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The Thirteenth Tribe: The Khazar Empire and Its Heritage Hardcover – April 5, 1976

3.8 out of 5 stars 70 customer reviews

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Hardcover, April 5, 1976
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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Juif hongrois ne a Budapest en 1905, Arthur Koestler fait ses etudes a Vienne, puis devient journaliste en Palestine. Revenu en Europe, il adhere au Parti communiste allemand, trouvant la une reponse a la menace nazie, mais egalement seduit par l'utopie sovietique. Il part un an en URSS, puis participe a la guerre civile espagnole. A partir de 1938, ayant rompu avec le Parti communiste, il combattra sans relache le regime stalinien, notamment a travers son roman majeur, Le Zero et l'Infini. A partir de 1940, il vit en Angleterre, ou il se suicidera avec sa femme en mars 1983. Son oeuvre de romancier, philosophe, historien et essayiste lui vaut une renommee mondiale.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Hutchinson, Random House; illustrated edition edition (April 5, 1976)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0091255503
  • ISBN-13: 978-0091255503
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.8 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (70 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #775,212 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Born in Budapest in 1905, educated in Vienna, Arthur Koestler immersed himself in the major ideological and social conflicts of his time. A communist during the 1930s, and visitor for a time in the Soviet Union, he became disillusioned with the Party and left it in 1938. Later that year in Spain, he was captured by the Fascist forces under Franco, and sentenced to death. Released through the last-minute intervention of the British government, he went to France where, the following year, he again was arrested for his political views. Released in 1940, he went to England, where he made his home. His novels, reportage, autobiographical works, and political and cultural writings established him as an important commentator on the dilemmas of the 20th century. He died in 1983.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

This book is dated but is still a masterpiece also because the subject matter is
(fortunately) presented in a popularised, non academic fashion. I highly recommend
it to anyone interested in getting closer to the truth regarding the origin of the
vast majority of 'Jews' in the world today. These issues are however politically
sensitive and this inevitably results in controversy.
The commonly available theory of the origin of the Ashkenazis, or East-European
Jews, is the Renanian Theory (see e.g. Wikipedia). Namely, the Ashkenazis would
descend from refugees of Crusade- and Black-Death-time persecutions of 'authentic'
Jews from western Germany who sought a new life in faraway Poland. However, this
theory does not hold to antropomorphic considerations, considerations of numbers
of refugees and size of ensuing communities in the East and, most importantly,
to a lingustic analysis of the ashkenazi Yiddish language (which points rather
to a Southeast-Germany, Slavic and Turkik origin of that idiom). The standard
theory also does not explain most of the peculiar customs and surnames of the
Ashkenazis and their historical and economical development in continuous conflict
with the populace of the host countries.
Koestler, following an earlier proposal by Hugo von Kutschera (1910) - but also
in accordance with Jewish Encyclopedia pre-1917 articles - rekindles the Khazar
Theory of the ashkenazi origins in this book.
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13 Comments 134 of 147 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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It is curious that in Israel, where I am from, the Khazar's history is only briefly mentioned in school. We did study "letters to the Khazar" by Jehuda Halevi, but more as a literary piece that in context with the Khazars. That is the reason that the book was so interesting for me: It presents a theory which is quite unacceptable to the religious population in Israel. (and outside as well). Are all the eastern european Jews in essence converts? It makes the whole question, so much dealt with in Israel, of "who is a Jew" rather ironical. Are the religious Jews the "real" Jews? And how can they be so much against conversions to judaism, if they themselves are converts? Interesting! Of course, the theory the book presents that ALL the east european Jews are descendants of the Khazars is only a theory, but Koestler surely presents some interesting arguments! Fascinating reading!
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Others have written on the whole argument of whether today's Ashkenazi are Khazars or not. However, leaving that aside, this is a must for anyone interested in general Jewish history and the Black Sea region esp. southern Russia and the Ukraine. Books on the Khazars are hard to come by, and this is fairly readable.
(There is also an unusual novel on these folk "The Dictionary of the Khazars" - have a look at that on Amazon and see what you think).
1 Comment 52 of 59 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Arthur Koestler had a long and illustrious writing career. Many of us were captivated by "Darkness at Noon," "Thieves in the Night," Promise and Fulfilment," "The Sleepwalkers," "The Trail of the Dinosaur," and many other great works. This book, from 1976, is about the Khazars, a people of Turkish stock that lived to the northeast of the Black Sea and converted to Judaism in the eighth century AD.

The obvious question, which had been asked by many people prior to Koestler, is to what extent the Khazars are the ancestors of the Ashkenazic Jews. Koestler suspected it is to a great extent.

I think there is substantial evidence that many Khazars did in fact convert to Judaism. And there is also some evidence that the initial number of Jews who wound up in the major Jewish population centers of Eastern Europe via the Middle East and Germany was rather small. That suggested to Koestler that the presumably more numerous Khazars dominated the Jewish population in Eastern Europe 1000 years ago and that they are the principal ancestors of today's Ashkenazic Jews. However, it seems that recent scholarship has not given much support to this guess. On the contrary, genetic evidence has strongly indicated that the small number of Jews coming from Germany may well have been by far the main ancestors of today's Ashkenazim.

As Koestler feared, his hypothesis has been quoted by those trying to find an excuse to deny present-day Israelis their rights to their homes. That is why Koestler explains that whether the genes of Israel's people are of Khazar, Spanish, Roman, or Semitic origin is irrelevant. It "cannot affect Israel's right to exist - nor the moral obligation of any civilized person, Gentile or Jew - to defend that right."

In any case, I found the book interesting.
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Koestler wrote an intriguing, popularized account, in this book, of the theory that many of today's Jews (mostly those of Eastern European descent) are of non-Semitic origin. Essentially the book recounts the tale of the Khazars, a middle Asian Turkic tribe, or tribal group, which settled in the southern steppes of what is today's Russia, during the seventh and eighth centuries, and adopted Judaism (in reaction to the conflicting demands of nearby 'great powers' espousing Christianity and Islam).
In the process of telling this tale, Koestler concludes that the conversion of the Khazars, which seems to be historically documented, explains the significant presence of Jews in Eastern Europe at the end of the Middle Ages (since extant records do not show them arriving from the Mediterranean world, or even western Europe, in any great numbers in ancient or later times). This theory is a quite rational one though it poses problems for Orthodox Jewry since the premise of the faith depends so much (though not exclusively) on the historical link to Abraham, a Semite. Complicating the matter is the suspicion that the Khazar conversion may not have been a 'kosher' one. Orthodox Jews have not, accordingly, been quick to embrace the Khazar thesis and others tend to shy away from it for this and other reasons. However, the facts do seem to indicate that modern Jews are a mixture of many different genetic influences (just look at the physical evidence).
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