The Khazars were a semi-nomadic Turkic people who dominated the Pontic steppe and the North Caucasus from the 7th to the 10th century CE. The name 'Khazar' seems to be tied to a Turkic verb form meaning "wandering".
In the 7th century CE, the Khazars founded an independent Khaganate in the Northern Caucasus along the Caspian Sea. Although the Khazars were initially Tengri shamanists, many of them converted to Christianity, Islam, and other religions. During the eighth or ninth century the state religion became Judaism. At their height, the Khazar khaganate and its tributaries controlled much of what is today southern Russia, western Kazakhstan, eastern Ukraine, Azerbaijan, large portions of the Caucasus (including Circassia, Dagestan, Chechnya, and parts of Georgia), and the Crimea.
Between 965 and 969, their sovereignty was broken by Sviatoslav I of Kiev, and they became a subject people of Kievan Rus'. Gradually displaced by the Rus, the Kipchaks, and later the conquering Mongol Golden Horde, the Khazars largely disappeared as a culturally distinct people.
The origins of the Khazars are unclear. Following their conversion to Judaism, the Khazars themselves traced their origins to Kozar, a son of Togarmah. Togarmah is mentioned in Genesis in the Bible as a grandson of Japheth.
Scholars in the former USSR considered the Khazars to be an indigenous people of the North Caucasus. Some scholars, such as D.M. Dunlop, considered the Khazars to be connected with a Uyghur or Tiele confederation tribe called He'san in Chinese sources from the 7th-century (Suishu, 84). However, the Khazar language appears to have been an Oghuric tongue, similar to that spoken by the early Bulgars and corresponding to the modern day Chuvash dialects. Therefore, a Hunnish origin has also been postulated. Since the Turkic peoples were never ethnically homogeneous, these ideas need not be deemed mutually exclusive. It is likely that the Khazar nation was made up of tribes from various ethnic backgrounds, as steppe nations traditionally absorbed those they conquered. Their name is accordingly derived from Turkic *qaz-, meaning "to wander, flee."
Armenian chronicles contain references to the Khazars as early as the late second century. These are generally regarded as anachronisms, and most scholars believe that they actually refer to Sarmatians or Scythians. Priscus relates that one of the nations in the Hunnish confederacy was called Akatziroi. Their king was named Karadach or Karidachus. Some, going on the similarity between Akatziroi and "Ak-Khazar" (see below), have speculated that the Akatziroi were early proto-Khazars.
Dmitri Vasil'ev of Astrakhan State University recently hypothesized that the Khazars moved in to the Pontic steppe region only in the late 500s, and originally lived in Transoxiana. According to Vasil'ev, Khazar populations remained behind in Transoxiana under Pecheneg and Oghuz suzerainty, possibly remaining in contact with the main body of their people.
Early Khazar history is intimately tied with that of the Göktürk empire, founded when the Ashina clan overthrew the Juan Juan in 552 CE. With the collapse of the Göktürk empire due to internal conflict in the seventh century, the western half of the Turk empire split into a number of tribal confederations, among whom were the Bulgars, led by the Dulo clan, and the Khazars, led by the Ashina clan, the traditional rulers of the Gok Turk empire. By 670, the Khazars had broken the Bulgar confederation, causing various tribal groups to migrate and leaving two remnants of Bulgar rule - Volga Bulgaria, and the Bulgarian khanate on the Danube River.
The first significant appearance of the Khazars in history is their aid to the campaign of the Byzantine emperor Heraclius against the Sassanid Persians. The Khazar ruler Ziebel (sometimes identified as Tong Yabghu Khagan of the West Turks) aided the Byzantines in overrunning Georgia. A marriage was even contemplated between Ziebel's son and Heraclius' daughter, but never took place. During these campaigns, the Khazars may have been ruled by Mo-ho-shad and their forces may have been under the command of his son Buri-shad.
