The Father God named El
El from Religion of the Canaanites
El is the name by which the supreme Canaanite deity is known. This is also a name by which God is called in the Old Testament -- El, the God (Elohim) of Israel (el elohe yisrael: Gen. 33:20). In most prose it occurs more often with an adjunct: El Elyon (the most high God, Gen. 14:18), El Shaddai (traditionally, God Almighty, Gen. 17:1), El Hai (The living God, Josh. 3:10), and very commonly in the plural of majesty, Elohim. In Hebrew poetry El is much more frequent, where it stands quite often without any adjunct (Ps. 18:31, 33, 48; 68:21; Job 8:3).
The word El is a generic name for "god" in Northwest Semitic (Hebrew and Ugaritic) and as such it is also used in the Old Testament for heathen deities or idols (Ex. 34:14; Ps. 81:10; Is. 44:10). The original generic term was 'ilum; dropping the mimation and the nominative case ending (u) becomes 'el in Hebrew. It was almost certainly an adjectival formation (intransitive participle) from the root "to be strong, powerful" ('wl), meaning "The Strong (or Powerful) One."
In Canaanite paganism the el, par excellence, was the head of the pantheon. As the god, El was, in accordance with the general irrationality and moral grossness of Canaanite religion, a dim and shadowy figure, who, Philo says, had three wives, who were also his sisters, and who could readily step down from his eminence and become the hero of sordid escapades and crimes. The Ugaritic poems add the crime of uncontrolled lust to his character and the description of his seduction of two unnamed women is the most sensuous in ANE literature (much of Ugaritic literature is R rated at best).
Despite all this, El was considered the exalted "father of years" (abu shanima), the "father of man" (abu adami), and "father bull", that is, the progenitor of the gods, tacitly likened to a bull in the midst of a herd of cows. Like Homer's Zeus, he was "the father of men and gods."
Bishop Katia writes (in the year 2000):
Jews, Christians, and Muslims usually lead adherents to believe that El simply translates to God, and is just one of the titles of the God they worship. They are right - to a point. El is simply a title, and it is one of the titles of the father god. But it is not only Jews, Christians, and Muslims who have worshiped Him. In fact, before Judaism ever existed (let alone Christianity or Islam), El was worshiped as the chief of the Canaanite pantheon. El has many intriguing titles such as Father of Humanity, the Creator of Creatures, and the King, the Father of Time. He is, without doubt, the god of the desert religions, since Abraham specifically called his god by this title: El Elyon. From the Bible, El also receives these titles: Eternal Father, El the Eternal One, and Ancient of Days.
But who is He? He is an ancient sky God, depicted as an old bearded man sitting upon His throne on the mountain between the two rivers which are the source of the world's oceans. As children, many of us pictured God as a bearded old man. You may never have heard the Ugaritic myths of El, but through genetic memory the truth of his elderliness rang out to you. However, this certainly does not mean that El is a powerless God. He is the undisputed leader of the pantheon, more powerful even than the great Ba'al (his son who died and was resurrected by El's daughter Anat). El is seen as unapproachable on His mountain, and the ancient Canaanite religion believed that a mediatrix, a go-between, was needed to send prayers to El.
This is true of the God of the desert religions as well. In Catholicism there is a tradition that Mary is the Mediatrix, who takes prayers before Yeshua and El. This continues an ancient tradition, in which Asherah (Lady of the Sea, who shares many similarities with Mary) takes petitions to El. Within all of Christianity, Yeshua himself is seen as the Mediatrix. Within Judaism, prayers are taken to El via the angels. But, according to the most ancient myths, He cannot hear them directly. This goes back to the ancient Canaanite myths, whether we knew it or not.
And let us not forget that our God, the God of the desert religions, is like this El in yet another significant way - He is constantly being spoken to on mountains and high places. Where did Moses commune with God? Mount Sinai. Where was the Temple built? Mount Moriah. Where did Yeshua give the beatitudes and pray frequently to His Father? Mount Olivet. What was seen as one of the most sacred places in Jerusalem? Mount Tsion. El, our God and their God, is a God of High Places! Perhaps that is why Melchizedek and Abraham gave him the title El Elyon, or God Most High.
