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Bani-Israelite Theory of Paktoons Ethnic Origin


The Bani-Israelite theory about the origin of Pakhtoon is solely based on Pakhtoon traditions and there probably is no foreign source to affirm or substantiate this theory. The tradition itself goes to a source titled "Makhzan-i-Afghani" written, about A.D. 1612, by Nematullah Harvi, a scribe at the court of Mughal Emperor Jehangir of Hindustan. Nematullah compiled the book upon the instruction from Khan Jehan Lodhi, a Pakhtoon noble and a courtier of the Emperor Jehangir.

Here, it will be worthwhile to mention the historical background that lead to the compilation of "Makhzan-i-Afghani" and consequently to the emergence and evolution of this theory.

Bani-Israelite Theory in Historical Context:

As usual with all ancient and medireview ethnographies, the Bani-Israelite Theory of Pakhtoon Origin evolved out of myth, a quest for vainglory, and an atmosphere of asserting political justification through racial supremacy. The theory most probably is a direct result of the power-struggle between Mughals and Pakhtoons, which eventually took the form of a cultural confrontation.

Prior to Mughals, the Pakhtoon dynasty, Lodhi, was ruling the Hind. In A.D. 1526, Babar defeated Ibrahim Lodhi, the last king of the Lodhi dynasty with the help of Daulat Khan, Governor of Punjab, who himself was a Lodhi but had turned against Ibrahim Lodhi because of a political dispute. Babar thus established himself as the ruler of Hind by seizing power from Pakhtoons and this sowed the seed of a long political rivalry between Mughals and Pakhtoons. Mughals, though, put an end to Pakhtoon rule in Northern India but couldn't uproot Pakhtoons from Southern India where they regrouped under the able leadership of Sher Shah Suri and overthrew Hamayun, son of Babar. Hamayun took asylum in Iran and remained there until the reign of Islam Shah Suri, son of Sher Shah, about A.D. 1554 when he returned Hind and restored Mughal rule with the help of Iranis. The relations between Mughals and Pakhtoons thus further soared, turning into a bitter animosity. Moreover, Pakhtoons were very well entrenched in Bihar, Dhakan, and Bangal making it an arduous task for the successors of Humayun to extend their rule to Southern Hindustan. Many heavy battles were fought between Mughals and Pakhtoons in Southern Hindustan which rather more severed the already soar relations between Mughals and Pakhtoons.

Besides the clash in Hindustan, Pakhtoons home back carried an incessant struggle against Mughal rule first through Roshnaia Movement and then through nationalist movement of Khushal Khan Khattak. The Pakhtoons urge for political sovereignty from Mughals was so strong that they didn't let Mughals establish their writ over Pakhtoon heartland by destroying Mughal armies whenever they ventured deep into Pakhtoon areas. After the death of Aurangzeb Alamgir, Mughal rule weakened considerably making possible for many powerful Pakhtoon principalities like Rohailkand, Najibabad, Bhopal etc. to re-emerge and assert political independence. Had the technologically superior British not arrived, Pakhtoons probably would have wielded a lot of influence in post-Mughal Hindustan.

The above elaboration shows how severe was the mutual hostility of Pakhtoons and Mughals. Pakhtoons had played very significant military and political role in pre-Mughal Muslim Hindustan but Mughals, after grabbing power from Pakhtoons, turned hell bent to erode Pakhtoon influence from Hindustan. So much so that during the entire Mughal era only a few Pakhtoons could ascend to position of influence in the ruling hierarchy of the Mughal Empire. Almost all the nobility of the Mughal Empire in Hindustan comprised of Mughals, Sayeds, and Iranians. Pakhtoons weren't given military and political role for fear that they may stage a comeback. The only Pakhtoon that could rose to a position of any note during earlier phases of Mughal rule was Khan Jehan Lodhi, who too could get his reward only because his grand father, Daulat Khan Lodhi. The later had helped Babar seize power from Ibrahim Lodhi and so was politically reliable.

In consonance with political hostility between Mughals and Pakhtoons, there also existed a deep cultural bias between the two rivals. The two sides didn't spare any opportunity of letting each other down, so more true of Mughals. The story goes, and it also has been recorded in "Makhzan-i-Afghani", that one day Khan Jehan Lodhi was attending the court of the Mughal Emperor Jehangir, when an Iranian emissary passed a very derogatory remark about the origin of Pakhtoons to appease Jehangir. Hurt by the remark, Khan Jehan was prompted to have Pakhtoon history compiled by his subordinates, Haibat Khan Kakar, Hamza Khan Tokhi, Zarif Khan Yousafzai, and Nematullah Harvi. As Mughals, the rivals of Pakhtoons, were claiming racial supremacy through descend from "Yafs" son of "Noah", the compilers of Makhzan strove to prove Pakhtoons Israelites for ethnic superiority over Mughals and so came up with Makhzan-i-Afghani. Later Pakhtoon historiographers quoted heavily from Makhzan-i-Afghani because of its being the only written source about the origin of Pakhtoons.

Thus the Israelitish theory of Pakhtoon origin not only was accentuated but also turned into a tradition. The theory was current till the beginning of the 20th century when it came under severe criticism from scholars for a number of reasons; mainly for its contradictions with Hebrew Scriptures, its historical inconsistencies, and the linguistic characteristics of Pashtu that classify it an Aryan Language instead of Semitic. The Bani-Israelite theory, and correspondingly Makhzan-i-Afghani, have degraded to a fairy-tale in their worth as a plausible interpretation of Pakhtoon origin as a result of the research of the 20th century. Makhzan-i-Afghani, however, has retained its significance as a good source of information about the genealogical and tribal constitution of Pakhtoon society.

