This piece 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 regions (or kingdoms) commonly known as 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.

Epistemology

Probably the most reliable sources for understanding the demographic composition of Judea come from Roman historians from around the time of Jesus. Strabo the Geographer, for example, spoke of the diverse ethnic population of Judea and its neighbouring areas.

Beginning from Cilicia and Mount Amanus, we set down as parts of Syria, Commagene, and the Seleucis of Syria, as it is called, then Cœle-Syria, lastly, on the coast, Phoenicia, and in the interior, Judæa. Some writers divide the whole of Syria into Cœlo-Syrians, Syrians, and Phoenicians, and say that there are intermixed with these four other nations, Judeans, Idumæans, Gazæans, and Azotii, some of whom are husbandmen, as the Syrians and Cœlo-Syrians, and others merchants, as the Phoenicians.

Strabo the Geographer, Geography (chapter 2)

Judean historian Flavius Josephus recounted how the Idumeans (Edomites) came to be called ‘Judeans’ due to a compulsory conversion imposed by John Hyrcanus, who ruled over Judea around 130 BC.

Hyrcanus took also Dora and Marissa, cities of Idumea, and subdued all the Idumeans [Edomites]; and permitted them to stay in that country, if they would circumcise their genitals, and make use of the laws of the Judeans; and they were so desirous of living in the country of their forefathers, that they submitted to the use of circumcision, and of the rest of the Judean ways of living; at which time therefore this befell them, that they were hereafter no other than Judean].

Flavius Josephus

Think of it like this.

The English word ‘Jew’ was originally used to describe the inhabitants of Judea (post-Captivity), a region named after Judah. However, not all residents of Judea were descendants of Judah.

I’ll type that another way.

In Judea, there were different religious groups like the Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Nazarenes, and more. Some Judeans didn’t belong to any of these groups. Talmudism was becoming more popular than the Torah. The Herods were actually Edomites, not from the 12 tribes of Israel but descendants of Esau who converted to Judaism. They were appointed by the Romans to rule over Judea.

Esau (the patriarch of the Edomites) slept with various Canaanite women rather than with his own tribe, like his brother Jacob (also known as Israel) did.

In the Bible, ‘Jew’ first appears in 2 Kings, referring to Judeans, including various ethnicities, mainly Edomites.

At that time Rezin king of Syria recovered Elath to Syria, and drave the Jews from Elath: and the Syrians came to Elath, and dwelt there unto this day.

2 Kings 16:6 (KJV)

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.

Map of the Tribes of Israel

After the Babylonian Captivity, around 538 BC, the name changed to Judea.

The word ‘Jew’ in English is a few centuries old and comes from the Latin ‘Iudaeus,’ meaning ‘somebody from Judea’.

In other words, ‘Jew’ could be short for Judean (the place) but not short for ‘Judahite’ (a descendant of Judah). However, in those days, the word ‘Judahite’ and ‘Judean’ were not abbreviated to the word ‘Jew’.

After the Captivity, Edomites – who were not from Judah – arrived from Eastern Europe and Nothern Africa, 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.

Strictly speaking, it is incorrect to call an ancient Israelite a Jew or to call a contemporary Jew an Israelite or a Hebrew.

Jewish Almanac, page 3 (1980)

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.

And God said unto him, ‘Thy name is Jacob: thy name shall not be called any more Jacob, but Israel shall be thy name:’ and he called his name Israel.

Genesis 35:10 (KJV)

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.

To be clear…

For a bit more clarity, the Edomites were descendants of Esau (Jacob’s twin brother and the son of Isaac and Rebekah), as described in Genesis. This marked a significant point in the Bible, leading to the formation of two distinct nations. Jacob married within his own tribe, aligning with his parents’ and God’s approval, and his descendants became the Israelites.

In contrast, Esau married women from the Canaanites, thus blending his lineage with that of Cain’s descendants (a different ethnicity). This resulted in two separate ‘races’ or lines of people from the brothers.

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.

Thus dwelt Esau in mount Seir: Esau is Edom. And these are the generations of Esau the father of the Edomites in mount Seir:

Genesis 36:8-9 (KJV)

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.

Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying, Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread. But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?

Matthew 15:1-3 (KJV)

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.

Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell? Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city.

Matthew 23:32-34 (KJV)

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.

Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.

John 8:44 (KJV)

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

Christian Zionism is very big in the United States

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)?

Belfour Rothschild Israel
Arthur Balfour writing to Lord Rothschild, 2 November 1917

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.

Put another way,

  • Jews hated jesus and demanded his crucifiction,
  • they still hate him to this day but are God’s chosen people, and
  • Christians must have an unwavering support for them and the modern Israel.

Wait. What?

So, basically…

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?

I have loved you, saith the Lord. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us? Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? saith the Lord: yet I loved Jacob,

And I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness.

Malachi 1:2-3 (KJV)

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