But El has evolved over the years, or at least our vision of Him has evolved. He was originally seen as a distant God, always in need of a go-between to send prayers to Him. This tradition carried over into Judaism and Christianity to a lesser degree, but now it is almost gone. He was also not the only God, but the King of many Gods. This, too, carried over into Judaism until the time of the patriarchal prophets. Some of the prophets were allegedly able to defeat the prophets of Ba'al, but this is something any Canaanite priest could have predicted, and does not mean that Ba'al and the other Gods did not exist. El was the King of the Gods, more powerful even than Ba'al, so naturally His prophets would defeat Ba'al's. Indeed, Moses did not say that El commanded the Jews not to have any other Gods at all - the original translation says that there should be no other Gods before Him, implying that there were other Gods and that they could be worshiped as long as they were not worshiped more or as greater than El Himself. Remember that the apostates at Mount Sinai abandoned El completely for the golden calf - they were not worshiping El alongside the idol, but were worshiping the idol alone.
But, the reader may be wondering, what about Yahweh? Isn't he God the Father? No, "He" isn't, though that is a common misconception. Yahweh is the common mispronunciation of the Ineffable Name given to Moses, YHVH. YHVH is not the Father God, but represents the whole Godhead. El is but one aspect of that Godhead, the chief aspect, the Y. Sometimes he is called Yah, from the YH (first two letters of the tetragrammaton), but that's a rare name for him, hard to find although many mystical Jews today worship him as Yah.
El's Bride, or Consort, Asherah can be seen as the early form of the Goddess, the first H. His Foster-Son, Ba'al, can be seen as the early form of the Son God, the V, who later incarnated as Yeshua. [Again, remember that Ba'al was not necessarily a "fake" or "bad" because the prophets of El beat Ba'al's prophets - they had to beat Ba'al's prophets, because El was the King of the pantheon]. Finally, Ba'al's Sister-Consort, Anat, can be seen as the early form of the Daughter Goddess, the second H. Many similarities exist between the old Canaanite pantheon and the Judeo-Christian pantheon, and fragments of the old worship still exist today. Shekinah is the evolved form of Asherah, just as Matronit contains remnants of Anat. Yeshua does share similarities with Ba'al, including His subordinance to the Father, El, and the fact that he was killed and resurrected in Springtime.
To conclude, El has always been in Judeo-Christianity, but He existed long before that. He was known as El to all three of the patriarchs - Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob - and to the twelve sons of Jacob. He was known to the Jews in captivity in Egypt, and to Moses who came to meet the full Godhead - YHVH - on the mountain. And now, El in His original form is known to us today, as the distant but still caring Chief of our Godhead. And we still speak to Him through our Mediatrix - who was known as Asherah to all six of the Israelite matriarchs - Sarah, Rebekah, Leah, Rachel, Bilhah, and Zilpah - and to Dinah their daughter. Asherah was certainly known to the Jews in captivity in Egypt, and later evolved into Shekinah. Asherah in Her original form is known to us today in yet another incarnation, the form of Mary, our Mediatrix, who takes our prayers before El, King of the Gods.
by Mark Raines
Little is known about the word Elohim, and what we think is known is not widely agreed upon. However, here is what is certain: the word Elohim occurs in Genesis as the name of the Creator(s), and it is a plural word. It is the plural of the word Eloah, which is the feminine form of the name El. When you try to find out why this feminine plural noun is used as the name of the Creator(s), information gets sketchy.
Leading mainstream christians assert either, a) the plurality of the Name is an early reference to the Trinity; or b) the Name is plural because God is King, and kings will often say "we" instead of "I" to display their leadership over and spokesmanship for the people. (That pronoun switching speech is called "the royal we.") However, there are several things these two explanations fail to explain. Neither explains the femininity of the word-name Eloah. The royal we argument fails to explain who God is expressing spokesmanship for - mankind has not yet been created, and Genesis does not mention the creation of the angels. These explanations are simply inadequate. When Elohim (plural!) says, "Let us make man in our own image," they are obviously talking to each other. More specifically, it appears that Eloah, the Goddess, is talking to the God. Genesis may be telling us that the Goddess is the one who came up with the idea of creating mankind in the image and likeness of She and El, the God.
