranic people, from Central Asia into the Caucasian Steppe during the 9th to 8th centuries BC, after which the Scythians conquered the Pontic Steppe during the 8th to 7th centuries BC, with their Pontic possessions being an extension of their kingdom of the steppes.
The Pontic–Caspian steppe, formed by the Caspian steppe and the Pontic steppe, is the steppeland stretching from the northern shores of the Black Sea (the Pontus Euxinus of antiquity) to the northern area around the Caspian Sea. It extends from Dobruja in the northeastern corner of Bulgaria and southeastern Romania, through Moldova and southern and eastern Ukraine, across the Russian Northern Caucasus, the Southern and lower Volga regions to western Kazakhstan, adjacent to the Kazakh steppe to the east, both forming part of the larger Eurasian Steppe.
The Khazars were a semi-nomadic Turkic people that in the late 6th-century CE established a major commercial empire covering the southeastern section of modern European Russia, southern Ukraine, Crimea, and Kazakhstan. They created what for its duration was the most powerful polity to emerge from the break-up of the Western Turkic Khaganate. Astride a major artery of commerce between Eastern Europe and Southwestern Asia, Khazaria became one of the foremost trading empires of the early medieval world, commanding the western marches of the Silk Road and playing a key commercial role as a crossroad between China, the Middle East and Kievan Rus’. For some three centuries (c. 650–965) the Khazars dominated the vast area extending from the Volga-Don steppes to the eastern Crimea and the northern Caucasus.
The Khazar hypothesis of Ashkenazi ancestry, postulates that Ashkenazi Jews are primarily, or to a large extent, descended from Khazars, a multi-ethnic conglomerate of mostly Turkic peoples who formed a semi-nomadic khanate in and around the northern and central Caucasus and the Pontic–Caspian steppe. The hypothesis also postulated that after collapse of the Khazar empire, the Khazars fled to Eastern Europe and made up a large part of the Jews there. The hypothesis draws on some medieval sources such as the Khazar Correspondence, according to which at some point in the 8th–9th centuries, Khazars were said by Judah Halevi and Abraham ibn Daud to have converted to Rabbinic Judaism.
The Missing Link of Jewish European Ancestry: Contrasting the Rhineland and the Khazarian Hypotheses
The question of Jewish ancestry has been the subject of controversy for over two centuries and has yet to be resolved. The “Rhineland hypothesis” depicts Eastern European Jews as a “population isolate” that emerged from a small group of German Jews who migrated eastward and expanded rapidly. Alternatively, the “Khazarian hypothesis” suggests that Eastern European Jews descended from the Khazars, an amalgam of Turkic clans that settled the Caucasus in the early centuries CE and converted to Judaism in the 8th century. Mesopotamian and Greco–Roman Jews continuously reinforced the Judaized empire until the 13th century. Following the collapse of their empire, the Judeo–Khazars fled to Eastern Europe. The rise of European Jewry is therefore explained by the contribution of the Judeo–Khazars. Thus far, however, the Khazars’ contribution has been estimated only empirically, as the absence of genome-wide data from Caucasus populations precluded testing the Khazarian hypothesis. Recent sequencing of modern Caucasus populations prompted us to revisit the Khazarian hypothesis and compare it with the Rhineland hypothesis. We applied a wide range of population genetic analyses to compare these two hypotheses. Our findings support the Khazarian hypothesis and portray the European Jewish genome as a mosaic of Near Eastern-Caucasus, European, and Semitic ancestries, thereby consolidating previous contradictory reports of Jewish ancestry. We further describe a major difference among Caucasus populations explained by the early presence of Judeans in the Southern and Central Caucasus. Our results have important implications for the demographic forces that shaped the genetic diversity in the Caucasus and for medical studies.
We compared two genetic models for European Jewish ancestry depicting a mixed Khazarian–European–Middle Eastern and sole Middle Eastern origins. Contemporary populations were used as surrogates to the ancient Khazars and Judeans, and their relatedness to European Jews was compared over a comprehensive set of genetic analyses. Our findings support the Khazarian hypothesis depicting a large Near Eastern–Caucasus ancestry along with Southern European, Middle Eastern, and Eastern European ancestries, in agreement with recent studies and oral and written traditions. We conclude that the genome of European Jews is a tapestry of ancient populations including Judaized Khazars, Greco–Roman Jews, Mesopotamian Jews, and Judeans and that their population structure was formed in the Caucasus and the banks of the Volga with roots stretching to Canaan and the banks of the Jordan.
