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Appendixes and bibliography for The 13th Tribe

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The Thirteenth Tribe

Arthur Koestler




THE spelling in this book is consistently inconsistent. It is consistent in so far as, where I have quoted other authors, I have preserved their own spelling of proper names (what else can you do?); this led to the apparent inconsistency that the same person, town or tribe is often spelt differently in different passages. Hence Kazar, Khazar, Chazar, Chozar, Chozr, etc.; but also Ibn Fadlan and ibn-Fadlan; Al Masudi and al-Masudi. As for my own text, I have adopted that particular spelling which seemed to me the least bewildering to English-speaking readers who do not happen to be professional orientalists.

T. E. Lawrence was a brilliant orientalist, but he was as ruthless in his spelling as he was in raiding Turkish garrisons. His brother, A. W. Lawrence, explained in his preface to Seven Pillars of Wisdom:

The spelling of Arabic names varies greatly in all editions, and I have made no alterations. It should be explained that only three vowels are recognized in Arabic, and that some of the consonants have no equivalents in English. The general practice of orientalists in recent years has been to adopt one of the various sets of conventional signs for the letters and vowel marks of the Arabic alphabet, transliterating Mohamed as Muhammad, muezzin as mu’edhdhin, and Koran as Qur’an or Kur’an. This method is useful to those who know what it means but this book follows the old fashion of writing the best phonetic approximations according to ordinary English spelling.

He then prints a list of publisher’s queries re spelling, and T. F. Lawrence’s answers; for instance:

Query: “Slip [galley sheet] 20. Nuri, Emir of the Ruwalla, belongs to the ‘chief family of the Rualla’. On Slip 23 ‘Rualla horse’, and Slip 38, ‘killed one Rueli’. In all later slips ‘Rualla’.”

Answer: “should have also used Ruwala and Ruala.”

Query: “Slip 47. Jedha, the she-camel, was Jedhah on Slip 40.”

Answer: “she was a splendid beast.”

Query: “Slip 78. Sherif Abd el Mayin of Slip 68 becomes el Main, el Mayein, el Muein, el Mayin, and el Muyein.”

Answer: “Good egg. I call this really ingenious.”

If such are the difficulties of transcribing modern Arabic, confusion becomes worse confounded when orientalists turn to mediaeval texts, which pose additional problems owing to mutilations by careless copyists. The first English translation of “Ebn Haukal” (or ibn-Hawkal) was published AD 1800 by Sir William Ouseley, Knt. LL.D.[§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§] In his preface, Sir William, an eminent orientalist, uttered this touching cri de cœur:

Of the difficulties arising from an irregular combination of letters, the confusion of one word with another, and the total omission, in some lines, of the diacritical points, I should not complain, because habit and persevering attention have enabled me to surmount them in passages of general description, or sentences of common construction; but in the names of persons or of places never before seen or heard of, and which the context could not assist in deciphering, when the diacritical points were omitted, conjecture alone could supply them, or collation with a more perfect manuscript.…

Notwithstanding what I have just said, and although the most learned writers on Hebrew, Arabick, and Persian Literature, have made observations on the same subject, it may perhaps, be necessary to demonstrate, by a particular example, the extraordinary influence of those diacritical points [frequently omitted by copyists].

One example will suffice — Let us suppose the three letters forming the name Tibbet to be divested of their diacritical points. The first character may be rendered, by the application of one point above, an N; of two points a T, of three points a TH or S; if one point is placed under, it becomes a B — if two points, a Y and if three points, a P. In like manner the second character may be affected, and the third character may be, according to the addition of points, rendered a B, P, T, and TH, or S.[**********************]




OUR knowledge of Khazar history is mainly derived from Arab, Byzantine, Russian and Hebrew sources, with corroborative evidence of Persian, Syriac, Armenian, Georgian and Turkish origin. I shall comment only on some of the major sources.

1. Arabic

The early Arabic historians differ from all others in the unique form of their compositions. Each event is related in the words of eye-witnesses or contemporaries, transmitted to the final narrator through a chain of intermediate reporters, each of whom passed on the original report to his successor. Often the same account is given in two or more slightly divergent forms, which have come down through different chains of reporters. Often, too, one event or one important detail is told in several ways on the basis of several contemporary statements transmitted to the final narrator through distinct lines of tradition.… The principle still is that what has been well said once need not be told again in other words. The writer, therefore, keeps as close as he can to the letter of his sources, so that quite a late writer often reproduces the very words of the first narrator.…

Thus the two classic authorities in the field, H. A. R. Gibb and M.J. de Goeje, in their joint article on Arab historiography in earlier editions of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.[254] It explains the excruciating difficulties in tracing an original source which as often as not is lost — through the successive versions of later historians, compilers and plagiarists. It makes it frequently impossible to put a date on an episode or a description of the state of affairs in a given country; and the uncertainty of dating may range over a whole century in passages where the author gives an account in the present tense without a clear indication that he is quoting some source in the distant past. Add to this the difficulties of identifying persons, tribes and places, owing to the confusion over spelling, plus the vagaries of copyists, and the result is a jigsaw puzzle with half the pieces missing, others of extraneous origin thrown in, and only the bare outlines of the picture discernible.

