Khazars, Hungarians, and Judaism

Last May a massive two-volume history of Jewish Hungarians appeared. When I say massive I’m not exaggerating. Géza Komoróczy, professor of Assyrian and Hebraic Studies at ELTE of Budapest, spent ten years on the research for this comprehensive 2,400-page study. He paid special attention to the neglected Middle Ages. Komoróczy is unique in the sense that he is not Jewish, which is considered to be an oddity nowadays in Hebraic studies. Interestingly enough, in the nineteenth century it was mostly non-Jews who worked on Jewish history; they were the pioneers in the field.

The book is expensive, yet the first edition sold out and the publisher is reprinting it. After the book appeared Komoróczy was interviewed extensively. It was in one of these interviews that Komoróczy talked about the beginnings of Hungarian Jewish history–and the beginnings of Hungarian history as a whole.

The link between the two is the Khazar Empire, whose political elite converted to Judaism. It is known that the Hungarian tribes at one point were under the supremacy of the Khazars. It is possible that the Hungarian chieftains followed the Khazar religious example since they adopted many Khazar customs.

One clue is that Hungary’s third king was a certain Aba Sámuel, most likely the nephew of St. Stephen. Scholars doubt that he followed the Jewish ritual, but it is likely that he came from a family in which the Judaic tradition was strong. Or there is King Salamon (1063-74), son of András I. That’s why Komoróczy jokingly said in the interview that if there was a Jew among the Hungarians who arrived in the Carpathian Basin it was Árpád himself.

You may recall that Arthur Koestler wrote a controversial book entitled The Thirteenth Tribe outlining his hypotheses about the Khazar origins of European Jewry. The Khazars were a Turkic people who lived in the region of the Caucasus. As was so often the case in this region, the Khazars were pushed westward by invading armies from the East and settled in present-day Russia, Ukraine, and Poland. Koestler argued that proving that Ashkenazi Jews had no biological connection to the biblical Jews would remove the racial basis of European anti-Semitism.

Today science ostensibly allows us to be more certain about our ancestry. Yaakov Kleiman’s 2004 study DNA & Tradition: The Genetic Link to the Ancient Hebrews  seemed to have disproved Koestler’s theory. Kleiman stated that “the general Ashkenazi paternal gene pool does not appear to be similar to that of present-day Turkish speakers. This finding opposes the suggestion that most Ashkenazim are descended from the Khazars, the Turkish-Asian empire that converted to Judaism en masse in or about the 8th century C.E.”

Now there is a new study by Eran Elhaik, who published an article in the most recent issue of Genome Biology and Evolution entitled “The Missing Link of Jewish European Ancestry: Contrasting the Rhineland and the Khazarian Hypotheses.” The Rhineland hypothesis describes Eastern European Jews as a “population isolate” that emerged from a small group of German Jews who migrated eastward and expanded rapidly.

Elhaik concentrated on a possible DNA link between the Khazars and present-day European Jews. But there was a bit of a problem. The Khazar population disappeared somewhere on the steppes of Russia. So Elhaik studied first the DNA of people of the Caucasus today, altogether 74 ethnic groups, and compared them to eight different Jewish groups, among them some from the Near East. He came to exactly the opposite conclusion from Kleiman. According to him, European Jews are most closely related to the Turkic-Iranian ethnic pool, although there are some Semitic strains as well.

Khazars

Elhaik’s explanation for the Semitic strain is that Semitic people also migrated to Khazaria from the Near East, specifically from Mesopotamia and Judea. These groups settled in the southern parts of Khazaria where today Georgians and Armenians live. The researcher claims that the closest genetic relationship of Ashkenazi Jews is with the Armenians of today.

According to Elhaik’s account, the DNA of today’s Jewry comes from three different sources: (1) the non-Semitic Khazars, (2) the Jews who settled in the Greek and Roman Empires, and (3) the Jews of Mesopotamia and Judea.

But then where does the Yiddish language widely spoken in earlier times by Jews come from? Although it includes Hebrew words, it surely has its roots in the German language. That would support the Rhineland theory. Koestler’s answer to this was that during the Middle Ages most of the cities of Eastern Europe were inhabited by Germans. This was certainly true of Poland, and of Hungary as well. Koestler pointed out that since Jews were not allowed to own land they had to settle in cities where they picked up more and more German words.

I guess one can have two completely different results from DNA research. Therefore, unlike Origo, which confidently entitled its article on the subject “The genetic foundation of anti-Semitism is disproved,” I find it difficult to wholeheartedly embrace this new theory. I would like to know, for example, what language these Jewish Khazars who moved to Poland spoke. And are there any traces of a Turkic language in Yiddish?

