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People drinking the cool aid
on February 1, 2016
First, I will give my own background in the context of trying to understand such a book. I have a degree in molecular biology and am an MD. I went to Hebrew school like many Jewish children, and have been to the Middle East including Israel, and including the Paleatinian West Bank. I say this as I'm not some predfoessr or journalist or armchair expert writing a review about a place that I have never seen. I've been there for a while, and seen how people interact with each other and and often heard their views about each other and so forth. I have also read, purely out of interest on Jewish, Arab/ Muslim early history, and have taken some courses on the Classics, again not that I'm an expert but that I have at least some small foundation.
The goals of the author are laid out early, and unfortunately this is not a dispassionate piece of authorship and he divulges his biases fully a priori.
This leads to the transition of the problems with this work. I will start by saying that if something like this were to be attempted to be published in a reputable peer reviewed medical journal, it would be thrown away. In general, one needs a hypothesis and then needs to test it or have observational evidence to support/ refute it. The issue with this work is that he presents his prepositions and assumptions and then applies references to support his views in stead of having the evidence speak for itself. He's applying the scientific method in reverse. the author may have some credibility were it not that he essentially says the whole of Judaism, not just biblical events, but also its people are all invented. Jewish history and what folks have called Jewish memory sometimes have indeed inter twined - but sometimes not. He chooses to focus on only the one, not the other. A bias of omission.
As an example, the concept of Jews going into exile is turned into myth by him. However, from my own readings of multiple other sources, and again for those who want to know more than surface statements from books like this you can find this info in many other more independent books that are concerned with history not politics, about half of the Jews around the destruction of the 2nd temple 70 CE lived outside of what is now Israel. During this revolt, and crushing Roman defeat, I don't know that all the Jews left or were expelled, but the place was razed and there was really nothing for which to stay. Whether some Jews remained, info on their numbers, and exactly the sequence hereafter is ambiguous stuff. It is known that Jews were not permitted back to Jerusalem for several centuries. How well this was enforced in those times again is hard to know now. I mention this episode in particular as the diaspora had already been a major component of Jewish life and the exile was more of catastrophic event, writings fromCasious Dio and others at the time estimate 500-600 thousand Jews were killed. Again, it's difficult to substantiate or refute such claims. However, The Diaspora became the de facto actively survivng Jewish community as there was no place left in which to return - it was essentially destroyed. This leads to him assert that the diaspora was a converted group of people into Judaism. His references here are dubious, but for those interested you can look them up yourself
This is the first time I have read of Jews converting of Gentiles during this period of time. It may be well true, but again, the details are key here: were they small numbers, huge numbers, isolated events, etc. I have to say from this book it's hard to tell. He also implies that the Jews were never considered an ethnolinguistic by the Romans, ancient Greeks, etc, however this is part is absolutely not true, and anyone who has taken even anintro undergrad course on this topic will know that Jews were unequivocally perceived as such by Greek, Roman, and other ancient nations at this time. This is based on the source materials from the Romans and Greeks themselves. Again, he is trying to have the evidence fit his assumptions as opposed to the other way around.
The next issue which he also has no evidence either for or against is the origins of the current Jewish people, especially the Ashkenazim, those of Central and Easyern Europe. His claim is that they likely decend from Khazars, a little known Turkic speaking people whos ruling classes converted to Judaism around the 8-9th century in the area around the Caspian and Caucuses. There are indeed letters, though some have had their authenticity disputed, that support this. But to say that all Ashkenazim decend from them is a pretty bold statement. There are no widespread remaining synogogues, artifacts, or any archeological finds that have ever supported this premise to the extent that the entire majority of European Jews were such converts and that such a mass migration occurred incognito from this region into Eastern Europe. Furthermore, there are no remaining linguistic Turkic words, expressions, cultural references, types of dress, that support this premise within the Ashkenazim. I recall how Elhaik et al published the initial population genetics study on the Ashkenazim and concluding their Khazar origins, and Sand flew off his chair and said "I knew it". Unfortunately, he implicated his own aforementioned bias as the study was so poorly conducted its essentially uninterpretable. Here I can give details as this is molecular biology and content I understand well. The study evaluated huge numbers of genetic markers - but in only 8 Jewish individuals!! It's impossible to draw any conclusion with such methodology using such a tiny sample size and hundreds of metrics - something called multiple testing - if interested those that want a headache can look this up, but it has to do with analysis of huge datasets with small sample sizes. The Proceedings from the Russian Academy of Sciences for example, published a stinging analysis and review of this paper but it never came to light as it was not in English. The Elhaik paper also had no control group as there are no decendents of Khazars that can be used as reference. This sham result created so much debate, there were later at least three further population genetics on the origins of the Jews, one being the largest ever conducted with a team from several countries, that although still had methodological limitations proved the following: Jews from North Africa and Europe, two communities geographically far apart, had significantly more haplotyic similarity to each other than their host populations. Whether they were related to the Jews of ancient times is impossible to know and this was never attempted to fully answer, as there is no population of ancient Jews to reference as a control group. It was found that about 70% of these markers are commonly shared with Palestinians. At least this outcome I can understand phenotypically, i truly could not routinely distinguish Jews and Paleatinians when I lived in Israel. I don't say this last and largest study is absolute, but it at least fits with major historical events rather than an outlier explanation attempted by Shlomo Sand. He was quite defensive when these large latest studies came out and skirted some direct questions during interviews on this topic - - and at his assertion of Jewish inventedness. His rebuke, to defend this book, is that we're giving Hitler, a posthumous victory - an irony given that he asserts Jews are frauds.
In short, I understand his goal, and again he states it at the outset; the problem is he is doing the same as he accuses all nation states, and Israel in particular, of doing: choosing from history to support his model of truth as opposed to having evidence brought forward to speak for itself.
Sadly, one of the reviewers here has drank from the cool aid and now thinks that she is a Khazar because Shlomo Sand has assumed this to be true. more sad, is the reviewers on this site continue to accept such writing (imagine if it was proposed Native Americans are actually the ancient Israelites) without any critical thought. Is this the author's interpretation alone? Is it contested by other evidence? Is it well supported or is it a bold statement with a tiny reference. Even the scientific method here is backwards, the most basic and essentially in inquiry.
Ultimately, this work would be laughable were it not that the history of the Jewish people is one of endless tragedy and persecution. Even 70 years after the Nazi holocaust, it seems that's not enough.