The principal Arabic accounts of Khazaria, most frequently quoted in these pages, are by Ibn Fadlan, al-Istakhri, Ibn Hawkal and al-Masudi. But only a few of them can be called “primary” sources, such as Ibn Fadlan who speaks from first-hand experience. Ibn Hawkal’s account, for instance, written circa 977, is based almost entirely on Istakhri’s, written around 932; which in turn is supposed to be based on a lost work by the geographer el-Balkhi, who wrote around 921.

About the lives of these scholars, and the quality of their scholarship we know very little. Ibn Fadlan, the diplomat and astute observer, is the one who stands out most vividly. Nevertheless, as we move along the chain through the tenth century, we can observe successive stages in the evolution of the young science of historiography. El-Balkhi, the first in the chain, marks the beginning of the classical school of Arab Geography, in which the main emphasis is on maps, while the descriptive text is of secondary importance. Istakhri shows a marked improvement with a shift of emphasis from maps to text. (About his life nothing is known; and what survives of his writings is apparently only a synopsis of a larger work.) With Ibn Hawkal (about whom we only know that he was a travelling merchant and missionary) a decisive advance is reached: the text is no longer a commentary on the maps (as in Balkhi, and still partly in Istakhri), but becomes a narrative in its own right.

Lastly with Yakut (1179-1229) we reach, two centuries later, the age of the compilers and encyclopaedists. About him we know at least that he was born in Greece, and sold as a boy on the slave market in Baghdad to a merchant who treated him kindly and used him as a kind of commercial traveller. After his manumission he became an itinerant bookseller and eventually settled in Mossul, where he wrote his great encyclopaedia of geography and history. This important work includes both Istakhri’s and Ibn Fadlan’s account of the Khazars. But, alas, Yakut mistakenly attributes Istakhri’s narrative also to Ibn Fadlan. As the two narratives differ on important points, their attribution to the same author produced various absurdities, with the result that Ibn Fadlan became somewhat discredited in the eyes of modern historians.

But events took a different turn with the discovery of the full text of Ibn Fadlan’s report on an ancient manuscript in Meshhed, Persia. The discovery, which created a sensation among orientalists, was made in 1923 by Dr Zeki Validi Togan (about whom more below). It not only confirmed the authenticity of the sections of Ibn Fadlan’s report on the Khazars quoted by Yakut, but also contained passages omitted by Yakut which were thus previously unknown. Moreover, after the confusion created by Yakut, Ibn Fadlan and Istakhri/Ibn Hawkal were now recognized as independent sources which mutually corroborated each other.

The same corroborative value attaches to the reports of Ibn Rusta, al-Bekri or Gardezi, which I had little occasion to quote precisely because their contents are essentially similar to the main sources.

Another, apparently independent source was al-Masudi (died circa 956), known as “the Arab Herodotus”. He was a restless traveller, of insatiable curiosity, but modern Arab historians seem to take a rather jaundiced view of him. Thus the Encyclopaedia of Islam says that his travels were motivated “by a strong desire for knowledge. But this was superficial and not deep. He never went into original sources but contented himself with superficial enquiries and accepted tales and legends without criticism.”

But this could just as well be said of other mediaeval historiographers, Christian or Arab.

2. Byzantine

Among Byzantine sources, by far the most valuable is Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus’s De Adnimistrando Imperio, written about 950. It is important not only because of the information it contains about the Khazars themselves (and particularly about their relationship with the Magyars), but because of the data it provides on the Rus and the people of the northern steppes.
Constantine (904-59) the scholar-emperor was a fascinating character — no wonder Arnold Toynbee confessed to have “lost his heart” to him[255] — a love-affair with the past that started in his undergraduate days. The eventual result was Toynbee’s monumental Constantine Porphyrogenitus and his World, published in 1973, when the author was eighty-four. As the title indicates, the emphasis is as much on Constantine’s personality and work as on the conditions of the world in which he — and the Khazars — lived.

Yet Toynbee’s admiration for Constantine did not make him overlook the Emperor’s limitations as a scholar: “The information assembled in the De Administrando Imperio has been gathered at different dates from different sources, and the product is not a book in which the materials have been digested and co-ordinated by an author; it is a collection of files which have been edited only perfunctorily.”[256] And later on: “De Administrando Imperio and De Caeromoniis, in the state in which Constantine bequeathed them to posterity, will strike most readers as being in lamentable confusion.”[257] (Constantine himself was touchingly convinced that De Caeromoniis was a “technical masterpiece” besides being “a monument of exact scholarship and a labour of love”[258].) Similar criticisms had been voiced earlier by Bury,[259] and by Macartney, trying to sort out Constantine’s contradictory statements about the Magyar migrations:

“…We shall do well to remember the composition of the De Administrando Imperio — a series of notes from the most various sources, often duplicating one another, often contradicting one another, and tacked together with the roughest of editing.”[260]

But we must beware of bathwaterism — throwing the baby away with the water, as scholarly critics are sometimes apt to do. Constantine was privileged as no other historian to explore the Imperial archives and to receive first-hand reports from his officials and envoys returning from missions abroad. When handled with caution, and in conjunction with other sources, De Administrando throws much valuable light on that dark period.

