Jacob's Legacy: A Genetic View of Jewish History

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Who are the Jews? Where did they come from? What is the connection between an ancient Jewish priest in Jerusalem and today’s Israeli sunbather on the beaches of Tel Aviv? These questions stand at the heart of this engaging book. Geneticist David Goldstein analyzes modern DNA studies of Jewish populations and examines the intersections of these scientific findings with the history (both biblical and modern) and oral tradition of the Jews. With a special gift for translating complex scientific concepts into language understandable to all, Goldstein delivers an accessible, personal, and fascinating book that tells the history of a group of people through the lens of genetics.

In a series of detective-style stories, Goldstein explores the priestly lineage of Jewish males as manifested by Y chromosomes; the Jewish lineage claims of the Lemba, an obscure black South African tribe; the differences in maternal and paternal genetic heritage among Jewish populations; and much more. The author also grapples with the medical and ethical implications of our rapidly growing command of the human genomic landscape. The study of genetics has not only changed the study of Jewish history, Goldstein shows, it has altered notions of Jewish identity and even our understanding of what makes a people a people.

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Editorial Reviews

Kenneth Kidd
"Even readers unfamiliar with science will have no difficulty understanding this excellent book. David Goldstein clearly explains how modern genetics integrates with multiple aspects of Jewish history and demography."—Kenneth Kidd, Yale University
Stephen Schaffner
"Goldstein is one of a handful of people qualified to write a book such as this, and he succeeds very well in providing accounts both of scientific studies and of Jewish historical background."—Stephen Schaffner, Program in Medical and Population Genetics, The Broad Institute
Eric Lander
“To complement the rich heritage of ancient Jewish text, Dr. Goldstein brings a new kind of ancient record—the history contained in our DNA. From the patterns of DNA variation among populations, he gleans insight into the social history of the Jewish people. Dr. Goldstein is a superb scientist and a captivating storyteller. Jacob’s Legacy is a gem.”—Eric Lander, Director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, and one of the principal leaders of the Human Genome Project
Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza
"An inspiring example of a magnificent analysis, written for a general audience, showing how multidisciplinary research using information from history, genetics, anthropology and more can give precious light on a great ethnos, the Jews."—Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza, professor of Genetics emeritus active, Stanford Medical School
Duke Today
"With a special gift for translating complex scientific concepts into language understandable to all, Goldstein delivers an accessible, personal, and fascinating book that tells the history of a group of people through the lens of genetics."—Duke Today
New Republic - Jerome Groopman
"[An] important and illuminating book—written with keen intelligence and deep love of its subject. . . . [A] short but masterful book."—Jerome Groopman, New Republic
Scientific American - Michelle Press
"To paraphrase the old ad for rye bread, you don't have to be Jewish to love this book. It is a specific—and gripping—example of how the lens of genetics will eventually inform our understanding of all peoples."—Michelle Press, Scientific American
Publishers Weekly

Duke University geneticist Goldstein was part of a team that did groundbreaking, headline-making research on Jewish genetic history. Goldberg clearly and succinctly explains such concepts as "haplotypes" and "genetic drift" as he reviews such findings as that more than half of contemporary Cohanim, or priests—traditionally believed to descend from the biblical Aaron—actually share a genetic marker called the Cohen Modal Haplotype. Among other subjects, he also explores evidence consistent with the claim of the obscure Lemba tribe of southern Africa to be descendants of ancient Israel. Lastly, in taking on a 2005 study of a group of so-called Jewish genetic diseases—such as Tay-Sachs—and their putative evolutionary connection to high intelligence among Jews, Goldberg notes that this hypothesis is easily testable but firmly rejects "pseudoscientific genetic determinism." Goldberg's role in much of the research into Jewish genetic history, his sober, unsensationalist tone and his emphasis on the limited conclusions that can be drawn from such work lend credibility to his account of his stunning results. (June)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300125832
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 5/28/2008
  • Pages: 176
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

David B. Goldstein is professor of molecular genetics and director of the Institute for Genome Science and Policy’s Center for Population Genomics and Pharmacogenetics, Duke University. He lives in Durham, NC.

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Table of Contents

Ch. 1 Keeping God's house : Y chromosomes and Old Testament priests 8

Ch. 2 Lost tribe no more? : the black Jews of South Africa 40

Ch. 3 Looking out for number two : the case of the Ashkenazi Levites 61

Ch. 4 Those Jewish mothers : the development of female-defined ethnicity in the Jewish diaspora 75

Ch. 5 Look on mine affliction : genetic diseases and Jewish history 100

Ch. 6 Jews, genes, and the future 115

Notes 121

Glossary 127

Bibliography 129

Index 141

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