Secret Genealogy II - The Jewish Roots of Our Christian Ancestors
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Welcome to a surreal world of genealogy and vivid history. I am neither an ethnologist nor a linguist. I am an amateur genealogist with a fruitful imagination. Without ancestral speculation, hunches, vibes, intuition and sharing “what if's," we would never uncover the truth of our ancestors. When using outside the box thinking and brainstorming one does not laugh or ridicule spontaneous ideas as the most unlikely thoughts lead to important discoveries and breakthroughs.
I have had a great response to my book, Secret Genealogy, which arose through research I was doing for my historical novels, “The Celtic Prince” and “The Lies of the Lion.” When I began the research for another novel, "The Guild" I knew that I would be compiling my findings into another book and here it is.
A little definition is required before you begin. The Jews originally descended from the holy land but there are several different groups including the Sephardic Jews whose later origins were from North Africa, Spain, Portugal and the Middle East. The Mizrahi Jews are from Babylon and Persia and the Ashkenazi Jews are from Germany, Poland or other areas of Europe. These are not precise definitions. Toward the end of the book I've included a glossary. You may wish to acquaint yourself with it before you read the chapters.
During ancient times there were two sections of the Holy Land: the Northern Kingdom of Israel, which was called Samaria and the Southern Kingdom of Judah, called Judea. Technically, “Jews” are the names of the descendants of Judea but “Jews” is also used when speaking of “Israelites." The twelve tribes of Israel are all the descendants of “Jacob," whose name later became “Israel." During that era, the ancient Hebrews kept strict records of their descendants.
Where do I come up with this stuff? Old and new history books, 1950's encyclopedias, old dictionaries, old maps, conversations, old cookbooks, genealogical websites, family trees and histories, online dictionaries, online encyclopedias, European tourist guide books, the bible and early ancient "corporate" records. I have conversations with others and analyze the names, dates, facts, figures, historical figures and oral history of their ancestors and of course I study my own family tree.
Old dictionaries are invaluable. Mine has words that have been omitted from modern editions. I use it constantly. It has:
A Pronouncing Gazetteer
More Than Three Thousand Names of Noteworthy Persons
Common English Christian Names (many of them Hebrew)
I also have an old encyclopedia set and I use Internet search engines for researching. I suggest you spend days typing in your surnames into your favorite search engine. Type "Jewish" in front of it and comb through the results looking for clues. The bible I use has an index and concordance I use to look up a variety of subjects, including first and last names. Even if the names are only vaguely similar there may be an association. The index will lead you to stories in the bible. That’s always fun. You may ask yourself, is this a connection to my ancestor? Is this a clue?
If you can't take a few leaps, you are not ready to begin this quest. At first your clues seem outrageous. "No, it can't be. No, no, no," you say to yourself while shaking your head. You confide in friends and family and they think you're a little out there. The lure to find out who your ancestors were is very magnetic. It is as if the ancestors beckon you from the "other world."
In the Beginning
Dr. Albright, the Spence Professor of Semitic Languages at John Hopkins University "frankly told his fellow townsmen of the very close connection in practices, ideas, and even in the turns of a phrase between the people of the Scrolls, the Essenes, and the early Christians, and that the background of the New Testament is far more Jewish than anyone had ever guessed in print, let alone proved."
The Lost Years of Jesus Revealed by Rev. Dr. Charles Francis Potter
I always thought of the bible as a Christian book about the Christians and Jews and assumed that the Jews had another separate book. But both Christians and Jews use the word bible. (See glossary: Torah, Pentateuch). The bible has taken on a strong Christian image due to generations of "bible study groups." There are plenty of non-Christians who live in the southern and mid-United States but the word “bible belt” has been used for years to define that area. The bible is Jewish too and to know that helps one to understand the true meaning of Judean-Christianity. The Jews and the Christians are so closely united, if one were to use the analogy of a fruit tree, Judaism would be the rootstock to which Christianity is grafted upon. In fact, even today, the University of Houston undergraduate director of World Cultures Literature Program, Marie-Theresa Hernandez, is "working on a project about Crypto-Jews at the highest levels of the church in colonial Mexico.” I believe the analogy of the fruit tree is also quite often the case in family trees.
