Who Are True Jews? Commentary on the Flowchart Tracing the Descendants of Judah
By Reed Benson
Today the word Jew can mean many different things, and depending on whom you are talking to, can stimulate a wide range of reactions. The confusion associated with this word is not new. Historians and the modern media have used it in different contexts and to refer to several groups of people. Even the Bible uses the word Jew in different contexts.
Historic and textual context is required to correctly understand the word. And, there is plenty of history behind the word. If one uses the nominal definition of Jew, meaning someone who is descended from the tribe of Judah, there have been 3,700 years of opportunity to make the term confusing!
To punctuate the thought that the Bible uses the word with both a positive and negative connotation, consider Revelation 3:9: "Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee." From this passage (see also Revelation 2:9), we glean these vital thoughts: there were both true Jews and false Jews present when the Holy Spirit inspired John to write those words. Furthermore, since this was written in the future tense and plainly indicates that there will be a day when the true will be sorted from the false, and since that moment certainly has not occurred, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that there are still true and false Jews roaming around planet earth today.
The question that remains is this: can we identify the true Jews? Who are the legitimate descendants of Judah that hold the covenant blessings reserved for Judah? Conversely, who are the imposters? How did they manage to usurp the names Judah and Jew and a measure of the credibility that does not rightly belong to them?
The chart on the reverse side is an attempt to simplify the somewhat complicated 3,700-year history that has resulted in the confusion over the word Jew. Three thousand-plus-years is a long time. Much has occurred. The reader is cautioned to study the chart with that thought in mind. To be quite candid, this chart is actually a simplification of the historic reality, a thought that a casual observer might find surprising. Yet, it is also an honest attempt to trace all of the salient branches of the topic with enough completeness to satisfy most readers.
The King James Bible is the beginning point of this study. It is taken as a point of faith that the King James Bible needs no correction. The outstanding scholarship of the translators has never been equaled. That said, however, the translators understood their task was to translate, not interpret every shade of symbolic meaning. Their use of the word-for-word method of translation rather than the modern notion of dynamic equivalency resulted in honest and impeccable scholarship that guarded against the injection of subjective, interpretive thoughts. The use of concordances and lexicons is welcomed to amplify and further illuminate the meaning of a given word in the King James Bible, but not to replace or remove that word. Do not flee from the word Jew. Study the word and trust that the providence of God guided the translators.
Historic context is absolutely vital on a topic of this nature. When a word such as Jew is used, consider what was happening at the time of the event—say 500 B.C. Who was using the word, and what was its context? We must never assign a modern meaning to a word describing an event long ago. The connotations of words change in subtle and sometimes even dramatic ways. For example, the word Indian once only meant a person from India, and that is still the primary meaning to the British. But to an American, the primary meaning of the word Indian means the pre-Columbian inhabitants of North America, a very different group of people. Similarly, the term American soldier once referred almost surely to Caucasians only, but now the term carries no racial connotation all; such a person could be White, Black, Hispanic, or even Asian. It speaks only to his geographical home. The word Jew has been subject to these same kinds of transitions. Specificity is required to avoid confusion!
Most of the dates assigned on the chart prior to AD 70 are taken from Ussher’s The Annals of the World. Although some chronologists find fault with his work, it still remains one of the most complete histories of ancient times and utilizes more primary sources than most researchers today have readily available. Dates assigned subsequent to AD 70 are taken from disparate sources. The validity of the chart does not really hinge on the dates, but on the movement and activity of the people under study. In some cases, pinpointing the exact date of a broad movement of people misleads the reader into thinking that something happened overnight when in reality it took many years. The year is given as an estimate and a convenience for the reader.
As shown in the key, solid lines represent those descendants of Judah that have maintained a pure genetic profile. Dashed lines represent those who have either polluted their genetics through race mixing or are complete imposters and bear the name Jew without having any connection whatsoever to the man Judah, the son of Jacob. Multiple lines flowing to a box represent a large number of people numbering several million, perhaps even more. A single line represents a smaller quantity. However, sometimes a very modest population leaves a powerful imprint on the course of history. A case in point is the exiles taken to Babylon in BC 588. Jeremiah 52:30 reveals that the total number of persons taken was only 4,600. Yet they were the cream of the social order that were still alive after the war and constituted all the potential intellectual and mercantile leadership. Their absence in the land of Judah left only the broken, rural poor who had no real hope of maintaining a functioning commonwealth. It was only with the return of the exiles (now more numerous because of natural increase) that Judean nationhood was restored.