Mainstream christian scholars usually splutter and deny this. Unfortunately for them, they have the burden of proof. They must prove their thesis of an all-male Trinity or of one male God, while also explaining why Elohim is plural and Eloah (the singular of Elohim) is feminine. Not only do they have that working against them, but they have nature working against them as well. Elohim said: "Let us make man in our own image." Well, They did, male and female They created us. If this were an all-male Trinity, wouldn't They have created only men in Their own image? It seems clear there is more than one Creator. Maybe Elohim is the Father and Mother, or maybe Elohim is the Quaternity, or maybe it is the male Trinity and Trinosophia (female Trinity). One thing, however, is certain: no one has proven, and no one can prove, that Elohim is one male God, or an all-male Trinity.
Other possible theories for Elohim:
There are ancient Ugaritic writings from Canaan and Phoenicia that the Elohim were seven female gods, daughters of the mysterious Melchizedek.
It is a broad generic term meaning, "the Gods & Goddesses," sometimes translated as "the High Ones."
Abba - The Father God of the New Testament
Abba means Papa or "Daddy," and is a term used by Yeshua in all sermons and prayers to refer to the Father-God. As many Christians and critics have noted, particularly Gnostics, the personality and behavior of Abba Father-God in the Old Testament is vastly different from the kinder, gentler Abba of the New Testament. Unlike Gnostics who teach these are two distinct beings, Esoteric Christians generally believe that his portrayals are different because of the times and because different sets of writers wrote the Old and New Testaments. After all, the times and political conditions when the compassionate and merciful Father in the Gospels was written was very different from the earlier more primitive days when the war-like and jealous Father-God in the Torah/Pentateuch was described and lauded. There are inconsistencies even in the Old Testament, considering many of the Psalms and Isaiah often portrays the Father-God as loving and paternal one minute, then war-like and vengeful the next. This is how people and especially their rulers, the kings, had to be to survive back then. No pacifists could survive!
Our harshest portrayal of Abba comes from the Torah, also known as the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible allegedly compiled and/or written by Moses. In the Torah, Abba is often seen as jealous, war-like, sometimes even cruel. To understand this, we remember that the Bible, though inspired by the Divine, was written by people, and those people were fallible in their interpretations and worldviews.
Take a look at the natural disasters attributed to Abba in the OT. The three most famous are the flood of Noah, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the catastrophic plagues of Egypt. Perhaps Abba really did these things. But let's step back a moment before we accuse Him of "unwarranted genocide." None of these peoples were blameless. According to the Bible, all committed grievous sins and crimes against nature. The people of Noah's time were corrupt and perverse; the people of Sodom and Gomorrah wanted to rape the angels; and the Egyptians were enslaving the Hebrew tribe, refusing to release them even to practice Hebrew religious rites. How quick are we to put down a rabid animal? How many times has a dog been put to sleep for injuring or killing someone? How much more is Abba justified in putting an end to those who live only to hurt his other creatures, many wanting even to destroy God himself.
There is also the possibility that He did not destroy those people at all. The ancients could not understand why bad things happened to large groups of people, especially when it came to natural disasters. When catastrophes struck, they would either get angry and blame a deity or attribute it to the "righteous justice" of a deity. We now know that there was some sort of great flood, that a volcano or other form of natural disaster could have destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah (some bizarre theories on that one, such as spontaneous combustion due to gas/oil saturated soil and an earthquake opening up hot vents in the earth, OR a meteor strike), and that many of the plagues of Egypt were within the realm of natural possibility. Perhaps in an effort to explain why Abba allowed such disasters to happen, Moses decided that He was punishing these nations for their crimes. We had a less respectable example of this with Jerry Falwell after September 11th, when he blamed the attack on anyone who is not a fundamentalist Christian. Unfortunately this vengeful nasty image of Abba is still negatively influencing the world today, in the form of the Muslim god Allah, who is similar to the Old Testament Abba or El, the name Allah being derived from El-ah.
