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About the year A.D. 740, many of the Khazars, a powerful Turkish tribe occupying the steppes of southern Russia, became converts to Judaism. The Khazar Khan Turk Bulan underwent a ritual circumcision. Some say the conversion was as much of political move by the Khazars — to distance themselves from the Christian Byzantines and Muslim Arabs — as a religious one. Some attribute the Khazar's conversion to the influence of the people that became known as Mountain Jews of the Caucasus. There were many Jewish aristocrats, merchants and advisors from the Caucasus in the Khazar court before the Khazars converted.

Kevin Alan Brook wrote in “Over a thousand years ago, the far east of Europe was ruled by Jewish kings who presided over numerous tribes, including their own tribe: the Turkic Khazars. After their conversion, the Khazar people used Jewish personal names, spoke and wrote in Hebrew, were circumcised, had synagogues and rabbis, studied the Torah and Talmud, and observed Hanukkah, Pesach, and the Sabbath. The Khazars were an advanced civilization with one of the most tolerant societies of the medieval period. It hosted merchants from all over Asia and Europe. On these pages it is hoped that you may learn more about this fascinating culture. [Source: Kevin Alan Brook, /=/]

The Khazars occupied the steppes of southern Russia between the 7th and 8th centuries. Originating from the Caucasus they were a group of Turkic and Iranian tribes that settled primarily in the steppes of the of the lower Volga and Don basins. The Khazars established their capital in Itil, near the mouth of the Volga, and founded an empire that spread to the Caspian Sea. They were talented craftsmen and merchants and brought religious tolerance to the areas under their control. By the 10th century most had settled down as farmers or become tradesmen.

Even though some scholars have dismissed the Khazar as a peripheral second class state, others say the contrary is true. The Khazar state was quite powerful. It held its own against the Byzantines and Arabs and prospered through its location at a key trade crossroads. The Khazar Empire eventually collapsed after Arab and Turkish incursions form the south and pressure from Russians in the north in the 10th century.

Fragments of the Khazar kingdom persisted into the thirteenth century. After the destruction of the Khazar empire there were relatively few Jews in Russia. By the Middle Ages, many Jews lived in the former Polish-Lithuanian state.

Website: The American Center of Khazar Studies: A Resource for Turkic and Jewish History in Russia and Ukraine by Kevin Brooks. Also contains a very extensive guide to the web on Eastern European Jewish history.

Books: 1) “The Jews of Khazaria” by Kevin Alan Brook discusses all major issues surrounding the Khazar Empire, including diplomacy, trade, culture, military affairs, Khazarian Judaism, and migrations. The book draws from major primary and secondary sources, and includes a concise timeline and glossary towards the end. This was the first English-language book on the Khazars to contain a substantial amount of archaeological data. 2) “The World of the Khazars” edited by Peter B. Golden, Haggai Ben-Shammai, and András Róna-Tas is expensive but valuable collection of wide-ranging views from academic specialists on the Khazars. The 18 articles discuss the Khazars' economy, language, international relations, and more. 3) “Khazaria in the 9th and 10th Centuries” by Boris Zhivkov examines documentary sources, archaeological discoveries, religious history, art history, folklore studies, and more. 4) “Jazaria” by Félix Kitroser is Spanish-language book about Khazars featuring 12 chapters and 4 appendices, including color maps, illustrations, and translations of the Schechter Letter and Hasdai-Joseph correspondence. 5) “ Hazarlar” by Osman Karatay is 336-page general-interest book about the Khazars. In Turkish. 6) “The Kuzari: in Defense of the Despised Faith” translated and annotated by Rabbi N. Daniel Korobkin is a classic philosophical work by Yehuda HaLevi, a Jewish sage explains the principles of Judaism to an inquisitive Khazar king. As a special bonus, the historical communications exchanged between Khazar King Joseph and the Spanish Jewish diplomat Hasdai ibn Shaprut are included in this volume. 7) Other Essays about the Khazars A) Khazars, by Roman K. Kovalev (from Encyclopedia of Russian History); B)) Khazaria, by Peter B. Golden (from The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe); C) Khazaria (586-1083 AD), by Dennis Leventhal; D) The Khazars, by Peter Wolfe and Jeff Zolitor; E) The Khazars, by Steven Lowe; F) The Khazar Kingdom: A Jewish Empire in the Middle Ages, by Rivka Shpak-Lissak; G) Khazar Khaganate, by Tristan Dugdale-Pointon (from Military History Encyclopedia on the Web)

Websites and Resources: Virtual Jewish Library ; Judaism101 ; Yivo Institute of Jewish Research ; Jewish History Timeline Jewish History Resource Center ; Center for Jewish History ; Jewish ; Internet Jewish History Sourcebook