During the 7th and 8th centuries the Khazar fought a series of wars against the Umayyad Caliphate, which was attempting simultaneously to expand its influence into Transoxiana and the Caucasus. The first war was fought in the early 650 and ended with the defeat of an Arab force led by Abd ar-Rahman ibn Rabiah outside the Khazar town of Balanjar, after a battle in which both sides used siege engines on the others' troops.
A number of Russian sources give the name of a Khazar khagan, Irbis, from this period, and describe him as a scion of the Göktürk royal house, the Ashina. Whether Irbis ever existed is open to debate, as is the issue of whether he can be identified with one of the many Göktürk rulers of the same name.
Several further conflicts erupted in the decades that followed, with Arab attacks and Khazar raids into Kurdistan and Iran. There is evidence from the account of al-Tabari that the Khazars formed a united front with the remnants of the Gok Turks in Transoxiana.
They are also known to have been allied with the Byzantine Empire during at least part of the eighth century. In 704/705 Justinian II, exiled in Cherson, escaped into Khazar territory and married Theodora, the sister of the Khagan Busir. With the aid of his wife, he escaped from Busir, who was intriguing against him with the usurper Tiberius III, murdering two Khazar officials in the process. He fled to Bulgaria, whose Khan Tervel helped him regain the throne. The Khazars later provided aid to the rebel general Bardanes, who seized the throne in 711 as Emperor Philippicus.
The Byzantine emperor Leo III married his son Constantine (later Constantine V Kopronymous) to the Khazar princess Tzitzak (daughter of the Khagan Bihar) as part of the alliance between the two empires. Tzitzak, who was baptized as Irene, became famous for her wedding gown, which started a fashion craze in Constantinople for a type of robe (for men) called tzitzakion. Their son Leo (Leo IV) would be better known as "Leo the Khazar".
Hostilities broke out again with the Caliphate in the 710s, with raids back and forth across the Caucasus but few decisive battles. The Khazars, led by a prince named Barjik, invaded northwestern Iran and defeated the Umayyad forces at Ardabil in 730, killing the Arab warlord al-Djarrah al-Hakami and briefly occupying the town. They were defeated the next year at Mosul, where Barjik directed Khazar forces from a throne mounted with al-Djarrah's severed head, and Barjik was killed. Arab armies led first by the Arab prince Maslamah ibn Abd al-Malik and then by Marwan ibn Muhammad (later Caliph Marwan II) poured across the Caucasus and eventually (in 737) defeated a Khazar army led by Hazer Tarkhan, briefly occupying Atil itself and possibly forcing the Khagan to convert to Islam. The instability of the Umayyad regime made a permanent occupation impossible; the Arab armies withdrew and Khazar independence was re-asserted. It has been speculated that the adoption of Judaism (which in this theory would have taken place around 740) was part of this re-assertion of independence.
Around 729, Arab sources give the name of the ruler of the Khazars as Parsbit or Barsbek, a woman who appears to have directed military operations against them. This suggests that women could have very high positions within the Khazar state, possibly even as a stand-in for the khagan.
Although they stopped the Arab expansion into Eastern Europe for some time after these wars, the Khazars were forced to withdraw behind the Caucasus. In the ensuing decades they extended their territories from the Caspian Sea in the east (many cultures still call the Caspian Sea "Khazar Sea"; e.g. "Xəzər dənizi" in Azeri, "Hazar Denizi" in Turkish, "Bahr ul-Khazar" in Arabic, "Darya-ye Khazar" in Persian) to the steppe region north of Black Sea in the west, as far west at least as the Dnieper River.
In 758, the Abbasid Caliph Abdullah al-Mansur ordered Yazid ibn Usayd al-Sulami, one of his nobles and military governor of Armenia, to take a royal Khazar bride and make peace. Yazid took home a daughter of Khagan Baghatur, the Khazar leader. Unfortunately, the girl died inexplicably, possibly in childbirth. Her attendants returned home, convinced that some Arab faction had poisoned her, and her father was enraged. A Khazar general named Ras Tarkhan invaded what is now northwestern Iran, plundering and raiding for several months. Thereafter relations between the Khazars and the Abbasid Caliphate (whose foreign policies were generally less expansionist than its Umayyad predecessor) became increasingly cordial.