3. Russian

Apart from orally transmitted folklore, legends and songs (such as the “Lay of Igor’s Host”), the earliest written source in Russian is the Povezt Vremennikh Let, literally “Tale of Bygone Years”, variously referred to by different authors as The Russian Primary Chronicle, The Old Russian Chronicle, The Russian Chronicle, Pseudo-Nestor, or The Book of Annals. It is a compilation, made in the first half of the twelfth century, of the edited versions of earlier chronicles dating back to the beginning of the eleventh, but incorporating even earlier traditions and records. It may therefore, as Vernadsky[261] says, “contain fragments of authentic information even with regard to the period from the seventh to the tenth century” — a period vital to Khazar history. The principal compiler and editor of the work was probably the learned monk Nestor (b. 1056) in the Monastery of the Crypt in Kiev, though this is a matter of controversy among experts (hence “Pesudo-Nestor”). Questions of authorship apart, the Povezt is an invaluable (though not infallible) guide for the period that it covers. Unfortunately, it stops with the year 1112, just at the beginning of the Khazars’ mysterious vanishing act.

The mediaeval Hebrew sources on Khazaria will be discussed in Appendix III.


It would be presumptuous to comment on the modern historians of repute quoted in these pages, such as Toynbee or Bury, Vernadsky, Baron, Macartney, etc. — who have written on some aspect of Khazar history. The following remarks are confmed to those authors whose writings are of central importance to the problem, but who are known only to a specially interested part of the public.

Foremost among these are the late Professor Paul F. Kahle, and his former pupil, Douglas Morton Dunlop, at the time of writing Professor of Middle Eastern History at Columbia University.

Paul Eric Kahle (1875-1965) was one of Europe’s leading orientalists and masoretic scholars. He was born in East Prussia, was ordained a Lutheran Minister, and spent six years as a Pastor in Cairo. He subsequently taught at various German universities and in 1923 became Director of the famous Oriental Seminar in the University of Bonn, an international centre of study which attracted orientalists from all over the world. “There can be no doubt”, Kahle wrote,[262] “that the international character of the Seminar, its staff, its students and its visitors, was the best protection against Nazi influence and enabled us to go on with our work undisturbed during nearly six years of Nazi regime in Germany.… I was for years the only Professor in Germany who had a Jew, a Polish Rabbi, as assistant.”

No wonder that, in spite of his impeccable Aryan descent, Kahle was finally forced to emigrate in 1938. He settled in Oxford, where he received two additional doctorates (in philosophy and theology). In 1963 he returned to his beloved Bonn, where he died in 1965. The British Museum catalogue has twenty-seven titles to his credit, among them The Cairo Geniza and Studies of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Among Kahle’s students before the war in Bonn was the young orientalist D. M. Dunlop.

Kahle was deeply interested in Khazar history. When the Belgian historian Professor Henri Grégoire published an article in 1937 questioning the authenticity of the “Khazar Correspondence”,[263] Kahle took him to task: “I indicated to Grégoire a number of points in which he could not be right, and I had the chance of discussing all the problems with him when he visited me in Bonn in December 1937. We decided to make a great joint publication — but political developments made the plan impracticable. So I proposed to a former Bonn pupil of mine, D. M. Dunlop, that he should take over the work instead. He was a scholar able to deal both with Hebrew and Arabic sources, knew many other languages and had the critical training for so difficult a task.”[264] The result of this scholarly transaction was Dunlop’s The History of the Jewish Khazars, published in 1954 by the Princeton University Press. Apart from being an invaluable sourcebook on Khazar history, it provides new evidence for the authenticity of the Correspondence (see Appendix III), which Kahle fully endorsed.[265] Incidentally, Professor Dunlop, born in 1909, is the son of a Scottish divine, and his hobbies are listed in Who’s Who as “hill-walking and Scottish history”. Thus the two principal apologists of Khazar Judaism in our times were good Protestants with an ecclesiastic, Nordic background.