10th Century Report on the Jewish Kingdom of the Khazars

Khazars in the Radzivill chronicle list

The mid 20th century historian Jacob Marcus wrote: In the 10th century “the report of the existence of this Jewish kingdom aroused the curiosity of Hasdai ibn Shaprut (about 915-970). Ibn Shaprut was not only the personal physician of the Spanish Califs Abd-al-Rahman III (912-961) and his son Hakam II (961-976) but was also inspector-general of customs and an adviser in foreign affairs. To satisfy his curiosity he wrote to the ruler of the Khazars about 960 and some time later received an answer from Joseph, the reigning king. The letters of Hasdai and Joseph, both originally written in Hebrew, are given below in extract. [Source: Jacob Marcus, The Jew in the Medieval World: A Sourcebook, 315-1791, (New York: JPS, 1938), 227-232,]

Hasdai ibn Shaprut wrote: “I always ask the ambassadors of... monarchs who bring gifts about our brethren the Israelites, the remnant of the captivity, whether they have heard anything concerning the deliverance of those who have languished in bondage and have found no rest. [He was anxious to know if the "lost ten tribes" existed as an independent Jewish state anywhere.] At length mercantile emissaries of Khorasan [a land southeast of the Caspian Sea] told me that there is a kingdom of Jews which is called Al-Chazar. But I did not believe these words for I thought that they told me such things to procure my goodwill and favor. I was therefore wondering, till the ambassadors of Constantinople came [between 944 and 949] with presents and a letter from their king to our king, and I interrogated them concerning this matter.

“They answered me: "It is quite true, and the name of that kingdom is Al-Chazar. It is a fifteen days' journey by sea from Constantinople, but by land many nations intervene between us; the name of the king now reigning is Joseph; ships sometimes come from their country to ours bringing fish, skins, and wares of every kind [The Khazars, great traders, got their wares from the Russians to the north.] The men are our confederates and are honored by us; there is communication between us by embassies and mutual gifts; they are very powerful; they maintain numerous armies with which they occasionally engage in expeditions." When I heard this report I was encouraged, my hands were strengthened, and my hope was confirmed. Thereupon I bowed down and adored the God of heaven. [Hasdai was happy: Christians could no longer say the Jews were without a country as a punishment for their rejection of Jesus.]....I pray for the health of my lord the King, of his family, and of his house, and that his throne may be established for ever. Let his days and his sons' days be prolonged in the midst of Israel!”

Early History of the Khazars

Joseph the King, King of the Khazars, wrote about 960: “You ask us also in your epistle: "Of what people, of what family, and of what tribe are you?" Know that we are descended from Japhet, through his son Togarmah. [In Jewish literature Togarmah is the father of all the Turks.] I have found in the genealogical books of my ancestors that Togarmah had ten sons. These are their names: the eldest was Ujur, the second Tauris, the third Avar, the fourth Uauz, the fifth Bizal, the sixth Tarna, the seventh Khazar, the eighth Janur, the ninth Bulgar, the tenth Sawir. [These are the mythical founders of tribes that once lived in the neighborhood of the Black and Caspian Seas.] I am a descendant of Khazar, the seventh son. [Source: Jacob Marcus, The Jew in the Medieval World: A Sourcebook, 315-1791, (New York: JPS, 1938), 227-232,]

kingdom of the Khazars

“I have a record that although our fathers were few in number, the Holy One blessed be He, gave them strength, power, and might so that they were able to carry on war after war with many nations who were more powerful and numerous than they. By the help of God they drove them out and took possession of their country. Upon some of them they have imposed forced labor even to this very day. The land [along the Volga] in which I now live was formerly occupied by the Bulgarians.

“Our ancestors, the Khazars, came and fought with them, and, although these Bulgarians were as numerous as the sand on the shores of the sea, they could not withstand the Khazars. So they left their country and fled while the Khazars pursued them as far as the Danube River. Up to this very day the Bulgars camp along the Danube and are close to Constantinople. The Khazars have occupied their land up till now. [The Khazars, known since the second century, dominated southern Russia during the early Middle Ages. ]”

Conversion of the Khazars to Judaism

Joseph the King, King of the Khazars, wrote about 960: “After this, several generations passed until a certain King arose whose name was Bulan. He was a wise and God-fearing man, trusting in his Creator with all his heart. He expelled the wizards and idolaters from the land and took refuge in the shadow of his wings . . . After this his fame was spread broadcast. [Bulan probably ruled about 740. He was the first Jewish Khazar ruler. ] The king of the Byzantines and the Arabs who had heard of him sent their envoys and ambassadors with great riches and many great presents to the King as well as some of their wise men with the object of converting him to their own religion. [The Byzantines and Arabs hoped to stop the raids of the Khazars by converting them.] [Source: Jacob Marcus, The Jew in the Medieval World: A Sourcebook, 315-1791, (New York: JPS, 1938), 227-232,]

