Jacob’s Lega­cy: A Genet­ic View of Jew­ish History

David B. Goldstein
  • Review
December 16, 2011
In the last sev­er­al decades, mol­e­c­u­lar biol­o­gists have forged tools that allow them to read anew the his­to­ry of the Jew­ish peo­ple, whose jour­ney to the present has been both tumul­tuous and mirac­u­lous. David B. Goldstein’s Jacob’s Lega­cy is in the genre of recent pub­li­ca­tions sum­ma­riz­ing the unique mol­e­c­u­lar genet­ics of the Jews. Where­as oth­er authors on this top­ic have been jour­nal­ists report­ing on advances in sci­ence, Gold­stein actu­al­ly per­formed the sci­ence. 

The first two chap­ters relate Goldstein’s own work. He was a key mem­ber of the col­lab­o­ra­tion that dis­cov­ered the Cohen modal hap­lo­type, a col­lec­tion of Y chro­mo­some genet­ic mark­ers that are found in a sig­nif­i­cant­ly greater pro­por­tion of Cohan­im than in the gen­er­al Jew­ish pop­u­la­tion. Gold­stein then went on to sub­stan­ti­ate the idea, using anoth­er set of Y chro­mo­so­mal mark­ers, that the Levite tribe was like­ly enhanced one thou­sand years ago by an influx of peo­ple from the ancient Khaz­ars of cen­tral Asia. 

Gold­stein dis­cuss­es the genet­ics of the mater­nal­ly-inher­it­ed mito­chon­dr­i­al DNA and the his­to­ry it reveals about diverse groups of Jews from around the world. The final chap­ter explores inher­i­tance of dis­eases that are found in high­er pro­por­tion among Jew­ish pop­u­la­tions. Impor­tant­ly, Gold­stein address­es the recent claim by a group of anthro­pol­o­gists that genet­i­cal­ly inher­it­ed dis­eases com­mon to Jews increase intel­li­gence. Gold­stein presents the weak­ness­es and dan­gers of this hypoth­e­sis, and offers a plan for sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly test­ing it. 

Through­out the book, Gold­stein has the abil­i­ty to explain sci­en­tif­ic ideas with a clear and acces­si­ble voice. Jacob’s Lega­cy is a fas­ci­nat­ing read, illu­mi­nat­ing the notion of Jew­ish iden­ti­ty through the light of the DNA mol­e­cule. Bib­li­og­ra­phy, index, notes.

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