New Genes For Ancient Hindus And Jews – OpEd


New research using ancient DNA is rewriting the genetic history of two ancient peoples; the Hindus and the Jews – and shows that their two religious civilization are the result of multiple ancient ethnic migrations; into the Land of India in the case of the Hindus, and into diaspora Jewish communities in the case of the Jewish People.

First the Hindus. According to Tony Joseph, author of “Early Indians’’, Hindu nationalists believe the source of Indian civilization were the people who called themselves Aryans – a nomadic tribe of horse-riding, cattle-rearing warriors and herders who composed Hinduism’s oldest religious texts, the Vedas. Aryans, they argue, originated within the Land of India, spreading themselves and their family of Indo-European languages across large parts of Asia and Europe.

Many Indian scholars question the “out of India” thesis, arguing that Indo-European language speakers – or Aryans – were just one of many streams of prehistoric migrants who came into India after the decline of the much earlier Harappan (or Indus Valley) civilization, which thrived in what is now north-western India and Pakistan around the same time as the early Egyptians and Mesopotamians.

Hindu right-wingers believe the Harappan civilization was also an Aryan or Vedic civilization; but none of their languages have been deciphered so no one knows what language they spoke.

Now studies using ancient DNA are rewriting world history, and especially for the Hindu and Jewish Peoples, there have been many fascinating discoveries.

The most recent study on this subject, led by geneticist David Reich of Harvard University, who had also studied the genetic evolution of the Jewish People, was published in March 2018 and co-authored by 92 scholars from all over the world – many of them leading names in disciplines as diverse as genetics, history, archaeology and anthropology.

The study showed that in the last 8,000 years there were two major migrations into, and not out of. India. The first one originated from the Zagros region in south-western Iran (which has the world’s first evidence for goat domestication) and brought agriculturists, most likely herders, to India.

This would have been between 6,000 and 3,000 BCE. These Zagrosian herders mixed with the earlier inhabitants of the subcontinent – the First Indians, descendants of the Out of Africa (OoA) migrants who had reached India around 65,000 years ago – and together, they created the Harappan civilization.

In the centuries after 2000 BCE came the second set of immigrants (the Aryans) from the Eurasian Steppe lands, probably from Kazakhstan who brought with them an early version of Sanskrit, mastery over horses and new cultural and religious practices, all of which formed the basis of early Hindu/Vedic culture.

A thousand years earlier these Aryan peoples from the Eurasian Steppe lands had moved into Europe, mixing with agriculturists there, and spreading Indo-European languages into Europe.

Other genetic studies have brought to light more migrations into India, such as that of the speakers of Austro-Asiatic languages who came from south-eastern Asia. Thus India’s population is made up of a number of different layers added at different times.

As Tony Joseph writes in his book “Early Indians’’, the Indian population is like a pizza, with the first Indians forming its base. Though the base is thin in some places and thicker in others, studies show that 50% to 65% of the genetic ancestry of almost all Indians derives from the First Indians.

On top of the base comes the sauce – the Harappans. Then come the various toppings and the cheese – the Austro-Asiatic, Tibeto-Burman and Indo-European language speakers or Aryans, all of whom found their way into the subcontinent later.

Hindu nationalists will not admit that the Aryans were not the first inhabitants of India; and that the Harappan civilization existed long before their arrival for it would mean acknowledging that Aryans or their Vedic culture were not the singular fountainhead of Indian civilization.

The idea of the mixing of different population groups is even more unappealing to Orthodox Hindus and Hindu nationalists as they put a premium on racial purity. Plus the migration theory puts Aryans on the same footing as latter-day Muslim conquerors of India – such as the Mughals.

Some Hindu nationalists demand that the Harappan civilization be renamed the Saraswati river civilization. Since the Saraswati is mentioned in the Rig Vedic, such a renaming would serve to emphasize the link between Harappan civilization and the Aryans.

However, Tony Joseph says the real message that the new research carries is an exciting and hopeful one: that Indians have created a long-lasting civilization from a variety of heredities and histories. The genius of the Indian civilization during its best periods has been inclusion, not exclusion. Unity in diversity is, indeed, the central theme of India’s genetic make-up.

Now to the Jewish People. I would say that the same thing can also be said for the Jewish people in the 2500 years since the Babylonian exile. After all, are all present day Jews really the biological descendants of the Jews who inhabited the Land of Israel 3.000 years ago?

Yes and No. A new genetic analysis supports the historical record of Middle Eastern Jews settling in North Africa during Classical Antiquity, actively proselytizing and marrying local populations, and, in the process, forming distinct populations that later stayed largely intact for over 1500 years.

The study was published online August 6, 2012 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “Our new findings define North African Jews, and enhance the case for a biological basis for Jewishness,” said study leader Harry Ostrer, M.D., professor of pathology, genetics and pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University.

