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     The Thirteenth Tribe: The history of non-Semitic Jews

 

 

 

Whenever anybody criticizes Zionist colonialist excesses or tries to expose the undue influence their lobbyists exert on our public institutions, the cry of anti-Semitism is designed to stifle debate. Below we quote from Arthur Koestler's scholarly exposition "The Thirtheenth Tribe" which shows that whilst Arab Palestinians are Semitic, the majority of Israeli Jews are not. There is little wonder why they wear medieval European costumes and take part in, for example, the European Song Festival: They are a latter-day addition to the twelve original tribes of Israel.

"At the beginning of the eighth century the world was polarized between the two super-powers representing Christianity and Islam. Their ideological doctrines were welded to power-politics pursued by the classical methods of propaganda, subversion and military conquest. The Khazar Empire represented a Third Force, which had proved equal to either of them, both as an adversary and an ally. But it could only maintain its independence by accepting neither Christianity nor Islam - for either choice would have automatically subordinated it to the authority of the Roman Emperor or the Caliph of Baghdad. There had been no lack of efforts by either court to convert the Khazars to Christianity or Islam, but all they resulted in was the exchange of diplomatic courtesies, dynastic inter-marriages and shifting military alliances based on mutual self-interest. Relying on its military strength, the Khazar kingdom, with its hinterland of vassal tribes, was determined to preserve its position as the Third Force, leader of the uncommitted nations of the steppes. At the same time, their intimate contacts with Byzantium and the Caliphate had taught the Khazars that their primitive shamanism was not only barbaric and outdated compared to the great monotheistic creeds, but also unable to confer on the leaders the spiritual and legal authority which the rulers of the two theocratic world powers, the Caliph and the Emperor, enjoyed. Yet the conversion to either creed would have meant submission, the end of independence, and thus would have defeated its purpose. What could have been more logical than to embrace a third creed, which was uncommitted towards either of the two, yet represented the venerable foundation of both?"

"Though the Khazar court's conversion was no doubt politically motivated, it would still be absurd to imagine that they embraced overnight, blindly, a religion whose tenets were unknown to them. In fact, however, they had been well acquainted with Jews and their religious observances for at least a century before the conversion, through the continued influx of refugees from religious persecution in Byzantium, and to a lesser extent from countries in Asia Minor conquered by the Arabs. We know that Khazaria was a relatively civilized country among the Barbarians of the North, yet not committed to either of the militant creeds, and so it became a natural haven for the periodic exodus of Jews under Byzantine rule, threatened by forced conversion and other pressures."

"The exiles also brought with them Byzantine arts and crafts, superior methods in agriculture and trade, and the square Hebrew alphabet. We do not know what kind of script the Khazars used before that, but the Fihrist of Ibn Nadim,7 a kind of universal bibliography written circa AD 987, informs us that in his time the Khazars used the Hebrew alphabet. It served the dual purpose of scholarly discourse in Hebrew (analogous to the use of mediaeval Latin in the West) and as a written alphabet for the various languages spoken in Khazaria (analogous to the use of the Latin alphabet for the various vernaculars in Western Europe). From Khazaria the Hebrew script seemed to have spread into neighbouring countries... Some Hebrew letters (shin and tsadei) also found their way into the Cyrillic alphabet, and furthermore, many Polish silver coins have been found, dating from the twelfth or thirteenth century, which bear Polish inscriptions in Hebrew lettering (e.g., Leszek krol Polski Leszek King of Poland), side by side with coins inscribed in the Latin alphabet."

"Thus while the conversion was no doubt inspired by opportunistic motives - conceived as a cunning political manoeuvre - it brought in its wake cultural developments which could hardly have been foreseen by those who started it. The Hebrew alphabet was the beginning; three centuries later the decline of the Khazar state is marked by repeated outbreaks of a messianic Zionism, with pseudo-Messiahs like David El-Roi (hero of a novel by Disraeli) leading quixotic crusades for the re-conquest of Jerusalem."