“But the King-may his soul be bound up in the bundle of life With the Lord his God-being wise, sent for a learned Israelite. the King searched, inquired, and investigated carefully and brought the sages together that they might argue about their respective religions. Each of them refuted, however, the arguments of his opponent so that they could not agree. When the King saw this he said to them: "Go home, but return to me on the third day…"

Khazar grave

“On the third day he called all the sages together and said to them. "Speak and argue with one another and make clear to me which is the best religion." They began to dispute with one another without arriving at any results until the King said to the Christian priest "What do you think? Of the religion of the Jews and the Muslims, which is to be preferred?" The priest answered: "The religion of the Israelites is better than that of the Muslims."The King then asked the kadi [a Muslim judge and scholar]: "What do you say? Is the religion of the Israelites, or that of the Christians preferable?" The kadi answered: "The religion of the Israelites is preferable."

“Upon this the King said: "If this is so, you both have admitted with your own mouths that the religion of the Israelites is better Wherefore, trusting in the mercies of God and the power of the Almighty, I choose the religion of Israel, that is, the religion of Abraham. If that God in whom I trust, and in the shadow of whose wings I find refuge, will aid me, He can give me without labor the money, the gold, and the silver which you have promised me. As for you all, go now in peace to your land." [This account of Bulan's conversion is apparently legendary. Another Hebrew source tells us that Judaism was adopted by the Khazars when a Jewish general was made king. Jewish fugitives from Constantinople also made many converts in Khazaria.]

“From that time on the Almighty helped Bulan, fortified him, and strengthened him. He circumcised himself, his servants, attendants, and ail his people. [Arabic sources say the royal family and nobility became Jews, but only a part of the people.] Then Bulan sent for and brought from all places wise men of Israel who interpreted the Torah for him and arranged the precepts in order, and up to this very day we have been subject to this religion. May God's name be blessed and may His remembrance be exalted for ever!”

Khazars After Their Conversion to Judaism

Joseph the King, King of the Khazars, wrote about 960: “Since that day [about 740], when my fathers entered into this religion, the God of Israel has humbled all of their enemies, subjecting every folk and tongue round about them, whether Christian, Muslim, or pagan. No one has been able to stand before them to this day [about 960]. All of them are tributary. [But only about ten years later Joseph was defeated by the Russians, 969.] [Source: Jacob Marcus, The Jew in the Medieval World: A Sourcebook, 315-1791, (New York: JPS, 1938), 227-232,]

“After the days of Bulan there arose one of his descendants, a king Obodiah by name, who reorganized the kingdom and established the Jewish religion properly and correctly. He built synagogues and schools, brought in Jewish scholars, and rewarded them with gold and silver. [:The Jewish scholars could have come from Bagdad and Constantinople.] They explained to him the Bible, Mishnah, Talmud and the order of divine services. The King was a man who revered and loved the Torah. He was one of the true servants of God. May the Divine Spirit give him rest!

brick wall in Atil

“He was succeeded by Hezekiah, his son; next to him was Manasseh, his son; next to him was Hanukkah, the brother of Obadiah; next Isaac, his son; afterwards, his son Zebulun; then his son Moses; then his son Nissi; then his son Aaron; then his son Menahem; then his son Benjamin; then his son Aaron II; and I, Joseph, the son of Aaron the King, am King, the son of a King, and the descendant of kings. [These kings probably had Turkish names besides their Hebrew ones.] No stranger can occupy the throne of my ancestors: the son succeeds the father. This has been our custom and the custom of our forefathers since they have come into existence. May it be the gracious will of Him who appoints all kings that the throne of my kingdom shall endure to all eternity.

“You have also asked me about the affairs of my country and the extent of my empire. I wish to inform you that I dwell by the banks of the river known as the Itil [Volga]. At the mouth of the river lies the Caspian Sea. The headwaters of the river turn eastward, a journey of four months distance. Alongside the river dwell many tribes in cities and towns, in open as well as fortified places.... Bear in mind that I dwell at the delta of the Itil and, by God's help, I guard the mouth of the river and do not permit the Russians who come in ships to enter into the Caspian so as to get at the Muslims. Nor do I allow any of their [the Muslims'] enemies who come by land to penetrate as far as Derbend [Derbend, an Arab city, was the gate through which the nomads in Russia hoped to rush through and raid the rich towns of Asia Minor.] 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. . .

