The Promised Land & the ‘Thirteenth Tribe’
The Doctrine of ‘Promised land’ and the ‘Children of Israel’ needs an analysis in the light of historic round realities. Let us see who promised this land, and to whom? According to the Old Testament, God pledged much of what is now Palestine and Israel to the ‘children of Israel’. And the influential, pro-Israel Evangelical Christians in the United States believe that until the ancient land of Israel is restored to the Jews, the Second Coming, and therefore Armageddon, will not occur. According to this dogma, until these events take place, good Christians will not be raised to the Kingdom of Heaven. This doctrine go to the very foundation of the state of Israel, and the open-ended support it receives from the United States, they enter the realm of politics.
The ‘right of return’ is a founding principle of Israel. This implies that the Jews who have settled in the Zionist state are the descendants of the original twelve Israeli tribes of who went into exile and for centuries lived in the Diaspora. A further inference is that most of the Jews living in Israel and elsewhere are Semites descended from ancestors who came from the Middle East.
But what if most Jews today are not of Semitic stock at all? How would this affect their claim to be the ‘chosen people’ with a claim to the Promised Land? These are some of the questions raised by Arthur Koestler in his remarkable book “The Thirteenth Tribe”. Written in 1976, it has been out of print since 1982. [Koestler himself a Jew and at one time an active Zionist]. The author takes us to seventh century Caucasus where a mighty kingdom called Khazaria was coming into being. A century later, it stretched in a huge arc from the Black Sea to the Caspian. The Khazars, a Russo-Turkic people, were pagan nomads who worshipped many deities, and occasionally none at all. Ruled by the Kagan (or Khakan), they were fierce warriors who struck terror in the hearts of their neighbours.
Soon after the advent of Islam, there were three major powers which dominated much of the known world: the Muslim Caliphate, Christian Byzantium, and the Khazar Empire. While the first two battled for supremacy, the Khazars acted as a buffer in the north. Indeed, Christendom has much to be grateful to the Kagan for, as his armies halted the advance of the Muslim forces that tried to encircle Constantinople by a pincer movement across the Caucasus. Between 642 and 652, the Arabs made a number of attempts to break through, but were repulsed with heavy losses each time.
After several decades of uneasy peace, the Muslims attacked again, only to be soundly defeated in 730 in the battle of Ardabil. Now it was the turn of the Khazars to go on the offensive, and they advanced as far as Mosul before they were halted. This warfare to the east provided the Eastern Roman Empire badly needed relief.
Around 740 AD, something remarkable happened in Khazaria: its ruler and his immediate family and court converted to Judaism. Historians have long speculated on the reasons for this seemingly bizarre decision. The consensus is that since the empire was located between the Muslim Caliphate and Christian Byzantium, the Kagan sought to shield his people and his kingdom from the ideological pull of either power centre by opting for an older and much respected faith. An additional factor in his calculus might have been the presence of many Jews in his kingdom who had fled persecution in Christian lands.
But from the middle of the ninth century, the Khazars came under pressure from a new source: the Russians entered their long expansionary phase that was to last nearly a thousand years. Pushing towards the south and the southeast, they soon came into conflict with the Khazars. As the Russians converted to the Greek Orthodox Church, they formed an alliance with Constantinople.
This period also saw repeated invasions of Turkish tribes sweeping into the Caucasus and Asia Minor. Battered by these different forces, the Khazars were weakened and went into a decline that culminated in their defeat and dispersion in probably the 13th century, although sources are vague about the exact dates for these events. But it is certain that the Mongol invasion drove the final nail into the empire’s coffin.
In their three centuries of decline, many Khazar tribes migrated westwards into East Europe, and especially to Hungary, Poland and Lithuania. When Genghis Khan’s Golden Horde broke apart in the 14th century, the anarchy its disintegration spread forced many settled Khazars to move westwards for a living. Soon the steppes were emptied of farmers and craftsmen. Colonies were established in Russia and in other East European lands. The fact that as early as 1267, a Papal legate decreed that Jews should not be permitted to construct more than one synagogue per town indicates their growing numbers in Europe. It is Koestler’s thesis — and he is supported by many scholars — that most European, American and Israeli Jews today are descendants of the Khazars, and not the original twelve tribes.
In a concluding appendix, Koestler writes: “While this book deals with past history, it unavoidably carries certain implications for the present and future… [and] it may be maliciously misinterpreted as a denial of the State of Israel’s right to exist…” He goes on to say, quite correctly: “Whether the chromosomes of its people contain genes of Khazar or Semitic, Roman or Spanish origin, is irrelevant, and cannot affect Israel’s right to exist — nor the moral obligation of any civilized person, Gentile or Jew, to defend that right…”
However, having acquired their state, Zionists cannot really claim to be the ‘chosen people’, and occupy Palestinian lands on that basis. As we have seen, far too many have descended from The Thirteenth Tribe for them to lay claim to all the Promised Land.
[By Irfan Husain, Courtesy: http://www.dawn.com/weekly/mazdak/20050507.htm]
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Humanity, Religion, Culture, Ethics, Science, Spirituality & Peace