Whatever the case, let’s be satisfied with the likelihood that the Khazar influence on the early Hungarians also meant that high Hungarian officials converted to Judaism alongside the Khazars. I’m pretty sure that this is shocking enough to our anti-Semites.

56 comments

  1. Elhaik actually argues for the Caucasian, especially Armenian origin of the Eastern European Jews. On the other hand, he plots the origin of Jews into Northeastern Turkey in Figure 4.
    [That area was never part of Khazaria – let me remark]

    Since he thinks that Israeli Druze also came from Eastern Turkey, Jews and Druze are also brothers.

    Well, then Hungarians are really close to Jews: think of the abducted Ossetian asszonyok and the loan words from the Caucasus like hid = bridge.

    Let me add that most people were kóbor or kósza (nomadic wanderers) in the steppe, independently of their genetic or linguistic origin, so they were called Kabar or Khazar, later Kazakh or Cossack.

  2. hongorma :
    Unfortunately, the entire question of the connection between the Altaic (Turkish, Mongolian, Tunguz, etc) and Uralic languages (like Hungarian) is so over-politicized (by both sides, actually), and has been for years, that it is hard to see when if ever it will get a fair hearing. That there are significant Altaic influences on Hungarian (both lexically and in terms of morphology) to me seems indisputable. The question of whether this occured through areal contact or if there is some kind of a typological relation is moot. Sadly, certain right-wing parties, determined to emphasize “our” Asian ancestry at all costs, carry the Altaic-Uralic hypothesis to ridiculous extremes, which then leads to a predictable reaction on that part of the left of denying any Altaic influence whatsoever.

    Over-politicized by both sides? As a Finno-Ugric linguist, I don’t quite understand. No serious Finno-Ugric linguist I know has ever tried to deny or downplay the massive influence that diverse Turkic languages have had on Hungarian, and I don’t understand how the Finno-Ugric relatedness could be politicised in any serious way. (I don’t see any Hungarian politicians pushing Hungary towards stronger contacts with Finland and Estonia, for instance, or publicly criticising the way Russia treats its Finno-Ugric (and other) minorities.)

    The question of the connection between “Altaic” (as far as I know, most linguists of today don’t believe that a genetic connection between the so-called Altaic language groups has been or can be really verified) and Uralic has been subject to intensive research, not only in Hungary, and there are no serious unsolved issues. Everybody agrees that there is a typological similarity (which some linguists have tried to explain by presuming ancient contacts between proto-languages), that is, these language families (along with quite a few others) happen to belong to the same structure type. And everybody agrees that the Turkic languages have had a deep impact on Hungarian.

    The real problem, in my view, is that historical linguistics can be “poltiicised” by naïve nationalist laymen, for a certain reason: Historical-comparative linguists works with something like “pure lineages”. Influences from other languages are not denied or downplayed, but they are held conceptually and methodologically distinct from inherited elements and structures. Unlike in genetics – our genes get mixed in every generation, and every nation is a mixture of various populations – languages normally don’t “get mixed”: you either “inherit” the whole language or you don’t. This, sadly enough, is the wet dream of a naïve nationalist: if we identify “language” and “nation”, we can pinpoint the One and Only Origin of our nation and go on believing that our nation has “always” existed as an organic whole.

    For everybody who reads Hungarian, Klára Sándor’s book “Nyelvrokonság és hunhagyomány” is warmly recommended. My two cents: http://homepage.univie.ac.at/johanna.laakso/wonderbugs.html

  3. And English “see you” is from hungarian “sija” (sorry I don´t know writing of sija)- it was information what I obtained by one student of Hunagarian origin in Slovakia.

  4. Ed :
    And English “see you” is from hungarian “sija” (sorry I don´t know writing of sija)- it was information what I obtained by one student of Hunagarian origin in Slovakia.

    Hungarians invented everything!

    ‘See you’ simply means ‘see you’ – it’s plain, straightforward, very easily understood, English (as in ‘See you later, Alligator’!) It isn’t “from” anywhere, it’s just English.

    Whereas ‘szia’ is a relatively recent form of informal Hungarian address, said to be a shortened version of ‘szervusz’ (which in turn was a Magyorisation of the Latin phrase ‘servus humillimus’ – your humble servant).

    If anything, the popularity of ‘szia’ (it has become ubiquitous in recent years) is quite likely down to the fact that it sounds like the English/American ‘see ya’.