“You have also asked me about the place where I live. I wish to inform you that, by the grace of God, I dwell alongside this river On which there are situated three capital cities. The queen dwells in one of them; it is my birthplace. It is quite large, built round like a Circle, the diameter of which is fifty parasangs. [The King lived in an island in the Volga; there were also towns on both banks. ] Jews, Christians, and Moslems live in the second city. Besides these there are many slaves of all nations in it. It is of medium size, eight square parasangs in length and breadth. In the third I reside with my princes, officers, servants, cupbearers and those who are close to me. It is round in shape and its diameter is three parasangs. The river flows within its walls. This is my residence during the winter. From the month of Nisan [March-April] on we leave the city and each one goes forth to his vineyards, fields and to his work.”

Khazar Empire and its Heritage

“The Khazar Empire and its Heritage” by Arthur Koestler (1976), Kevin Alan Brook writes: traces the history of the ancient Khazar Empire, a major but almost forgotten power in Eastern Europe, which in A.D. 740 converted to Judaism. Khazaria, a conglomerate of Aryan Turkic tribes, was finally wiped out by the forces of Genghis Han, but evidence indicates that the Khazars themselves migrated to Poland and formed the craddle of Western (Ashkenazim) Jewry. [Source: Kevin Alan Brook, /=/]

Khazar coin

“The Khazars' sway extended from the Black sea to the Caspian, from the Caucasus to the Volga, and they were instrumental in stopping the Muslim onslaught against Byzantium, the eastern jaw of the gigantic pincer movement that in the West swept across northern Africa and into Spain.Thereafter the Khazars found themselves in a precarious position between the two major world powers: the Eastern Roman Empire in Byzantium and the triumphant followers of Mohammed. As Arthur Koestler points out, the Khazars were the Third World of their day, and they chose a surprising method of resisting both the Western pressure to become Christian and the Eastern to adopt Islam. Rejecting both, they converted to Judaism. /=/

“The Khazar Empire and its Heritage” by Arthur Koestler (1976). Koestler was an Ashkenazi Jew and took pride in his Khazar ancestry. He was also a very talented and successful writer who published over 25 novels and essays.
Part One: Rise and Fall of the Khazars
I - Rise
II - Conversion
III - Decline
IV - Fall
Part Ii - the Heritage
V - Exodus
VI - Where from ?
VII - Cross-currents
VIII - Race and Myth

Khazarian Shamanism and Religion

Kevin Alan Brook wrote: “The article "The Religious Beliefs of the Khazars" by Richard A. E. Mason appeared in the Winter 1995 issue (Volume 51, Number 4) of The Ukrainian Quarterly, on pages 383-415. Throughout the article, Mason informs readers about the original religion of the Turkic Khazar people by drawing upon a wide array of informative sources. Although Mason asserts that Judaism was for the most part limited to the rulers, the information provided in his essay does not necessarily chronologically contradict with the notion that the Khazars' religion changed sometime in the 9th century. But Mason is correct to say "The apposition of peoples and cultures led, in the short-run, to a blossoming of both material and spiritual culture among the Khazars. It also formed the basis for the remarkable symbiosis of varying systems of religious belief and practise which held sway and formed so unique a characteristic of the Khazar state throughout its whole history, accompanying it right down to its tragic fall. The religious beliefs current amongst the inhabitants of the Khazar state were as many and varied as these peoples themselves." (page 387) Mason is careful to point out the existence of Zoroastrianism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Paganism, and Shamanism in the Khazarian realm. [Source: Kevin Alan Brook, /=/]

Among the Turkic Khazars specifically, as opposed to the Rus, Goths, Alans, etc., the original religion was a blend of nomadic shamanism and the Tengri cult, and not strict monotheism. It was "like [that of] the Turks" according to Dimashqi (page 388). Deities in the old Turkic belief system, acting as protective entities, included: 1) Tengri, or Tangri — a ruler of the heavens. The Turks believed that the supernatural Tengri was responsible for the installation of their Kagans and the preservation of justice. Some rulers were called "tangritag" or "tangrikan" which means "like Tangri", in other words "heavenly". Tangri gave these rulers wisdom (bilig) and strength (küch). Tängri as a title actually could consist of two divine co-sovereigns, called Türk Tängri and Öd Tängri. 2) Ärklig — a name meaning "strength", "authority", or "prowess in the field". Ärklig was believed to be connected with military affairs of Turkic tribes. 3) Yir-Sub, or Yir (Yär) and Sub — divine twins who rule over the earth and water, who can speak in unison (some authors write of them as a singular, others as a plural). 4) Umay — female goddess whose name means "placenta". Associated in some way with Yir-Sub, though as Mason indicates (page 394) her exact function is unclear. /=/

