This column is a follow-up to Was Jesus a Jew?
Due to the generally ‘controversial’ nature of the theme, understand that this is merely my opinion based on studying biblical texts and other literature like Joseph of Arimathea and Jesus (2015).
Misconceptions about Jewish ancestry
Whether by design or emergance, it appears that there is a common misunderstanding: Jews are not necessarily direct descendants of Judah, Jacob’s son.
Until recently, I also found myself caught up in the misunderstanding.
Here’s a quick overview
- Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were Hebrews, named after their ancestor Eber.
- They were originally Semites, from Shem, Noah’s son.
- Jacob, who God renamed Israel, started the line of Israelites with his sons.
- Israel’s sons formed the Tribes of Israel.
- Moses and Aaron were Israelites, descended from Levi, Jacob’s son.
- God had a special agreement with the Israelites, calling them the chosen people.
- Judahites are a group of Israelites, descended from Judah, who started the Tribe of Judah.
The term ‘Jew’ was originally used to describe the inhabitants of Judea, a region named after Judah. However, not all residents of Judea were descendants of Judah.
In the Bible, ‘Jew’ first appears in 2 Kings, referring to Judeans, including various ethnicities, mainly Edomites.
This distinction is important.
The geographical region called Judah was named after Jacob’s son, Judah (great grandson of Abraham), and was the original home of the Tribe of Judah.
After the Babylonian Captivity, which ended around 538 BC, the name changed to Judea.
The word ‘Jew’ in English comes from the Latin ‘Iudaeus,’ meaning someone from Judea. After the Captivity, Edomites – who were not from Judah – lived in Judea and were called Jews because of their location, not ancestry.
Today, ‘Jew,’ ‘Jews,’ and ‘Jewish’ refer to people who follow Judaism or are from that background.
These terms, along with ‘Semite,’ ‘Hebrew,’ ‘Israelite,’ and ‘Judahite,’ each have distinct meanings.
It is indeed complex and easy to get wrong.
Hebrews, Israelites, and Judahites
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were Hebrews, deriving from Eber, Abraham’s ancestor. Israelites come from Jacob, renamed Israel by God.
To be clear, Judahites are from Judah’s lineage.
The differences in these terms are part of the common misunderstanding to which I referred.
Edomites and the evolution of ‘Jew’
After 538 BC, the word ‘Jew’ started gaining traction.
This happened when the people from the Tribes of Judah and Benjamin returned from being captives in Babylon. They came back with many other people who weren’t from Israel, and these people also became known as Jews in Judea.
While Judah and Benjamin’s tribes were captives, Edomites – who were not Israelites but descendants of Esau, Jacob’s brother – took over their lands. Many of these Edomites later moved to North Africa and then to Spain.
The ‘Jews’ from this group became known as Sephardic Jews and mostly lived in Western Europe later on.
Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews
Many scholars (incorrectly) believe that the majority of today’s Jews come from 8th-century Khazars, a Turkish-Mongolian group in southern Russia. These Khazars, originally pagans, converted to Judaism and became known as Jews.
They spread across eastern Europe, and their descendants are known as Ashkenazi Jews.
According to The Jewish Encyclopedia (1904), the Khazars formerly lived in the mountains of Seir, which appears to align with Genesis.
Sephardic Jews (from North Africa and Spain) and Ashkenazi Jews (descendants of Khazars in southern Russia) have complex origins. DNA research shows Middle Eastern ancestry in Ashkenazi Jews, for example.
A study by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Harvard Medical School analysed DNA from a medieval Jewish cemetery in Germany.
It found that Ashkenazi Jews originated from two main groups: one with Middle Eastern ancestry and another from Eastern Europe.
The Edomites fled the area close to what would become Judea, during the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BC, and once more when Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD, after Judea had become their new home. Many Khazars, who were pagans, adopted Judaism (which was based on the Talmud, to which Jesus referred as the Tradition of the Elders) as their religion. They were then considered to be Jews.
The Khazars then spread across eastern Europe over the following centuries.
Their descendants are called Ashkenazi Jews.
As per the DNA study, Ashkenazi Jews have ancestral ties to the Middle East through Abraham, but they are not direct descendants of the Israelites.
For clarity, Jews can certainly be considered Semites because they are descended from Esau, who was Isaac’s son and Abraham’s grandson. Isaac and Abraham were descendants of Shem, and Shem’s descendants are known as Semites.
Jesus criticised Judaism
Jesus had many confrontations with the Pharisees (who were mainly Edomite Jews). He criticised their beliefs, and his criticisms were harsh.
Here, Jesus is criticising the Pharisees, accusing them of continuing the harmful and hypocritical ways of their ancestors. He calls them evil (like snakes and vipers) and says that they can’t avoid being damned to hell. Jesus goes on to predict that they will mistreat and kill future messengers (prophets, wise men, and scribes).
And again, this time in the Gospel of John.
Here, again, Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees, accusing them of being the children of Satan, adding that they are inherently deceitful and murderous.
Jesus wasn’t messing around.
Evangelical Christians and Israel
Why, then, do evangelical Christians – especially in the West – exhibit such strong support for modern Israel (which is a creation of the Rothschilds, United Nations, and others)?
I’m not sure, but my guess is that it has something to do with the ‘chosen people’ narrative that has been drummed into us for a very long time. Growing up, I was constantly told that ‘the Jews are God’s chosen people’ and that ‘we Gentiles are saved by grace’.
It didn’t make sense to me, considering that many Jews – at the time of Jesus – wanted him executed, and that Jews have never accepted him as the Messiah.
In summary, the modern Jewish population, largely descended from Edomites and Khazars, does not have a direct lineage to the Israelites of the Bible.
And the modern geographical Israel is not the same as the biblical geographical Israel.
Which begs the question: when we talk about Israel, what are we talking about?