History and Genetics: Can the History of the Jews Actually be Observed in their Genomes

Human Genome

Human genome, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Human_genome.png

Part I

The purpose of this study is to relate the substantial discoveries made in the study of the genetics of the Jewish people with the substantial progress made in the study of their history in modern times.  While the study of Jewish genetics is a relatively new field, Jewish history continues to progress due to new data becoming available and also new perspectives and methodologies.  Actually, the study of the genome is fast becoming one of those new methodologies as the boundaries between what were very distant fields appear to be eroding.  Indeed, our purpose here is to hasten this process by attempting to test the results of genetic studies against various models of demographic development.

We will present the material largely according to a geographic classification.  However, before beginning, we need to make clear that there are a variety of models of Jewish population movement that contribute to the overall spread of Jewish population throughout the world.  Since we will encounter a number of these in our discussion, it would be worth surveying the possible forms for the establishment of communities that underlie the discussion that follows.  At the conclusion of our paper, we will want to sum up the various forms of population movement that we have discussed.

At the outset we should say that there are several models for Jewish population movement that we will encounter in the historical and genetic evidence:

  • Migration of small family or tribal groups.
  • Establishment of business centers on trade routes.
  • Mass migration resulting from Exodus, exile or expulsion.
  • Voluntary migration for economic advantage.
  • Involuntary migration resulting from political upheaval or war.

A word about our purpose in this paper is necessary.  These observations are important not only to the presentation that follows, but to much of what has been written about Jews and genetics.  The job of the historian of the Jews is to use all available sources to reconstruct Jewish history.  It is not to seek proofs or disproofs of Jewish traditional or political claims.  While we are all aware of the relevance of the research that we are discussing here to such issues, our job is to steer clear of such polemical research and to make use of genetic evidence as a factor in our understanding of the history of the Jewish people and their spread throughout the world.

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