According to historical evidence, all Jews originally descend from the Near East, and later emigrated to Asia, Europe and Africa. But are these historical records accurate?
The study, published recently in Nature by Mait Metspalu, Doron Behar and Bayazit Yunusbayev from the UT Department of Evolutionary Biology and Estonian Biocentre and co-authored by researchers from Israel, Italy, Portugal, Russia, Spain, UK, and USA, analyzes the relationship between different Jewish communities, their possible common origins, and genetic relationship with differing peoples in whose midst one or another Jewish community has lived, often more than a thousand years.
The complexity of Jewish history makes the study of this people’s genetic structure difficult. There is also the question as to whether Jews comprise an ethnic group with a genetically unified ancestry and common ancestors, or are they more closely related to ethnic groups in whose midst they have lived or continue to live?
According to Professor Richard Villems, one of the authors of the article, this is one of the key questions in the field of genetic population research to which scientists keep returning after refining their theories and methods.
In order to sort out Jewish origins genetic markers of 14 different Jewish communities were compared with those of the 69 Old World non-Jewish communities. The non-Jewish populations analyzed included peoples among whom Jews have lived in the past, as well as peoples inhabiting the ancient homeland of the Jews and its neighboring regions.
To compare these populations the research group employed a recently developed method which enables the comparison of more than 600,000 genetic markers distributed throughout the genome of one individual, thus providing a tool for the study of population structure and demographic history. The three different analyses based on the investigation of the whole genome used in the study yielded similar results.
The study suggests that modern Jews are closely related to non-Jewish indigenous peoples of the Near East, but, with a few exceptions, they are genetically distant from the peoples in whose midst they have lived for many centuries.
“Our findings are consistent with the traditional idea of the history of the Jewish people; in addition to this, they also shed light on the origins of several small Jewish communities, including Indian, Ethiopian, Caucasian, Bukharan and Yemenite Jews,” writes Villems.
Thus, Jews indeed not only share common cultural and religious traditions, but are also a genetically uniform nation whose genetic continuity has survived millennia of tumultuous history.
Behar, D., Yunusbayev, B., Metspalu, M., Metspalu, E., Rosset, S., Parik, J., Rootsi, S., Chaubey, G., Kutuev, I., Yudkovsky, G., Khusnutdinova, E., Balanovsky, O., Semino, O., Pereira, L., Comas, D., Gurwitz, D., Bonne-Tamir, B., Parfitt, T., Hammer, M., Skorecki, K., & Villems, R. (2010). The genome-wide structure of the Jewish people Nature, 466 (7303), 238-242 DOI: 10.1038/nature09103