Another pupil of Kahle’s with a totally different background, was Ahmed Zeki Validi Togan, the discoverer of the Meshhed manuscript of Ibn Fadlan’s journey around Khazaria. To do justice to this picturesque character, I can do no better than to quote from Kahle’s memoirs:[266]

Several very prominent Orientals belonged to the staff of the [Bonn] Seminar. Among them I may mention Dr Zeki Validi, a special protégé of Sir Aurel Stein, a Bashkir who had made his studies at Kazan University, and already before the first War had been engaged in research work at the Petersburg Academy. During the War and after he had been active as leader of the Bashkir-Armee [allied to the Bolshevists], which had been largely created by him. He had been a member of the Russian Duma, and had belonged for some time to the Committee of Six, among whom there were Lenin, Stalin and Trotzki. Later he came into conflict with the Bolshevists and escaped to Persia. As an expert on Turkish — Bashkirian being a Turkish language — he became in 1924 adviser to Mustafa Kemal’s Ministry of Education in Ankara, and later Professor of Turkish in Stambul University. After seven years, when asked, with the other Professors in Stambul, to teach that all civilisation in the world comes from the Turks, he resigned, went to Vienna and studied Mediaeval History under Professor Dopsch. After two years he got his doctor degree with an excellent thesis on Ibn Fadlan’s journey to the Northern Bulgars, Turks and Khazars, the Arabic text of which he had discovered in a MS. in Meshhed. I later published his book in the “Abhandlungen für die Kunde des Morgenlandes”. From Vienna I engaged him as Lecturer and later Honorar Professor for Bonn. He was a real scholar, a man of wide knowledge, always ready to learn, and collaboration with him was very fruitful. In 1938 he went back to Turkey and again became Professor of Turkish in Stambul University.

Yet another impressive figure in a different way, was Hugo Freiherr von Kutschera (1847-1910), one of the early propounders of the theory of the Khazar origin of Eastern Jewry. The son of a high-ranking Austrian civil servant, he was destined to a diplomatic career, and studied at the Oriental Academy in Vienna, where he became an expert linguist, mastering Turkish, Arabic, Persian and other Eastern languages. After serving as an attaché at the Austro-Hungarian Embassy in Constantinople, he became in 1882 Director of Administration in Sarajevo of the provinces of Bosnia-Hercegovina, recently occupied by Austro-Hungary. His familiarity with oriental ways of life made him a popular figure among the Muslims of Bosnia and contributed to the (relative) pacification of the province. He was rewarded with the title of Freiherr (Baron) and various other honours.

After his retirement, in 1909, he devoted his days to his lifelong hobby, the connection between European Jewry and the Khazars. Already as a young man he had been struck by the contrast between Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jews in Turkey and in the Balkans; his study of the ancient sources on the history of the Khazars led to a growing conviction that they provided at least a partial answer to the problem. He was an amateur historian (though a quasi-professional linguist), but his erudition was remarkable; there is hardly an Arabic source, known before 1910, missing from his book. Unfortunately he died before he had time to provide the bibliography and references to it; Die Chasaren — Historische Studie was published posthumously in 1910. Although it soon went into a second edition, it is rarely mentioned by historians.

Abraham N. Poliak was born in 1910 in Kiev; he came with his family to Palestine in 1923. He occupied the Chair of Mediaeval Jewish History at Tel Aviv University and is the author of numerous books in Hebrew, among them a History of the Arabs; Feudalism in Egypt 1250-1900; Geopolitics of Israel and the Middle East, etc. His essay on “The Khazar Conversion to Judaism” appeared in 1941 in the Hebrew periodical Zion and led to lively controversies; his book Khazaria even more so. It was published in 1944 in Tel Aviv (in Hebrew) and was received with — perhaps understandable — hostility, as an attempt to undermine the sacred tradition concerning the descent of modern Jewry from the Biblical Tribe. His theory is not mentioned in the Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971-2 printing.

Mathias Mieses, however, whose views on the origin of Eastern Jewry and the Yiddish language I have quoted, is held in high academic esteem. Born 1885 in Galicia, he studied linguistics and became a pioneer of Yiddish philology (though he wrote mostly in German, Polish and Hebrew). He was an outstanding figure at the First Conference on the Yiddish Language, Czernovitz, 1908, and his two books: Die Entstehungsursache der jüdischen Dialekte (1924) and Die Jiddische Sprache (1924) are considered as classics in their field.

Mieses spent his last years in Cracow, was deported in 1944 with destination Auschwitz, and died on the journey.





THE exchange of letters between the Spanish statesman Hasdai ibn Shaprut and King Joseph of Khazaria has for a long time fascinated historians. It is true that, as Dunlop wrote, “the importance of the Khazar Correspondence can be exaggerated. By this time it is possible to reconstruct Khazar history in some detail without recourse to the letters of Hasdai and Joseph.”[267] Nevertheless, the reader may be interested in a brief outline of what is known of the history of these documents.

Hasdai’s Letter was apparently written between 954 and 961, for the embassy from Eastern Europe that he mentions (Chapter III,3-4) is believed to have visited Cordoba in 954, and Caliph Abd-al-Rahman, whom he mentions as his sovereign, ruled till 961. That the Letter was actually penned by Hasdai’s secretary, Menahem ben-Sharuk — whose name appears in the acrostic after Hasdai’s — has been established by Landau,[268] through comparison with Menahem’s other surviving work. Thus the authenticity of Hasdai’s Letter is no longer in dispute, while the evidence concerning Joseph’s Reply is necessarily more indirect and complex.

