Kevin Brook on Khazars, Jews and Malina et al

In a recent Bible and Interpretation article I co-wrote with Robert Myles about how Bruce Malina and some of his co-authors have a peculiar understanding of Jewish (racial) identity. One of these examples concerns an old anti-Jewish/Semitic polemic concerning Khazar origins of contemporary Jews, a view continued in more contemporary far right groups. For instance:

It is a common mistake in scholarship to consider first-century Israelites around the Mediterranean basin as the type of single-voiced entity one finds in the forms of modern Ashkenazi Jewishness in the United States and northern Europe. The Khazars were a Turkic people who converted to rabbinic Judaism in the ninth century C.E., to eventually settle in largely Slavic lands. Eight-four percent of all Jews before World War II lived in Poland, and they were Khazar Jews (see the website Most Christians derive their image of ancient Semitic Judeans from images of contemporary non-Semitic Khazar Jews. The point is there was no lineal development from early Israel to contemporary Khazar Jewishness… As Diane Jacobs-Malina (manuscript in progress) has written:
‘Cutting through layers of Jewish image-management to get at the facts of Jews-in-relation-to-Everyone Else is a daunting procedure. The propensity to substitute flattering stories for the unvarnished historical kernels has emerged as the unifying element from the creation of Israel-in-the-Bible, through the Hellenistic revisions which produced instant antiquity, to writers like Josephus. This tendency manifested itself in the creation of the Oral Torah and its many interpretations culminating in the Bavli [the Babylonian Talmud]. A greater challenge presented itself with the descendants of Central Asians living in Khazaria (southern Russia) who converted to Rabbinic Judaism in the ninth century. These Khazars had to be recast not only as a Semitic people, but as the biological heirs of the Old Testament’s literary characters. This mythical transformation has been accepted as a fait accompli by many Zionist Jews and Christians. From Israel-in-the-Bible to Hollywood, from marketing to the contemporary media; story-telling and image-management are the core values of Jewish group identity which characterize their relations to Everyone Else.’
The point is, for readers of Paul interested in understanding Israelites in the first century C.E., the accretions of the past two thousand years have to be removed. Ancient Israelites have little in common with the Jews of today aside from Israel’s scriptures, which Christians share as well

(Malina and Pilch, Social-Science Commentary on the Letters of Paul, pp. 179-80)

Or again:

…modern readers will think John makes reference to those persons whom readers today know from their experience to be Jews. The fact is, from a religious point of view, all modern Jews belong to traditions developed largely after the time of Jesus and compiled in the Babylonian Talmud (sixth century C.E.). As for ethnic origin, Central European Jews (called Ashkenazi Jews) largely trace their origin to Turkic and Iranian ancestors who comprised the Khazar empire and converted to Judaism in the eighth century C.E. (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th ed. Micropaedia, 5:788; on the Internet: Thus, given the sixth-century C.E. origin of all forms of contemporary Jewish religion, and given the U.S. experience of Jews based largely on Central European Jews, themselves originating from eighth-century C.E. converts, it would be quite anachronistic to identify any modern Jews with the ‘Judeans’ mentioned in John’s Gospel or the rest of the New Testament…in all of the sixty-nine other instances in John where the term Judeans (Greek Ioudaioi) appears, there is nothing of the modern connotations of ‘Jew’ or ‘Jewishness’… (Malina and Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Gospel of John, 44)

Notice the citation of In the comments section of our article Kevin Brook, who runs, made the following remarks:

The Malinas’ citation of my site shows they can’t understand their own sources since some pages on contain evidence of most modern Jews’ descent from the ancient Israelites. This includes genetic evidence showing that Ashkenazi Jews, Yemenite Jews, Sephardic Jews, Persian Jews, Karaites, and Samaritans share ancient roots in the Middle East from the days of Israel…the Israelite component remained persistent and large…See how the evidence stacks up with the Malinas’ false claims “Ancient Israelites have little in common with the Jews of today” and “contemporary non-Semitic Khazar Jews”. Thanks to these so-called “scholars” for citing my work, but too bad they read it selectively.

This is further evidence of the somewhat problematic understanding of ‘Jewishness’ and contemporary Israeli and Jewish identity by Malina and some of his co-authors. For, as Brook points out, the source material used to make the dramatic claim does not even support the case. We are therefore left with no supporting evidence from Malina et al apart from micropaedia/Encyclopaedia Britannica. More on that when I work out how to cut and paste the entry.


There is a different use of sources by Malina that is also not without its difficulties. As Deane Galbraith points out, Malina has previously circulated (and defended) to a number of biblical scholars ‘a pro-holocaust-denial “joke” written by a far-right holocaust denier with the pen-name of Michael James’ (see “Big Pharma Pushes ‘Miracle Cure’ For Holocaust Denial Syndrome”. This spoof, which has been widely circulated, contains defences of Holocaust denial and Holocaust deniers such as David Irving.


One response to “Kevin Brook on Khazars, Jews and Malina et al

  1. Pingback: What a Difference a Translation Makes! An Ideological Analysis of the Ioudaios Debate – By James Crossley - The Marginalia Review of Books

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