The Jews never use the term Old Testament, that's a Christian term. Judaism has the Tanakh, which consists of the same books as in the Old Testament, although the books are not in the same order. The Torah consists of the five books of Moses and is one of the books that are included in the Tanakh.
In America where we have complete religious freedom, I see and hear evidence of Jews being very careful not to proselytize. Throughout history Jews were persecuted for trying to convert others or for “flaunting” their Jewishness, yet we see Christian missionaries and evangelists doing it all the time.
Christian children are taught in Sunday school to appreciate the geography of the Holy Land but why do we not see a church and synagogue with a big door between them that you can walk through, just as you can go back and forth between the old and new testaments of the bible? I was taught about the Holy Land and the Old Testament but do not remember being instructed on the rudiments of Judaism. I can tell by the blank stares coupled with silence that most of the people I speak with don’t either. Nor does it appear that my parents knew much about Judaism. Fascinating, since they both have Jewish ancestry in their background. I don’t believe either of my parents knew of this, especially my mother although my father may have had a hunch.
Lately I was surprised to run across a term I’d never heard before, “Hebrew-Christians." This is an old term appearing in historic census records from the Holy Land and Poland, referring to Jews who considered their ethnicity as Jewish but their religion to be Christian. Of course the earliest Christians were Jews, Christianity began with a small sect of Jews following Jesus, whom we know was also a Jew. I do not know how far back the term “Hebrew-Christian” was used. Undoubtedly there were “Hebrew-Christians” who dropped the Hebrew part of the expression and eventually were known only as “Christian," this is why it is often so difficult for people to accept that their ancestors were Jewish. They had just never heard it said. Historical records of persecution give grand evidence for the reason why the “Hebrew” portion of the expression was dropped.
When I see the word Jehudi it makes me wonder if George Lucas didn’t borrow a little from the Old Testament. Jehudi is an ancient Hebrew word for Jew. The word "Jew" is sort of an English “nickname," used to designate a man from the Kingdom of Judah (or Judea). The true meaning of a Jew is “a follower of Judaism." This means that one does not have to be born of Jewish ethnicity to be considered a Jew, although the meaning of Jew also means one who is of Jewish ancestry through the matriarchal line. If one’s mother is not of Jewish ethnicity one is not considered a Jew unless of course they are a follower of Judaism.
And since I'm mentioning popular movies, do you ever wonder what the Ark of the Covenant was? One, it is a sacred wooden chest. Two, it was made by the tribes of Israel a long, long time ago, well before Christianity. Three, the Israelites made it because the Lord told Moses to tell them to make it. Four, it contained the law (the ten commandments). Five, it was kept in the first temple and was very holy. Six, it was so holy the story is, it caused the River Jordan to divide when they approached with it (remember the Israelites were nomadic for a while so they carried it around). Seven, it symbolized the faith of the Jews. Eight, it was last seen in the Temple in Jerusalem. Nine, it is now a conspiracy theory and Steven Spielberg made a movie about it, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. Ten, the ancient Babylonians (approx where Iraq is now) burned the Temple down so the Ark must have burned up with the temple. But … eleven, some religious Jews believe that when the Messiah comes it will be restored.
My ancestors were very religious and saw frugality as a virtue. So when I read about the Essenes, a "splinter Jewish sect," written about in The Lost Years of Jesus Revealed by Rev. Dr. Charles Francis Potter, I couldn't help but smile. History doesn't just repeat itself; it keeps continuity, especially in regards to religion.
.".. Essenian in their renunciation of money, in frugality of living, their combining of plain living and high thinking, their mysticism, their interest in hymns and hymn composition, their sunrise worship, their repudiation of animal sacrifices, their asceticism, their connection with Eastern (Persian or Hindu) mystic contemplation, their basic Judaism, their obvious Gnostic coloring, and their studious love of books."
Sound like anyone you know?
For those who one day discover that their ancestors were Crypto-Jews, it’s shocking. It’s a mind-blowing experience; one just can’t explain the feeling. If you had no previous knowledge that your family was Jewish it stops you dead in your tracks. What? You say. When? You say. And more importantly, why did they hide it? For those of you asking, “What’s a Crypto-Jew?” the answer is, one who practices Judaism in secret while professing another religious faith. Even today in America, a country founded on religious freedom, there are those who when finding that their ancestors were Crypto-Jews, prefer to keep it cryptic. Why? Because this world, no matter where you live, can be very strange in regards to religion.
One of the definitions of religion is “an awareness or conviction of the existence of a supreme being, arousing reverence, love, gratitude, the will to obey and serve, and the like.” And we have to hide that? Not a good idea to hide it. But religion causes a lot of problems. People have been going to war over it for thousands of years. I guess because each religion becomes such a large umbrella, horrible things often take shelter under that umbrella. Maybe more “live and let live” attitudes and kindness toward one another will help keep the gremlins out from underneath our umbrellas.
Throughout history, houses of worship provide many benefits for their communities. They also provide a treasure trove for genealogists. I find historical houses of worship so interesting, I could design a vacation around them. They leave clues in their architecture, their stained glass windows, their name, their cemeteries nearby, their location, their founders and the year erected. In Indiana, I found a beautiful antique Star of David, stained glass Gothic window embedded in an old Catholic church. I’ve also heard that there are tiny (microscopic) Stars of David etched into at least one of the stained glass windows of one of Spain’s historical Catholic Churches, a sort of rebellious graffiti from the artisans who professed to be New Christians but held fast to their Jewish traditions.
Unfortunately when families change religions and surnames to fit within their new surroundings, descendents are left without much heritage. Today, there are resources available for us to explore our “maybe” Jewish roots and it is quite fulfilling.
Nova had a documentary about the lost tribes of Israel and said “This king has been identified with the last king of Israel, Hoshea, who died around the same time, at the time of the Assyrian exile of the ten tribes from Israel.” Hosea is a first name that appears in my father’s family. Why would my family name their son Hosea, after the last king of Israel if they weren’t Jewish? Maybe as Southern Baptists they loved the story, or loved the name but if you are looking at a family tree and trying to decipher it, think of the analogy of a fruit tree. If there is one apple under the tree maybe the apple rolled from an apple tree nearby. But if there are lots of apples under this tree, after awhile you come to the conclusion that indeed it is an apple tree. And related to Hosea, the first known king of Japan was named Osee who ruled around 730 BC. I’ve read extensive theories of the Jews migrating to Japan thousands of years ago. The similarities are quite convincing.
While helping someone research non-Jewish ancestry in Cleveland, Ohio, I found it interesting that there was an old synagogue in their ancestor's neighborhood. Funny how comfortable some of these "non-Jews" feel living in, or next to, Jewish neighborhoods. Someone could write a book on that topic alone.
Hellenists were a small group of Jews who appreciated Greek culture. They began Christianity. Of course, Jesus was a Jew as was Moses and Noah. Jews fought in the Roman Legions and formed secret societies to aid and comfort one another, as well as offer support to each other's families. They traveled to all the continents, leaving evidence of their pride as Jews, carving those small stars of David into Inquisitional Spanish stained glass church windows and upon Egypt's pyramids. They were a tenacious group, who though having gone cryptic, never gave up the fight. And they left a trail. They left an illuminated pathway leading back to King David's Jerusalem, King Solomon's Temple, the Exile to Babylonia and their scattering (Diaspora) into Europe and the New World. It is with amazement that I follow clues and each day uncover some new revelation marveling at their strength and spirit.