Beginning 960 AD, China was ruled by the emperors of the Song Dynasty from their capital at Kaifeng, a bustling metropolis located on the legendary Silk Road that linked their domain to its trading partners in the West. It was sometime during this period that a group of Israelites were invited for an audience with the emperor. 

But even in 960 AD the Jews were not newcomers to China. The Kaifeng Stone Inscriptions state that the Jews had lived under Chinese rule from sometime after 92 AD, during the Han Dynasty (206 B.C- 220 A.D), when they resided in special enclaves that were set aside by the Chinese for foreigners. 

Kaifeng Stone Inscriptions
document the presence of Israelite Jews
in China as early as 92 A.D. 

Though there is a debate on when exactly the Jews entered China for the first time, Michael Pollack states in his ‘Detailed History of Kaifeng Jews’, “We know, of course, that large numbers of the descendants of those hapless Jews who sat and wept by the waters of Babylon in the 6th century B.C. wandered progressively eastward towards China. We also know that a group of Levites and Cohanim (priests) left Babylon and wandered eastwards towards Tianzhu or India (Hodu in Hebrew) and eventually, several generations later, settled in the valleys of the Pamir Mountains, just west of the Taklamakan Desert”.

In Volume 20 of ‘The Chinese Repository’ (a periodical published in Canton between May 1832 and 1851 to inform Protestant missionaries working in Asia about the history and culture of China, of current events, and documents), it is stated, “….with respect to the Israelite religion we find on inquiry that its first ancestor Adam came originally from India and that during the period of the Chau state the Sacred Writings were already in existence…. the principles contained therein are very abstruse and the Eternal Reason therein revealed is very mysterious being treated with the same veneration as Heaven. The founder of the religion is Abraham who is considered the first teacher of it. Then came Moses who established the law and handed down the Sacred Writings…”. 

The above  passage is quoted by Henry Yule in his book, ‘The Book of Ser Marco Polo the Venetian – Concerning the Kingdoms’, a research work based on Marco Polo’s travelogue about his journey in Central Asia, China and Indonesia in the 13th century.

The passage records that the Jews originated in India. In his book ‘World Vedic Heritage’, P.N.Oak presented his view on the above observation of Henry Yule. He was of the view that the Sacred Writings were the Vedas. Abraham was Brahma for in the Vedic tradition it is Brahma who made available the ‘eternal’ Vedas which themselves came into existence at the time of the birth of the universe.

He also states that the name ‘Adam’ is the Sanskrit ‘adim’ (आदिम) which means ‘original’, ‘first’, ‘ancient most’ or ‘primitive’. Both the words ‘adi’ and ‘adim’ for example are mentioned in the Bhagvad Gita. English etymological dictionaries trace the name ‘Adam’ to the Hebrew ‘adam’ or ‘man’, literally “(the one formed from the) ground” ultimately to Hebrew ‘adamah’ or ‘ground’, but ‘adamah’ is a close cognate of the Sanskrit ‘adim’ and therefore there might be a link as P.N.Oak has suggested.

Uncannily the Sanskrit ‘adah’ (अधः) also means ‘below’ or ‘underneath’, ‘aadhar’ (आधार) is ‘basis’ or ‘foundation’

Aristotle believed that the Jews came from India, where he said that they were known as the ‘Kalani’. This is stated by Josephus Flavius (37 AD- 100 AD) a first-century Romano-Jewish scholar and historian born in Jerusalem, in his Contra Apionem, a discussion on the ancestry of Jews.

In his works, Josephus Flavius quotes the writings of Clearchus of Soli, a Greek philosopher from 4th-3rd cntury BC. Flavius relates the story of a dialogue between Aristole and a Jewish scholar. Flavius quotes Clearchus thus, “In his first book on Sleep he relates of Aristotle, his master, that he had a discourse with a Jew; and his own account was that what this Jew said merited admiration…… To speak of the race first, the man was a Jew by birth and came from Cœlesyria [Palestine]. These Jews are derived from the philosophers of India. In India the philosophers call themselves Kalani, and in Syria Jews, taking their name from the country they inhabit … the name of their capital is rather difficult to pronounce: they call it Jerusalem”. For more on this click here.

Godfrey Higgins states in his book ‘Anacalpysis’, “Megasthenes, who was sent to India by Seleucus Nicator, about 300 years before Christ, and whose accounts are every day acquiring additional credit, says that the Jews ‘were an Indian tribe called Kalani…”. 

One of the best known Indian philosophers in recent times (roughly 1100 AD) who is known by a title similar to Kalani is ‘Kalhana’, a Kashmiri scholar, who wrote the Rajatarangini – a chronicle of the ancient kings of India.

Suggested Links:

1. Detailed History of Kaifeng Jews

2. The Book of Marco Polo


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