The mysterious origins of Ashkenazi Jews’ DNA – Were they a Greek people?

They were found in Persia initially

Where do the Jewish people come from? This is a question that anthopologists, historians and theologists have studied for millennia.

According to mythology, the Judaeans descended from three patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who are buried in the Cave of the Patriarchs (Cave of Machpelah) in Hebron – a Palestinian city and world heritage site located in the southern West Bank, 19 miles south of Jerusalem.

Buried alongside them are said to be Adam and Eve and the four Matriarchs – Sara, Rebecca and Leah. The cave has never been excavated, but on top of it is a relatively modern building (mid first-century), which Herod the Great built – likely to honour his ancestors.

For a more scientific take on the Jewish origin debate, recent DNA analysis of Ashkenazic Jews – a Jewish ethnic group – revealed that their maternal line is European. It has also been found that their DNA only has 3% ancient ancestry which links them with the Eastern Mediterranean (also known as the Middle East) – namely Israel, Lebanon, parts of Syria, and western Jordan. This is the part of the world Jewish people are said to have originally come from – according to the Old Testament. But 3% is a minuscule amount, and similar to what modern Europeans as a whole share with Neanderthals. So given that the genetic ancestry link is so low, Ashkenazic Jews’ most recent ancestors must be from elsewhere.

It starts in Persia (modern-day Iran) during the sixth century. This is where most of the world’s Jews were living at this time.

The tolerance of the Persians encouraged the Jews to adopt Persian names, words, traditions, and religious practices, and climb up the social ladder gaining a monopoly on trade. They also converted other people who were living along the Black Sea, to their Jewish faith. This helped to expand their global network.

Among these converts were the Alans (Iranian nomadic pastoral people), Greeks, and Slavs who resided along the southern shores of the Black Sea. Upon conversion, they translated the Old Testament into Greek, built synagogues, and continued expanding the Jewish trade network.

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