"When and How Was the Jewish People Invented?"

Ha'aretz reports that a book of this title, written by Professor Shlomo Sand (Shlomo Zand), a Tel Aviv University history professor, has won a French journalism prize for the best non-fiction book of the year. The book will be published in English as "The Invention of the Jewish People." Ha'aretz previously reported the books's thesis:

The community of Jews in Spain sprang from Arabs who became Jews and arrived with the forces that captured Spain from the Christians, and from European-born individuals who had also become Jews.

The first Jews of Ashkenaz (Germany) did not come from the Land of Israel and did not reach Eastern Europe from Germany, but became Jews in the Khazar Kingdom in the Caucasus. Zand explains the origins of Yiddish culture: it was not a Jewish import from Germany, but the result of the connection between the offspring of the Kuzari and Germans who traveled to the East, some of them as merchants.

This is nonsense.

Two data points: (1) Linguists have found exactly no evidence that any words in Yiddish originated from the Caucasian Turkic language spoken by the Khazars, which obviously contradicts the notion that the Khazars contributed substantially to the Eastern European Jewish population, much less that Yiddish language and culture originated with the Khazars; and (2) When I lived in Ann Arbor, I had a conversation with one of the leading medical geneticists in the world, a non-Jewish physician. We discussed the "Ashkenazic" genetic mutations that carry particular diseases, and I pointed out that to the extent they require both parents to carry the gene, my children are safe, because my wife is an Iraqi Jew. The physician responded that many of the "Ashkenazic" mutations are also found in "Sephardim", though they are less prevalent. He added that genetic research shows that Ashkenazim and Sephardim have common genes going back 2,600 years. That was enough to cause me to ignore all subsequent claims about the Khazar origins of the Ashkenazim and whatnot that are based on anything beyond new genetic evidence. [Also, see this Wikipedia entry.]

Not surprisingly, Sand's work has a political agenda, according to Ha'aretz: "to promote the idea that Israel should be a 'state of all its citizens' - Jews, Arabs and others - in contrast to its declared identity as a 'Jewish and democratic' state."

I don't think that Zionism, etc., depends on whether Jews really have common genetic origins or not, anymore than Palestinian identity is any more or less real depending on whether, as some claim, a large percentage of "Palestinian Arabs" had immigrated rather recently from other countries in the Middle East. But I do think that manipulating history for ideological purposes is bad, and the French might reconsider whether this book is eligible for a nonfiction award.

UPDATE: Here's a lengthy review by Professor Israel Bartel of Hebrew University, which points out various tendentious, and inaccurate, aspects of Sand's book. Unfortunately, despite its length, the review fails to point out that the genetic and the linguistic evidence makes a mockery of Sand's thesis, which, in my mind, discredits the whole project.

FURTHER UPDATE: A reader points out via email, correctly, that the Jewish population of Spain, responding to persecution by their Christian rulers, generally sided with the Moslem conquerers. Given that the Jewish presence in Spain predated the Muslim conquest, it's hard to see how Spanish Jews could be all descendants of "Jewish Arabs" who arrived with the Muslim conquest (and it's hard to see how the Spanish Jews could have converted from Christianity if there were not other Jews in Spain to convert them). The reader recommends God's Crucible, by David Levering-Lewis, which he describes as "a history of the interaction between Muslim Spain and Christian France."