History and Genetics: Mesopotamia to Canaan

Tower of Babel

Building of the Tower of Babel (Add MS 18850)

Part III

Among the earliest population movements in Jewish history would certainly be the migration of the extended family of Abraham from ancient Sumer up to Assyria and then to Canaan.  This migration is typical of the voluntary movement of small groups that would later be part of the spread of the Jewish population.  This is the case even if this population with occurred within the context of wider movement set off by the destruction of Ur in the 19th century BCE.  While much recent scholarship has sought to deny the Mesopotamia origins of the Israelite people, we have argued that the clear Mesopotamian origins of elements of the biblical narrative, such as the flood story and the Tower of Babel, and of some legal material, can only be explained in light of Mesopotamia origins.  Genetic evidence does indicate closeness, within the Semitic area, to the Iraqi population, which seems further reason to accept Mesopotamia origins.

Similarly, the biblical narrative describing the Exodus and the conquest of Canaan has also been challenged by recent scholarship.  In this case, we would be dealing with a mass immigration to Canaan, even if the numbers given in the Bible may be exaggerated.  However, genetic evidence will not help us to understand these events.  According to all views, a basic cultural change took place in Canaan circa 1200 BCE.  However, this cultural shift seems to have taken place between closely related Middle Eastern peoples.  Ancient West Semites are in fact the group that seems to have handed down its common genetic characteristics to both Jews and the modern Middle Eastern populations that research has shown are so close to them.

4 Responses to History and Genetics: Mesopotamia to Canaan

  • Dr. David Tee says:

    In reading this, I see a problem and it comes from Genesis 11 & 12. Given the biblical information, we really do not have any nationality to place Abraham within. We do not know which nation he was a part of. Now we can assume he was chaldean but that is an assumption made based upon a giant leap to a conclusion.

    Yes he was living in Ur but was he really chaldean? In looking at Genesis 11 we do not have any mention of any group of people nor do we at babel. I think that that missing information skews the research project.

    I think the field of genetics is too limited to be of any real use.

  • alex masterley says:

    I would just correct an emphasis in the article, regarding the statement that biblical stories such as the mesopotamian origin of the jews and the story of the exodus have been “challenged” by recent scholarship. it’s more accurate to say they’ve been made untenable. The Biblical flood and tower stories are based on Babylonian versions available only around 500 BC, and there’s no evidence whatsoever that the founders of early Iron Age highland settlements in Palestine came from Egypt (and a great deal of evidence that they were Canaanites). I have to agree with the previous comment that this DNA reconstruction of Jewish history seems seriously flawed.

  • Jacko says:

    Well how could anybody in Palestine come from Egypt if they have never been there in the first place? Only babilonian trait has any real historical context. Egypt for great part of history was rather ethnicly isolated state first struggling to unite and their existance was strongly depenedant of Nile what shaped all their geopolitics. There was only one episode of invasion by semitic barbarians from territory of Palestine on Egypt and this one could spread some palestine/jewish genes there not taking them in opposite direction. Also we should remember that religious texts are also source of national mytology what means they aren’t fully credible and might contain manipulations or national interpretations of historical fact used in domestic politics. Afterall Egyptians might have been their enemy not in military sense but rather in economical and cultural manner as always when smaller, weaker nation is bordering richer and is naturally influenced by it what in such conservative religious state was seen as dangerous and myth was best way to keep unity.

  • Paul Renan says:

    Much modern scholarship places Ur of the Chaldees in Northern Mesopotamia. The Bible mentions Haran as the place near to which Rebecca was from , and Haran and Nahor, place names in Genesis, situated in South eastern Turkey- Syria/Northern Iraq, were also the names of the brothers of Abraham. Moreover, haplogroup J1, the most significant y chromosome group , even amongst European Jews, originated in exactly this area. To say the DNA construction is seriously flawed you need to support your statement with evidence. Population genetics is always complex given bottlenecks, genetic drift, and population movement, so care must be taken before blanket statements are made. Maternal haplogroups, among Jews ( and most other populations too ) often differ from the paternal lineages, but that does not mean to say that paternal lineages do not offer important clues to the missing pages of history, provided they are interpreted in an interdisciplinary and scholarly way.

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