At some point in the last decades of the 8th century or the early 9th century, the Khazar royalty and nobility converted to Judaism, and part of the general population followed. The extent of the conversion is debated. Ibn al-Faqih reported in the 10th century that "all the Khazars are Jews." Notwithstanding this statement, some scholars believe that only the upper classes converted to Judaism; there is some support for this in contemporary Muslim texts. However, recent archeological excavations have uncovered widespread shifts in burial practices. Around the mid-800s burials in Khazaria began to take on a decidedly Jewish flavor. Grave goods disappeared almost altogether. Judging by interment evidence, by 950 Judaism had become widespread among all classes of Khazar society.
Essays in the Kuzari, written by Yehuda Halevi, detail a moral liturgical reason for the conversion which some consider a moral tale. Some researchers have suggested part of the reason for this mass conversion was political expediency to maintain a degree of neutrality: the Khazar empire was between growing populations, Muslims to the east and Christians to the west. Both religions recognized Judaism as a forebear and worthy of some respect. The exact date of the conversion is hotly contested. It may have occurred as early as 740 or as late as the mid-800s. Recently discovered numismatic evidence suggests that Judaism was the established state religion by c. 830, and though St. Cyril (who visited Khazaria in 861) did not identify the Khazars as Jews, the khagan of that period, Zachariah, had a biblical Hebrew name. Some medieval sources give the name of the rabbi who oversaw the conversion of the Khazars as Isaac Sangari or Yitzhak ha-Sangari.
The first Jewish Khazar king was named Bulan which means "elk", though some sources give him the Hebrew name Sabriel. A later king, Obadiah, strengthened Judaism, inviting rabbis into the kingdom and built synagogues. Jewish figures such as Saadia Gaon made positive references to the Khazars, and they are excoriated in contemporary Karaite writings as "bastards"; it is therefore unlikely that they adopted Karaism as some (such as Avraham Firkovich) have proposed.
According to the Schechter Letter, early Khazar Judaism was centered on a tabernacle similar to that mentioned in the Book of Exodus. Archaeologists at Rostov-on-Don have tentatively identified a folding altar unearthed at Khumar as part of such a construct.
The Khazars enjoyed close relations with the Jews of the Levant and Persia. The Persian Jews, for example, hoped that the Khazars might succeed in conquering the Caliphate. The high esteem in which the Khazars were held among the Jews of the Orient may be seen in the application to them, in an Arabic commentary on Isaiah ascribed by some to Saadia Gaon, and by others to Benjamin Nahawandi, of Isaiah 48:14: "The Lord hath loved him." "This," says the commentary, "refers to the Khazars, who will go and destroy Babel" (i.e., Babylonia), a name used to designate the country of the Arabs. From the Khazar Correspondence it is apparent that two Spanish Jews, Judah ben Meir ben Nathan and Joseph Gagris, had succeeded in settling in the land of the Khazars. Saadia, who had a fair knowledge of the kingdom of the Khazars, mentions a certain Isaac ben Abraham who had removed from Sura to Khazaria.
Likewise, the Khazar rulers viewed themselves as the protectors of international Jewry, and corresponded with foreign Jewish leaders (the letters exchanged between the Khazar ruler Joseph and the Spanish rabbi Hasdai ibn Shaprut have been preserved). They were known to retaliate against Muslim or Christian interests in Khazaria for persecution of Jews abroad. Ibn Fadlan relates that around 920 the Khazar ruler received information that Muslims had destroyed a synagogue in the land of Babung, in Iran; he gave orders that the minaret of the mosque in his capital should be broken off, and the muezzin executed. He further declared that he would have destroyed the mosque entirely had he not been afraid that the Muslims would in turn destroy all the synagogues in their lands. Similarly, during the persecutions of Byzantine Jews under Romanos I, the Khazar government retaliated by attacking Byzantine interests in the Crimea.
