Ashkenaz is a term found in a number of contexts. It is found in the Hebrew Bible to refer to one of the descendants of Noah as well as to a reference to a kingdom of Ashkenaz. Other traditions have used the term to refer to various geographic areas as well as to names or genealogies of people. The association of the term by medieval Jewry with the geographical area centred on the Rhineland led to the Jewish culture that developed in that area to be called Ashkenazi, the only form that the term is still used today.
In the genealogies of the Hebrew Bible, Ashkenaz (Hebrew: אַשְׁכְּנַז ’Aškănaz) was a descendant of Noah. He was the first son of Gomer and brother of Riphath and Togarmah (Genesis 10:3, 1 Chronicles 1:6), with Gomer being the grandson of Noah through Japheth.
Other biblical references
- Set ye up a standard in the land, blow the trumpet among the nations, prepare the nations against her [ie. Babylon], call together against her the kingdoms of Ararat, Minni, and Ashchenaz; appoint a captain against her; cause the horses to come up as the rough caterpillars.
The location of this kingdom, however, is not clear and a kingdom by that name is not mentioned again, nor is there any clear non-biblical reference to the kingdom.
Ashkenaz is often identified with the Scythians and Sarmatians, due in part to the use of the name "Ashkuz" (Saka) for the Scythians in Assyrian Akkadian inscriptions. It may also refer to the Phrygians, who according to Homer's Iliad settled around Lake Ascania. The Assyrian Gimirri and Hebrew Gomer have likewise been associated with the Cimmerians.
According to the Encyclopaedia Biblica, "Ashkenaz must have been one of the migratory peoples which in the time of Esar-haddon, burst upon the northern provinces of Asia Minor, and upon Armenia. One branch of this great migration appears to have reached Lake Urumiyeh; for in the revolt which Esar-haddon chastised, the Mannai, who lived to the SW of that lake, sought the help of Ispakai 'of the land of Asguza,' a name (originally perhaps Asgunza) which the skepticism of Dillmann need not hinder us from identifying with Ashkenaz, and from considering as that of a horde from the north, of Indo-Germanic origin, which settled on the south of Lake Urumiyeh."
Medieval rabbinic Ashkenaz
In rabbinic literature, the kingdom of Ashkenaz was first associated with the Scythian region, then later with the Slavic territories, and, from the 11th century onwards, with northern Europe and Germany. The region of Ashkenaz was centred on the Rhineland and the Palatinate (notably Worms and Speyer), in what is now the westernmost part of Germany. Its geographic extent did not coincide with the German Christian principalities of the time, and it included northern France.
How the name of Ashkenaz came to be associated in the rabbinic literature with the Rhineland is a subject of speculation.
In the 10th century, a distinctive Jewish culture formed in Central Europe and came to be called Ashkenazi, deriving its name from the Jewish name for the Rhineland region. Although the region is no longer referred to by that name, Jews who follow traditions that originated in that culture are referred to as Ashkenazi Jews. Ashkenazi Jewish culture later spread into Eastern Europe and then to all parts of the world with the migrations of Ashkenazi Jews.
In Armenian tradition, Ashkenaz, along with Togarmah, was considered among the ancestors of the Armenians. Koriun, the earliest Armenian historian, calls the Armenians an "Askanazian (ie., Ashkenazi) nation". He starts the "Life of Mashtots" with these words:
- "I had been thinking of the God-given alphabet of the Azkanazian nation and of the land of Armenia - when, in what time, and through what kind of man that new divine gift had been bestowed..."
Later Armenian authors concur with this. Hovhannes Draskhanakerttsi (10th century) writes:
- "...The sixth son was Tiras from whom were born our very own Ashkenaz [Ask'anaz] and Togarmah [T'orgom] who named the country that he possessed Thrace after himself, as well as Chittim [K'itiim] who brought under his sway the Macedonians. 7. The sons of Tiras were Ashkenaz, from whom descended the Sarmatians, Riphath, whence the Sauromatians [Soramatk'], and Togarmah, who according to Jeremiah subjugated the Ashkenazian army and called it the House of Togarmah; for at first Ashkenaz had named our people after himself in accord with the law of seniority, as we shall explain in its proper place."
Because of this tradition, Askanaz is a male given name still used today by Armenians.