  5. Lecso :
    ** let me correct myself:
    Paul, so are you saying that Jews are an ethnic group, therefore by definition are not Hungarians??

    No.

    How on earth did you read that into what I wrote? (And that applies to both versions of your post!)

  6. What a fascinating thread (now I’ve had the time to read it properly) – HS at it’s best. In particular the contributions from Bob Cohen, tappanch (as always), Vándorló and Karl Pfeifer (by no means an exclusive list of names). There is so much of interest in some of these posts that it’s going to take me several readings to digest them.

    But, sadly, the outcome of all this is that I am even more confused about how the European Jews got there (and why) than I was before. As for the debate about where the Hungarian language came from and its relationship to other languages, I am so confused that I am inclining towards Pibroch’s ‘Holy Crown shaped flying saucer’ idea – it has, at least, the virtue of simplicity…

    One thing that did strike me though is the notion of trying to ‘prove’ a language’s origin by the number of loan words from other languages. This strikes me as of probably very little use, as any language in close contact with many others (e.g. Hungarian or English) will be full of a huge number of loan words from many other languages. I once read that there are actually very few (5% or less?) genuine Hungarian words in Hungarian, even many ‘basic’ words turn out to be borrowed.

    And, in the case of English, you could ‘prove’ all sorts of origin theories on the basis of loan words – e.g. it ‘obviously’ developed from French or Latin. I was once told quite seriously by someone that English was a corrupted form of Latin, bequeathed to us by the Romans during their occupation, and you could tell this because of the many Latin words in English. I pointed out that you could ‘prove’ a Greek origin of the language using the same theory (this didn’t go down too well). We even have loan words from Russian, Japanese, and (of course) Hungarian.

    Returning to the the Jews, I was struck by a phrase of Sandor’s: “Behind the historical workmanship also lurks the intention of the author to boost the case of the Palestinians and their claim for the land of Israel.” Surely the Palestinians claim for “the land of Israel” is based quite simply on the fact that they happen to have lived there for thousands of years? (Although, of course, all they ‘claim’ these days is the part of it left them by the 1967 cease-fire.)

  7. London Calling!

    “Ed :
    And English “see you” is from hungarian “sija” (sorry I don´t know writing of sija)- it was information what I obtained by one student of Hunagarian origin in Slovakia.

    So a student of Hunagarian (sic) origin in Slovakia – is an expert in English etymology?

    I’m afraid your example is a ludicrous, unbelievable and a preposterous suggestion – not worthy of the Hungarian Spectrum community..

    Paul has it right.

    So the whole declension of the English verb ‘to see’ emanates from ‘sija’? And where for goodness sake does the pronoun ‘you’ (pronounced in the cockney form ‘ya’) crash the scene?

    Ed I have dignified your idiocy with a response – idiot that I am.

    You’re pulling our plonker.

    Regards

    Charlie

  8. For Charlie and Paul and others. Information about szia was the example of stupid informations of some people who are expert in all branches. My sample is real. It is sample of un-critical thinking. We have also “great expert” in Slovakia. But I don´t like stupid people who don´t change opinion what is incorrect. The aim was not to insult you. Sorry for my english.

  9. London Calling!

    Ah! Sorry! Ed

    If I understand you correctly you were being ironic? That so-called ‘experts’ are not only to be found in Hungary – but Slovakia too?

    Ok – if so, I owe you an apology – Sorry!

    (And your English is much much better than my Hungarian – so no apology needed.)

    Don’t let it stop you you contributing here either!

    Regards

    Charlie

  10. @Charlie and Ed:

    Now I feel really smug and proud – because I immediately saw that Ed was being sarcastic …

    Welcome Ed to this “forum” or (depending on whom you ask …) band of “Red Eva’s Acolytes”!

    A very interesting discussion again started by Eva’s post – though sometimes really sad …

  11. Wolfi wrote: “He even uses the word “gay” – he must be one of those Liberals, so dreaded by Fidesz etc …” Although FIDESZ is happy to hire the conservative political consultant Arthur J. Finkelstein, who is in a legal domestic partnership with his male partner of some 40 years. FIDESZ is not a conservative party, and the leadership really can care less about such issues. It is a power and kleptocracy party, willing to use any populist issue in its platform to insure that power and access to the Hungarian people’s wealth.

  12. I heard/read this also:

    He doesn’t have to factor in a reelection – so he might start the projects where a large minority of the US start foaming at the mouth …

    Maybe (I really hope) he can work something out re Obamacare, gun control, war (not only on drugs …), sexual equality and so on …

    Hey, it’s good to be an optimist again!