But what about all the wars in the OT? We shouldn't forget that El was a God of war, and as such He had no problem with His Chosen People conquering neighboring tribes who worshiped subordinate and even blood-thirsty human-sacrifice demanding Gods. The second thing we have to remember is that the most important thing on Moses' mind was the preservation of the Hebrew tribe and its culture and of protecting it from the perversions of the other more primitive less enlightened tribal religions of the region. Obviously, this would have been important to Abba as well. It was for these reasons that the Hebrews were told not to intermarry with the other much larger cultures, and permission was given to drive them out of the land. Historians agree that intermarriage did definitely occur, even between the Philistines and Israelites, but never on a large scale. Usually Hebrew men would take foreign wives, but never the other way around. Interestingly, new DNA evidence (May 2002) reveals just that. The Y chromosomes of Jewish men alive today can be traced back to the MidEast about 4000 years ago, whereas these same men's mitochondrial DNA (which comes only from the mother) shows that the original women of the Jewish communities of the world were often locals who converted to Judaism and married the incoming Jewish men. After any kind of mingling and marriage, the people of the tribe were to follow strict laws that would ensure the preservation of the new and already endangered culture. It was not because El, or even Moses, were racists.
Abba El was one of the better Gods of the day. People wanted to worship him, because not only did he kick butt against any enemies, but he was "wholesome" and family oriented. He abhorred human sacrifice, especially child sacrifice, which was practiced by devotees of other Canaanite Gods. He did not often call for the deaths of women and children in times of war, unlike some of the other Gods. And once the Hebrew culture was firmly established, His policy toward other tribes was live and let live - a policy Jews everywhere still practice today. Absent from Judaism has always been the religious persecution carried out by Christians (centuries ago) and Muslims (sadly still today) against anyone who won't convert.
So what about this new image of Abba in the New Testament? Well, it really isn't a new image at all. Even through His terrible times in the Old Testament, Abba was loving and merciful. He could have easily destroyed the whole human race in the great flood, but allowed a fragment to survive. He could have destroyed or abandoned the Hebrew tribe after the golden calf incident. He could have commanded the complete genocide of all the other tribes of Canaan, but He never did. However, a somewhat more evolved and "civilized" image of Abba did take root during the time of the prophets. Father Abba wanted good works and love more than legalistic sacrifice; his prophets began to preach a loving and faithful God to an idol-worshiping apostate people; and most of all, His prophets began to tell of a Messiah who would come and suffer in order to give them the key to eternal life. That promise came to fruition during the time of Yeshua, when Abba allowed his Bride (Sophia / Shekinah or God-the-Mother who came as Mother Mary) and his two Children (Mary Magdala and Yeshua) to incarnate, teach a new wisdom, suffer through Yeshua's crucifixion, continue to teach amid persecution, and finally return to him in Heaven. All of this was for the benefit of humanity. This is the image of the all-loving all-merciful Father God most of us are familiar with.
But the war-like cruel Father does make appearances the New Testament. He is glimpsed in Paul's strict warnings against idol worship. Lest we think we moderns are exempt from idolatrous temptations, it must be noted that today idol worship is everywhere. Materialism, consumerism, love of money for money's sake all represent worshiping, adoring and lusting after man-made objects. The worshiping of celebrities and athletes, a small portion of whom may deserve admiration, but should never be fawned over or "loved," is idolatrous and putting other gods before Him. Celebrities are the false gods of our age. The Big Guy gets perhaps ticked at this and warnings of his possible displeasure are seen in the New Testament.
The harsh Abba can also be seen in the apocalyptic book of Revelation. Abba's image is once again a product of the times. It was the age of great persecution for Christians, and John the Revelator (accurately) saw even greater persecution coming. He predicted Abba will once again become the God of war in order to save Christians, Jews, and all those who are right-behaving ("righteous"). Abba-El will return as his son, the Lamb again, and snatch his own up from the clutches of anti-God (Shaitan or Satan) and anti-Christ's dark forces. The returning God will punish and deliver painful judgement upon all those who follow the evil ones, and ultimately he will destroy them along with Shaitan and the anti-Christ. This is not a passive or meek God, nor is it a cruel and unjust tyrant - this is a Father defending His wife and kids from raping marauders, a Shepherd protecting his flock from blood-thirsty wild animals. In truth that is how it always was.