German royal genealogy
In 1498, a monk named Annio da Viterbo published fragments known as "Pseudo-Berossus", now considered a forgery, claiming that Babylonian records had shown that Noah had more than the three sons listed in the Bible. Specifically, Tuiscon or Tuisto is given as the fourth son of Noah, who had been the first ruler of Scythia and Germany following the dispersion of peoples, with him being succeeded by his son Mannus as the second king.
Later historians (e.g. Johannes Aventinus and Johann Hübner) managed to furnish numerous further details, including the assertion by James Anderson in the early 18th century that this Tuiscon was in fact none other than the biblical Ashkenaz, son of Gomer. James Anderson's 1732 tome Royal genealogies reports a significant number of antiquarian or mythographic traditions regarding Askenaz as the first king of ancient Germany, for example the following entry:
- Askenaz, or Askanes, called by Aventinus Tuisco the Giant, and by others Tuisto or Tuizo (whom Aventinus makes the 4th son of Noah, and that he was born after the flood, but without authority) was sent by Noah into Europe, after the flood 131 years, with 20 Captains, and made a settlement near the Tanais, on the West coast of the Euxin sea (by some called Asken from him) and there founded the kingdom of the Germans and the Sarmatians... when Askenaz himself was 24 years old, for he lived above 200 years, and reigned 176.
- In the vocables of Saxony and Hessia, there are some villages of the name Askenaz, and from him the Jews call the Germans Askenaz, but in the Saxonic and Italian, they are called Tuiscones, from Tuisco his other name. In the 25th year of his reign, he partitioned the kingdom into Toparchies, Tetrarchies, and Governments, and brought colonies from diverse parts to increase it. He built the city Duisburg, made a body of laws in verse, and invented letters, which Kadmos later imitated, for the Greek and High Dutch are alike in many words.
- The 20 captains or dukes that came with Askenaz are: Sarmata, from whom Sarmatia; Dacus or Danus – Dania or Denmark; Geta from whom the Getae; Gotha from whom the Goths; Tibiscus, people on the river Tibiscus; Mocia - Mysia; Phrygus or Brigus - Phrygia; Thynus - Bithynia; Dalmata - Dalmatia; Jader – Jadera Colonia; Albanus from whom Albania; Zavus – the river Save; Pannus – Pannonia; Salon - the town Sale, Azalus – the Azali; Hister – Istria; Adulas, Dietas, Ibalus – people that of old dwelt between the rivers Oenus and Rhenus; Epirus, from whom Epirus.
- Askenaz had a brother called Scytha (say the Germans) the father of the Scythians, for which the Germans have of old been called Scythians too (very justly, for they came mostly from old Scythia) and Germany had several ancient names; for that part next to the Euxin was called Scythia, and the country of the Getes, but the parts east of the Vistule or Weyssel were called Sarmatia Europaea, and westward it was called Gallia, Celtica, Allemania, Francia and Teutonia; for old Germany comprehended the greater part of Europe; and those called Gauls were all old Germans; who by ancient authors were called Celts, Gauls and Galatians, which is confirmed by the historians Strabo and Aventinus, and by Alstedius in his Chronology, p. 201 etc. Askenaz, or Tuisco, after his death, was worshipped as the ambassador and interpreter of the gods, and from thence called the first German Mercury, from Tuitseben to interpret.
- Kraus. S, 1932, Hashemot 'ashkenaz usefarad, Tarbiz 3:423-435
- Kriwaczek, Paul (2005). Yiddish Civilization: The Rise and Fall of a Forgotten Nation. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ISBN 0-297-82941-6., Chapter 3, footnote 9.
- Koriun, The Life of Mashtots, Yerevan, 1981. Translated from Old Armenian (Grabar) by Bedros Norehad
- Hovhannes Draskhanakerttsi, History of Armenia, Chapter I 6-7
- James Anderson, Royal Genealogies, Or the Genealogical Tables of Emperors, Kings and Princes (1732) p. 441 (Table 213); also p.442 "The Most Ancient Kings of the Germans".
- Die Völkertafel der Genesis, (The Table of Nations from the Book of Genesis) (1850) by August Wilhelm Knobel
- J. Simons: The Geographical and Topographical Texts of the Old Testament, Leiden 1959, § 28.