So are the Neanderthals still Jews?

I Find Karma (
Sun, 24 Aug 1997 22:45:07 -0700 (PDT)

So Are the Neanderthals Still Jews? And other revelations culled from
history's big secrets.

By Charles Paul Freund
(1,464 words; posted Friday, Aug. 1)

You read the press reports in July about the DNA of Neanderthals, and
you quickly grasped how the new findings suggest that this branch of
humanoids is much more distantly related to modern Homo sapiens than you
may have believed--they are not even direct human ancestors. Now you
must apply these findings, and examine their implications for the world
around you. Specifically, you must weigh their effect on certain
theories in circulation, among them that Neanderthals still walk--or
lumber--among us, and indeed that they have maintained their cohesion
through the ages and still constitute a group apart. And, most
importantly, that this group of living, lumbering Neanderthals is the

You laugh? That may be a mistake. At least two theorists working
separately have concluded precisely this: The Jews are surviving
Neanderthals. Laughing at such ideas suggests you believe them to be
absurd. But the validity of such theorizing is beside the point. What
matters is the existence of such a premise, because it validates the
question it seeks to answer: What explains the Jews? That Jews require a
meta-explanation is the problematic premise, one that even philo-Semites
have sometimes fallen for. Anyway, if you laugh at the idea that the
Jews are Neanderthals, what will you do when you learn, as you shortly
will, that the Jews are really aliens from outer space?

Along and extraordinary history of speculation concerns the ultimate
identity of the Jews. In its course, learned fellows have repeatedly
announced they have stumbled on a Big Secret, a hidden truth that
explains Jewish survival, character, behavior, and even the historical
antipathy toward Jews by others. That Big Secret has often been that
Jews are not what they seem to be: This line of thought provides for a
certain macabre entertainment, but it is also a lesson in how the most
inane ideas can have the most appalling consequences. Here is a
whirlwind tour of the field, in approximately chronological order.

The Jews are a Race of Lepers. An ancient argument in circulation in the
first century. We know of it because Flavius Josephus, the traitorous
Jewish general who joined the Romans, bothers to refute it in his
surviving writings. Josephus attributes the argument to an Egyptian
named Manetho who, in a counter-version to the Book of Exodus, asserted
that the Hebrews weren't led out of Egyptian bondage by Moses. Instead,
they were an outcast group of lepers, forced to settle together, who
were eventually chased out of the country by patriots. The existence of
such a story is not necessarily evidence of general antipathy toward
Jews; it is a likely reflection of the long struggle between Hellenism
and the only Mediterranean culture of consequence that held out against
it, Judaism. The idea that Jewish lineage is impure or malevolent
reappears in Visigothic Spain in the early medieval period, and most
notoriously in Nazi Germany.

The Jews are a Race of Devils. References to the Jews as the children
of the devil or as constituting a "Synagogue of Satan" appear in the New
Testament, implying that they are in league with the devil. That they
are themselves actually devils, complete with horns, is a folk belief
that arises in the centuries following the Crusades, when European
Jewry's problems begin in earnest. The survival of such beliefs into the
mid-20th century is illustrated by Carlo Levi, an anti-fascist Italian
Jew sent into internal exile among dirt-poor southern peasants in the
1930s. His memoir of exile, Christ Stopped at Eboli, describes an
encounter with a local woman who refuses to believe that Levi can be
Jewish because he seems to be a person much like herself. Arguments that
Jews are a race of nefarious devils are still being published in the
Middle East, and have been exhibited at Cairo's book fair.

The Jews are a Separate Creation. "Polygenism," the theory that God
created different peoples in different acts of creation, blossomed
during the Enlightenment. It was in part a "solution" to the "mystery"
of Native Americans, whose startling existence seemed to require some
explanation, and whose status as humans awaited papal resolution. It was
also an attempt by early humanists to challenge clerical authority. They
pointed to ambiguous passages in Genesis that might suggest more than
one creation. Some prominent Jews of the period saw the hope of popular
redemption by supporting such notions. However, Jew-haters also saw
value in the idea, because it allowed them to regard the Jews as an
entirely separate species. French scholar Leon Poliakov argues that the
pseudoscientific foundations of racism were laid in this debate.