The circumstances of the conversion are obscured by legend, but the principal Arab and Hebrew accounts of it have some basic features in common. Al-Masudi's account of the Jewish rule in Khazaria, quoted earlier on, ends with a reference to a previous work of his, in which he gave a description of those circumstances. That previous work of Masudi's is lost; but there exist two accounts which are based on the lost book. The first, by Dimaski (written in 1327), reiterates that at the time of Harun al Rashid, the Byzantine Emperor forced the Jews to emigrate; these emigrants came to the Khazar country where they found "an intelligent but uneducated race to whom they offered their religion. The natives found it better than their own and accepted it." The second, much more detailed account is in al-Bakri's Book of Kingdoms and Roads (eleventh century)."

 

"We now turn from the principal Arab source on the conversion - Masudi and his compilers - to the principal Jewish source. This is the so-called "Khazar Correspondence": an exchange of letters, in Hebrew, between Hasdai Ibn Shaprut, the Jewish chief minister of the Caliph of Cordoba, and Joseph, King of the Khazars or, rather, between their respective scribes. The authenticity of the correspondence has been the subject of controversy but is now generally accepted with due allowance made for the vagaries of later copyists."

 

"The exchange of letters apparently took place after 954 and before 961, that is roughly at the time when Masudi wrote. To appreciate its significance a word must be said about the personality of Hasdai Ibn Shaprut - perhaps the most brilliant figure in the "Golden Age" (900-1200) of the Jews in Spain. .In 929, Abd-al-Rahman III, a member of the Omayad dynasty, succeeded in unifying the Moorish possessions in the southern and central parts of the Iberian peninsula under his rule, and founded the Western Caliphate. His capital, Cordoba, became the glory of Arab Spain, and a focal centre of European culture with a library of 400000 catalogued volumes. Hasdai, born 910 in Cordoba into a distinguished Jewish family, first attracted the Caliph's attention as a medical practitioner with some remarkable cures to his credit. Abd‑al‑Rahman appointed him his court physician, and trusted his judgment so completely that Hasdai was called upon, first, to put the state finances in order, then to act as Foreign Minister and diplomatic trouble‑shooter in the new Caliphate's complex dealings with Byzantium, the German EmperorOtto, with Castile, Navarra, Arragon and other Christian kingdoms in the north of Spain. Hasdai was a true uomo universale centuries before the Renaissance who, in between affairs of state, still found the time to translate medical books into Arabic, to correspond with the learned rabbis of Baghdad and to act as a Maecenas for Hebrew grammarians and poets. He obviously was an enlightened, yet a devoted Jew, who used his diplomatic contacts to gather information about the Jewish communities dispersed in various parts of the world, and to intervene on their behalf whenever possible."

 

"Hasdai first heard of the existence of an independent Jewish kingdom from some merchant traders from Khurasan in Persia; but he doubted the truth of their story. Later he questioned the members of a Byzantine diplomatic mission to Cordoba, and they confirmed the merchants' account, contributing a considerable amount of factual detail about the Khazar kingdom, including the name - Joseph - of its present King. Thereupon Hasdai decided to send couriers with a letter to King Joseph. The letter ... contains a list of questions about the Khazar state, its people, method of government, armed forces, and so on - including an inquiry to which of the twelve tribes Joseph belonged. This seems to indicate that Hasdai thought the Jewish Khazars to hail from Palestine - as the Spanish Jews did and perhaps even to represent one of the Lost Tribes. Joseph, not being of Jewish descent, belonged, of course, to none of the tribes; in his Reply to Hasdai, he provides, as we shall see, a genealogy of a different kind, but his main concern is to give Hasdai a detailed if legendary - account of the conversion - which took place two centuries earlier - and the circumstances that led to it."

 

"Joseph then proceeds to provide a genealogy of his people. Though a fierce Jewish nationalist, proud of wielding the `sceptre of Judah", he cannot, and does not, claim for them Semitic descent; he traces their ancestry not to Shem, but to Noah's third son, Japheth; or more precisely to Japheth's grandson, Togarma, the ancestor of all Turkish tribes. "We have found in the family registers of our fathers," Joseph asserts boldly, "that Togarma had ten sons, and the names of their offspring are as follows: Uigur, Dursu, Avars, Huns, Basilii, Tarniakh, Khazars, Zagora, Bulgars, Sabir. We are the sons of Khazar, the seventh..." .The identity of some of these tribes, with names spelt in the Hebrew script is rather dubious, but that hardly matters; the characteristic feature in this genealogical exercise is the amalgamation of Genesis with Turkish tribal tradition. [It also throws a sidelight on the frequent description of the Khazars as the people of Magog. Magog, according to Genesis X, 2-3 was the much maligned uncle of Togarma.] .After the genealogy, Joseph mentions briefly some military conquests by his ancestors which carried them as far as the Danube; then follows at great length the story of Bulan's conversion. "From this day onwards," Joseph continues, "the Lord gave him strength and aided him; he had himself and his followers circumcized and sent for Jewish sages who taught him the Law and explained the Commandments." There follow more boasts about military victories, conquered nations, etc., and then a significant passage:

 

After these events, one of his [Bulan's] grandsons became King; his name was Obadiab, he was a brave and venerated man who reformed the Rule, fortified the Law according to tradition and usage, built synagogues and schools, assembled a multitude of Israel's sages, gave them lavish gifts of gold and silver, and made them interpret the twenty-four [sacred] books, the Mishna [Precepts] and the Talmud, and the order in which the liturgies are to be said.

This indicates that, about a couple of generations after Bulan, a religious revival or reformation took place (possibly accompanied by a coup d'etat on the lines envisaged by Artamonov). It seems indeed that the Judaization of the Khazars proceeded in several steps. We remember that King Bulan drove out "the sorcerers and idolators" before the angel appeared to him; and that he made his Covenant with the "true God" before deciding whether He was the Jewish, Christian or Muslim God. It seems highly probable that the conversion of King Bulan and his followers was another intermediary step, that they embraced a primitive or rudimentary form of Judaism, based on the Bible alone, excluding the Talmud, all rabbinical literature, and the observances derived from it. In this respect they resembled the Karaites, a fundamentalist sect which originated in the eighth century in Persia and spread among Jews all over the world particularly in "Little Khazaria", i.e., the Crimea. Dunlop and some other authorities surmised that between Bulan and Obadiah (i.e., roughly between 740 and 800) some form of Karaism prevailed in the country, and that orthodox "Rabbinic" Judaism was only introduced in the course of Obadiah's religious reform. The point is of some importance because Karaism apparently survived in Khazaria to the end, and villages of Turkish-speaking Karaite Jews, obviously of Khazar origin, still existed in modern times ...Thus the Judaization of the Khazars was a gradual process which, triggered off by political expediency, slowly penetrated into the deeper strata of their minds and eventually produced the Messianism oftheir period of decline. Their religious commitment survived the collapse of their state, and persisted, as we shall see, in the Khazar-Jewish settlements of Russia and Poland."

 

"After mentioning Obadiah's religious reforms, Joseph gives a list of his successors:

 

Hiskia his son, and his son Manasseh, and Chanukah the brother of Obadiah, and Isaac his son, Manasseh his son, Nissi his son, Menahem his son, Benjamin his son, Aaron his son, and I am Joseph, son of Aaron the Blessed, and we were all sons of Kings, and no stranger was allowed to occupy the throne of our fathers.

 

Next, Joseph attempts to answer Hasdai's questions about the size and topography of his country. But he does not seem to have a competent person at his court who could match the skill of the Arab geographers, and his obscure references to other countries and nations add little to what we know from Ibn Hawkal, Masudi and the other Persian and Arabic sources. He claims to collect tribute from thirty-seven nations - which seems a rather tall proposition; yet Dunlop points out that nine of these appear to be tribes living in the Khazar heartland, and the remaining twenty-eight agree quite well with Ibn Fadlan's mention of twenty-five wives, each the daughter of a vassal king (and also with Eldad ha-Dani's dubious tales). We must further bear in mind the multitude of Slavonic tribes along the upper reaches of the Dnieper and as far as Moscow, which, as we shall see, paid tribute to the Khazars. .However that may be, there is no reference in Joseph's letter to a royal harem only a mention of a single queen and her maids and eunuchs'. These are said to live in one of the three boroughs of Joseph's capital, Itil: "in the second live Israelites, Ishmaelis, Christians and other nations who speak other languages; the third, which is an island, I inhabit myself, with the princes, bondsmen and all the servants that belong to me."

"The next passage is devoted to the date of the coming of the Messiah:

 

We have our eyes on the sages of Jerusalem and Babylon, and although we live far away from Zion, we have nevertheless heard that the calculations are erroneous owing to the great profusion of sins, and we know nothing, only the Eternal knows how to keep the count. We have nothing to hold on only the prophecies of Daniel, and may the Eternal speed up our Deliverance."

