Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Hard Burned Bricks of Itil

The Khazars have suffered a cruel fate, both in reality and historical study.

Since the publication of the Thirteenth Tribe by Arthur Kosetler in 1976, various anti-Semitic, anti-Israel lunatics have used the supposed Khazar conversion to Judaism sometime during the 8th and 9th centuries to make outrageous claims against Israel and European Jews. Basically, they see all European Jews as descendants of the Turkic Khazar and therefore, not Semites. The logic continues that if this is the case, then the European Jews who established the State of Israel have no real genetic right to that land.

So, a great deal of pseudo-scholarship has developed around the Khazars, all of it false or misleading. The twisted historical logic of their conversion and the founding of the modern State of Israel has been unfortunate,nasty, small. Hardly concealed behind it is a rage against of Jews, Judaism, and Israel.

Well, when I was writing The Other Zions, archaeologists in Russia uncovered what is believed to be the capital of the Khazar kingdom Itil. Located near the Caspian Sea, they found a triangular fortress made of brick and yurt shaped dwellings. According to medieval documents, by Khazar law flamed bricks could only be used in the capital.

So far, no Jewish inscriptions have been found at the location (that I am aware of). Artifacts from places like North African and the Byzantium attest to a great trading center. But what of Jewish stuff? This is the prime interest scholars have in the Khazars. They might well be studied without their legendary connection with Judaism, but they would be simply one amongst a herd of Turkic tribes inhabiting the region.

The lack of Jewish material is just one more mysterious element to be explored and hopefully explained. But this often happens in an area of study where manuscript evidence was once the only evidence there was. When archaeologist start to dig, they find things in the ground quite at odds with the documentary evidence.

Material culture and political-religious culture produced by the elite are often at odds with one another, or even a projection or fantasy of some other, unknown party.

A tricky field, where hard and fast conclusion are difficult to reach.

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