The Jews are an Inferior Race. A still-familiar concept that arose in
the wake of Jewish emancipation in 19th-century Europe, it argues that
Jews constitute a separate racial group anthropologically inferior to
European racial groups. The thesis attempted to provide a "scientific"
rationale for hatred at a time when legal restrictions on Jews were
disappearing. A great deal of detail was presented in support of the
thesis, from relatively tiny cranial capacity to the idea of peculiar
Jewish feet and a peculiar Jewish smell.

The Jews are Khazars. An idea put into circulation by Arthur Koestler in
his 1976 work, The Thirteenth Tribe, it is now widely disseminated among
Jew-haters and anti-Zionists. The argument is that Europe's eastern Jews
have no connection to the Jews of the Bible, but are all descended from
the Khazars, a once-powerful Turkic people who lived near the Caspian
Sea and who are known to have converted to Judaism in the eighth
century. Koestler argued from circumstance, asserting that it is unclear
where all the eastern European Jews came from, that the fate of the
Khazars is unknown, and that the solution to both problems is the
same. Among the scant evidence he offered--in all seriousness--was a
chart of noses. The appeal of the argument is apparent: It enables
anti-Semites to embrace Scripture and hate Jews without inconsistency.

The Jews are Africans. A thesis advanced by a number of authors, most
notably, perhaps, by Yosef ben-Jochannan. His emotional book, We the
Black Jews, is printed largely in uppercase. The central idea is that
white Jews are all impostors, that the real Jews of the Bible exist, and
that they are East Africans. Adherents of the idea draw on the Bible for
support, including the often-cited "Black Jesus" passage in Revelations.

The Jews are Space Aliens. First argued in 1974 by French thinker Marc
Dem in his Les Juifs de L'espace, this thesis holds that Jews are
ultimately space aliens, and that that explains their, um, difficult
history. Dem's book was part of the flood of Ancient Astronaut books
inspired by the huge success of Erich von Daniken's Chariots of the
Gods?, and appeared here in 1977. Von Daniken, like many of his
imitators, sought evidence for ancient visitations in the Bible,
especially in such passages as the description of Ezekial's flying
chariot. Deducing that the whole of the Old Testament was the work of
aliens is, therefore, perfectly logical.

The Jews are Neanderthals. Advanced in this decade by heretic
anthropologist Stan Gooch, who has also argued that the original,
full-blooded Neanderthals were telepathic. The thesis was taken up last
year by Canadian Michael Bradley in his incoherent book Chosen People
Iceman Inheritance, which identifies the origins of white racial evil in
prehistoric psychosexual tensions of some sort. Chosen People is an
extension of his ideas: Biblical evidence that Jews are Neanderthals
includes the Esau incident (Esau is hairy, remember?). The reason Jews
have an injunction against portraying God is that Neanderthals cannot
draw. However, Bradley adduces evidence that they were quite good with
numbers and were overly sentimental about their mothers. Interestingly,
Bradley also believes that modern European Jews are Khazars, which means
he must argue not only that biblical Hebrews were Neanderthals, but that
so were Khazars. He actually does so. News that Neanderthals have
little in common with modern humankind should be welcome to admirers of
Bradley's work. Among his blurbists, by the way, is Dr. Leonard
Jeffries, of New York's City College.

"It is not my intention to give anti-Semitism any support whatever,"
wrote Marc Dem, as he argued that Jews were from outer space. Certainly
not. Arthur Koestler wrote the same thing in his Thirteenth Tribe,
stating that if most of the world's Jews come from the Volga region,
then "anti-Semitism will become void of meaning." Sure. We're all out
here just looking for the Truth. And no matter where we look for it,
over our shoulders among the hominids of prehistory, or out on the
interplanetary horizon, we can find whatever Truths we're looking for:
Those that set us free, and those that prove us mad, too.

The Web explores several theories on Judaism's origins. The Usenet group
Soc.Culture.Jewish maintains a FAQ on Khazars, and the Khazarian Info
Center exhaustively chronicles the medieval Jewish kingdom of
Khazaria. Whatever Happened to Erich von Daniken? attempts to answer
just that question, while NOVA Online examines von Daniken's alien
astronaut ideas. The New Advent Catholic Supersite includes an extensive
biography of Flavius Josephus. One amateur Net historian offers an
illustrated history of the linking of Jews with Satan. Though it does
not associate Neanderthals with Jews, an anthropology site provides a
well-rounded description of Neanderthal physiognomy and culture.

Charles Paul Freund is a senior editor with Reason magazine.


Elaine: From disorder, you're a quirk or two away from full-on dementia.
Jerry: Mmm, that could hurt me.