 

"Among other Hebrew sources, there is the "Cambridge Document" (so called after its present location in the Cambridge University Library). It was discovered at the end of the last century, together with other priceless documents in the "Cairo Geniza", the store-room of an ancient synagogue, by the Cambridge scholar, Solomon Schechter. The document is in a bad state; it is a letter (or copy of a letter) consisting of about a hundred lines in Hebrew; the beginning and the end are missing, so that it is impossible to know who wrote it and to whom it was addressed. King Joseph is mentioned in it as a contemporary and referred to as "my Lord", Khazaria is called "our land"; so the most plausible inference is that the letter was written by a Khazar Jew of King Joseph's court in Joseph's lifetime, i.e., that it is roughly contemporaneous with the "Khazar Correspondence". Some authorities have further suggested that it was addressed to Hasdai ibn Shaprut, and handed in Constantinople to Hasdai's unsuccessful envoy, Isaac bar Nathan, who brought it back to Cordoba (whence it found its way to Cairo when the Jews were expelled from Spain). At any rate, internal evidence indicates that the document originated not later than in the eleventh century, and more likely in Joseph's lifetime, in the tenth." "About a century after the Khazar Correspondence and the presumed date of the Cambridge Document, Jehuda Halevi wrote his once celebrated book, Kuzari, the Khazars. Halevi (1085-1141) is generally considered the greatest Hebrew poet of Spain; the book, however, was written in Arabic and translated later into Hebrew; its sub-title is "The Book of Proof and Argument in Defence of the Despised Faith". Halevi was a Zionist who died on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem; the Kuzari, written a year before his death, is a philosophical tract propounding the view that the Jewish nation is the sole mediator between God and the rest of mankind. At the end of history, all other nations will be converted to Judaism; and the conversion of the Khazars appears as a symbol or token of that ultimate event. In spite of its title, the tract has little to say about the Khazar country itself, which serves mainly as a backdrop for yet another legendary account of the conversion the King, the angel, the Jewish scholar, etc. - and for the philosophical and theological dialogues between the King and the protagonists of the three religions. However, there are a few factual references, which indicate that Halevi had either read the correspondence between Hasdai and Joseph or had other sources of information about the Khazar country."

 

"Halevi twice, in different places of the book, gives the date of the conversion as having taken place "400 years ago" and "in the year 4500" (according to the Jewish calendar). This points to AD 740, which is the most likely date. All in all, it is a poor harvest as far as factual statements are concerned, from a book that enjoyed immense popularity among the Jews of the Middle Ages. But the mediaeval mind was less attracted by fact than by fable, and the Jewswere more interested in the date of the coming of the Messiah than in geographical data. The Arab geographers and chroniclers had a similarly cavalier attitude to distances, dates and the frontiers between fact and fancy. .This also applies to the famed German-Jewish traveller, Rabbi Petachia of Ratisbon, who visited Eastern Europe and western Asia between 1170 and 1185. His travelogue, Sibub Ha'olam, "Journey around the World", was apparently written by a pupil, based on his notes or on dictation. It relates how shocked the good Rabbi was by the primitive observances of the Khazar Jews north of the Crimea, which he attributed to their adherence to the Karaite heresy:

 

And the Rabbi Petachia asked them: "Why do you not believe in the words of the sages [i.e., the Talmudists]?" They replied: "Because our fathers did not teach them to us." On the eve of the Sabbath they cut all the bread which they eat on the Sabbath. They eat it in the dark, and sit the whole day on one spot. Their prayers consist only of the psalms. [Spending the Sabbath in the dark was a well-known Karaite custom.]

 

So incensed was the Rabbi that, when he subsequently crossed the Khazar heartland, all he had to say was that it took him eight days, during which "he heard the wailing of women and the barking of dogs". He does mention, however, that while he was in Baghdad, he had seen envoys from the Khazar kingdom looking for needy Jewish scholars from Mesopotamia and even from Egypt, "to teach their children Torah and Talmud". While few Jewish travellers from the West undertook the hazardous journey to the Volga, they recorded encounters with Khazar Jews at all principal centres of the civilized world. Rabbi Petachia met them in Baghdad; Benjamin of Tudela, another famous traveller of the twelfth century, visited Khazar 6 notables in Constantinople and Alexandria; Ibraham ben Daud, a contemporary of Judah Halevi's, reports that he had seen in Toledo "some of their descendants, pupils of the wise".

 

"One eleventh-century Hebrew author, Japheth ibn-Ali, himself a Karaite, explains the word mamzer; "bastard", by the example of the Khazars who became Jews without belonging to the Race. His contemporary, Jacob ben-Reuben, reflects the opposite side of this ambivalent attitude by speaking of the Khazars as "a single nation who do not bear the yoke of the exile, but are great warriors paying no tribute to the Gentiles". In summing up the Hebrew sources on the Khazars that have come down to us, one senses a mixed reaction of enthusiasm, scepticism and, above all, bewilderment. A warrior-nation of Turkish Jews must have seemed to the rabbis as strange as a circumcized unicorn.

 

"As a postscript to the Arab and Hebrew sources relating to the conversion, it should be mentioned that the apparently earliest Christian source antedates them both. At some date earlier than 864, the Westphalian monk, Christian Druthmar of Aquitania, wrote a Latin treatise Expositio in Evangelium Mattei, in which he reports that "there exist people under the sky in regions where no Christians can be found, whose name is Gog and Magog, and who are Huns; among them is one, called the Gazari, who are circumcized and observe Judaism in its entirety"."

 

"At about the same time when Druthmar wrote down what he knew from hearsay about the Jewish Khazars, a famed Christian missionary, sent by the Byzantine Emperor, attempted to convert them to Christianity. He was no less a figure than St Cyril, "Apostle of the Slavs", alleged designer of the Cyrillic alphabet. He and his elder brother, St Methodius, were entrusted with this and other proselytizing missions by the Emperor Michael III, on the advice of the Patriarch Photius (himself apparently of Khazar descent, for it is reported that the Emperor once called him in anger "Khazar face"). Cyril's proselytizing efforts seem to have been successful among the Slavonic people in Eastern Europe, but not among the Khazars. He travelled to their country via Cherson in the Crimea; in Cherson he is said to have spent six months learning Hebrew in preparation for his mission; he then took the "Khazarian Way" - the Don-Volga portage to Itil, and from there travelled along the Caspian to meet the Kagan (it is not said where). The usual theological disputations followed, but they had little impact on the Khazar Jews Even the adulatory Vita Constantine (Cyril's original name) says only that Cyril made a good impression on the Kagan, that a few people were baptized and two hundred Christian prisoners were released by the Kagan as a gesture of goodwill. It was the least he could do for the Emperor's envoy who had gone to so much trouble. There is a curious sidelight thrown on the story by students of Slavonic philology. Cyril is credited by tradition not only with having devised the Cyrillic but also the Glagolytic alphabet. The latter, according to Baron, was "used in Croatia to the seventeenth century. Its indebtedness to the Hebrew alphabet in at least eleven characters, representing in part the Slavonic sounds, has long been recognized". (The eleven characters are A, B, V, G, E, K, P, R, S, Sch, T.) This seems to confirm what has been said earlier on about the influence of the Hebrew alphabet in spreading literacy among the neighbours of the Khazars."

 

"The evidence quoted in previous chapters adds up to a strong case in favour of those modern historians - whether Austrian, Israeli or Polish who, independ ently from each other, have argued that the bulk of modern Jewry is not of Palestinian, but of Caucasian origin. The mainstream of Jewish migrations did not flow from the Mediterranean across France and Germany to the east and then back again. The stream moved in a consistently westerly direction, from the Caucasus through the Ukraine into Poland and thence into Central Europe. When that unprecedented mass-settlement in Poland came into being, there were simply not enough Jews around in the west to account for it; while in the east a whole nation was on the move to new frontiers. It would of course be foolish to deny that Jews of different origin also contributed to the existing Jewish world-community. The numerical ratio of the Khazar to the Semitic and other contributions is impossible to establish. But the cumulative evidence makes one inclined to agree with the consensus of Polish historians that "in earlier times the main bulk originated from the Khazar country"; and that, accordingly, the Khazar contribution to the genetic make-up of the Jews must be substantial, and in all likelihood dominant.    

 

 

Author: Islamic Party of  Britain
Date Published: June 2002

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