However, as anyone who has been to present day Israel knows, Jews come in many shades and looks. This is because even in the diaspora, and even against the will of the ruling religious authorities, Jews have quietly welcomed converts into the Jewish community, even against the formal rules of medieval rabbis. That is why most Jews in different geographical locations tend to look similar to the local majority after several generations.

The rabbinical rule that one should not refer to any Jew’s convert status is evidence of the desire of Jewish leaders to keep proselytizing activities secret from the non-Jewish ruling religious authorities..

In a previous genetic analysis, the researchers showed that modern-day Sephardic (Greek and Turkish), Ashkenazi (Eastern European) and Mizrahi (Iranian, Iraqi and Syrian) Jews that originated in Europe and the Middle East are more related to each other than to their contemporary non-Jewish neighbors, with each group forming its own cluster within the larger Jewish population.

Further, each of the four geographical groups genes, demonstrated Middle-Eastern ancestry, plus varying degrees of inclusion of converts to Judaism from the surrounding populations. This is true even though two of the major Jewish populations — Middle Eastern and European Jews — were found to have diverged from each other approximately 2,500 years ago.

The current study which extended the analysis to North African Jews, the second largest Jewish Diaspora group found that they also were more related to each other than to their contemporary non-Jewish North African neighbors.

The current study also included members of Jewish communities in Ethiopia, Yemen and Georgia. In all, the researchers analyzed the genetic make-up of 509 Jews from 15 populations along with genetic data on 114 individuals from seven North African non-Jewish populations.

North African Jews exhibited a high degree of endogamy, or marriage within their own religious group in accordance with Jewish custom. Ethiopian and Yemenite Jewish populations also formed distinctive genetically linked clusters, as did Georgian Jews.

So I would also say that the real message that the new genetic research carries is an exciting and hopeful one: that Jews have created a long-lasting civilization from a variety of ethnic and racial heredities and national histories. The genius of the Jewish civilization during its best periods has been inclusion, not exclusion.

Unity in diversity is the central theme of the Jewish People’s genetic historical make-up, and should inspire Israel’s political leadership to do everything necessary to encourage non-Jews living in Israel to become Jewish.

While the inhabitants of the Indian sub-continent, like those of China, have always outnumbered their conquerors, and thus been able to absorb them; the Jewish diaspora has always been a small minority, so opposition to ‘outreach’ may have been a wise precaution then.

But it is very counter-productive now, when Jews are a majority in Israel. Orthodox unwillingness to increase the number of non-Orthodox Jews by accepting Conservative and Reform converts is planting the seeds for major divisiveness in Israel’s future.

Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Allen Maller retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif. He is the author of an introduction to Jewish mysticism. God. Sex and Kabbalah and editor of the Tikun series of High Holy Day prayerbooks.

6 thoughts on “New Genes For Ancient Hindus And Jews – OpEd

  • January 2, 2019 at 2:13 pm

    Dear Rabbi – there are no ‘ancient’ Hindus nor ‘ancient’ Jews … looking at the DNA genes does not show their ‘religion’ … at that ‘ancient’ times you are referring too in your writing neither Hinduism nor Jewish religion existed … it is pure wishful thinking and not really scientific writing you are offering the poor readers here …

    • April 20, 2019 at 2:01 pm

      Your error is one common to most Westerners. Jews are not a “religious group.” They are an “ethno-religious group” & it is a distinction that is crucial. In the Middle East ethno-religious groups are very common.

      The Yazidi, Mandaean, Alawi, Shabaqi & Druse are all great examples. Each has a Tribal
      Religion that holds that its primary message is limited to that specific group & that the salvation of humanity need not be gained only through its tenents & practices. Islam & Xtianity on the other hand are Universal Religions that hold that their message is for all of humanity and that salvation can only be obtained through it.

      Jews were a Tribal People long before they adopted ethical monotheism. Since adopting it they by & large have practiced endogamy and so as the book by Osterer shows, they have retained their unique genetic imprint to varying degrees. Each Jewish group is more related to other Jewish groups than to any non Jewish group.

      As for Hindus, the religion began in India and though it has spread to other locales it still remains at its core an Indian belief system. It too functions like an ethno-religious culture in that to most Hindus “Indian” & “Hindu” are interchangable descriptors.

      • April 20, 2019 at 2:34 pm

        Mr. Mailer: You should have tried to objectively review both works as opposed to wrapping them in your subjective bias. Most Jews, Baruch Hashem, recognise that contrary to your perspective genetic assays prove that Jewish Peoplehood is unique and is tied to HaEretz. You on the other hand represent a movement that by its own defining platform holds views that contradict that of the vast majority. You see genetic admixture as showing inclusiveness. Most of us do not. To us, Intermarriage is a form of genocide. Of course as shown in your movement’s Frankfurt, Pittsburgh & Cincinatti Platforms you speak for a line of reasoning that aims to nullify that peoplehood.