The most useful tool in sorting out the word Jew is to remember that it was originally a contraction of the word Judah and came into usage in the sixth century BC, only about a century before the last book of the Old Testament was composed. It is, therefore, no surprise that is appears only sporadically in the Old Testament narrative and only in the books that deal with the history of Judah just before the captivity and immediately subsequent to the same event. It is patently false to assume that those who are of pure, genetic stock are never called Jews and that the word Jew refers only to mixed race Judeans or those who are complete imposters. A case in point is Daniel 3:12 where Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are called Jews, but cannot possibly be genetically corrupted since they were previously identified as being members of the Davidic royal aristocracy in Daniel 1:3-7.
Thus, without any cut and paste formula that automatically tells us whether a given Jew is genetically authentic, we are forced to do the heavy lifting of research and study on a case by case basis. Context is everything when dealing with the word Jew.
By the time we reach the New Testament period, the words Jew, Judah, and Judean are used interchangeably by various writers and only tell the reader about the geographic origin of a given individual. No real assumptions can be made about his ethnic origins. As the centuries pass, writers and historians have used the word Jew more frequently, often with a negative connotation because it was the Jews who were responsible for the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ. But what kind of Jews were the ones most to blame for His death? Was it the true, pure descendants of Judah, men like Nicodemus and Jesus Himself? Or, was it mixed-race Edomites who were converts to the Hebrew religion but had a proclivity toward the perversion of the same? Or, were their elements of both that bear guilt? It may be hard to answer with perfect clarity, but knowing that both genetically pure Jews and genetically corrupted Jews were present on the scene is useful.
From the second to about the twelfth centuries AD, there is relatively little information about Jews, particularly compared to earlier periods. Historians have generally assumed that the Diaspora of Jews after AD 70 (which included both true and false Jews) resulted in their migration to two areas of Europe: Spain and Poland. It is in these two locations that they resurfaced after centuries of mysterious movement. There are distinct and important differences between them, but they both carry the baggage of the Talmud by this time (although different versions). Many people assume these two groups are the same genetically. Unfortunately, that assumption is incorrect. Although there are a paucity of good sources that can fill in those blank centuries with the detail that would be desired, there is enough information to confidently assert that the Jews who emerged in Spain, known as Sephardic, are not the same as those that emerged in Poland and Eastern Europe, known as Ashkenazi.
The Sephardic are, for the most part, genetically true Jews, although certainly not Christian. The Sephardic Jews of Spain did not even know other Jews existed until the tenth century. Those others were the Ashkenazi Jews, descendants of the mixed race Khazars who were converted to Talmudic Judaism in the late eighth century by Jews from Babylon and Constantinople who were fleeing persecution. The racial amalgam of genetically false Jews from Babylon and Constantinople with the Khazars resulted in a large Jewish population in what is now Poland and the Ukraine by the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. It is from this branch of false Jews that the Zionist movement sprang in the nineteenth century. It is also from the Ashkenazi, far more numerous than the Sephardic, that the vast bulk of modern Jewry comes—those who are now found in the United States and the Israeli state founded in 1948.
But it is not the tiny surviving branch of the Sephardic true Jews that represent the largest quantity of true descendants of Judah. The vast bulk of those who can legitimately claim the mantle of Judah, along with the covenant blessings thereof, are the Germanic-speaking people of central Europe. It was in the campaign by the Assyrians immediately following the fall of Samaria in BC 721, when the northern Kingdom of Israel was taken into captivity, that many people of the southern Kingdom of Judah were also taken. Although the Kingdom of Judah survived that near calamity, it was stripped of many inhabitants from the rural regions unable to retreat behind the walls of Jerusalem. Along with the northern ten tribes, many people of the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and Levi were exiled. This large mass of Israelites eventually escaped the clutches of the cruel Assyrians by slipping across the Caucasus Mountains, after which they slowly made their way northwestward into Europe. Being stripped of their cultural background, they adopted heathen habits and became known in history as Goths, Saxons, Teutons, Vandals, and the other related Germanic tribes. By the third century before Christ, they had settled into their new home, the dark, forested lands of central and northwest Europe. The perilous crossing of the high passes of the Caucasus Mountains gave this race its name, the Caucasians. Among this race are found, by far, the largest bulk of true descendants of Judah. It is those who are the genetic offspring of the Germanic people of Europe that can therefore be correctly called Jews.
In everyday conversation, calling the Germanic descendants of Judah "Jews" will certainly confuse many people. As a practical matter, the word Jew today usually refers to the descendants of the Ashkenazi, a group of people with virtually no true genetic claim to the man Judah or his father Jacob. But facts are facts, and no matter how hard some will try to bury the truth, it has an uncanny habit of eventually resurfacing for the benefit of those who are patient.
For those who wish to study this topic for themselves, some of the best sources beyond Scripture are Jewish Antiquities by Josephus, Annals of the World by James Ussher, and The Thirteenth Tribe by Arthur Koestler.
Who Are Jews? A Flowchart StudyTracing the Descendants of Judah
By Reed Benson