The theory that the majority of Ashkenazic Jews are the descendants of the non-Semitic converted Khazars was advocated by various racial theorists and antisemitic sources in the 20th century, especially following the publication of Arthur Koestler's The Thirteenth Tribe. Despite recent genetic evidence to the contrary, and a lack of any real mainstream scholarly support, this belief is still popular among groups such as the Christian Identity Movement, Black Hebrews, British Israelitists and others (particularly Arabs) who claim that they, rather than Jews, are the true descendants of the Israelites, or who seek to usurp the connection between Ashkenazi Jews and Israel in favor of their own. For more detail on this controversy, see below.
A Greek Orthodox bishop was resident at Atil and was subject to the authority of the Metropolitan of Doros. The "apostle of the Slavs", Saint Cyril, is said to have attempted the conversion of Khazars without enduring results. Khazaran had a sizable Muslim quarter with a number of mosques. A Muslim officer, the khazz, represented the Muslim community in the royal court.
Khazar kingship was divided between the khagan and the Bek or Khagan Bek. Contemporary Arab historians related that the Khagan was purely a spiritual ruler or figurehead with limited powers, while the Bek was responsible for administration and military affairs.
Both the Khagan and the Khagan Bek lived in Itil. The Khagan's palace, according to Arab sources, was on an island in the Volga River. He was reported to have 25 wives, each the daughter of a client ruler; this may, however, have been an exaggeration.
In the Khazar Correspondence, King Joseph identifies himself as the ruler of the Khazars and makes no reference to a colleague. It has been disputed whether Joseph was a Khagan or a Bek; his description of his military campaigns make the latter probable. A third option is that by the time of the Correspondence (c. 950-960) the Khazars had merged the two positions into a single ruler, or that the Beks had somehow supplanted the Khagans or vice versa.
The Khazar dual kingship may have influenced other people; power was similarly divided among the early Hungarian people between the sacral king, or kende, and the military king, or gyula. Similarly, according to Ibn Fadlan, the early Oghuz Turks had a warlord, the Kudarkin, who was subordinate to the reigning yabghu.
Khazar armies were led by the Khagan Bek and commanded by subordinate officers known as tarkhans. A famous tarkhan referred to in Arab sources as Ras or As Tarkhan led an invasion of Armenia in 758. The army included regiments of Muslim auxiliaries known as Arsiyah, of Khwarezmian or Alan extraction, who were quite influential. These regiments were exempt from campaigning against their fellow Muslims. Early Rus' sources sometimes referred to the city of Khazaran (across the Volga River from Atil) as Khvalisy and the Khazar (Caspian) sea as Khvaliskoye. According to some scholars such as Omeljan Pritsak, these terms were East Slavic versions of "Khwarezmian" and referred to these mercenaries.
In addition to the Bek's standing army, the Khazars could call upon tribal levies in times of danger and were often joined by auxiliaries from subject nations.
The Khazars occupied a prime trade nexus. Goods from western Europe travelled east to Central Asia and China and vice versa, and the Muslim world could only interact with northern Europe via Khazar intermediaries. The Radhanites, a guild of medieval Jewish merchants, had a trade route that ran through Khazaria, and may have been instrumental in the Khazars' conversion to Judaism.
No Khazar paid taxes to the central government. Revenue came from a 10% levy on goods transiting through the region, and from tribute paid by subject nations. The Khazars exported honey, furs, wool, millet and other cereals, fish, and slaves. D.M. Dunlop and Artamanov asserted that the Khazars produced no material goods themselves, living solely on trade. This theory has been refuted by discoveries over the last half-century, which include pottery and glass factories.