        Such views would have Judaism be nothing more than a religious persuasion. Ergo you accentuate inclusiveness and read your owm bias into it. The rapes of Jewish women becomes “prostelysation.” To prevent a rebuttal- if you even dare to allow my post to be published- in which you tell me that prpstelysation was very common in the Roman Era, it was not. That whole line rests upon an unpublished Ph.D Thesis from Hebrew University in the late-1950s. It was denied publication because it was very shoddy methodology and entirely biased in its interpretation of sources. Of course that never bothered those who have pounded it in the 60-odd years since. The only thing remotely close to prostelysation that has ever existed amongst Jews was the Conversion by Sword of John Hyrcanus in the Hasmonaean Era- Irturaea, Gaza, Idumaea, etc. In those cases converts were fellow Middle Easterners, not whitemen from Europe.

        You personally like “inclusiveness?” Great, that is your perogative of course but do not claim that it has anything to do with Judaism nor Traditional Jewish Culture.

        • August 19, 2019 at 1:14 pm

          The hindu nationalists have objection to the propaganda spread by Christian missionaries, naxals and leftists that Aryans were foreigners who invaded India and imposed hinduism , that Aryans were the ancestors of present north indians and brahmins, and the ancestors of present day north indians and dalits subjugated south indians and dalits. We have no problems in accepting that bidirectional migration of people happened.
          The divisive propaganda of subjugative migration or invasion creates problems in indian society, with prejudice festering against brahmins and north indians, which is especially silly since all indians have their majority percentage of genes from the earliest indians.
          We have objection to the propaganda that Sanskrit and Vedic culture are foreign to India. Especially because there is no linguistic , archaeological or textual evidence of the same. Rather Mitanni texts corelate with newer portions of the rigveda, which was composed in India. Mitanni texts have been scientifically dated, and they point to an earlier timeline for the Rigveda, incongruous with the propagandized Aryan invasion timeline.
          Shrikant Talageri’s books tell the entire tale in clear terms.

  • January 3, 2019 at 8:24 pm

    While the intent of the Rabbi is to bring about a sense of inclusiveness, there are some broad strokes being painted on what “Hindu nationalists” believe in within this article. A favorite straw-man for left-leaning groups is to say that all Hindu nationalists believe that there have been no migration into India and everything has migrated out-of-India. This doesn’t tell the whole story. There is a strong agenda being fought against by the left-leaning groups in India to take away the indigenous nature of the Hindu culture by painting all of Hinduism as a foreign import – which means that there are no cultures native to the land or conversely all foreign cultures like Islam and Christianity have a equal claim of representation. Vedic Hinduism is one part of Hinduism – Vedic gods are not the only gods who are worshiped but are a part of a much larger set, many of whom are completely indigenous. Popular studies indicate that Aryan peoples contributed to Hinduism i.e. Vedic Hinduism, but the rest is firmly rooted locally – this is a portion that they fail to highlight [research or studies should be free from bias and showcase independent perspectives which unfortunately doesn’t happen as much]. The equivalent attempt in Israel would translate as follows – Israel can’t be a Jewish state because many Jewish/Semetic peoples are genetically diverse originating from various nations and many became Muslims and Christians, so Israel can’t have a central ethno-religious identity or even a core cultural identity – Islam & Christianity will reflect Israel adequately on par with Judaism.
    Here are a couple of interesting points that need to be taken into account which could rewrite the facts above:
    1. OCP Warrior discovery from 2000 BCE in northern India [middle of 2018] puts some timelines into question
    2. Mitannis – an Indo-Aryan culture [as opposed to an Indo-Iranian one] which is difficult to place without having a different migration model
    2. Strong proto-Hindu [the word itself has a mixed history but ignoring that for now] culture already present in the Harappan civilization
    3. Series of migrations which happened from 300 BCE to 600 AD from Central Asia [Yuezhi, Sakas (Indo-scythians), Indo-parthians, Hephthalites/Sweta Huna] – its influence on the local gene pool (they were usually identified as Mlechhas i.e. “Foreigners” in historical texts)
    While some points PIE (Proto-Indo Europeans) is not debated and rightfully so, there is still so much debate/discussion & speculation within the academic community regarding many of the points reflected in the article – all of which is usually not properly disclosed – instead these speculative/debatable points are presented as “facts”.

  • May 15, 2019 at 6:45 am

    The connection between Jewish mysticism and Hindu Vadic culture is apparent to anyone who has knowledge the symbols both culture utilize… It has also been said that sanskrit and hebrew share similarities… The star of david is also the same symbol as the heart chakra and if you have ever look at Jesus teaching from the perspective that he had knowledge of Kundalini Yoga history starts to make sense and the modern world becomes more magical… Jesus 40 days in the desert reflects claims by masters of Kundalini Yoga of being able to sustain themselves for long periods of time in a mediative state in which they milk there pineal gland by aligning the energy centers of the body the last of which involves inverting your tongue backward past the uvula so it makes an electromagnetic connection that travels up the spine thru all the charkas resulting in the production of DMT and the opening of the 3rd eye… Plus the Hamsa hand that is used to ward off the evil eye in judism has its origins in buddhism and eastern theology…


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *