Genes as a Historical Archive: On the Applicability of Genetic Research to Sociohistorical Questions: The Debate on the Origins of Ashkenazi Jewry Revisited


The origin of the Ashkenazi Jews has fascinated a growing number of geneticists in recent decades. Using genetic markers to answer questions of history is an approach that is at once tempting and precarious. Both genetics and history are highly specialized fields, and with an interdisciplinary approach, difficulties abound. This article briefly discusses this complex issue based on two studies, written by geneticists, which aimed at contributing to the research on the history of Ashkenazi Jewry. To date, geneticists who have tried to tackle historical questions by means of genetics and statistics have had difficulties with the dialectic methods of historiography, while historians have often misinterpreted the validity of the research results of the so-called “exact sciences.” Only when both sides study and understand the other side’s methodology can cooperation lead to usable and meaningful results.