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The Thirteenth Tribe

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The Thirteenth Tribe (1976) is a book by Arthur Koestler. It advances the controversial thesis that the modern Jewish population originating from North / East Europe and Russia including their descendants, or Ashkenazim, are not descended from the historical Israelites of antiquity, but from Khazars, a people originating and populating the Caucasus region (historical Khazaria) who converted to Judaism in the 8th century and later voluntarily migrating or were forced to move westwards into current Eastern Europe (Russia, Hungary, Ukraine, Poland, Belarus, Lithuania, Germany and other places outside the Caucasus region) before and during the 12th and 13th century when the Khazar Empire was collapsing.

Koestler stated that part of his intent in writing the book was to defuse anti-Semitism by undermining the identification of European Jews with the Jews of the Bible, rendering anti-Semitic epithets such as "Christ killer" inapplicable.[1] Arthur Koestler himself was a Hungarian Ashkenazi Jew by ancestry.

Koestler did not see alleged Khazar ancestry as diminishing the claim of Jews to Israel, which he felt was based on the United Nations mandate and not on Biblical covenants or genetic inheritance. In his view, "The problem of the Khazar infusion a thousand years ago…is irrelevant to modern Israel." In addition, he was apparently "either unaware of or oblivious to the use anti-Semites had made to the Khazar theory since its introduction at the turn of the century."[2] Nevertheless, in the Arab world the Khazar theory has been adopted by anti-Zionists[3] and anti-Semites;[4] such proponents argue that if Ashkenazi Jews are primarily Khazar and not Semitic in origin, they would have no historical claim to Israel, nor would they be the subject of God's Biblical promise of Canaan to the Israelites, thus undermining the theological basis of both Jewish religious Zionists and Christian Zionists.[5] In the West, Koestler's thesis has also been embraced by some adherents of British Israelism and its offshoots such as the Christian Identity movement.


Koestler's thesis relies on works of earlier historians, e.g., Ernest Renan (in Le Judaïsme comme race et religion, 1883, to which Koestler explicitly refers in his book). But Koestler's historiography was also attacked by many historians, particularly his discussion of theories about Ashkenazi descent. His analysis has been described as a mixture of flawed etymologies and misinterpreted primary sources by Abramsky and Maccoby[6][7]. Commentators have also noted that Koestler mischaracterized the sources he cited, particularly D.M. Dunlop's History of the Jewish Khazars (1954)[8]. In 1986, Bernard Lewis wrote: "This theory… is supported by no evidence whatsoever. It has long since been abandoned by all serious scholars in the field, including those in Arab countries, where the Khazar theory is little used except in occasional political polemics"[3] Jeffrey Goldberg, while critiquing another work based on Koestler, described The Thirteenth Tribe as "a combination of discredited and forgotten."[9] Evan Goldstein writes that "…Koestler and the Khazar theory he advanced lives on in the fever swamps of the white nationalist movement."[9]

See also

External links


  1. Koestler, p. 223.
  2. Barkun, Michael (1994). "7. The Demonization of the Jews, 1: Racial Anti-Semitism" (Google Books). Religion and the racist right: the origins of the Christian Identity movement (1st ed.). Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. pp. 144–145. LCCN 96-28347. ISBN 0807823287. OCLC 28927725. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Lewis, Bernard. Semites and Anti-Semites, W.W. Norton and Company, 1986 ISBN 0-393-31839-7, p. 48.
  4. "Arab anti-Semitism might have been expected to be free from the idea of racial odium, since Jews and Arabs are both regarded by race theory as Semites, but the odium is directed, not against the Semitic race, but against the Jews as a historical group. The main idea is that the Jews, racially, are a mongrel community, most of them being not Semites, but of Khazar and European origin." Yehoshafat Harkabi, "Contemporary Arab Anti-Semitism: its Causes and Roots", in Helen Fein, The Persisting Question: Sociological Perspectives and Social Contexts of Modern Antisemitism, Walter de Gruyter, 1987, ISBN 311010170X, p. 424.
  5. Plaut, Steven. "The Khazar Myth and the New Anti-Semitism", The Jewish Press, May 9, 2007
  6. Abramsky, Chimen. "The Khazar Myth." Jewish Chronicle (April 9, 1976): 19
  7. Maccoby, Hyam. "Koestler's Racism." Midstream 23 (March 1977).
  8. McInnes, Neil. "Koestler and His Jewish Thesis." National Interest. Fall 1999.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Goldstein, Evan (October 13, 2009). "Inventing Israel". Tablet Magazine. Nextbook. Retrieved February 9, 2010. 

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