`The religion of the Hebrews,` writes Bury, `had exercised a profound influence on the creed of Islam, and it had been a basis for Christianity; it had won scattered proselytes; but the conversion of the Khazars to the undiluted religion of Jehova is unique in history.`1 What was the motivation of this unique event?
•    At the beginning of the eighth century the world was polarized between the two super-powers representing Christianity and Islam.
•    But it could only maintain its independence by accepting neither Christianity nor Islam – for either choice would have automatically subordinated it to the authority of the Roman Emperor or the Caliph of Baghdad.
•    At the same time, their intimate contacts with Byzantium and the Caliphate had taught the Khazars that their primitive shamanism was not only barbaric and outdated compared to the great monotheistic creeds, but also unable to confer on the leaders the spiritual and legal authority which the rulers of the two theocratic world powers, the Caliph and the Emperor, enjoyed.
•    What could have been more logical than to embrace a third creed, which was uncommitted towards either of the two, yet represented the venerable foundation of both?
•    To quote Bury once more: There can be no question that the ruler was actuated by political motives in adopting Judaism.
•    To embrace Mohammadanism would have made him the spiritual dependent of the Caliphs, who attempted to press their faith on the Khazars, and in Christianity lay the danger of his becoming an ecclesiastical vassal of the Roman Empire.
•    Judaism was a reputable religion with sacred books which both Christian and Mohammadan respected; it elevated him above the heathen barbarians, and secured him against the interference of Caliph or Emperor.
•    He allowed the mass of his people to abide in their heathendom and worship their idols.2 Though the Khazar court`s conversion was no doubt politically motivated, it would still be absurd to imagine that they embraced overnight, blindly, a religion whose tenets were unknown to them.
•    In fact, however, they had been well acquainted with Jews and their religious observances for at least a century before the conversion, through the continued influx of refugees from religious persecution in Byzantium, and to a lesser extent from countries in Asia Minor conquered by the Arabs.
•    We know that Khazaria was a relatively civilized country among the Barbarians of the North, yet not committed to either of the militant creeds, and so it became a natural haven for the periodic exodus of Jews under Byzantine rule, threatened by forced conversion and other pressures.
•    Thus Leo III, who ruled during the two decades immediately preceding the Khazar conversion to Judaism, `attempted to end the anomaly [of the tolerated status of Jews] at one blow, by ordering all his Jewish subjects to be baptized`.3 Although the implementation of the order seemed to have been rather ineffective, it led to the flight of a considerable number of Jews from Byzantium.
•    The Jews are the king, his attendants and the Khazars of his kind.* The king of the Khazars had already become a Jew in the Caliphate of Harun al-Rashid† and he was joined by Jews from all lands of Islam and from the country of the Greeks [Byzantium].
•    Indeed the king of the Greeks at the present time, the Year of the Hegira 332 [AD 943–4] has converted the Jews in his kingdom to Christianity by coercion….
•    The last two sentences quoted refer to events two hundred years after the Khazar conversion, and show how persistently the waves of persecution followed each other over the centuries.
•    Many endured torture, and those who did not have the strength to resist returned later on to their faith – `like dogs to their vomit`, as one Christian chronicler gracefully put it.4 Equally picturesque is the description of a Hebrew writer5 of one method of forced conversion used under the Emperor Basil against the Jewish community of Oria in southern Italy: How did they force them?

•    5 King Joseph`s reply is less accomplished and moving than Hasdai`s letter.
•    It starts with a fanfare of greetings, then reiterates the main contents of Hasdai`s letter, proudly emphasizing that the Khazar kingdom gives the lie to those who say that `the Sceptre of Judah has forever fallen from the Jews` hands` and `that there is no place on earth for a kingdom of their own`.
•    Though a fierce Jewish nationalist, proud of wielding the `Sceptre of Judah`, he cannot, and does not, claim for them Semitic descent; he traces their ancestry not to Shem, but to Noah`s third son, Japheth; or more precisely to Japheth`s grandson, Togarma, the ancestor of all Turkish tribes.
•    `We have found in the family registers of our fathers,` Joseph asserts boldly, `that Togarma had ten sons, and the names of their offspring are as follows: Uigur, Dursu, Avars, Huns, Basilii, Tarniakh, Khazars, Zagora, Bulgars, Sabir.
•    We are the sons of Khazar, the seventh …` The identity of some of these tribes, with names spelt in the Hebrewscript is rather dubious, but that hardly matters; the characteristic feature in this genealogical exercise is the amalgamation of Genesis with Turkish tribal tradition.† After the genealogy, Joseph mentions briefly some military conquests by his ancestors which carried them as far as the Danube; then follows at great length the story of Bulan`s conversion.
•    `From this day onwards,` Joseph continues, `the Lord gave him strength and aided him; he had himself and his followers circumcized and sent for Jewish sages who taught him the Law and explained the Commandments.` There follow more boasts about military victories, conquered nations, etc., and then a significant passage: After these events, one of his [Bulan`s] grandsons became King; his name was Obadiah, he was a brave and venerated man who reformed the Rule, fortified the Law according to tradition and usage, built synagogues and schools, assembled a multitude of Israel`s sages, gave them lavish gifts of gold and silver, and made them interpret the twenty-four [sacred] books, the Mishna [Precepts] and the Talmud, and the order in which the liturgies are to be said.
•    We remember that King Bulan drove out `the sorcerers and idolators` before the angel appeared to him; and that he made his Covenant with the `true God` before deciding whether He was the Jewish, Christian or Muslim God.