An Agreeable Read
The Khazars may have been a mere historical footnote if not for one very important turn of events. The Khazars C. A.D. 740 adopted Judaism. There are few primary source documents about the Khazars. They are now extinct as a separate nation of peoples. The Khazars finally succumbed to conquest and expansionist pressures that caused their disintegration as a separate peoples C. A.D. 965.
Koestler makes it clear that the history of the Khazars is difficult because of the availability of few primary sources. The sources that are available sometimes amount to little more than fascinating morsels of incomplete information with many gaps. Koestler constantly reminds his readers of the problem.
Koestler comes to a startling conclusion. Jews have traditionally divided into two groups. Jews who were expelled from Spain and Portugal, after 1492, are The Sephardim. The word is derived from the Hebrew word for Spain “Sepharad.” The Jews of Western, and Eastern, Europe are known as The Ashkenazim. The source of this name takes us to straight to the Khazar controversy. Many sources say simply that from the middle ages Ashkenaz was a name applied to the Jews of Western Europe. It is interesting to note that Ashkenaz was a son of Gomer and a brother of Togarmah (Genesis 10:3). The Khazar King Joseph claimed to be descended from Togarmah. Jewish literature identifies Togarmah as the Father of the Turks.
The author’s premise is that the Khazar Jewish proselytes formed a significant portion of Eastern European Jewry (Ashkenazim). As previously noted Koestler frequently reminds the reader of the scantiness of primary sources to document the Khazars. He uses language, logic and reason to prove the possibility of his premise. If there are three things that will get my attention it is language, logic and reason. Koestler presents us with a well documented book that does not seem to contradict any of the primary sources about the Khazars that I was able to look at.
The appendices are every bit as fascinating as the main body of work. Particularly when Koestler examines issues of race and physical appearance. Modern genetic research has come to some startling conclusions about the Jewish priestly Cohens and Levites in the Jewish population and the possibility that the Khazars could be a significant source of Ashkenazim genetic material. This has been described by some as the “Khazar libel.” There is much contradiction, denial and spin going on in this area. Two interesting articles on the genetic aspect of the story are The Cohanim/DNA Connection and Geneticists Report Finding Central Asian Link to Ashkenazi Levites.
There is a Khazar.com site that is loaded with interesting links and info. That same site also has a very interesting genetics page, Jewish Genetics: Abstracts and Summaries. Finally the same site has what seems to be a very complete bibliography for further research. Bibliography of Khazar Studies (1901-Present) Compiled by Kevin Alan Brook