The earliest known mentions of the Correspondence date from the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Around the year 1100 Rabbi Jehudah ben Barzillai of Barcelona wrote in Hebrew his “Book of the Festivals” — Sefer ha-Ittim — which contains a long reference, including direct quotations, to Joseph’s Reply to Hasdai. The passage in question in Barzillai’s work starts as follows:

We have seen among some other manuscripts the copy of a letter which King Joseph, son of Aaron, the Khazar priest wrote to R. Hasdai bar Isaac.[††††††††††††††††††††††] We do not know if the letter is genuine or not, and ifit is a fact that the Khazars, who are Turks, became proselytes. It is not definite whether all that is written in the letter is fact and truth or not. There may be falsehoods written in it, or people may have added to it, or there may be error on the part of the scribe.… The reason why we need to write in this our book things which seem to be exaggerated is that we have found in the letter of this king Joseph to R. Hasdai that R. Hasdai had asked him of what family he was, the condition of the king, how his fathers had been gathered under the wings of the Presence [i.e., become converted to Judaism] and how great were his kingdom and dominion. He replied to him on every head, writing all the particulars in the letter.[269]

Barzillai goes on to quote or paraphrase further passages from Joseph’s Reply, thus leaving no doubt that the Reply was already in existence as early as AD 1100. A particularly convincing touch is added by the Rabbi’s scholarly scepticism. Living in provincial Barcelona, he evidently knew little or nothing about the Khazars.

About the time when Rabbi Barzillai wrote, the Arab chronicler, Ibn Hawkal, also heard some rumours about Hasdai’s involvement with the Khazars. There survives an enigmatic note, which Ibn Hawkal jotted down on a manuscript map, dated AH 479 — AD 1086. It says:

Hasdai ibn-Ishaq[‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡] thinks that this great long mountain [the Caucasus] is connected with the mountains of Armenia and traverses the country of the Greeks, extending to Khazaran and the mountains of Armenia. He was well informed about these parts because he visited them and met their principal kings and leading men.[270]

It seems most unlikely that Hasdai actually visited Khazaria; but we remember that he offered to do so in his Letter, and that Joseph enthusiastically welcomed the prospect in the Reply; perhaps the industrious Hawkal heard some gossip about the Correspondence and extrapolated from there, a practice not unfamiliar among the chroniclers of the time.

Some fifty years later (AD 1140) Jehudah Halevi wrote his philosophical tract “The Khazars” (Kuzri). As already said, it contains little factual information, but his account of the Khazar conversion to Judaism agrees in broad outlines with that given by Joseph in the Reply. Halevi does not explicitly refer to the Correspondence, but his book is mainly concerned with theology, disregarding any historical or factual references. He had probably read a transcript of the Correspondence as the less erudite Barzillai had before him, but the evidence is inconclusive.

It is entirely conclusive, however, in the case of Abraham ben Daud (cf. above, II, 8) whose popular Sefer ha-Kabbalah, written in 1161, contains the following passage:

You will find congregations of Israel spread abroad from the town of Sala at the extremity of the Maghrib, as far as Tahart at its commencement, the extremity of Africa [Ifriqiyah, Tunis], in all Africa, Egypt, the country of the Sabaeans, Arabia, Babylonia, Elam, Persia, Dedan, the country of the Girgashites which is called Jurjan, Tabaristan, as far as Daylam and the river Itil where live the Khazar peoples who became proselytes. Their king Joseph sent a letter to R. Hasdai, the Prince bar Isaac ben-Shaprut and informed him that he and all his people followed the Rabbanite faith. We have seen in Toledo some of their descendants, pupils of the wise, and they told us that the remnant of them followed the Rabbanite faith.[271]


The first printed version of the Khazar Correspondence is contained in a Hebrew pamphlet, Kol Mebasser, “Voice of the Messenger of Good News”.[§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§] It was published in Constantinople in or around 1577 by Isaac Abraham Akrish. In his preface Akrish relates that during his travels in Egypt fifteen years earlier he had heard rumours of an independent Jewish kingdom (these rumours probably referred to the Falashas of Abyssinia); and that subsequently he obtained “a letter which was sent to the king of the Khazars, and the king’s reply”. He then decided to publish this correspondence in order to raise the spirits of his fellow Jews. Whether or not he thought that Khazaria still existed is not clear. At any rate the preface is followed by the text of the two letters, without further comment.