Like us and like all other Gods, our Abba wears many faces - but he was certainly the Creative Father of the Old Testament and the Redeeming Father of the New. He is neither tyrant nor weakling. Like any good Father, He is protective and loving, expecting (and deserving) the respect and adoration of those He has created and continues to protect. Are we giving Him that respect and adoration?
Paraclete - The Holy Spirit
Who is Paraclete, also known as the Holy Spirit? Paraclete is a Latin word meaning "Comforter" and is the very one Yeshua said he would send to earth after his own departure for heaven. Actually, very little is said about Paraclete in Scripture, and He doesn't really show up until the New Testament. He is the third person of the masculine Trinity, known as the Comforter and the one who delivers personal revelation and divine inspiration to each of us. His coming was foretold by Yeshua, which means that He either did not exist or did not dwell among humanity until after the passion, death, resurrection, and ascension of Yeshua. This tells us that He is distinctly different from His feminine counterpart, the Holy Soul (called Pneuma in Greek), who has been with us since the time of creation.
Different denominations have different ideas about Paraclete. In some denominations, He takes a backseat to Abba and Yeshua. In other denominations such as the Pentecostal and charismatic denominations, He is seen as the most powerful aspect of the Trinity. Some see Him as an actual person, while others See him as a force - possibly the combined powers of Abba and Yeshua. We know it sounds corny, but when you think of "the Force" in Star Wars, you're thinking of something much like Paraclete. He is "the Force."
As previously stated, He did not exist prior to the ascension of Yeshua. For this reason, there is little information about Him to be found in Judaism. The only "holy spirit" that can be found in Judaism is the female holy spirit, often called Pneuma, or the Holy Soul. It seems that Paraclete was a new concept, possibly coming into existence during the time of Yeshua or existing (hidden to us) since creation. However, Yeshua talked about Him quite a bit, and later sent Him in power to the disciples on Pentecost, along with the Holy Soul who was most likely also sent with Him. He influenced the disciples on an individual basis, while the Holy Soul influenced them as a group. For instance, speaking and understanding different languages occurred on Pentecost. This was most likely the work of the Holy Soul, influencing the group to be able to understand each other. Peter gives an inspired sermon, and he is inspired as an individual. This was most likely the work of the Holy Spirit, influencing Peter as an individual to give his God-inspired sermon. Eventually, Paul (who clearly did not understand the concept of a Holy Spirit and Holy Soul) merged these gifts and put them under the jurisdiction of the masculine Paraclete, the Holy Spirit. Patriarchy has left them merged ever since. Is it any wonder that no one really has the gift of tongues anymore, since they are praying to the Holy Spirit for it when it is under the jurisdiction of the Holy Soul?
Isaiah gives us seven gifts of the Holy Soul, and Paul gives us twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit. After the coming of Yeshua, the seven gifts became split among the Holy Spirit and Holy Soul, giving three to each and one for Them to share. In addition, the twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit can be split with the Holy Soul as well. Which of these gifts and fruits actually belongs to the Holy Spirit? Here is what we believe to be the truth:
THE THREE GIFTS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
The Shared Gift
THE SIX FRUITS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
In addition, Paul gives us nine charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit, which can be divided among the Holy Spirit and Holy Soul. Three belong specifically to the Holy Spirit, three specifically to the Holy Soul, and three are shared. The charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit are:
THE THREE CHARISMATIC GIFTS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
Shared Charismatic Gifts
The role of the Holy Spirit is on a highly individual basis. He works with us one on one. When you look at it, the gifts and fruits attributed to Him above generally fit well with individuals. Understanding, knowledge, and fear of the Lord are all things that are attained individually, but counsel can be given by the Holy Spirit to an individual or by the Holy Soul to a group. The six fruits of the Holy Spirit are all very individual attributes. Speaking with knowledge, faith, and discerning spirits are all very individualized attributes; but the shared charismatic gifts of healing, miracles, and prophecy can benefit an individual or a community. As we look at the gifts and fruits usually attributed to the Holy Spirit, we can see that they can easily be divided among the two biblical forces - the Holy Spirit and the Holy Soul.
