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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Ashkenazi-Levite Jews and their Iranian origin Part II

Previously, I mentioned that I believe that the term "Ashkenazi" is ultimately derived from the Iranian name "Ashkan", the founder of the Parthian Empire (still called 'Ashkanian' (اشکانیان) Empire in Iranian languages).

I already showed that the Ashkenazi Jews share a lot genetic markers with Kurds:
  • mtDNA HV1b2 was found within Ashkenazi Jews and one Yezidi Kurd;
  • the Y-haplogroup of the Kurd N91920 is J1c3 and he shares the SNP L817+ with the J1c3* Jewish Cluster A. Thus, the closest and the only Middle Eastern relative of the J1c3* Jewish Cluster A is a  Kurdish individual.    
  • The R1a1a Ashkenazi-Levite cluster shows similarities to the STR data of a Kurdish individual.

A new publication in Nature comes to the same conclusions about the R1a-M582 Ashkenazi-Levite cluster, it is not East European, it is not Khazarian, it is Iranian.

From the paper:

Phylogenetic applications of whole Y-chromosome sequences and the Near Eastern origin of Ashkenazi Levites

Considering the historical records of Ashkenazi Jews, three potential geographic sources should be considered: the Near East, which was the geographic location for the ancient Hebrews; Europe, which was the residence of the Ashkenazi Jewish Diaspora and the region in which they evolved for nearly two millennia; and the region overlapping with the no longer extant mid-11th Century Khazarian Khaganate, whose ruling class has been suggested to have converted to Judaism18. Our data render the latter source highly unlikely since the Khazarian Khaganate overlapped with the Northern Pontic-Caspian steppe and the North Caucasus region, in which just one Nogay sample carried the R1a-M582 haplogroup (Table 1). Furthermore, the Nogays, formerly a powerful Kipchak Turkic-speaking nomadic confederation, are relatively recent inhabitants of the Caucasus, and the STR haplotype of the sole R1a-M582 Nogay sample lies outside of the Levite cluster. Had the Caucasus region been the source for the Ashkenazi modal lineage, we likely would have found R1a-M582 Y-chromosomes in some of its 20 local populations examined in our sample of more than 2,000 Y-chromosomes (Table 1). As previously suggested, the European and particularly, the Eastern European paternal gene pool was seen as a natural and highly plausible source for the Ashkenazi Levite lineage as both the Ashkenazi community and haplogroup R1a frequencies peak in this region. But surprisingly, haplogroup R1a-M582 was not detected in non-Jewish Eastern European samples and was found only in singleton samples in various Central and Western European populations (Table 1).
Near Eastern populations are the only populations in which haplogroup R1a-M582 was found at significant frequencies (Table 1). Moreover, the representative samples displayed substantial diversity even within this geographic region (Fig. 1b). Higher frequencies and diversities often suggest lineage autochthony. Hence, we can assess whether or not the origin of haplogroup R1a-M582 is in present-day Iran and eastern Anatolia, or rather the broader region of the Near East. Our data demonstrate the occurrence of R1a-M582 among different Iranian populations, among Kurds from Cilician Anatolia and Kazakhstan, and among Ashkenazi and non-Ashkenazi Jews. These observations, and the STR network delineating an internal R1a-M582 structure, might attest to a broad Near Eastern distribution range of this minor haplogroup that survived to the present day at low frequencies among Iranian Kerman, Iranian Azeri, Kurds and Jews. Haplogroup R1a-M582 was not detected in samples from Iraq or among Bedouins, Druze and Palestinians sampled in Israel.

One thing the paper did not address well is to highlight the frequency of R1a-M582 within R1a1 individuals of each population. From all tested non-Jewish population Kurds have the highest frequency of R1a-M582 within R1a1 individuals. Caution, the number of tested R1a individuals is pretty low, so percentages might be off.

Here is the ranking based on the data of the publication:

100% (2/2) Jews from Israel (Non-Ashkenazi)
100% (2/2) Jews from Algeria (Non-Ashkenazi)
100% (2/2) Jews from Slovenia (Non-Ashkenazi)
92% (80/87) Ashkenazi Jews* 
73% (90/123) Jews
67% (6/9) Jews from Spanish Exile (Non-Ashkenazi)
67% (2/3) Jews from Bulgaria (Non-Ashkenazi)
50% (2/4) Jews from Turkey (Non-Ashkenazi)
43% (3/7) Kurds (Turkey and Kazakhstan)
40% (2/5) Jews from North Africa (Non-Ashkenazi)
29% (2/7) Jews from Near East (Non-Ashkenazi)
28% (10/36) Non-Ashkenazi Jews 
19% (9/48) Iran (Azeri)
13% (3/24) Iran (Kerman)
10% (2/21) Iran
9% (1/11) Nogays 
6% (18/303) Near East
6% (1/17) Iran
5% (1/21) Hungary
2% (1/42) Germany 
1% (1/106) Western/Northern Europe 
1% (1/119) Slovakia 
1% (22/2711) Non-Jewish populations 


  1. It seems to me a most interesting evaluation in many aspects. I was totally unaware of the possibility of Ashkenaz(-i) deriving from a Persian concept (it's generally assumed to mean Germany) but the most informative part is the frequencies of "R1a-M582 within R1a1 individuals", which is highly suggestive of that Iranic origin.

