Who was King Bulan of Khazaria? Jewish Biography as History

Presentation on the history of the Khazar conversion to Judaism, with updated material based on recent research.

5 thoughts on “Who was King Bulan of Khazaria? Jewish Biography as History

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  1. Dear Dr. Abramson,

    I love your lectures, particularly those on Jewish history in antiquity.

    I have to say though that the latest lecture on King Bulan and the Khazars contained an important omission. While you ask some important questions and address doubts about certain sources, you never question the fundamental assumption — and I do not use that word lightly — that the Khazars actually converted to Judaism. As Shaul Stampfer of Hebrew University has argued, the sources that mention the alleged conversion are highly problematic from a historical point of view. (See Stampfer, “Did the Khazars Convert to Judaism?,” Jewish Social Studies: His- tory, Culture, Society n.s. 19, no. 3 (Spring/Summer 2013): 1–72.). I don’t purport to be an expert in this area, but Stampfer’s argument seems persuasive to me. I feel that at the very least, his arguments are serious and should be addressed. Perhaps you could address them in a future lecture on the Golden Age of Spain (e.g., whether the “letter” from the Khazar king “Joseph” to Hasdai Ibn Shaprut was pseudepigraphal, or what Yehuda Halevi’s sources were for the Khuzari). You mention that these sources are not designed to be historical accounts — very true — but you don’t go the next step and question whether there is any reliable evidence of the Khazar conversion. I realize that there are non-Jewish sources that mention the conversion, but this in itself is not sufficient evidence. As Stampfer explains, those sources too are problematic, most importantly in that they knew very little about Khazaria and their authors seemed to have believed that it was a land inhabited by Minotaur-like creatures. To paraphrase Stampfer, it would have been a great story, if it we could believe it were true.

    Again, I want to reiterate that I write as a fan offering some constructive criticism, so please take these words in that vein. I look forward to more lectures.

    Best regards.

  2. Another great and entertaining lecture and I like the way you expounded upon previous lectures. Now regarding the DNA evidence, I must caution you that Jews like everyone else who share common genes for skin pigments and other beneficial traits actually share more total DNA with their ethnic groups than, a Jew in China and a Jew in England. Now they often share certain DNA markers from ancient ancestors, but of the total 3.2 billion genes a human has, the majority are shared with the ethnic groups that they assimilated into. I know my Science credits are over 30 years old, but I have tried to stay abreast of this fantastic, developing field.

    My thesis that the waves of forced Jewish immigration into the Roman Empire by means of slavery has been proven true to some extent. The first groups were freemen and women during the diaspora living in their own enclaves, but the greatest number were single men, mostly slaves who eventually took gentile wives. Also we must not forget that Judaism and it’s ancient core values of family, law and community was very attractive to many people in the Roman world. Thus explaining the mDNA and yDNA evidence.

    I hope that this is of some use to you. Consult anyone you know who is an expert on genetics and fact check my assertions. If I’m incorrect please let me know.

    Thank you for you informative and enjoyable lectures. May the One G-d strengthen you and be a hedge of protection around you,

  3. Very fascinating. I love the honesty in explaining human decision and bias when understanding how some sects evolve and disappear. I see the same story in my own Christian faith. We tend to think our own church has its roots in the origin and therefore more right to truth claims without seeing the very historical evolution and variety of interpretations. I also think we don’t think enough of the hotbed that the rise of Islam in the Middle Ages created and how that forged new evolutions in all 3 faiths.

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