Jacob's Legacy

Jacob's Legacy: A Genetic View of Jewish History

David B. Goldstein
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 176
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  • Book Info
    Jacob's Legacy
    Book Description:

    Who are the Jews? Where did they come from? What is the connection between an ancient Jewish priest in Jerusalem and today's Israeli sunbather on the beaches of Tel Aviv? These questions stand at the heart of this engaging book. Geneticist David Goldstein analyzes modern DNA studies of Jewish populations and examines the intersections of these scientific findings with the history (both biblical and modern) and oral tradition of the Jews. With a special gift for translating complex scientific concepts into language understandable to all, Goldstein delivers an accessible, personal, and fascinating book that tells the history of a group of people through the lens of genetics.

    In a series of detective-style stories, Goldstein explores the priestly lineage of Jewish males as manifested by Y chromosomes; the Jewish lineage claims of the Lemba, an obscure black South African tribe; the differences in maternal and paternal genetic heritage among Jewish populations; and much more. The author also grapples with the medical and ethical implications of our rapidly growing command of the human genomic landscape. The study of genetics has not only changed the study of Jewish history, Goldstein shows, it has altered notions of Jewish identity and even our understanding of what makes a people a people.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14510-6
    Subjects: Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Religion, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xvi)
    (pp. xvii-xx)
    (pp. 1-7)

    Three thousand years ago a small kingdom emerged in the southeast corner of the Mediterranean, wedged between the remnants of two great empires (figure 1). That kingdom, the United Monarchy of the Hebrews (or Israelite Kingdom), lasted only seventy-five years, the span of a single human life. But during that brief period and the years leading up to it, the Hebrews established a national identity strong enough to carry them through repeated episodes of exile and subjugation and, in one of the most dramatic political movements of modern times, back to their original land. Judaism and the Jewish people, however,...

  6. CHAPTER 1 Keeping God’s House: Y Chromosomes and Old Testament Priests
    (pp. 8-39)

    When people learn that I use genetics to assess relationships among people or groups of people, they are often puzzled by an apparent contradiction. A segment of the academic community has for years insisted that we are “all the same,” that there are no meaningful genetic differences among populations and no biological basis for race and ethnicity. If that is so, how can we use genetics to look at the relationships among groups of people? Some of this thinking traces back to decades-old work by the eminent evolutionary biologist Richard Lewontin, who showed that 85 to 90 percent of the...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Lost Tribe No More? The Black Jews of South Africa
    (pp. 40-60)

    Years ago, there was an ad campaign that featured a Japanese boy holding a piece of bread. “You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s real rye,” it declared. The campaign was hugely successful—the catchphrase “You don’t have to be Jewish to” has since been attached to countless other verb phrases: “eat kosher,” “believe in Jesus,” “love JDate,” even “be a neocon.”

    I would add one other: “become one of the world’s foremost experts on the anthropology of the Jews.” I’m talking about Tudor Parfitt, professor of modern Jewish studies at the University of London’s School of Oriental...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Looking Out for Number Two: The Case of the Ashkenazi Levites
    (pp. 61-74)

    In chapter 1, I tried to show that today’s Cohanim are paternal-line descendants of a community that effectively maintained its genetic exclusivity over a period of at least two thousand years. But the Cohanim were only a small subset of a larger priestly class, the Levites. Aaron was not only the first Cohen but also a member of the tribe of Levi and the great-grandson of the tribe’s founder, Levi, the third son of Jacob. The tribe of Levi was distinct: it was the only one designated a priestly caste, it was not allotted a fixed territory of its own...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Those Jewish Mothers: The Development of Female-Defined Ethnicity in the Jewish Diaspora
    (pp. 75-99)

    Up to this point, we’ve considered Jewish genetic history exclusively from the male point of view, that is to say, the Y chromosome. This orientation not only is not fair but also paints a distorted picture—there are clear differences between the male-exclusive Y and the rest of the human genome. From my perspective as a genetic historian, the Y chromosome is inadequate, because it says nothing about the patterns of migration among females. To fully understand the genetic history of a population it is necessary to move beyond the Y chromosome.

    My interest in considering female Jewish genetic history...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Look on Mine Affliction: Genetic Diseases and Jewish History
    (pp. 100-114)

    The Jewish share of the overall burden of genetic disease is probably no greater than that of Africans, Arabs, Icelanders, or anyone else, but I wouldn’t blame you if you came away from the biomedical literature with a different impression. A query of the PubMed database (www.pubmed.gov) in early 2007 for the termAshkenaziin titles and abstracts, for example, retrieved more than thirteen hundred papers.

    Contemporary Jews are primarily urban, they tend to reside close to major clinical and research centers, and they have a long history of involvement in the research enterprise. Thus, the popular notion of “Jewish...

  11. CHAPTER 6 Jews, Genes, and the Future
    (pp. 115-120)

    I am a geneticist. But I am also a Jew. As I intimated in the preface, I would not suggest that it is purely coincidental that I wound up studying the genetics of Jewish populations. Traveling to Israel to meet collaborators, reading about three millennia of history, and seeing landmarks that influenced, and were influenced by, countless momentous events in human existence have connected me to both human history and my own history.

    It bears repeating yet again: genetic history is still just history. In fact, it offers only the briefest and most superficial of glimpses into history. But those...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 121-126)
    (pp. 127-128)
    (pp. 129-140)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 141-148)