- Review: Abraham's Children: Race, Identity, and the DNA of the Chosen People
Review: Abraham's Children: Race, Identity, and the DNA of the Chosen People
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Author: Jon Entine
ISBN: 10: 0-446-58063-5: 13:978-0-446-58063-2
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Jon Entine, author, lecturer, producer and executive with NBC News and ABC News, international columnist, adjunct fellow of the American Enterprise Institute, consultant on business and media ethics, and author of the controversial Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports and Why We're Afraid to Talk About It has now added another very interesting book to his collected writings, Abraham's Children: Race, Identity, and the DNA of the Chosen People. In this latest tome Entine draws on many historical sources touching on a multitude of disciplines in order to address a wide range of issues in science, history and religion, including Christianity and Islam.
Entine's motivation for his writing of this book was deeply personal and was prompted by the misfortunes that DNA has visited his family. His mother, as well as other members of his family, were victims of cancer and not as a result of bad luck but rather of a bad gene. After his sister Judy underwent a genetic test, Entine was to discover that the deceased members of his family as well as his sister were born with a mutation of one of their genes.
It was only ten years ago that this mutation was identified as BRCA2, or Breast Cancer 2 mutation 6174delT, one of the breast cancer mutations that are particularly common among Jews. As Entine informs us, he previously had written about the DNA revolution in previous books on genetic engineering in agriculture and on the role genes play in influencing which races do best in sports. However, now it became a personal matter, as he also carries the cancer mutation and it is possible that his own daughter likewise inherited the same bad luck.
As mentioned in the book, Jews are excellent candidates for genetic study due to the fact that from the time of their expulsion from biblical Palestine to all four corners of the world, they have gathered together in many closely knit but intricately related communities. In fact, for the most part, they were endogamous or in other words they rarely married outside of their religion, at least until the twentieth century. Consequently, this has proven to be a gold mine for DNA researchers. Called “Jewish Genetics,” it has been the focal point in trying to solve the puzzle of disease and unlock the back-stories of humanity. As Entine states: “It’s the genetic equivalent of history’s Dead Sea Scrolls.”
The book divides itself into three parts, Identity, History, and Race. These are in turn bring up a number of issues that are subdivided into such topics as the Dead Sea Scrolls of DNA, Eve and Adam, finding Aaron, wandering tribes, the crystallization of Jewishness, Sephardim or the vanishing Jews of Spain, Ashkenazim or perhaps converts of Abraham’s children, Jews and race, the end of race, disease and identity, Smarts Jews: Jewish mothers or Jewish genes, and Abraham’s contested covenant. Also included are appendices concerning migration maps, haplogroup descriptions, tracing your ancestry and family history using DNA, a case study concerning the DNA of Father William Sánchez and Jewish diseases.
Entine does well in drawing on his own personal memoirs and travels to Israel and Jordan as well as his vast research into the fields of genetics, history, spirituality, biblical history, and religion to weave a fascinating story as he endeavours to search for answers to questions such as if Abraham, Aaron, Moses and David really exist and what about the lost tribes of Israel? Is it possible for some Jews to trace their descendants to the Jewish Priests or Cohens? How about the Spanish Jews or Sephardim when they were expelled from Spain? Then of course we have the debate over who is a Jew and what determines Jewishness?
There is certainly some fine writing and extensive academic research here. However, what Entine does best is to connect some of the genetic and history dots where readers are transported to biblical times and beyond. As he states, DNA is at once an atlas and time machine and furthermore the Israelite ancestry or Muslims, Christians and Jews is now open to all of us. “Genetic anthropology has awakened us to the shared roots of civilization and the promise of designer therapies to target diseases.” It should be pointed out that considering how vast and complex a subject matter Entine tackles here, readers may suffer fatigue, however we are forewarned in the Author’s note where it is stated: “that some aspects of this book may be either too simple or too complex, and for that reason, I apologize.” Nonetheless, this is a first-rate exposé as it lays out information to which many of us will find extremely intriguing and educational.