The Khazars are known to have minted silver coins, called Yarmaqs. Many of these were imitations of Arab dirhems with corrupted Arabic letters. Coins of the Caliphate were in widespread use due to their reliable silver content. Merchants from as far away as China, England, and Scandinavia accepted them regardless of their inability to read the Arab writing. Thus issuing imitation dirhems was a way to ensure acceptance of Khazar coinage in foreign lands.
Some surviving examples bear the legend "Ard al-Khazar" (Arabic for "land of the Khazars"). In 1999 a hoard of silver coins was discovered on the property of the Spillings farm in the Swedish island of Gotland. Among the coins were several dated 837/8 CE and bearing the legend, in Arabic script, "Moses is the Prophet of God" (a modification of the Muslim coin inscription "Muhammad is the Prophet of God"). In "Creating Khazar Identity through Coins", Roman Kovalev postulated that these dirhems were a special commemorative issue celebrating the adoption of Judaism by the Khazar ruler Bulan.
Khazar towns included:
In the closing years of the ninth century the Khazars and Oghuz allied to attack the Pechenegs, who had been attacking both nations. The Pechenegs were driven westward, where they forced out the Magyars (Hungarians) who had previously inhabited the Don-Dnieper basin in vassalage to Khazaria. Under the leadership of the chieftain Lebedias and later Arpad, the Hungarians moved west into modern-day Hungary. The departure of the Hungarians led to an unstable power vacuum and the loss of Khazar control over the steppes north of the Black Sea.
The alliance with the Byzantines began to collapse in the early 900s. Byzantine and Khazar forces may have clashed in the Crimea, and by the 940s Constantine VII Porphyrogentius was speculating in De Administrando Imperio about ways in which the Khazars could be isolated and attacked. The Byzantines during the same period began to attempt alliances with the Pechenegs and the Rus, with varying degrees of success.
From the beginning of the tenth century, the Khazars found themselves fighting on multiple fronts as nomadic incursions were exacerbated by uprisings by former clients and invasions from former allies. According to the Schechter Text, the Khazar ruler Benjamin ben Menahem fought a war against a coalition of "'SY, TWRQY, 'BM, and PYYNYL," who were instigated and aided by "MQDWN". MQDWN or Macedon refers to the Byzantine Empire in many medieval Jewish writings; the other entities named have been tenuously identified by scholars including Omeljan Pritsak with the Burtas, Oghuz Turks, Volga Bulgars and Pechenegs, respectively. Though Benjamin was victorious, his son Aaron II had to face another invasion, this time led by the Alans. Aaron defeated the Alans with Oghuz help, yet within a few years the Oghuz and Khazars were enemies.
Ibn Fadlan reported Oghuz hostility to the Khazars during his journey c. 921. Some sources, discussed by Tamara Rice, claim that Seljuk, the eponymous progenitor of the Seljuk Turks, began his career as an Oghuz soldier in Khazar service in the early and mid-tenth century, rising to high rank before he fell out with the Khazar rulers and departed for Khwarazm.
Originally the Khazars were probably allied with various Norse factions who controlled the region around Novgorod. The Rus' Khaganate, an early Rus polity in modern northwestern Russia and Belarus, was probably heavily influenced by the Khazars. The Rus' regularly travelled through Khazar-held territory to attack territories around the Black and Caspian Seas; in one such raid, the Khagan is said to have given his assent on the condition that the Rus' give him half of the booty. In addition, the Khazars allowed the Rus to use the trade route along the Volga River. This alliance was apparently fostered by the hostility between the Khazars and Arabs. At a certain point, however, the Khazar connivance to the sacking of the Muslim lands by the Varangians led to a backlash against the Norsemen from the Muslim population of the Khaganate. The Khazar rulers closed the passage down the Volga for the Rus', sparking a war. In the early 960s, Khazar ruler Joseph wrote to Hasdai ibn Shaprut about the deterioration of Khazar relations with the Rus: "I have to wage war with them, for if I would give them any chance at all they would lay waste the whole land of the Muslims as far as Baghdad."
The Rus warlords Oleg of Novgorod and Sviatoslav I of Kiev launched several wars against the Khazar khaganate, often with Byzantine connivance. The Schechter Letter relates the story of a campaign against Khazaria by HLGW (Oleg) around 941 (in which Oleg was defeated by the Khazar general Pesakh; this calls into question the timeline of the Primary Chronicle and other related works on the history of the Eastern Slavs.
Sviatoslav finally succeeded in destroying Khazar imperial power in the 960s. The Khazar fortresses of Sarkel and Tamatarkha fell to the Rus in 965, with the capital city of Atil following circa 967 or 969. A visitor to Atil wrote soon after the sacking of the city: "The Rus attacked, and no grape or raisin remained, not a leaf on a branch."
Abraham ibn Daud reported Khazar rabbinical students, or rabbinical students who were the descendants of Khazars, in 12th century Spain. Jews from Kiev and elsewhere in Russia, who may or may not have been Khazars, were reported in France, Germany and England.
The Kabars who settled in Hungary in the late ninth and early tenth centuries may have included Jews among their number. Many Khazar Jews probably fled foreign conquest into Hungary and elsewhere in Eastern Europe. There they likely merged with local Jews and ensuing waves of Jewish immigration from Germany and Western Europe. They most likely did not constitute the dominant group within Eastern European Jewry, as Arthur Koestler maintained (see below).
Polish legends speak of Jews being present in Poland before the establishment of the Polish monarchy. Polish coins from the 12th and 13th centuries sometimes bore Slavic inscriptions written in the Hebrew alphabet though connecting these coins to Khazar influence is purely a matter of speculation.
There is debate as to the temporal and geographic extent of Khazar polities following Sviatoslav's sack of Atil in 967/9, or even whether any such states existed. The Khazars may have retained control over some areas in the Caucasus for another two centuries, but sparse historical records make this difficult to confirm.
The evidence of later Khazar polities includes the fact that Sviatoslav did not occupy the Volga basin after he destroyed Atil, and departed relatively quickly to embark on his campaign in Bulgaria. The permanent conquest of the Volga basin seems to have been left to later waves of steppe peoples like the Kipchaks.
Abraham ibn Daud, a twelfth-century Spanish rabbi, reported meeting Khazar rabbinical students in Toledo, and that they informed him that the "remnant of them is of the rabbinic faith." This reference indicates that some Khazars maintained ethnic, if not political, autonomy at least two centuries after the sack of Atil.
Petachiah of Ratisbon, a thirteenth-century rabbi and traveler, reported traveling through "Khazaria", though he gave few details of its inhabitants except to say that they lived amidst desolation in perpetual mourning.
He further related:
The account of the conversion of the "seven kings of Meshech" is extremely similar to the accounts of the Khazar conversion given in the Kuzari, and in King Joseph's Reply. It is possible that Meshech refers to the Khazars, or to some Judaized polity influenced by them. Arguments against this possibility include the reference to "seven kings" (though this, in turn, could refer to seven successor tribes or state micropolities).
Ibn Hawqal and al-Muqaddasi refer to Atil after 969, indicating that it may have been rebuilt. Al-Biruni (mid-1000s) reported that Atil was in ruins, and did not mention the later city of Saqsin which was built nearby, so it is possible that this new Atil was only destroyed in the middle of the eleventh century. Even assuming al-Biruni's report was not an anachronism, there is no evidence that this "new" Atil was populated by Khazars rather than by Pechenegs or a different tribe.
Ibn al-Athir, who wrote around 1200, described "the raid of Fadhlun the Kurd against the Khazars". Fadhlun the Kurd has been identified as al-Fadhl ibn Muhammad al-Shaddadi, who ruled Arran and other parts of Azerbaijan in the 1030s. According to the account he attacked the Khazars but had to flee when they ambushed his army and killed 10,000 of his men. Two of the great early 20th century scholars on Eurasian nomads, Marquart and Barthold, disagreed about this account. Marquart believed that this incident refers to some Khazar remnant that had reverted to paganism and nomadic life. Barthold, (and more recently, Kevin Brook), took a much more skeptical approach and said that ibn al-Athir must have been referring to Georgians or Abkhazians. There is no evidence to decide the issue one way or the other.
In 1023 the Primary Chronicle reports that Mstislav (one of Vladimir's sons) marched against his brother Yaroslav with an army that included "Khazars and Kasogs". Kasogs were an early Circassian people. "Khazars" in this reference is considered by most to be intended in the generic sense, but some have questioned why the reference reads "Khazars and Kasogs", when "Khazars" as a generic would have been sufficient. Even if the reference is to Khazars, of course, it does not follow that there was a Khazar state in this period. They could have been Khazars under the rule of the Rus.
A Kievian prince named Oleg (not to be confused with Oleg of Kiev) was reportedly kidnapped by "Khazars" in 1078 and shipped off to Constantinople, although most scholars believe that this is a reference to the Kipchaks or other steppe peoples then dominant in the Pontic region. Upon his conquest of Tmutarakan in the 1080s Oleg gave himself the title "Archon of Khazaria".
At least one 12th-century Byzantine source refers to tribes practicing Mosaic law and living in the Balkans; see Khalyzians. The connection between this group and the Khazars is rejected by most modern Khazar scholars.
The number of Khazars who converted to Judaism is also hotly contested, with historical accounts ranging from claims that only the King and his retainers had embraced Judaism, to the claim that the majority of the lay population had converted. D.M. Dunlop was of the opinion that only the upper class converted; this was the majority view until relatively recently. Analysis of recent archaeological grave evidence by such scholars as Kevin A. Brook asserts that the sudden shift in burial customs, with the abandonment of pagan-style burial with grave goods and the adoption of simple shroud burials during the mid-800s suggests a more widespread conversion. A mainstream scholarly consensus does not yet exist regarding the extent of the conversions.
In 1951 Southern Methodist University professor John O. Beaty published The Iron Curtain over America, a work which claimed that "Khazar Jews" were "responsible for all of America's - and the world's - ills beginning with World War I". The book repeated a number of familiar antisemitic claims, placing responsibility for U.S. involvement in World Wars I and II and the Bolshevik revolution on these Khazars, and insisting that Khazar Jews were attempting to subvert Western Christianity and establish communism throughout the world. The American millionaire J. Russell Maguire gave money towards its promotion, and it was met with enthusiasm by hate groups and the extreme right. By the 1960s the Khazar theory had become a "firm article of faith" amongst Christian Identity groups. In 1971 John Bagot Glubb (Glubb Pasha) also took up this theme, insisting that Palestinians were more closely related to the ancient Judeans than were Jews. According to Benny Morris:
Of course an anti-Zionist (as well as an anti-Semitic) point is being made here: The Palestinians have a greater political right to Palestine than the Jews do, as they, not the modern-day Jews, are the true descendants of the land's Jewish inhabitants/owners.
The theory gained further support when the novelist Arthur Koestler devoted his popular book The Thirteenth Tribe (1976) to the topic. Koestler's historiography has been attacked as highly questionable by many historians; it has also been pointed out that his discussion of theories about Ashkenazi descent is largely unsupported; to the extent that Koestler referred to place-names and documentary evidence his analysis has been described as a mixture of flawed etymologies and misinterpreted primary sources. Commentors have also noted that Koestler mischaracterized the sources he cited, particularly D.M. Dunlop's History of the Jewish Khazars (1954).
Koestler himself was pro-Zionist based on secular considerations, and did not see alleged Khazar ancestry as diminishing the claim of Jews to Israel, which he felt was based on the United Nations mandate, and not on Biblical covenants or genetic inheritance. In his view, "The problem of the Khazar infusion a thousand years ago ... is irrelevant to modern Israel". In addition, he was apparently "either unaware of or oblivious to the use anti-Semites had made to the Khazar theory since its introduction at the turn of the century.