Ancient communities of Jews existed in the Crimean Peninsula, a fact proven by much archaeological evidence. It is significant that the Crimea came under the control of the Khazars. The Crimean Jewish communities were later supplemented by refugee Jews fleeing the Mazdaq rebellion in Persia, the persecutions of Byzantine emperors Leo III and Romanus I Lecapenus, and for a variety of other reasons. Jews came to Khazaria from modern-day Uzbekistan, Armenia, Hungary, Syria, Turkey, Iraq, and many other places, as documented by al-Masudi, the Schechter Letter, Saadiah Gaon, and other accounts. The Arabic writer Dimashqi wrote that these refugee Jews offered their religion to the Khazar Turks and that the Khazars “found it better than their own and accepted it”. The Jewish Radhanite traders may have also influenced the conversion. Adopting Judaism was perhaps also a symbol of political independence for Khazaria, holding the balance of power between Muslim Caliphate and the Christian Byzantine Empire.
Under the leadership of kings Bulan and Obadiah, the standard rabbinical form of the Jewish religion spread among the Khazars. King Bulan adopted Judaism in approximately the year 838, after supposedly holding a debate between representatives of the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim faiths. The Khazar nobility and many of the common people also became Jews. King Obadiah later established synagogues and Jewish schools in Khazaria. The books of the Mishnah, Talmud, and Torah thus became important to many Khazars. Saint Cyril came to Khazaria in 860 in a Byzantine attempt to convert the Khazars to Christianity, but he was unsuccessful in converting them away from Judaism. He did, however, convince many of the Slavs to adopt Christianity. By the 10th century, the Khazars wrote using Hebrew letters. The major Khazar Jewish documents from that period were written in the Hebrew language. The Ukrainian professor Omeljan Pritsak estimated that there were as many as 30,000 Jews in Khazaria by the 10th century. In 2002, the Swedish numismatist Gert Rispling discovered a Khazar Jewish coin.
In general, the Khazars may be described as a productive and tolerant people, in contact with much of the rest of the world and providing goods and services at home and abroad. Many artifacts from the Khazars, exhibiting their artistic and industrial talents, have survived to the present day.
During the 10th century, the East Slavs were united under Scandinavian overlordship. A new nation, Kievan Rus, was formed by Prince Oleg. Just as the Khazars had left their mark on other peoples, so too did they influence the Rus. The Rus and the Hungarians both adopted the dual-kingship system of the Khazars. The Rus princes even borrowed the title kagan. Archaeologists recovered a variety of Khazar or Khazar-style objects (including clothing and pottery) from Viking gravesites in Chernigov, Gnezdovo, Kiev, and even Birka (Sweden). The residents of Kievan Rus patterned their legal procedures after the Khazars. In addition, some Khazar words became part of the old East Slavic language: for example, bogatyr (“brave knight”) apparently derives from the Khazar word baghatur.
The Rus inherited most of the former Khazar lands in the late 10th century and early 11th century. One of the most devastating defeats came in 965, when Rus Prince Svyatoslav conquered the Khazar fortress of Sarkel. It is believed that he conquered Itil two years later, after which he campaigned in the Balkans.
Mountain Jews, or Jews of the Caucasus, have inhabited the Caucasus since the fifth century CE. Being the descendants of the Persian Jews of Iran, their migration from Persia proper to the Caucasus took place in the Sasanian era (224–651). It is believed that they had arrived in Persia, from Ancient Israel, as early as the 8th century BCE. Other sources attest that Mountain Jews were present in the region of Azerbaijan at least since 457 BCE. However, Mountain Jews only took shape as a community after Qajar Iran ceded the areas in which they lived to the Russian Empire per the Treaty of Gulistan of 1813.
Mountain Jews have an oral tradition, passed down from generation to generation, that they are descended from the Ten Lost Tribes, which were exiled by the king of Assyria (Ashur), who ruled over northern Iraq from Mosul (across the Tigris River from the ancient city of Nineveh). The reference most likely is to Shalmaneser, the King of Assyria who is mentioned in II Kings 18:9–12. According to local Jewish tradition, some 19,000 Jews departed Jerusalem (used here as a generic term for the Land of Israel) and passed through Syria, Babylonia, and Persia and then, heading north, entered into Media.
Contemporary Eastern European Jews comprise the largest ethno-religious aggregate of modern Jewish communities, accounting for approximately 90% of over 13 million Jews worldwide (Ostrer 2001). Speculated to have emerged from a small Central European founder group and thought to have maintained high endogamy, Eastern European Jews are considered a “population isolate” and invaluable subjects in disease studies (Carmeli 2004), although their ancestry remains debatable between geneticists, historians, and linguists (Wexler 1993; Brook 2006; Sand 2009; Behar et al. 2010). Recently, several large-scale studies have attempted to chart the genetic diversity of Jewish populations by genotyping Eurasian Jewish and non-Jewish populations (Conrad et al. 2006; Kopelman et al. 2009; Behar et al. 2010). Interestingly, some of these studies linked Caucasus populations with Eastern European Jews, at odds with the narrative of a Central European founder group. Because correcting for population structure and using suitable controls are critical in medical studies, it is vital to examine the hypotheses purporting to explain the ancestry of Eastern and Central European Jews. One of the major challenges for any hypothesis is to explain the massive presence of Jews in Eastern Europe, estimated at eight million people at the beginning of the 20th century.