Today, I finished Michael Chabon’s Gentlemen of the Road, a rollicking good read*, and I was surprised by his postscript, wherein I learned that he hadn’t pulled this whole story out of his ass. For starters, there was indeed a Khazar Empire (7th to 10th Century AD). See:


And they did, in fact, convert to Judaism sometime in the 8th Century, or at least their nobility did. If Chabon can be trusted (and it seems a solid speculation, at the least), they chose Judaism in order to maintain some neutrality between their Christian and Muslim neighbors. Previously, they followed a shamanic tradition.

Oh! Wikipedia concurs.

Some researchers have suggested part of the reason for conversion was political expediency to maintain a degree of neutrality: the Khazar empire was between growing populations, Muslims to the east and Christians to the west. Both religions recognized Judaism as a forebear and worthy of some respect.

Within the Wikipedia article on the Khazars is an interesting subsection concerning the relationship of the Khazars to modern-day Jews. If most Jews nowadays are descended not from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob but from a bunch of Turkic converts, then their “ancestral claim” to Palestine loses any historical footing. (This ultimately gets back to the historicity of the Old Testament, which is a huge messy can of worms that I won’t dive into right here.) It’s a claim that goes back to the 1880s, and keeps getting recycled by a variety of antisemites and anti-Zionists. Trouble is, the Y chromosome data doesn’t support it.

By various twists and turns primarily involving the Diaspora and the Lost Tribes, I found myself reading about British Israelism, one of the odder concepts I’ve encountered:

British Israelism (also called Anglo-Israelism) is the belief that people of Western European descent, particularly those in Great Britain, are the direct lineal descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. The concept often includes the belief that the British Royal Family is directly descended from the line of King David.

Despite a lack of any historical or scientific evidence to support this notion, a number of folks have promoted it, even into the 21st Century. Herbert W. Armstrong, founder of the Southern California-based Worldwide Church of God (now called Grace Communion International). I presume British Israelism is a great doctrine for justifying Western exceptionalism to Fundamentalists. In any case, Grace Communion International dropped the belief in 2009, following Armstrong’s death. But beliefs do not change lightly among the faithful: “Church members who disagreed with such doctrinal changes left the Worldwide Church of God/GCI to form offshoot churches. Many of these organizations, including the Philadelphia Church of God and the United Church of God, still teach British Israelism.”

But getting back to the Khazars . . . their coin was called a Yarmaq, and since I like me my coins I tried to find a picture of a Yarmaq, but could only find this image of a man choosing the most difficult manner possible for a nipple piercing.


I also surfed over to an article on the Radhanites, who figure prominently in Chabon’s book. Jewish merchants on the Silk Road? Yup, they’re real too — not simply an invention of Chabon’s.

Ibn Khordadbeh described the Radhanites as sophisticated and multilingual. He outlined four main trade routes utilized by the Radhanites in their journeys; all four began in the Rhône Valley of France and terminated in China. The commodities carried by the Radhanites were primarily those which combined small bulk and high demand, including spices, perfumes, jewelry, and silk. They are also described as transporting oils, incense, steel weapons, furs, and slaves.

All of this goes to show that if you’re looking for something interesting to read on Wikipedia, purposeful surfing is a lot more productive than hitting the random article button, which gave me this article about an underwater submersible called the VideoRay.

Which is kinda interesting, come to think of it, but can’t hold a candle to itinerant Jewish slave-drivers.



*Downgraded by some Barnes and Noble readers because “i found myself trying to figure out the language that I completely missed what was going on. it was a very hard read.” But I did like the comment, “Imagine C.S. Lewis’ ‘A Horse and His Boy’ in which the horse does not talk and there is no underlying Christian allegory and you have ‘Gentlemen of the Road’.”