ancient shaman

“Next, Mason focuses in on the specific practices of the Khazars and North Caucasian Huns. Mason writes: "For example, the Syriac chronicle of the so-called | Pseudo-Dionysius of Tell-Mahrê, the author reports under the year 1042, i.e., A.D. 730/731, that the Turkic Khazars are a race without a god, that they are, in fact, Magians, though the author here likely means «heathen,» rather than the Zoroastrian magoi of Persia, though a certain number of Zoroastrian proselytes were settled in Daghestan by Khûsro I. in the sixth century. Under the year 1043, i.e., A.D. 731/732, though likely to be dated prior to 730, the same author records that the Christian prince Maslama struck a treaty with the Turkic Khazars, in which the parties swore on the name of God that neither would engage in border violations of the other's territory, but «the Turks, who do not know God, who do not know God, who do not understand that they are His creatures, who do not agree that there is a God in Heaven, did not hold their promises." /=/ “Mason adds: "That the Khazars, too, venerated the same «pantheon,» is amply apparent from other sources. The Persian author Amîn Ahmad Râzî, in his Haft iqlîm ("The Seven Climates"), composed at the end of the sixteenth century, says that the religion of the Khazars holds «the day and the night, the wind and the rain, the earth and the heavens [to be] objects of devotion, but the god of the heavens is greater than the others.» Amîn used the works of Ibn Fadlân as a source and in the works of the latter, a similar passage is to be found regarding the Baškirs, a tribe still resident on the Ufa, east of the territory of the Bulgars of the Volga and Kama." /=/

“As archaeology has shown, in Khazaria the Turkic inhabitants created many amulets which could be interpreted as shamanistic. Mason says: "In sites attributed to the so-called Saltovo or Mayaki cultural complex, many amulets of bone or of dogs' or wolves' teeth have been unearthed. The most common motif is the solar body, though, particularly in the territory covered by the Khazar Qaghanate, amulets representing various animal forms are quite common." /=/

According to the Vita S. Constantini, the Khazars circa the year 860 "know of only one god [Tangri], who rules over all, and we bow to him, turning toward the East." On page 412, Mason writes that "Ibn Rusta, Ista?rî, Ibn Hauqâl and other Islamic authors, for example, speak of pagans among the Khazars well into the tenth century." but quotes from Al-Masudi: "When it comes to the pagans in this land [i.e., the Khazar empire], they belong to several races, among them the Saqâliba and the Rus." Then Mason writes: "Ista?rî, or his source, assert that the class (ahlâq) of the pagans was, in fact, the largest, mentioning that, after the custom of the heathen, the people would cast themselves on the ground before each other. It is possible, however, that Ista?rî, as Mas'ûdi before him, is including the Rûs and the Saqâliba in the numbers of the heathen. These pagans are also said to have been the members of the Khazar society who sold their children into slavery, belonging, so it would seem to the poorer classes." Thus I would say that it is clear that Mason's statements reflect the fact that the pagans were not necessarily Turkic Khazars, but mainly Slavs and Rus and other groups. Thus, such statements, as I have said previously (in the first edition of The Jews of Khazaria on page 139), do not contradict the notion that the Khazars converted in large numbers to Judaism by the 10th century.” /=/

Khazarian Burial Customs

Khazar customs, practices and ways of life included rain-making, human sacrifices and cremation. They buried their dead in kagans (burial mounds) and had customs surrounding the installation of a new kagan. Mason cites from Byzantine sources that apparently refer to a Khazarian "dogh" or "yogh"; that is, a feast or celebration held at a funeral. Mason indicates that the victims in the year 711 likely "came to be looked upon not merely as messengers to the spirit world but rather as a corps of retainers for the deceased, who should accompany and serve him in the world beyond. The horses would serve as the stock, whence a new herd would arise." [Source: Kevin Alan Brook, /=/]

Mongolian Oovos

The passage reads: "Theophanes, who based his work on a now lost sources [sic] dating to the year 713, reports that, upon the death of the Khazar tudun, an officer of lower rank, of Kherson human sacrifices were carried out. The tudun seems to have been held as an hostage in Constantinople and, apparently as a gesture of good will, had been set free by the Emperor Justinian II. in 711 and sent back to Kherson. As a further mark of honour, the Emperor provided an escort of 300 Byzantine soldiers. Upon their arrival in Kherson, however, both the tudun and his escort seem to have been taken prisoner by the citizens of Kherson and bound over to the Khazar Qaghan. When, on their way to the Qaghan's court the tudun unexpectedly died, the Khazars put the entire 300-man escort to death at the time of the tudun's doga.... The practise of uman sacrifice at funerals was not a specifically Turkic phenomenon, but was a feature of the funeral rites of many steppe peoples, being known from the days of the Scyths, as Herodotus testifies. Nevertheless, the Altaic peoples differ from the Indoeuropeans in the spiritual background of such acts. Whereas, the reported acts of human sacrifice among the Khazars represent the slaughter of enemy prisoners, those among the Slavs and other Aryan races tend to include elements of voluntary participation on the part of the victim in the sacrificial rite." /=/

