Myth vs. fact: Are today’s Jews the descendants of ancient Israelites?

No serious person can claim that Jews never lived in the Land of Israel, though some still try.

An Israeli flag with a view of the Jordan Valley, on June 14, 2020. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
An Israeli flag with a view of the Jordan Valley, on June 14, 2020. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
James Sinkinson
James Sinkinson
James Sinkinson is president of Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME), which publishes educational messages to correct lies and misperceptions about Israel and its relationship to the United States.

Many opponents of Israel try to disconnect the Jewish people’s long-standing relationship with the Land of Israel as a way of delegitimizing Zionism and the modern State of Israel. They claim the Jewish people today are not descended from the ancient Hebrews and Israelites, and thus try to weaken the case for Zionism and the re-establishment of Jewish sovereignty in its ancestral homeland.

The claims do not come from any one community and have been diffused throughout the years by white supremacists, radical Islamists, far-left and far-right conspiracists, Japanese doomsday cults and parts of the U.S. black community, whether the Nation of Islam or the Black Hebrew Israelites.

Many of these generally opposing groups lean on the so-called “Khazar Myth,” which posits that all or a majority of today’s Ashkenazi Jews are descended from the Khazars, a multi-ethnic conglomerate of mostly Turkic peoples originally from the central Caucasus, who, according to this theory, at some point in history converted to Judaism en masse. Thus, according to this theory, a large part of world Jewry has no roots in the Land of Israel.

However, this theory has found no support among any serious historians, archaeologists or geneticists. It rests on no evidence except the need of some to disconnect the Jewish people from the Land of Israel. Indeed, the theory’s only purpose seems to be the delegitimization of Zionism.

This, and other theories about the origins of the Jewish people outside of the Land of Israel, are merely political arguments that try to use distorted history, utilizing inaccurate archeological and genetic proofs to make these false claims. They also ignore the overwhelming evidence that shows a direct link between the Jews living today around the world and their ancestors who lived in the Land of Israel during the First and Second Temple periods.

Firstly, and most importantly, there has been an unbroken presence of Jews in the Land of Israel since the destruction of Jewish sovereignty and the sack of Jerusalem in the first century C.E. These Jews who managed to remain, against all odds, in the Land of Israel for two millennia, were joined by various communities and individuals from around the Diaspora during the first few centuries after the dispersion until the 20th century.

All these Jews had a clear linguistic, cultural and traditional line of transition completely unique to every Jewish community around the world. For example, a Jew from Yemen and a Jew from Poland would have different characteristics and accents, but they would use similar prayer books and religious treatises, and similar traditions. They would be able to relatively seamlessly pray and practice their religion in each other’s community.

Digging a little deeper, several genetic tests and research studies have proven that disparate Jewish communities share common DNA markers. Studies of autosomal DNA, which look at the entire DNA mixture, show that Jewish populations have tended to form relatively closely related groups in independent communities, with most in a community sharing significant ancestry.

Obviously, there have been outside contributions to the Jewish gene pool.

Nevertheless, for populations of the Jewish Diaspora, the genetic composition of Ashkenazi, Sephardi and Mizrahi Jewish populations show significant shared Middle Eastern ancestry. These results, according to prominent geneticist Doron Behar and many other academic experts in 2010, show a remarkable consistency “with a historical formulation of the Jewish people as descending from ancient Hebrew and Israelites of the Levant” and “the dispersion of the people of ancient Israel throughout the Old World.”

In addition, Jewish communities around the world all show a very specific and unbroken connection to Israel. Every synagogue faces towards Jerusalem, and rare is the prayer or blessing that does not invoke a return to Israel or Jerusalem. Many festivals end with the hope: “Next year in a rebuilt Jerusalem.”

Almost every event in the Jewish life cycle remembers the connection of the Jews to Israel, whether it is the breaking of the glass under the wedding canopy to remember the destruction of Jerusalem or the dirt from the Holy Land that is supposed to be buried with every Jew in any cemetery in the world.

The Jewish connection to the Land of Israel is unbreakable and a return to the land was always the central focus of Jews and Jewish communities for thousands of years. Israel was the religious, civil and national center for all Jews at all times.

Perhaps what rankles opponents of the State of Israel and Zionism is the fact that the Jews are the only people who can demonstrate indigeneity in the Land of Israel as the place where its culture, language and civilization were formed.

No other people speak or use Hebrew or have their singular focus on the sliver of land at the eastern end of the Mediterranean. No other religion or people’s holy books mentions Israel, Zion or Jerusalem nearly as many times as the Torah. The Koran does not mention them at all.

These are unbreakable bonds, and the most up-to-date historic and archaeological work discovers new artifacts and proofs every day of the ineffable, unbreakable Jewish connection to the Land of Israel. No serious person can claim that Jews never lived in the Land of Israel, though some still try, attempting to sever the connection between today’s Jews and the ancient Hebrews and Israelites.

These lies need to be debunked because they are widespread and have been raised in recent weeks by well-known celebrities, like actor and rapper Ice Cube, comedian Nick Cannon and American football players DeSean Jackson and Larry Johnson. Their “evidence” is never more than distorted propaganda that has already been debunked by serious researchers.

Because anti-Semitism never rests, these fabrications will keep spreading unless we continue to demonstrate with fact, history and reason why they have no basis in truth. The Jewish people’s connection to Israel is unique, unbroken and consistent. Our traditions and miraculous history can be seen as a continuous love affair between a people and its ancestral homeland.

James Sinkinson is president of Facts and Logic About the Middle East – FLAME, which publishes educational messages to correct lies and misperceptions about Israel and its relationship to the United States.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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