Nevertheless, in the Arab world the Khazar theory still enjoys popularity among some anti-Zionists and antisemites;) Such proponents argue that if Ashkenazi Jews are primarily Khazar and not Semitic in origin, they would have no historical claim to Israel, nor would they be the subject of God's Biblical promise of Canaan to the Israelites, thus undermining the theological basis of both Jewish religious Zionists and Christian Zionists. In the 1970s and 80s the Khazar theory was also advanced by some Russian chauvinist antisemites, particularly the historian Lev Gumilyov, who portrayed "Judeo-Khazars" as having repeatedly sabotaged Russia's development since the 7th century.
According to Bernard Lewis:
This theory… is supported by no evidence whatsoever. It has long since been abandoned by all serious scholars in the field, including those in Arab countries, where the Khazar theory is little used except in occasional political polemics.
Modern DNA studies on the Y chromosome of Jews worldwide have largely disproven the Khazar origin theory for the vast majority of Jews, including the Ashkenazi.
A study published in the Proceedings of the United States National Academy of Sciences found that "The results support the hypothesis that the paternal gene pools of Jewish communities from Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East descended from a common Middle Eastern ancestral population, and suggest that most Jewish communities have remained relatively isolated from neighboring non-Jewish communities during and after the Diaspora." Researchers express surprise at the remarkable genetic uniformity they found among modern Jews, no matter where the diaspora has become dispersed around the world. Contradicting the "mongrel" theory, DNA demonstrated substantially less inter-marriage by Jews over the last 3000 years than found in other populations.
"The results accord with Jewish history and tradition and refute theories like those holding that Jewish communities consist mostly of converts from other faiths, or that they are descended from the Khazars, a medieval Turkish tribe that adopted Judaism."
Morever, "The analysis provides genetic witness that these communities have, to a remarkable extent, retained their biological identity separate from their host populations, evidence of relatively little intermarriage or conversion into Judaism over the centuries." Id. And another finding, paradoxical but unsurprising, is that by the yardstick of the Y chromosome, the world's Jewish communities are closely related to Syrians and Palestinians, suggesting that all are descended from a common ancestral population that inhabited the Middle East some four thousand years ago. Id.
This study found that "The extremely close affinity of Jewish and non-Jewish Middle Eastern populations observed ... supports the hypothesis of a common Middle Eastern origin.", as does the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) of at least 40% of the current Ashkenazi population. So although Khazars could possibly have been absorbed into the modern Jewish population as we know it today, it is unlikely that they formed a large percentage of the ancestors of modern Jews.
The Kuzari is one of most famous works of the medieval Spanish Jewish philosopher and poet Rabbi Yehuda Halevi. Divided into five essays ("ma'amarim" (namely, Articles)), it takes the form of a dialogue between the pagan king of the Khazars and a Jew who was invited to instruct him in the tenets of the Jewish religion. Originally written in Arabic, the book was translated by numerous scholars (including Judah ibn Tibbon) into Hebrew and other languages. Though the book is not considered a historical account of the Khazar conversion to Judaism, scholars such as D.M. Dunlop have postulated that Yehuda had access to Khazar documents upon which he loosely based his work. His contemporary Avraham ibn Daud reported meeting Khazar rabbinical students in Toledo, Spain in the mid-12th century. In any case, however, the book is in the main - and clearly intended to be - an exposition of the basic tenets of the Jewish religion as they were in the time of writing, rather than a historical account of the actual conversion of the Khazars to Judaism.
The question of mass religious conversion is a central theme in Milorad Pavić's international bestselling novel Dictionary of the Khazars. The novel, however, contained many invented elements and had little to do with actual Khazar history. More recently, several novels, including H.N. Turteltaub's Justinian (about the life of Justinian II) and Marek Halter's Book of Abraham and Wind of the Khazars have dealt either directly or indirectly with the topic of the Khazars and their role in history.
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