Mason also includes a section on the familiar story told in Ibn Fadlan's account of how the Khazarian khagans were buried in one of 20 houses (i.e. funeral huts) and how those that buried the khagans were beheaded "so that no one might know in which house the Qaghan was buried." There follows some other references to various forms of burial among the Rus, Scythians, and Turks. One of the useful references is the following sentence: "According to the anonymous Persian «Mughmal at-tawârîh», composed around 1126, in the section on the history of the Japhetides (to which group the Khazars are assigned), the Khazars also practised cremation, though, at an earlier period, they are said to have disposed of their dead by casting the corpses into the rivers. In an empire of such extent and ethnic diversity, it is none unlikely that several modes of burial may have long subsisted side by side."” /=/

Khazar Judaism

This is following is a selection of contemporary references to the practice of rabbinical Judaism among the Khazars. Here is a list of Jewish sources that preserve knowledge of the Khazars' conversion to Judaism: 1) Elchanan the Merchant a.k.a. Eldad the Danite - 9th century; 2) Anonymous author of the Schechter Letter - 10th century; 3) Hasdai ibn Shaprut - 10th century; 4) King Joseph of the Khazars - 10th century; 5) Yehuda HaLevi - 12th century; 6) Rabbi Yehuda al-Barseloni - 12th century; 7) Rabbi Abraham ibn Daud - 12th century; 8) Rabbi Moses ben Nahman a.k.a. Nahmanides - 13th century; 9) Rabbi Shem Tov ibn Shem Tov - 15th century; 10) Rabbi Gedaliah - 16th century; 11) Yitzhak Aqrish - 16th century; 12) Rabbi Yehuda Moscato - 16th century. [Source: Kevin Alan Brook, /=/]

Christian of Stavelot, in Expositio in Matthaeum Evangelistam (864): "At the present time we know of no nation under the heavens where Christians do not live. For [Christians are even found] in the lands of Gog and Magog — who are a Hunnic race and are called Gazari (Khazars)... circumcized and observing all [the laws of] Judaism. The Bulgars, however, who are of the same seven tribes [as the Khazars], are now becoming baptized [into Christianity]." /=/

Ahmad ibn Fadlan, in his travellogue (c. 922): "The Khazars and their king are all Jews." Ibn al-Faqih (c. 930): "All of the Khazars are Jews. But they have been Judaized recently." Khazar King Joseph, in his Reply to Hasdai ibn-Shaprut (c. 955): "After those days there arose from the sons of Bulan's sons a king, Obadiah by name. He was an upright and just man. He reorganized the kingdom and established the Jewish religion properly and correctly. He built synagogues and schools, brought in many Israelite sages, honored them with silver and gold, and they explained to him the 24 Books of the Bible, Mishnah, Talmud, and the order of prayers established by the Khazzans. He was a man who feared God and loved the law and the commandments." /=/

Abd al-Jabbar ibn Muhammad al-Hamdani, in The Establishment of Proofs for the Prophethood of Our Master Muhammad (c. 1009-1010): "One of the Jews undertook the conversion of the Khazars, who are composed of many peoples, and they were converted by him and joined his religion. This happened recently in the days of the Abbasids.... For this was a man who came single-handedly to a king of great rank and to a very spirited people, and they were converted by him without any recourse to violence and the sword. And they took upon themselves the difficult obligations enjoined by the law of the Torah, such as circumcision, the ritual ablutions, washing after a discharge of the semen, the prohibition of work on the Sabbath and during the feasts, the prohibition of eating the flesh of forbidden animals according to this religion, and so on." /=/

Abraham ibn Daud of Toledo, Spain, in The Book of Tradition (1161): "You will find the communities of Israel spread abroad... as far as Dailam and the river Itil where live Khazar peoples who became proselytes. The Khazar king Joseph sent a letter to Hasdai ibn-Shaprut and informed him that he and all his people followed the rabbinical faith. We have seen descendants of the Khazars in Toledo, students of the wise, and they have told us that the remnant of them is of the rabbinical belief." /=/

Dimashqi (1327): "Ibn-al-Athir tells how in the days of Harun, the emperor of Byzantium forced the Jews to emigrate. They came to the Khazar country, where they found an intelligent but untutored race and offered them their religion. The inhabitants found it better than their own and accepted it." /=/

