The mystery of Jewish genetics

While the Jews of today are connected historically and religiously to the Jews of ancient Israel, the DNA evidence also indicates that a significant amount of Jewish ancestry can be traced directly back to their Israelite/Middle Eastern ancestors. However, these ancestors represented a heterogeneous mix of Semitic and Mediterranean groups, even at their very beginnings.

While earlier studies focused on the Middle Eastern component of Jewish DNA, new research has revealed that both Europeans and Central Asians also made significant genetic contributions to Jewish ancestry. Moreover, while the DNA studies have confirmed the close genetic interrelatedness of many Jewish communities, they have also confirmed what many suspected all along: Jews do not constitute a single group distinct from all others. Rather, modern Jews exhibit a diversity of genetic profiles, some reflective of their Semitic/Mediterranean ancestry, but others suggesting an origin in European and Central Asian groups. The blending of European, Semitic, Central Asian and Mediterranean heritage over the centuries has led to today’s Jewish populations.

While the Canaanites were a Western Semitic people indigenous to the area, they appear to have consisted of a diverse ethno-cultural mix from the earliest times. It is from this diverse group that the evolution of the Israelites occurred. Although little is known about these groups, they probably included some of the following populations:

1. Amorites: Western Semites like the Canaanites. They were probably the pastoral nomadic component of the Canaanite people.
2. Hittites: A non-Semitic people from Anatolia and Northern Syria.
3. Hurrians (Horites): A non-Semitic people who inhabited parts of Syria and Mesopotamia. Many kings of the early Canaanite city-states had Hurrian names.
4. Amalekites: Nomads from southern Transjordan. Even inimical references to this group in the Hebrew Bible “tacitly” acknowledge that the Israelites and Amalekites shared a common ancestry.
5. Philistines: Referred to in ancient texts as “Sea Peoples.” They invaded and settled along the coasts of ancient Canaan. Their culture appears to stem from that of Mycenae.

(Dever 2003, pp. 219-220).

Ironically, however, many scholars believe the Ashkenazi population probably had its earliest roots in Rome, where Jews began to establish communities as early as the second century B.C. While some of these Jews were brought to Rome as slaves, others settled there voluntarily. There were as many as 50,000 Jews in and around Rome by the first century CE, most who were “poor, Greek-speaking foreigners” scorned for their poverty and slave status (Konner 2003, p. 86). Eventually, however, many of these slaves gained their freedom, continuing to live in and around Rome.

By 600 CE, Jews were present in many parts of Europe, with small settlements in Germany, France and Spain. More to the east, there were also small Jewish settlements along the Black Sea, as well as larger communities in Greece and the Balkans (Konner 2003, p. 110).

By the 12th-13th centuries CE, Jews were expelled from many countries of Western Europe, but were granted charters to settle in Poland and Lithuania (Ostrer 2001). The Ashkenazi Jewish population expanded rapidly in Eastern Europe, growing from an estimated 15,000-25,000 people in the 13th-15th centuries, to two million by 1800 and eight million in 1939 (Ostrer 2001, Behar 2004b). Thus, Jewish settlement in Eastern Europe became the dominant culture of the European Jews, and then of most Jews throughout the world.


For anyone like me who loves history told through genes, this article from 2005 is a complete goldmine. Newer data has come out that does not radically contradict anything found here.

7 Responses to “The mystery of Jewish genetics”

  1. Ponto says:

    In all honesty I do not understand the fascination about the origins of the Jewish communities or the hatred applied to them. I am not American.

    I am not a Christian, Muslim or Jew so any holy books and what is written in them about any ancient peoples have no authority or validity. My take on the Jews, the European ones not Indian or Chinese or any Jews, is that they are essentially the descendants of European converts to Judaism or something that evolved into Judaism. The fact that Jews have so called Middle Eastern haplogroups is not really relevant. Those Middle Eastern haplogroups, the Middle East is just the on the eastern side of the Mediterranean Sea, have been in Europe since humans moved into Europe thousands of years before Jews or even Arabs existed as communities or ethnicities. Italy, Greece and Spain contain lots of the so called Middle Eastern haplogroups. European haplogroups like I or R also originated in the Middle East or Central Asia. There are no aboriginal haplogroups in Europe just haplogroups that are more frequently found in Europe or the Middle East. In any case, the Neolithic movement of people from the Levant bringing agriculture with them spread common Middle Eastern haplogroups around the Mediterranean Sea, the corridor from the Balkans into Central Europe thousands of years prior to the existence of any Jews in Europe, which according to guessed or putative history took place just before to the advent of the Common Era.

    It is also interesting that European Jews’ haplogroups link them with northern Middle Easterners like Anatolian Turks, Iraqis and Iranians and not people found in the place where Israel exists.

    All that stuff written about Jews and their origins by Jews or non Jews alike is just a lot of hooey.

    • somebody says:

      yes, peaple doesn’t need to be surprised that jews are semithe, becouse they look as lebanese and syrians, meaning syrid semithes.
      jews have the j gean, that the only europeans that have sutch geans are SOUTH italians, that also have cohen mark, meaning they have israelite origin!!
      the other common holygrop is the e1, that common with all the norht afrikan races, espeacily with egyptians, and also other semithes, the only europeans are greeks, now, greeks and romans been invaded to israel!!! so you not seeing the conection!!! there is many snacint sourses, that show that greeks and jews look allmost the same, if you think that south italians and greeks are white, you should visit those countries.

      • Jake says:

        Your remark is only very partially right: have a look on Ashkenazim population and you will see that at least 50% is looking pure european even nordic germanic an slav…the remain has sometimes parts of south European types. Their haplogroups are not J K N Q or so but G H R I and Tzar of Russia and a lot of his european royal cousuins are of Hplgp T which is a Mesopotamian one!!! Your conclusion is absolutely not effective!Sorry !

  2. David Callo says:

    There is no such thing as “Pure European”. What is your definition of “Pure European”? You can’t say someone looks “Pure European” when typical Norwegians don’t look like Spanish, and the Spanish don’t look like Germans and the Germans don’t look like Greeks. European Jews share common genetic trends with Greeks, Italians and Turks. This makes sense since Jews originated in the Middle East and Mediteranean Basin. Although you will at times find Jews that are Blonde Haired and Blue Eyed, this is more the exception than the rule and Genetics are more about rules/trends than exceptions. You will also find Sicilians and Greeks that are blonde/blue, but again, this is the exception and not the rule. If you will go to Modern Day Israel, truely Nordic Looking/appearing Jews are by far the exception, not the rule.

  3. Jenny says:

    This article has some historic innacuracies – philistines and canaanaties were the ENEMIES of Israelites. While Israelites intermixed with them somewhat, it wasn’t the norm and statement such as
    “It is from this diverse group that the evolution of the Israelites occurred.”

    is simply wrong.

  4. kyleD says:

    Read the about and the only answers you will find here is.

    another man with his head in the clouds talking unrealistic an unproven theoretical bunch of bullshit with no backing based on key words that sound good but have nothing backing them. Get a life i hate people that know everything and have nothing its called merit

  5. Nalto says:

    Judaism is a nationalistic religion, they see themselves as a nation even if they converted yesterday, it’s just the nature of judaism. If you ask an Ethiopian jew he will tell you my great ancestors are the hebrews

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