The algorithms don’t lie, but people may err

By Razib Khan | May 22, 2013 5:50 pm

Byzantine Emperor Leo “the Khazar” with his son Constantine IV. Credit: Cplakidas


For the past year or so I’ve been getting queries about what I think about Eran Elhaik’s preprint on the genetic character of European Jews. I found some of the conclusions frankly a little weird, but I assumed that things would be cleaned up for publication. Well, it’s been out for a while now: The Missing Link of Jewish European Ancestry: Contrasting the Rhineland and the Khazarian Hypotheses. But some reporting in The Jewish Daily Forward has brought the author and his detractors a bit into the spotlight. The reason is that as you can tell from the title of the author takes a position on the Khazarian origin model of Ashkenazi Jews (in favor). Here is a non-genetic take over at GeoCurrents, the thrust of which I basically concur with.

In any case, many of the problems with the paper remain. Really it all begins and ends here:

Choice of Surrogate Populations

As the ancient Judeans and Khazars have been vanquished and their remains have yet to be sequenced, in accordance with previous studies (Levy-Coffman 2005; Kopelman et al. 2009; Atzmon et al. 2010; Behar et al. 2010), contemporary Middle Eastern and Caucasus populations were used as surrogates. Palestinians were considered proto-Judeans because they are assumed to share a similar linguistic, ethnic, and geographic background with the Judeans and were shown to share common ancestry with European Jews (Bonne´-Tamir and Adam 1992; Nebel et al. 2000; Atzmon et al. 2010; Behar et al. 2010). Similarly, Caucasus Georgians and Armenians were considered proto-Khazars because they are believed to have emerged from the same genetic cohort as the Khazars (Polak 1951; Dvornik 1962; Brook 2006).

Elhaik’s methods and data sets are all legitimate. But the outcome of this contest is already forgone by the nature of how he defined the rules of the game. There are reasonable arguments for thinking that modern Armenians may exhibit a closer genetic relationship to the Jews of Roman Antiquity, and perhaps even the Hebrews of the Persian years, than modern Palestinians. The two primary ones being that modern Palestinians have African ancestry, and, post-Islamic Arabian ancestry. Neither of which seem trivial.

For more, this old post, Ashkenazi Jews are probably not descended from the Khazars, will do.

Citation: Elhaik, Eran. “The Missing Link of Jewish European Ancestry: Contrasting the Rhineland and the Khazarian Hypotheses.” Genome biology and evolution 5.1 (2013): 61-74.

MORE ABOUT: Ashkenazi, Khazars
  • Andrew Lancaster

    Wikipedia editors of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetic_studies_on_Jews were helped when a more recent article finally handled the importance of the apparent multiplicity of “Middle Eastern” ancestral groups, allowing the Elhaik article to be put in a more sensible context. See Haber, Marc; Gauguier, Dominique; Youhanna, Sonia; Patterson, Nick; Moorjani, Priya; Botigué, Laura R.; Platt, Daniel E.; Matisoo-Smith, Elizabeth et al. (2013). “Genome-Wide Diversity in the Levant Reveals Recent Structuring by Culture”. In Williams, Scott M. PLOS Genetics 9 (2): e1003316. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1003316. PMC 3585000. PMID 23468648 . Of course bloggers like yourself and Dienekes have discussed this for a long time, but published articles have done very little in this direction yet. Into recent times, published experts continue to assume that there will be one “Middle Eastern” ancestral component. As you point out, the wrongness of this becomes most clear if we consider a group like Armenians.

  • George Jones

    There is much better information on Eran’s Khazar DNA Project at: https://www.facebook.com/KhazarDnaProject

    Eran is a hero scientist IMHO for lay Genetic Genealogists be they interested in modern ancestry (500 YBP).

    He has made important contributions to the NG Geno 2.0 Ancient Ancestry Project. http://gbe.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2013/05/09/gbe.evt066.full.pdf

    Note that the Geno 2.0 test does not dismiss the importance of testing Y-DNA and mt-DNA as was recently advocated by the moderator of this blog.

    I think one has to make judgements about the caliber of the “scientist” (or blogger) as much as they do on the “science” in question.

    Eran has said: “Fortunately, I do science and I have nothing to sell.”
    “My supporters told me the same thing, let science speak, so that’s where I am at.”

    Eran has also recently said this about Razib and similar bloggers: “Razib has less than 12 months to eat his own hat. I have the final evidence, it’s pretty much over.” “Until then, he can say whatever he wants.”

    • razibkhan

      Note that the Geno 2.0 test does not dismiss the importance of testing Y-DNA and mt-DNA as was recently advocated by the moderator of this blog.

      if you misrepresent my views again i will ban you. if you respond to this comment, i will ban you.

      to be clear to any readers of this weblog: if you misrepresent my views >0 after being warned not to, i will ban you.

  • GuestOfGuests

    You basically nailed it, ya Razib.
    I can’t help but laugh when I read Elhaik’s paper, it is just filled with inacurracies.

    “Elhaik’s methods and data sets are all legitimate”

    Quoted for truth.

  • Anthony_A

    Right – I’d forgotten that the paper said that Ashkenzim were much closer to Armenians than Georgians, when it should be the other way around to support the Khazar hypothesis.

    By the way, you’ve linked to the Jewish Daily Forward again under the “GeoCurrents” link; the correct link demolishing the linguistic evidence is: http://geocurrents.info/cultural-geography/linguistic-geography/the-khazarian-hypothesis-and-the-nature-of-yiddish

  • Matthew Carnegie

    Similarly, Caucasus Georgians and Armenians were considered proto-Khazars because they are believed to have emerged from the same genetic cohort as the Khazars (Polak 1951; Dvornik 1962; Brook 2006).

    This is what I found surely quite questionable (I’m pretty sure this is something Razib found too obvious to comment on and more of a minor issue than he has raised with using Palestinians as a proxy for proto-Judeans).

    Georgians and Armenians are not people who have any particularly historically salient Turkic inheritance.

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This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com

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