Rabbi Moscato wrote in in his book Kol Yehuda: "Should it not be believed that the great and awe-inspiring story which is the basis and essence of this book [The Kuzari by Yehuda HaLevi] is true and really happened? If that were not so, why would the author of the book lie? For he wrote in the beginning of his book: 'As it has been recorded and known from historical works.' He repeated that in the introduction to the second part of his book: 'This is what happened afterwards with regard to the Kuzari, as it is known in the books of Khazaria...'" (translation by Rabbi Gershom Barnard) /=/

In Hasdai ibn Shaprut's letter to King Joseph: "We live in the Diaspora and there is no power in our hands. They say to us everyday, 'Every nation has a kingdom, but you have no memory of such in all the land.' But when we heard about my master the [Khazar] King, the might of his monarchy, and his mighty army, we were amazed. We lifted our heads, our spirits returned, our hands were strengthened, and my master's kingdom was our response in defense. Were it that this news would gain added strength, for through it we will be elevated further." (translation by Rabbi N. Daniel Korobkin) /=/

Khazar Archeology

potsherds from a Khazar site

Atil was the third capital city of Khazaria until it was conquered in 969. Archaeologists have located the remains of Atil. Sarkel's fortress was one of Khazaria's most important, serving both as a defensive structure and a trading caravan stopover. Includes images of the layout of the fortress, a bronze warrior figurine, pottery, jewelry, bricks, and other objects. Khazar Burial Mounds have been found at Chastiye Kurgany. The remains of Khazar-Era Fortress are located in the Golden Hills (Zolotiye Gorki) [Source: Kevin Alan Brook, /=/]

Artifacts and objects related to the Khazars include Turkic runes, Turkic tribe symbols, a Khazar metal disc with an engraving of the Star of David, Khazar-Saltovo amulets, depictions of an epic motif, Khazarian battle and hunting scenes, Khazar silver belts, a pot with images of a menorah and a cross, arms and armor from the northwestern Caucasus displayed in the March-September 2003 exhibit "Horse and Rider" at the State Historical Museum in Moscow. /=/

"Onakhodke sosuda s graffiti v Mariupole" by Eduard Ye, Kravchenko and V. K. Kul'baka was published in Russian (with an English summary) in the journal Arkheologicheskii al'manakh No. 21 (2010) on pages 386-395 describes Khazar-era artifacts found in the city of Mariupol in southeastern Ukraine. They include two Arabic dirhams that were used as pendants, mirror fragments, and a pot (shown on the bottom of page 389) that bears two drawn symbols: a Jewish menorah and a plus sign that's interpreted as a Christian cross. The authors believe the potter was neither a Jew nor a Christian but was a pagan who was familiar with these other religions that were practiced in Khazaria at the time. Was the plus sign really not a tamga? /=/

DNA Research and Descendants of the Khazars

Kevin Alan Brook wrote in “What happened to the Khazars after the fall of their kingdom? This remains one of the most controversial questions in Khazar studies. Some new answers emerged from new discoveries. The first essay is outdated now but summarizes evidence and opinions surrounding the issue. The second essay explains how we know that Eastern European Jews descend from non-Khazar Jews. The third page gathers available evidence on genetics and shows that Ashkenazic Jews have substantial roots in the Middle East as well as some ancestry from Italy, Southern China, North Africa, and the Slavic lands. The fourth page queries whether Jews who live in the Caucasus today descend from Khazar converts. Are Russian Jews Descended from the Khazars? Are Russian Jews Descended from the German and Bohemian Jews? Jewish Genetics: Abstracts and Summaries Are Mountain Jews Descended from the Khazars? “ [Source: Kevin Alan Brook, /=/]

Gennady E. Afanasiev and his co-authors published the Russian article "Khazarskie konfederaty v Basseyne Dona" in Yestestvennonauchnie metodi issledovaniya i paradigma sovremennoy arkheologii: Materiali Vserossiyskoy nauchnoy koferentsii, Moskva, Institut arkheologii Rossiyskoy akademii nauk, 8-11 dekabrya 2015 in 2015 on pages 146-153. They examined the uniparental markers of 4 individuals in the Saltovo-Mayaki culture of Khazaria who lived circa the 800s: 1) Sample A80301 belonged to the Y-DNA haplogroup R1a1a1b2a (R-Z94) which is of Persian/West Asian origin and found today among Turkic-speaking Karachay people. A80301's mtDNA haplogroup was I4a which is found today in northwestern and central Europe such as in Sweden, and also found around the Black Sea, in the North Caucasus, and in Armenia, Iran, and Siberia. 2) Sample A80302's mtDNA haplogroup was D4m2, which is found today in Siberia among the Dolgan, Yakut, and Even peoples, but is never found among Ashkenazim. 3) Sample A80410 belonged to the Y-DNA haplogroup G, commonly found among peoples in West Asia and the Caucasus today. 4) Sample A80411 belonged to the Y-DNA haplogroup J2a, which is also commonly found in West Asia and the Caucasus today, and also in Central Asia and in parts of Europe like the Balkans. /=/