Political Dimension of Bani-Israelite Theory:

Interestingly, in its own time, the authenticity of Makhzan-i-Afghani had been questioned by the people now projecting it as a propaganda tool because it gave Pakhtoons a superior status by declaring them as the descendents of prophets. Pakistani government helped propagate it to emphasize Pakhtoons as a people of faith and so to help strengthen Pakhtoons bond with Islamic ideology of Pakistan vis-a-vis the infidel India. Now that the Bani-Israelite theory about Pakhtoon origin has been scientifically proved untenable, people initially objecting to it have reverted to the opposite viewpoint of its being authentic for political motives to dub Pakhtoons a sort of foreigners in their historical land.

Inconsistencies of Bani-Israelite Theory rendered By Makhzan:

Makhzan traces Pakhtoon's origin from the super-Patriach Abraham down to one named King Talut or King Saul. The description of Makhzan to this point agrees to a certain degree to the testimony provided by Muslim sources or Hebrew Scriptures, which affirm the existence of King Saul around B.C. 1092 in Palestine. It is actually beyond this point that the authenticity of the description comes under serious doubt.

Makhzan-i-Afgani further maintains that Saul had a son Irmia(Jeremia) who again had a son called Afghana raised by King David upon the death of King Saul and later promoted to the chief command of the Army during the reign of King Solomon. Fortunately or unfortunately, there is no evidence to the existence of characters like Irmia or Afghana in Herbew Scriptures or to the events associated with these characters.

The description then makes a sudden jump to 6th century B.C. when Bakhtunnasar or Nebuchadnezzar king of Babul attacked Judah and exiled Bani-Israel, the progeny of Afghana, to Ghor in Afghanistan. Here arises a great contradiction with what the Herbew Scriptures state. According to Scriptures, Nebuchadnezzar brought Jews in captivity to Babul where they remained till Cyrus, the King of Persia from B.C. 550 to B.C. 529, attacked Babul, freed Jews of captivity, and allowed them to return to Jerusalem. Herbew Scriptures praise Cyrus greatly for this favor.
So, Cyrus didn't send the Jews captives to Ghor but rather to Jeruslem.

There is one other inconsistency here and that is the failure of Makhzan-i-Afghani to differentiate between Judah and Bani-Israel. This inconsistency has crept in because Makhzan has copied the tale of Jewish captivity from Muslim sources and Muslim sources weren't well acquainted with Jewish history. In fact, after Solomon, around B.C. 900, Jewish Kingdom had split into two states, one Samara controlled by two tribes of Judah and the other Jeruslem ruled by ten tribes of Bani-Israel. Before the attack of Nebuchadnezzar on Judah, the Assyrian king Shalmaneser had raided the Bani-Israelites state in B.C. 721 and sent the ten Bani-Israelite tribes in exile to Media, the North-Western part of today's Iran. It is these ten tribes which the Herbew historians have mentioned to have been lost and not the two tribes of Judah exiled by Nebuchadnezzar to Babul around B.C. 580 but allowed by Cyrus to return to Jeruslem. The Persian Empire didn't exist at the time of first Jewish captivity(B.C. 721) and had been founded later by Cyrus in B.C. 550. Plausibly the ten exiled tribes mingled with the local population of Media or dispersed over to Russia and Eastern Europe. Whatever, these contradictions cost serious doubts on the Makhzan account of Jewish captivity and so undermines its authenticity.

There are numerous other inconsistencies in Makhzan. For example its account of the conversion of the Pakhtoons to Islam in entirety under the spiritual guidance of the mythical character Qais-Abdul-Rashid who, as Makhzan informs, paid pilgrimage to Madina, embraced Islam at the hands of the Prophet(PBUH) himself and then returned to Ghor to have the whole of Pakhtoon people converted to Islam is neither testified by Islamic tradition nor history. Rather, historians have recorded the existence of infidel Pakhtoons at a period as later as 11th century A.D. Moreover, Makhzan states Khalid bin Walid to be a kinsman of Pakhtoons who sent Pakhtoons, in waiting for the new prophet to appear, about the advent of Islam. There is no reference to this fact in any source whether Islamic or Arab. Historians rather have stated Khalid bin Walid to be a respectable member of the Kuresh tribe.

Refutation by Linguistic Research:

Linguistic research also has established Pashtu to be an Aryan language of the Iranian sub-group of Indo-Iranian branch of Aryan languages. According to linguistic classification of Aryan languages, other member of Iranian sub-group is Persian which is derived from Pehlavi. Pashtu itself is derived from Avesta, the ancient language of Northern Afghanistan, though it also has borrowed from Vedic languages[Sanskrit, Urdu, etc.] due to Pakhtoons proximity with Hind.


Seeing the circumstances, which caused the emergence of this theory, its inconsistencies, and the evidences of recent research, this theory seems least plausible. However, as a tool for political and cultural propaganda against Pakhtoons, this theory still holds much worth for vested quarters.
The most prevalent and credible theory about the origin of Pakhtoons at present is that they are pre-dominantly Aryans, of Saka-Parthians stock, but having amalgamated a number of other races in their ethnic mold. This also is apparent from their physiognomy, which exhibits a lot of physical diversity. Pakhtoons are the ancient inhabitants of Afghanistan to whose presence the Greek historians also have referred to in their histographies. Genetically, they are classed as Caucasians of Nort-East Mediterranean type though further investigation in this respect needs to be done.

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