But the Correspondence did not remain buried in Akrish’s obscure little pamphlet. Some sixty years after its publication, a copy of it was sent by a friend to Johannes Buxtorf the Younger, a Calvinist scholar of great erudition. Buxtorf was an expert Hebraist, who published a great amount of studies in biblical exegesis and rabbinical literature. When he read Akrish’s pamphlet, he was at first as sceptical regarding the authenticity of the Correspondence as Rabbi Barzillai had been five hundred years before him. But in 1660 Buxtorf finally printed the text of both letters in Hebrew and in a Latin translation as an addendum to Jehudah Halevi’s book on the Khazars. It was perhaps an obvious, but not a happy idea, for the inclusion, within the same covers, of Halevi’s legendary tale hardly predisposed historians to take the Correspondence seriously. It was only in the nineteenth century that their attitude changed, when more became known, from independent sources, about the Khazars.


The only manuscript version which contains both Hasdai’s Letter and Joseph’s Reply, is in the library of Christ Church in Oxford. According to Dunlop and the Russian expert, Kokovtsov,[272] the manuscript “presents a remarkably close similarity to the printed text” and “served directly or indirectly as a source of the printed text”.[273] It probably dates from the sixteenth century and is believed to have been in the possession of the Dean of Christ Church, John Fell (whom Thomas Brown immortalized with his “I do not love thee, Dr Fell…”).

Another manuscript containing Joseph’s Reply but not Hasdai’s Letter is preserved in the Leningrad Public Library. It is considerably longer than the printed text of Akrish and the Christ Church manuscript; accordingly it is generally known as the Long Version, as distinct from the Akrish-Christ Church “Short Version”, which appears to be an abbreviation of it. The Long Version is also considerably older; it probably dates from the thirteenth century, the Short Version from the sixteenth. The Soviet historian Ribakov[274] has plausibly suggested that the Long Version — or an even older text — had been edited and compressed by mediaeval Spanish copyists to produce the Short Version of Joseph’s Reply.

At this point we encounter a red herring across the ancient track. The Long Version is part of the so-called “Firkowich Collection” of Hebrew manuscripts and epitaphs in the Leningrad Public Library. It probably came from the Cairo Geniza, where a major part of the manuscripts in the Collection originated. Abraham Firkowich was a colourful nineteenth-century scholar who would deserve an Appendix all to himself. He was a great authority in his field, but he was also a Karaite zealot who wished to prove to the Tsarist government that the Karaites were different from orthodox Jews and should not be discriminated against by Christians. With this laudable purpose in mind, he doctored some of his authentic old manuscripts and epitaphs, by interpolating or adding a few words to give them a Karaite slant. Thus the Long Version, having passed through the hands of Firkowich, was greeted with a certain mistrust when it was found, after his death, in a bundle of other manuscripts in his collection by the Russian historian Harkavy. Harkavy had no illusions about Firkowich’s reliability, for he himself had previously denounced some of Firkowich’s spurious interpolations.[275] Yet Harkavy had no doubts regarding the antiquity of the manuscript; he published it in the original Hebrew in 1879 and also in Russian and German translation,[276] accepting it as an early version of Joseph’s letter, from which the Short Version was derived. Harkavy’s colleague (and rival) Chwolson concurred that the whole document was written by the same hand and that it contained no additions of any kind.[277] Lastly, in 1932, the Russian Academy published Paul Kokovtsov’s authoritative book, The Hebrew-Khazar Correspondence in the Tenth Century[278] including facsimiles of the Long Version of the Reply in the Leningrad Library, the Short Version in Christ Church and in Akrish’s pamphlet. After a critical analysis of the three texts, he came to the conclusion that both the Long and the Short Versions are based on the same original text, which is in general, though not always, more faithfully preserved in the Long Version.


Kokovtsov’s critical survey, and particularly his publication of the manuscript facsimiles, virtually settled the controversy — which, anyway, affected only the Long Version, but not Hasdai’s letter and the Short Version of the Reply.

Yet a voice of dissent was raised from an unexpected quarter. In 1941 Poliak advanced the theory that the Khazar Correspondence was, not exactly a forgery, but a fictional work written in the tenth century with the purpose of spreading information about, or making propaganda for, the Jewish kingdom.[279] (It could not have been written later than the eleventh century, for, as we have seen, Rabbi Barzillai read the Correspondence about 1100, and Ibn Daud quoted from it in 1161). But this theory, plausible at first glance, was effectively demolished by Landau and Dunlop. Landau was able to prove that Hasdai’s Letter was indeed written by his secretary Menahem ben-Sharuk. And Dunlop pointed out that in the Letter Hasdai asks a number of questions about Khazaria which Joseph fails to answer — which is certainly not the way to write an information pamphlet:

There is no answer forthcoming on the part of Joseph to enquiries as to his method of procession to his place of worship, and as to whether war abrogates the Sabbath.… There is a marked absence of correspondence between questions of the Letter and answers given in the Reply. This should probably be regarded as an indication that the documents are what they purport to be and not a literary invention.[280]

Dunlop goes on to ask a pertinent question:

Why the Letter of Hasdai at all, which, though considerably longer than the Reply of Joseph, has very little indeed about the Khazars, if the purpose of writing it and the Reply was, as Poliak supposes, simply to give a popular account of Khazaria? If the Letter is an introduction to the information about the Khazars in the Reply, it is certainly a very curious one — full of facts about Spain and the Umayyads which have nothing to do with Khazaria.[281]

Dunlop then clinches the argument by a linguistic test which proves conclusively that the Letter and the Reply were written by different people. The proof concerns one of the marked characteristics of Hebrew grammar, the use of the so-called “waw-conversive”, to define tense. I shall not attempt to explain this intricate grammatical quirk,[***********************] and shall instead simply quote Dunlop’s tabulation of the different methods used in the Letter and in the Long Version to designate past action:[282]


Waw Conversive

with Imperfect

Simple Waw

with Perfet

Hasdai’s Letter



Reply (Long Version)



In the Short Version of the Reply, the first method (Hasdai’s) is used thirty-seven times, the second fifty times. But the Short Version uses the first method mostly in passages where the wording differs from the Long Version. Dunlop suggests that this is due to later Spanish editors paraphrasing the Long Version. He also points out that Hasdai’s Letter, written in Moorish Spain, contains many Arabisms (for instance, al-Khazar for the Khazars), whereas the Reply has none. Lastly, concerning the general tenor of the Correspondence, he says:

…Nothing decisive appears to have been alleged against the factual contents of the Reply of Joseph in its more original form, the Long Version. The stylistic difference supports its authenticity. It is what might be expected in documents emanating from widely separated parts of the Jewish world, where also the level of culture was by no means the same. It is perhaps allowable here to record the impression, for what it is worth, that in general the language of the Reply is less artificial, more naive, than that of the Letter.[283]

To sum up, it is difficult to understand why past historians were so reluctant to believe that the Khazar Kagan was capable of dictating a letter, though it was known that he corresponded with the Byzantine Emperor (we remember the seals of three solidi); or that pious Jews in Spain and Egypt should have diligently copied and preserved a message from the only Jewish king since biblical times.




WHILE this book deals with past history, it unavoidably carries certain implications for the present and future.

In the first place, I am aware of the danger that it may be maliciously misinterpreted as a denial of the State of Israel’s right to exist. But that right is not based on the hypothetical origins of the Jewish people, nor on the mythological covenant of Abraham with God; it is based on international law — i.e., on the United Nations’ decision in 1947 to partition Palestine, once a Turkish province, then a British Mandated Territory, into an Arab and a Jewish State. Whatever the Israeli citizens’ racial origins, and whatever illusions they entertain about them, their State exists de jure and de facto, and cannot be undone, except by genocide. Without entering into controversial issues, one may add, as a matter of historical fact, that the partition of Palestine was the result of a century of peaceful Jewish immigration and pioneering effort, which provide the ethical justification for the State’s legal existence. Whether the chromosomes of its people contain genes of Khazar or Semitic, Roman or Spanish origin, is irrelevant, and cannot affect Israel’s right to exist — nor the moral obligation of any civilized person, Gentile or Jew, to defend that right. Even the geographical origin of the native Israeli’s parents or grandparents tends to be forgotten in the bubbling racial melting pot. The problem of the Khazar infusion a thousand years ago, however fascinating, is irrelevant to modern Israel.

The Jews who inhabit it, regardless of their chequered origins, possess the essential requirements of a nation: a country of their own, a common language, government and army. The Jews of the Diaspora have none of these requirements of nationhood. What sets them apart as a special category from the Gentiles amidst whom they live is their declared religion, whether they practise it or not. Here lies the basic difference between Israelis and Jews of the Diaspora. The former have acquired a national identity; the latter are labelled as Jews only by their religion — not by their nationality, not by their race.

This, however, creates a tragic paradox, because the Jewish religion — unlike Christianity, Buddhism or Islam — implies membership of a historical nation, a chosen race. All Jewish festivals commemorate events in national history: the exodus from Egypt, the Maccabean revolt, the death of the oppressor Haman, the destruction of the Temple. The Old Testament is first and foremost the narrative of a nation’s history; it gave monotheism to the world, yet its credo is tribal rather than universal. Every prayer and ritual observance proclaims membership of an ancient race, which automatically separates the Jew from the racial and historic past of the people in whose midst he lives. The Jewish faith, as shown by 2000 years of tragic history, is nationally and socially self-segregating. It sets the Jew apart and invites his being set apart. It automatically creates physical and cultural ghettoes. It transformed the Jews of the Diaspora into a pseudo-nation without any of the attributes and privileges of nationhood, held together loosely by a system of traditional beliefs based on racial and historical premisses which turn out to be illusory.

Orthodox Jewry is a vanishing minority. Its stronghold was Eastern Europe where the Nazi fury reached its peak and wiped them almost completely off the face of the earth. Its scattered survivors in the Western world no longer carry much influence, while the bulk of the orthodox communities of North Africa, the Yemen, Syria and Iraq emigrated to Israel. Thus orthodox Judaism in the Diaspora is dying out, and it is the vast majority of enlightened or agnostic Jews who perpetuate the paradox by loyally clinging to their pseudo-national status in the belief that it is their duty to preserve the Jewish tradition.

It is, however, not easy to define what the term “Jewish tradition” signifies in the eyes of this enlightened majority, who reject the Chosen-Race doctrine of orthodoxy. That doctrine apart, the universal messages of the Old Testament — the enthronement of the one and invisible God, the Ten Commandments, the ethos of the Hebrew prophets, the Proverbs and Psalms — have entered into the mainstream of the Judeo-Helenic-Christian tradition and become the common property of Jew and Gentile alike.

After the destruction of Jerusalem, the Jews ceased to have a language and secular culture of their own. Hebrew as a vernacular yielded to Aramaic before the beginning of the Christian era; the Jewish scholars and poets in Spain wrote in Arabic, others later in German, Polish, Russian, English and French. Certain Jewish communities developed dialects of their own, such as Yiddish and Ladino, but none of these produced works comparable to the impressive Jewish contribution to German, Austro-Hungarian or American literature.

The main, specifically Jewish literary activity of the Diaspora was theological. Yet Talmud, Kabbala, and the bulky tomes of biblical exegesis are practically unknown to the contemporary Jewish public, although they are, to repeat it once more, the only relics of a specifically Jewish tradition — if that term is to have a concrete meaning — during the last two millennia. In other words, whatever came out of the Diaspora is either not specifically Jewish, or not part of a living tradition. The philosophical, scientific and artistic achievements of individual Jews consist in contributions to the culture of their host nations; they do not represent a common cultural inheritance or autonomous body of traditions.

To sum up, the Jews of our day have no cultural tradition in common, merely certain habits and behaviour-patterns, derived by social inheritance from the traumatic experience of the ghetto, and from a religion which the majority does not practise or believe in, but which nevertheless confers on them a pseudo-national status. Obviously — as I have argued elsewhere[284] — the long-term solution of the paradox can only be emigration to Israel or gradual assimilation to their host nations. Before the holocaust, this process was in full swing; and in 1975 Time Magazine reported[285] that American Jews “tend to marry outside their faith at a high rate; almost one-third of all marriages are mixed”.

Nevertheless the lingering influence of Judaism’s racial and historical message, though based on illusion, acts as a powerful emotional break by appealing to tribal loyalty. It is in this context that the part played by the thirteenth tribe in ancestral history becomes relevant to the Jews of the Diaspora. Yet, as already said, it is irrelevant to modern Israel, which has acquired a genuine national identity. It is perhaps symbolic that Abraham Poliak, a professor of history at Tel Aviv University and no doubt an Israeli patriot, made a major contribution to our knowledge of Jewry’s Khazar ancestry, undermining the legend of the Chosen Race. It may also be significant that the native Israeli “Sabra” represents, physically and mentally, the complete opposite of the “typical Jew”, bred in the ghetto.



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[§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§] Ibn Hawkal wrote his book in Arabic, but Ouseley translated it from a Persian translation.

[**********************] The original of this quote is enlivened by letters in Persian script, which I have omitted in kindness to the publishers.

[††††††††††††††††††††††] Hasdai’s name in Hebrew was bar Isaac bar Shaprut. The R (for Rabbi) is a courtesy title.

[§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§] Two copies of the pamphlet belonging to two different editions are preserved in the Bodleian Library.

[***********************] The interested reader may consult Weingreen, J., A Practical Grammar for Classical Hebrew, 2nd ed, (Oxford, 1959).


Appendix II

[254] Vol. II p. 195, in the 1955 printing.

[255] Toynbee (1973), p. 24.

[256] Ibid., p. 465.

[257] Ibid., p. 602.

[258] Loc. cit.

[259] Byzantinische Zeitschrift XIV, pp. 511-70.

[260] Macartney, op. cit., p. 98.

[261] Vernadsky (1943), p. 178.

[262] Kahle, P. E. (1945).

[263] Grégoire, H. (1937), pp. 225-66.

[264] Kahle (1959), p. 33.

[265] Ibid.

[266] Kahle (1945), p. 28.

Appendix III

[267] Dunlop (1954), p. 125.

[268] Landau (1942).

[269] Following Kokovtsov’s test, quoted by Dunlop (1954), p. 132.

[270] Quoted by Dunlop (1954), p. 154.

[271] Quoted by Dunlop, p. 127.

[272] Kokovtsov, P. (1932).

[273] Dunlop (1954), p. 230.

[274] Quoted in Enc. Judaica, article on “The Khazar Correspondence”.

[275] Harkavy, A. E. (1877).

[276] Harkavy (1875).

[277] Chwolson, D. A. (1882).

[278] Kokovtsov, op. cit.

[279] Poliak (1941).

[280] Dunlop (1954), p. 143.

[281] Ibid., pp. 137-8.

[282] Ibid., p. 152.

[283] Ibid., p. 153.

Appendix IV

[284] Koestler (1955).

[285] March 10, 1975.