Khazar-era stirrup from Russia

Anatole A. Klyosov and Tatiana Faleeva's article "Excavated DNA from Two Khazar Burials" in Advances in Anthropology 7 (2017) on pages 17-21 examines the Y-DNA STRs of two Khazar samples from the lower Don region of southern Russia. Both of them belong to haplogroups within R1a's subclade Z93's Turkic branches, not part of the Ashkenazic Jewish or North Slavic lineages of R1a. The authors write that "R1a-Z93 is very common in present-day Turkic-speaking peoples such as Caucasian Karachaevo-Balkars, also Tatars, Bashkirs, Kirgiz, and other populations who apparently descended from Scythians, and have their common ancestors in the R1a-Z93 subclade dated back to 1500-2500 years ago"./=/

“Although not directly related to the Khazars, it may interest you that DNA was recovered from an early-medieval Hun buried in Hungary and his Y-DNA haplogroup is L while his mtDNA haplogroup is D4j12. DNA from 31 Avars from early-medieval southeastern Hungary included the East Eurasian mtDNA haplogroups C, M6, D4c1, and F1b as well as (more frequently) some European mtDNA haplogroups. 23 percent of the Hungarian conquerors (mainly Magyars, but said to have been joined by Khazars) belonged to the "Central and East-Eurasian haplogroups (A, B, C, D, F, G, M)". Supplementary Table S11 (Tab 11 in the spreadsheet) specifies A, A10, A11, A12a, B4, B4c1b, C, C4a1, C4a2, D4c1, D4h1, D4h4a, D4i, D4m2, D4m2a, F1b, G2a, M, M7, N1a1a1a, N1a1a1a1a, and N1b1. /=/

Khazar Heritage: Ashkenazi Jews?

Kevin Alan Brook writes in “The second part of Mr. Koestler's book deals with the Khazar migration to Polish and Lithuanian territories, caused by the Mongol onslaught, and their impact on the racial composition and social heritage of modern Jewry. He produces a large body of meticulously detailed research in support of a theory that sounds all the more convincing for the restraint with which it is advanced. Mr. Koestler concludes: "The evidence presented in the previous chapters adds up to a strong case in favour of those modern historians - whether Austrian, Israeli or Polish - who, independently from each other, have argued that the bulk of modern Jewry is not of Palestinian, but of Caucasian origin. The mainstream of Jewish migrations did not flow from the Mediterranean across France and Germany to the east and then back again. The stream moved in a consistently westerly direction, from the Caucasus through the Ukraine into Poland and thence into Central Europe. When that unprecedented mass settlement in Poland came into being, there were simply not enough Jews around in the west to account for it, while in the east a whole nation was on the move to new frontiers" ( page 179, page 180). [Source: Kevin Alan Brook, /=/]

Ashkenazi Jew

"The Jews of our times fall into two main divisions: Sephardim and Ashkenazim. The Sephardim are descendants of the Jews who since antiquity had lived in Spain (in Hebrew Sepharad) until they were expelled at the end of the fifteenth century and settled in the countries bordering the Mediterranean, the Balkans, and to a lesser extent in Western Europe. They spoke a Spanish-Hebrew dialect, Ladino, and preserved their own traditions and religious rites. In the 1960s, the number of Sephardim was estimated at 500,000. The Ashkenazim, at the same period, numbered about eleven million. Thus, in common parlance, Jew is practically synonymous with Ashkenazi Jew." ( page 181).In Mr. Koestler's own words, "The story of the Khazar Empire, as it slowly emerges from the past, begins to look like the most cruel hoax which history has ever perpetrated." /=/

“The history of the Ashkenazi Jews was widely known and appreciated in the former Soviet Union. Ashkenazi militants traced the area where the Turkic Khazars originated before their migration to Southern Russia to Birobidjan, an Eastern Siberian area as big as Switzerland bordered by the Amur river, by China and Mongolia. Around 1928 they started building settlements with the Soviet government's help and in 1934 the Autonomous Republic (Okrug) of Birobidjan Yevrei came into being with official languages of Yiddish and Russian. It is still there as an Autonomous Republic to this day, offering the only historically legitimate settlement area for Ashkenazi Jews willing to exercise their "right to return".” /=/

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Jewish History Sourcebook “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); “Old Testament Life and Literature” by Gerald A. Larue, New International Version (NIV) of The Bible,; Wikipedia, Live Science, Archaeology magazine, National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2024

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