Hopefully this essay has helped to explain who the Holy Spirit really is. He is the masculine Force that works with the individual. When you are inspired to write, paint, or sing your praises that is the Holy Spirit working with you. And just as the Holy Soul has Her place as the World Soul, so the Holy Spirit has His place as our genetic memory, that heritage which passes down our gene pool and determines which faith will resonate best with us. What is interesting is that it truly is as if the two Holy Ones are married - for just as God is King of Heaven and Ruler of the Earth, and just as the Goddess is the Mother of the Earth and the Queen of Heaven...the Holy Spirit finds his place in the World Soul on the individual level as each person in the collective, just as the Holy Soul finds Her place in genetic memory on the group level as the group of ancestors who shared the common faith influencing us today.
Yes, They can be confusing. But if you leave both of Them to inspire you in your group workings and individual prayer time, They will explain (far better than I can) exactly who They are!
In DNA, New Clues to Jewish Roots
By NICHOLAS WADE in New York Times
May 14, 2002
A new thread is being woven into the complex tapestry of Jewish history, a thread fashioned from a double twist of DNA.
The DNA data suggest a particular version of Jewish history and origins that historians have not yet had time to appraise but that seem to be reconcilable in principle with the historical record, according to experts in Jewish studies.
The emerging genetic picture is based largely on two studies, one published in 2000 and the other in May of 2002, that together show that the men and women who founded the Jewish communities had surprisingly different genetic histories.
The earlier study, led by Dr. Michael Hammer of University of Arizona, showed from an analysis of the male, or Y chromosome, that Jewish men from seven communities were related to one another and to present-day Palestinian and Syrian populations, but not to the men of their host communities.
The finding suggested that Jewish men who founded the communities traced their lineage back to the ancestral Mideastern population of 4,000 years ago from which Arabs, Jews and other people are descended. It pointed to the genetic unity of widespread Jewish populations and took issue with ideas that most Jewish communities were relatively recent converts like the Khazars, a medieval Turkish tribe that embraced Judaism.
A new study now shows that the women in nine Jewish communities from Georgia, the former Soviet republic, to Morocco have vastly different genetic histories from the men. In each community, the women carry very few genetic signatures on their mitochondrial DNA, a genetic element inherited only through the female line. This indicates that the community had just a small number of founding mothers and that after the founding event there was little, if any, interchange with the host population. The women's identities, however, are a mystery, because, unlike the case with the men, their genetic signatures are not related to one another or to those of present-day Middle Eastern populations.
The new study, by Dr. David Goldstein, Dr. Mark Thomas and Dr. Neil Bradman of University College in London and other colleagues, appears in The American Journal of Human Genetics this month. Dr. Goldstein said it was up to historians to interpret the genetic evidence. His own speculation, he said, is that most Jewish communities were formed by unions between Jewish men and local women, though he notes that the women's origins cannot be genetically determined.
"The men came from the Near East, perhaps as traders," he said. "They established local populations, probably with local women. But once the community was founded, the barriers had to go up, because otherwise mitochondrial diversity would be increased."
In ancient Israel, the Jewish priesthood was handed from father to son. But at some time from 200 B.C. to A.D. 500, Jewish status came to be defined by maternal descent. Even though the founding mothers of most Jewish communities were not born Jewish, their descendants were.
"It's precisely that custom that allows us to see these founding events," Dr. Goldstein said.
Like the other Jewish communities in the study, the Ashkenazic community of Northern and Central Europe, from which most American Jews are descended, shows less diversity than expected in its mitochondrial DNA, perhaps reflecting the maternal definition of Jewishness. But unlike the other Jewish populations, it does not show signs of having had very few female founders. It is possible, Dr. Goldstein said, that the Ashkenazic community is a mosaic of separate populations formed the same way as the others.
Dr. Harry Ostrer, a medical geneticist at New York University, said the 26 specific genetic diseases found among Ashkenazim, usually attributed to "founder effects," could be explained by the idea of a mosaic of small populations. A founder effect amplifies any mutation present in a small population that later expands.
"He has really opened up the door for some very interesting work," Dr. Ostrer said.
The idea that most or all Jewish communities were founded by Jewish men and local women is somewhat at variance with the usual founding traditions. Most Jewish communities hold that they were formed by families who fled persecution or were invited to settle by local kings.
