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October 07, 2003

A Dictionary
Kaveh Khodjasteh  [info|posts]

khazar.jpg A Dictionary of the Khazars is no ordinary dictionary. It is a surrealistic novel that engages in an interfaith dialogue over the fate of a mysterious race of people who inhabited the lands between the Caspian and the Black Sea. The Khazars as they were named were nomadic and warrior like people who had an ancient cult of interpretation of the dreams. Their empire vanished from the face of history almost as soon as they converted to one of the three Abrahamic religions [most historians now say, they converted to Judaism].

I bought the book out of curiousity [my other choices were one by Eco and another by Böll] and on my last trip to Iran found it a very well read despite the unconventional narrative style (a dictionary no less).

The author, Milorad Pavic, is famous in Serbia for his poetry which actually makes the imageries of the book very striking through its pages. The literary style of the book is that of magical realism best exemplified by authors such as Marquez or even Kundera, but is a bit more difficult to follow because of its post-modern inclinations.

To be complete in its relativistic and pluralistic intentions, the book comes in two editions, a male and a female that differ only in one paragraph and a very crucial one. Besides the book itself is divided into three parts: Muslim, Christian and Judaist and comes with a unifying chapter that combines all three in the modern world.

I have to add that overall I didn't find this book to be very deep and moving (like most of post-modern art pieces) but it definitely contains sentences and paragraphs that after reading them, you will have to put down the book and contemplate for some time on their meaning.

nema at October 7, 2003 01:58 PM [permalink]:

hi kaveh,
i'm nema,your cousin,do you remember me?

maryam at October 8, 2003 12:37 PM [permalink]:

I found your article and your introducing of the book very interesting. I had heard stories about the Khanate of Khazaria from my maternal grandfather who was originally from a region called Abkhazia in Georgia and immigrated to Iran after the establishment of USSR. According to him most of the Russian Jews immigrated to Russia from that area, later I did learn more about them. Apparently at its widest the Khazar state ran round the Black sea coast towards the north and included the upper Volga and Don. Byzantium tried hard to covert them to Christianity but they failed, the Caliphs also tried to convert them to Islam. What happened is really a mystery but around 740 the Khazar leaders decided to convert to Judaism which can be partly because of the Jewish immigration from Iran after the fall of the Sasanids, it may be also a careful act of diplomacy because as Jews they were not likely to be sucked into either the Christian or Islamic empire. Instead they enjoyed trade and diplomatic relations with both!
What is interesting for me is the fact that Israel was founded as a country which is home to the Nation of Israel! And the nation of the Israel is those who descend from 12 tribes of Israel that actually are descendants of 12 sons of Jacob! One had to be born into a Jewish family in order to be part of this and I think it was during the period of Ezra that it was required for every Jew who was married to a gentile wife to divorce her! The Pharisees accepted proselytism among non-Jews. The proselytes could identify themselves with the Chosen people and could be saved in the Judgment day by having the second-class citizenships of Israel.
Overall, what Iím trying to say is that it is very likely that a lot of people who claim to be Jewish are not actually Jews! In the case of Russian or Eastern European Jews, they can be descending from the Khazars! However it is likely that a lot of real Jews (the ones who belonged to one of the 12 tribes of Israel) might have converted to other Abrahamic religions! For example Saint Paul who traveled all over the Near-East to convert people to Christianity was a Jew himself from tribe of Benjamin!
And it is interesting to know that a lot of current leader of Israel are from Russian background! People like, Sharon or Perez are among them!

Kaveh Kh. at October 8, 2003 02:12 PM [permalink]:

Interestingly as you have mentioned being from Khazar origin in Israel has political charge, since then one cannot easily claim to be from the original 12 tribes of Israel and hence might not claim the citizenship. However the Khazars seemed to be Semitic people originally, and some believe that they might actually be one of the "lost tribes".

maryam at October 8, 2003 04:28 PM [permalink]:

I'm not very sure on this but to the best of my recolections, people believe that they had Slavic roots not semetic ones!
I'll try to check it if I get a chance.

AIS at October 9, 2003 07:05 PM [permalink]:

It is possible to convert to Judaism, after that you would be considered a Jew and your children Jewish. (Ofcourse if you are a man, your wife must be Jewish (convert or not) for your children to be Jewish-it goes down from the mother side)
So since Khazars supposedly did convert to Judaism, there is no such thing as a second class citizenship.
(The ancient nation of) Israel was founded as a nation built around an idea-that of accepting the covenant with a unique God. (or G_d as the jews like to refere to.)
And not as a racial or bloodline tribal origin.
The reason for the ban on intermarriage is that children will not be brought up with Jewish culture and customs. It has no racial or genetic significance. that's why converts and born Jews are both counted as equally Jewish.

A side remark-the 12 tribes were most probably not derived from a common ancestory. It is not even clear if such characters as Abraham, Isaac or Jacob (ie Israel the father of b'nei Israel) were real historic figures. they could very well have been only eponyms for mythical figures.
It is also interesting to note that the tribe (or sabt) of Judah was most probably not a member of the Israel 'federation' at first. In the book of Judges for example Judah is recited in many occasions to have been an ally of the Philishtim (the Philistines). It was only under King David and his son Solomon (both from the tribe of Judah) that Israel and Judah were united as one country. (Jeruslaem also became a siginificant religious city only after these two kings.)
It is ironic that after the Assyrian destruction of Israel and their assimiliation, it was only the tribe of Judah that kept the tradition, history and religion -the entire heritage- even after the Babylonian exile and after the 2000 years exile since the second destruction of the temple. Hence Jew (Yehudi originally meaning a member of the Sabt of Yehuda(=Judah)) became equivalent to Israelite.
So this second class citizenship is not true at all.

Senior Grad at October 10, 2003 08:41 PM [permalink]:

I wish you had quoted some pieces that you found interesting, thought-provoking or some parts that you didn't like, because for example they were too po-mo-ish, to give us a flavor of what the book is like. I also have no idea what a "lexicographical novel" may look like!

AIS at October 12, 2003 01:47 AM [permalink]:

Well, again as a side remark to Kaveh who wrote:
" Interestingly as you have mentioned being from Khazar origin in Israel has political charge, since then one cannot easily claim to be from the original 12 tribes of Israel and hence might not claim the citizenship. "

Except for some of the (seemingly) discendants of tribe of Levy (see below) no other Jew today can trace his/her ancestory to the 12 tribes anyway.

In Exodus and later Leviticus, Aaron and his descendants are ordained as priests over Israelites. They were not given any territory after the return to the promised land, except some towns.
(Histrorically it is possible that the tribe was weakend so much that lost its territories and eventually became a priestly order)
So beside the lastname of Levy, those with lastnames such as Kohen or Cohen (meaning priest in Hebrew-the same as our 'Kaahen') , Coh, Cahn, Kahn, Kagen, Cahana and even Katz (from Kohen Tzedek=righteous) or Echt (from German meaning righteous) and even more remote with German lastnames such as Koehne, Schiff (a pun on Kahn=boat in German) and even Bloch sometimes claim descent from the Hebrew priesthood. But all of this should be taken with a grain of salt really.
I don't know where you got your remark from, to me it seems the usual fallacies that are there to imply that (the modern state of) Israel is a racist regime.

BTW. the correct form of the name in Hebrew in my last comment is Pelushtim (for philiutines).
As instances of Judah being excluded from the rest of Israel confederation you can see the famous song of Deborah (with no mention of Judah in it) or the handover of Samson to Philistines by men of the tribe of Judah.

Hope this helps. :)