    There was a Jewish realm in Southern Kurdistan, Adiabene (capital in Arbela, now Arbil/Hewlêr), nominally dependent of Persia but de facto independent until Sassanid conquest. This seems another example of the Hellenistic Jewish "diaspora" largely based on conversions and growingly influential (and of which Christianity and Islam must be considered in essence mere offshoots). Khazars or Jewish Yemen, Jewish Berbers, semi-Jewish Medina in times of Mohamed, etc. were other such examples of extended and often successful Jewish proselytism in antiquity, until its offshoots forced it to become the ghettoized (yet cosmopolitan) religious community we are more familiar with but corresponding only to Medieval and Modern history in fact.

  2. Michal's suggestion is that these were probably converts to Judaism that went back to Jerusalem with Ezra after their exile.

    1. The problem I see to that suggestion, Jah, is that Western (Greco-Roman) Jews do not look Southern Levantines at all, nor actually Northern Levantines either (Cyprus excluded), they look Anatolian or Cypriot in all autosomal DNA comparisons, what implies that they are mostly descendants not from the Judean, Samaritan nor Gallilean Jews of Antiquity but from Diaspora Jews (essentially converts) from further North. Anatolia was a major and diverse center of the Jewish diaspora and, as we know, it was also the main original center of Christian expansion (both things are intimately related as the bulk of earliest Christians were Jews, being Christianism then just one of several Jewish sects, all them actively proselytistic).

      So the "Kurdish" Levites do not need to have gone through Palestine at all. In fact, it is very possible that they were incorporated to the priestly caste as part of the deals implicated in the conversion of Adiabene. I don't know this for a fact but within the extensive discussions regarding the Khazar hypothesis, it became clear that this actually happened in Khazaria, so why not in Kurdistan?

      Reference for the Diaspora/proselytism discussion:
      → (scroll down to the "Jewish Propagandism" section and below)

      References for the autosomal DNA discussion:

    2. Very interesting, thanks for sharing.

    3. Based on the Bible the Jewish history does not in Israel but in Mesopotamia/Anatolia, e.g Adam&Eve, Noah, Abraham, etc.
      So, the similarities between Jews and Iranians could be older than Adiabene.

      An interesting statement:
      Ashkenazi Levites paternally descend from an Iranian people not from Khazars or Slavs, per genetic evidence revealed in a new study by Siiri Rootsi et al. discussed here, here, here, and here. Since no other paternal or maternal haplogroup among Ashkenazim comes from a Central Asian Turkic source either, we are now left with the total absence of evidence for Khazar ancestry in Ashkenazi Jews. I had researched the possibility of Khazar ancestry for 20 years. Surprisingly, there is evidence for small amounts of Southern Chinese, West African, and Slavic ancestry in Ashkenazi Jews, but not for Turkic Khazar ancestry. <<

  3. Hello, I am trying to understand what you meant with your ranking, does the 100% mean that out of 2 for 2 individual tested in Israel for non Ashkenazi they had R1a1?

    1. In the paper they distinguish between Jews that migrated to Israel in the last decades (e.g. "Jews from Algeria") and Jews that lived there for centuries ("Jews from Israel").
      From all tested "Jews from Israel" only two turned out be R1a1. Both R1a1 individuals are R1a-M582, so 100%.

    2. That's interesting, so you're saying that R1a-M582 is present in Jewish populations that aren't only Ashkenazi Levites. So the Kurdish theory is starting to make more sense than the Khazar theory.

  4. Intresting thesis, and quite a compelling argument. Is there any etymological evidence? What does “Ashkan” mean in Persian, if anything?

  5. Ashkan or Arshak (Arsaces) comes from "Aria" + "Shah"
    = "Noble/Aryan" + "King" or
    "King of the Noble/Aryans"

    (Ἀρσάκης), the name of the founder of the Parthian empire, which was also borne by all his successors, who were hence called the Arsacidae. Pott (Etymologische Forschungen, ii. p. 172) supposes that it signifies the " Shah or King of the Arii ;" but it occurs as a Persian name long before the time of the Parthian kings. Aeschylus (Aesch. Pers. 957) speaks of an Arsaces, who perished in the expedition of Xerxes against Greece; and Ctesias (Pers. cc. 49, 53, 57, ed. Lion) says, that Arsaces was the original name of Artaxerxes Mnemon.<<

  6. Has mtdna K in ashkenais to do with the Iranic origin ?

  7. My Ashkenazi paternal line is haplogroup R2/M-124 and is closely related to Persian Jews. I'm surpsied that R2 isn't mentioned in this research considering your topic.

  8. That R1a-582 was not found in Palestinians, Druze, and Arabs suggests strongly that it did not come into Jews in Judea. The much greater frequency in Ashkenazi Jews compared to other Jewish branches also suggests that it moved into the other Jewish branches from migrating Ashkenazim post-Diaspora. Those results together suggest strongly that it came into east European Jews from the Khazars, who have no non-Jewish modern surrogate population. East European Jews are the Khazar descendants.

    That actually explains the presence of R1a-582 in Iranians and Kurds as they interacted with Khazars through sharing of "the Khazar Sea" (the Caspian).

    This model is confirmed by looking at the phylogenetic history. R1a-582 is a subclade of R1a-Z2122. This is a fully Turkic clade that is a sister clade to R1a-Z2123 and Z-2125, all of which were solidly Turkic and are associated with the parent cultures of the Khazars, namely the Tasmola Culture of central Kazakhstan. Of 15 Khazar male burials analyzed to date, 6 or 40% are R1a, spread among those sister clades. Thus we can predict that R1a-582 was carried by Khazars and spread from Khazars into Persians, Kurds, and east European Jews.