    PS:

    Although I’m still pessimistic regarding Hungarian politics – I fear it will take longer to get rid of Fidesz and their idiotic ideas/laws/personnel …

  13. wolfi: Totally OT, but still …
    Did anyone watch Obama’s inauguration speech ?

    Yes, Obama is fantastic. His language is almost Shakespearean. Alas, we will never see him on the scene as Othello.

  14. Charlie,

    I sincerely hope this was meant as a compliment!

    Just saw on the Hungarian news:

    “The head of Hungary’s public media fund MTVA presented a new rendering of the national anthem in digital format to representatives of Hungarian primary schools both in the country and across the borders”

    Those very nice packages of CDs and DVDs must have cost (i e made someone …) a fortune – you could download them from a server for free – but Fidesz calls CDs “High Tech” …

    These guys are so unbelievably stupid/funny/narrow minded …

  15. wolfi :
    Just saw on the Hungarian news:
    “The head of Hungary’s public media fund MTVA presented a new rendering of the national anthem in digital format to representatives of Hungarian primary schools both in the country and across the borders”
    Those very nice packages of CDs and DVDs must have cost (i e made someone …) a fortune – you could download them from a server for free – but Fidesz calls CDs “High Tech” …
    These guys are so unbelievably stupid/funny/narrow minded …

    I hope someone will throw it up on youtube. Fidesz is so out of touch, that even the million dollar PR specialist from London and the even more expensive PR men from the USA were not able to teach them the meaning of file sharing. No kidding they have to spend the money on specialists and their “high-end” people belong to such a lame talent pool.

  16. wolfi :

    “The head of Hungary’s public media fund MTVA presented a new rendering of the national anthem in digital format to representatives of Hungarian primary schools both in the country and across the borders”

    As I was listening yesterday to the rendition of the American national anthem as sung by that gorgeous looking woman with a great voice I had to think about this mania about the Hungarian national anthem. I.e. that it can be played or sung the official way only.

  17. London Calling!

    I don’t know of the origins of the Hungarian national anthem – but it sounds like a right funeral dirge to me!

    I’m not sure Beyoncé could liven it up much! (Even if she was ‘lip-synching’!)

    I’ve looked up the origins on wikipedia – apparently from 1823.

    Time for a new one? – Perhaps when Orban’s gone?

    Regards

    Charlie

  18. @Charlie FYI In an 1906 recording, they play Rákóczy Induló (Rákóczi March) which is told to have been used as an unofficial anthem for some time two centuries earlier. It is still used on some “non-mainstream” occasions although it is also associated with military happenings/events. About Erkel’s anthem, there are opinions that it was only made more to sound like a funeral after the Treaty Trianon in 1920 by Dohnányi Ernő. These opinions are questioned by others. The discussion got more active by changes in the law some years ago.

  19. 12345 :
    @Charlie FYI In an 1906 recording, they play Rákóczy Induló (Rákóczi March) which is told to have been used as an unofficial anthem for some time two centuries earlier. It is still used on some “non-mainstream” occasions although it is also associated with military happenings/events. About Erkel’s anthem, there are opinions that it was only made more to sound like a funeral after the Treaty Trianon in 1920 by Dohnányi Ernő. These opinions are questioned by others. The discussion got more active by changes in the law some years ago.

    This should be easy to check, the musical notes include the rhythm. I assume the original Erkel notes are archived somewhere.

  20. Actually the three kabar tribes of khazarian origin who joined the Hungarian confederation rebelled against the Khazar Khaganate, (see wiki Khazar Khaganate http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kabar). Mikhail Artamonov, Omeljan Pritsak and others have speculated that the revolt had something to do with a rejection of Judaism. Though is believed that both the Kabars and mainstream Khazars had pagan, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim members. And indeed Judaism was spread mostly in the elite, while the commoners where mostly Muslims or Christians.

  21. I have read all the above comments – I passed over some of them rather quickly – and am most impressed by Bob Cohen’s single contribution of 20 January 2013. Two points I would like to make: Koestler didn’t invent the arguments he put forward in “The Thirteenth Tribe”; they were based on books by Poliak, Patai and Dunlop – see Wikipedia. Secondly, religion and politics should not be mixed in scientific discussion. Koestler had a well-meaning agenda: I should like scientific evidence. If Elhaik’s latest DNA findings are correct, they should be accepted – whatever the subsequent implications for politics.

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