The idea that the so called Israelite peoples are a distinct ethnic group differing radically from others seems to me to be flawed by the simple fact that there are virtually no ethnically pure groups on earth today. When Yair Davidiy claims [without any serious evidence] that "the Danes" are Israelite because of the verbal similarity with the tribe of "Dan", this implies that actually the "Danes" aren't ethnically Scandinavian but Semitic. That proposition is ridiculous. Further, the implication seems to be that whoever lives in Denmark is also a "Dane" and therefore also Semitic- because so many tribes moved around and came to live in Denmark over the past few millennia. But these theories presuppose that the original Jewish or Israelite tribes who supposedly moved to Denmark and Anglo-Saxon countries were themselves pure. A brief review of their history shows this is far from the case:
- Abraham, father of the Israelite peoples, was not an inhabitant of the land we now know as Israel. He was from far away, in modern day Iraq.
- Isaac and Jacob both took wives from tribes who were the forefathers of the Arabs. God reminds Israel of this later: "Your father was an Amorite, and your mother a Hittite" (Ez. 16:3,45)- as if to say 'Listen Israel, ethnically you're really no different from the surrounding Arabic tribes'. It is following the faith of Abraham which makes people his children, rather than fleshly descent (Rom. 4:12-16; Gal. 3:7-9). Hence Paul's comment: "They are not all Israel who are of Israel" (Rom. 9:6).
- Some of the children of Jacob were by his servant girls, who were also ethnically 'Arabic' rather than 'Israelite'
- Joseph married an Egyptian, Asenath- Ephraim and Manasseh his sons were half Egyptian.
- The community which left Egypt and journeyed to Canaan included a very large "mixed multitude" (Ex. 12:38, Heb. 'a mongrel people'). However there was no ethnic distinction made between them and the descendants of Jacob, neither in the Law of Moses nor in any social legislation. They were assimilated.
- Repeatedly, Biblical history laments how the children of Jacob intermarried with the local Canaanite tribes and surrounding nations.
- Solomon's mother was an Ammonitess. Yet he was in the royal line. Other kings also had Gentile mothers.
- In captivity in Babylon, the Jews quickly assimilated, adopting paganic Babylonian names. Only a minority of them returned to the land under Ezra and Nehemiah, and even these were characterized by marriage with non-Jews, to the point that their children couldn't speak Hebrew (Ezra 10 etc.).
- Much research has been done to investigate why despite the small number who returned from Babylon, by the time of Christ a few centuries later, the population of Palestine had increased so many fold. It's apparent that there was large scale immigration into Palestine of various groups who assimilated with the Jews.
- Throughout the past 2000 years, the 'Jewish' people have continued to follow a pattern of assimilation and intermarriage, persecution, separation, acceptance, assimilation...
This brief summary shows that the Jewish people are far from ethnically pure- in fact they have experienced far more dilution of their ethnicity than most other races! What is clear is that being 'Jewish', being the children of faithful Abraham, is a matter of faith and spiritual culture rather than genetics or blood ethnicity. That's why modern Israel includes black Africans, Chinese, Filipinos, Americans, pale skinned, blonde, blue eyed Scandinavians... all wearing skull caps and claiming to be Jews. That simple fact shows that the Jews simply aren't ethnically pure, and to claim that all those nations of origin are somehow legitimately 'Israelite' is therefore a genetical and ethnological fallacy.
It follows from all this that God counts people as His Israel on bases other than genetic purity. At the time of the exile, the few Jews left in the land complained that because Abraham had posession of the land, therefore they too should have such possession (Ez. 33:23,24)- and God said that this was wrong reasoning. They did not follow the steps of their father Abraham, therefore they could not claim to be His seed. The New Testament comment that "they are not all Israel who are of Israel" (Rom. 9:6) was true in Old Testament times too. This theme of being counted as Israel without being genetically pure is witnessed many times in the genealogies of 1 Chron. 1-9. The context of those records was perhaps to comfort the returned exiles who couldn't prove their ancestry- they were still "Israel" even if there had been inter-marriage in Babylon. And there are other examples of this kind of thing. Take Caleb as an example. He was a Gentile (Num. 32:13; Josh. 15:17; Jud. 1:13; Gen. 36:11); and yet in Num. 13:6; 34:19 his descendants are incorporated into the tribe of Judah. Or reflect upon Samuel, an Ephraimite (1 Sam. 1:1), counted as a Levite (1 Chron. 6:16-28). Indeed it would appear that 'genealogies' in the Bible very often reflect themes of associations rather than being literal accounts of blood descent.
The fact many Jewish rabbis assume Jewish genetic roots are pure doesn't mean that they are. An often quoted Rabbinic maxim is that "When the Holy One, blessed be He, causes His Shekinah to rest, it is only upon the families of pure birth in Israel" (1). Yet the Hebrew scriptures are clear enough that no Israelite is "of pure birth". Frequently the Mishnah and later Rabbinic writings have warned against marriage of Jews to non-Jews, lest ethnic and genetic purity be lost. Yet the fact is, Jews have already intermarried hopelessly. The Biblical warnings against marriage out of the faith are in order that the Jew would not go and serve other gods- there is no interest in preserving cultural or genetic purity. And our own position against Christians marrying unbelievers should be likewise motivated.
(1) As quoted and referenced in Marshall Johnson, The Purpose Of The Biblical Genealogies (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2002) p. 87.