For instance, Iraqi Jews are said to be descended from those exiled to Babylon after the destruction of the First Temple in 586 B.C. Members of the Bene Israel community of Bombay say they are the children of Jews who fled the persecutions of Antiochus Epiphanus, who repressed the Maccabean revolt, around 150 B.C.
Most of those founding narratives do not have strong historical support. Dr. Lawrence H. Schiffman, professor of Hebrew and Judaic studies at New York University, said the new genetic data could well explain how certain far-flung Jewish communities were formed. But he doubted that it would account for the origin of larger Jewish communities that seemed more likely to have been formed by families who were fleeing persecution or making invited settlements.
Dr. Shaye Cohen, professor of Jewish literature and philosophy at Harvard, said the implication of the findings and the idea of Jewish communities' having been founded by traders, was "by no means implausible."
"The authors are correct in saying the historical origins of most Jewish communities are unknown," Dr. Cohen said. "Not only the little ones like in India, but even the mainstream Ashkenazic culture from which most American Jews descend."
In a recent book, "The Beginnings of Jewishness," Dr. Cohen argued that far-flung Jewish communities had adopted the rabbinic teaching of the matrilineal descent of Jewishness soon after the Islamic conquests in the seventh, eight and ninth centuries A.D.
One part of the Goldstein team's analysis, that matrilineal descent of Jewishness was practiced at or soon after the founding of each community, could fit in with this conclusion, Dr. Cohen said, if the communities were founded around this time.
The data being generated by Dr. Hammer, Dr. Goldstein and other population geneticists touches on the delicate issue of whether Jews can be considered a race. Dr. Cohen noted that the Nazis and their anti-Semitic predecessors had argued that Jews were a race and therefore irreconcilable with the host community and that Jews had in response argued they were not, because they admitted people by conversion.
If the founding mothers of most Jewish communities were local, that could explain why Jews in each country tend to resemble their host community physically while the origins of their Jewish founding fathers may explain the aspects the communities have in common, Dr. Cohen said.
Despite the definition of Jewishness as being born to a Jewish mother, and the likelihood of some continuity between ancient and modern populations, it has not until recently been clear that genetics had anything much to contribute to questions of Jewish identity.
Some scholars suspected that Jewish communities had through intermarriage or conversion become little different from their host populations. Many say they believe that even if Jews are a group definable in ethnic, as opposed to cultural or religious terms, it is either impossible or unwise to define an ethnic group genetically.
Dr. Schiffman said that as president of the Association for Jewish Studies he would consider convening a discussion between the geneticists and the historians on interpreting the new data. He noted that the study of racial differences had led to disaster in the past but that the new analysis of genetic differences was "a form of racial science for the good, rather than the bad."
"Racial science," Dr. Schiffman said, "has brought so many terrible things. But it's a norm now in genetics to study the racial genetics of groups. So I think it's an amazing difference."
Geneticists use the Y chromosome and mitochondrial DNA to track the movement of populations because each is passed unchanged from parent to child, escaping the genetic shuffle that occurs on the rest of genome between generations. Since the Y chromosome passes down only from father to son, and mitochondrial DNA is always inherited from the mother alone, the two elements serve to track the genetic history of men and women respectively.
But since the Y chromosome and mitochondrial DNA clock up occasional changes or mutations every thousand years or so, on much the same time scale as human population splits, different ethnic groups tend to have characteristic patterns of mutations.
The Y chromosome and mitochondrial DNA's in today's Jewish communities reflect the ancestry of their male and female founders but say little about the rest of the genome, which is by now a presumably well mixed set of genes contributed by all the founders of each community.
Noting that the Y chromosome points to a Middle Eastern origin of Jewish communities and the mitochondrial DNA to a possibly local origin, Dr. Goldstein said that the composition of ordinary chromosomes, which carry most of the genes, was impossible to assess.
"My guess," Dr. Goldstein said, "is that the rest of the genome will be a mixture of both."
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If you made it this far, you deserve a treat! Go enjoy the slideshow God Has a Wife! and hear (yes hear) more about El the FatherGod of the Bible.