Jewish Origins

5 Jun 2010

At genome analysis has probed Jewish genetics - or distinctly Jewish populations (see American Journal of Human Genetics June 2010). The idea is to find out if there is a distinctly Jewish race - which is a bit of a stupid question as Judaism is a religion and must embrace more than one strand of human genetics. However, for whatever reason, it has been found Jews originated in the Middle East (no mystery there) and migrated from there into Europe and various other places. The diaspora which took place over the last 2000 years (or almost) involved not only the Roman and Persian empires but the Arab empire too - and probably more so. The conclusion is that over that period both gene flow and religion and cultural ideas have contributed to Judaism. Many Jews in the time of Jesus (and the Greco-Roman era in general) came from backgrounds quite different from the Jews of the Biblical books of Kings and Chronicles - as a result of conversion to the faith. Jewishness, it decides, is a combination of people with origins in Palestine plus a large faction that adopted the religion - or married into the faith. Modern Jews have a mixed origin - they may have European, North African, Arab or Turkish genes. Southern European Jewish populations reflect a large scale conversion of non-Jews, possibly in the Roman era, and similarly, North African Jews seem to have mixed freely, or there was a great deal of conversion (before the rise of Islam). The admixture explains why so many European and Syrian Jews have blue eyes and fair hair - but we could have told them that beforehand (see also