The Lineage of Jewish Priesthood Confirmed
by Patrick Young, Ph.D.

Due to the constant state of turmoil in the Middle East, a significant amount of media and world attention is focused on the nation of Israel and its Arab neighbors. Nearly lost in the confusion are the ongoing skirmishes between Muslims, Orthodox Jews, and Christians about the diverse religious rituals being practiced on or around Jerusalemís temple mount.

Over the years, there have been numerous attempts by Orthodox Jewish faithful to place a cornerstone on temple mount as a demonstration of their desire to build a new temple. These attempts are prefaced on established teachings from Orthodox Jewish law as well as prophetic passages found in the Christian Holy Bible. If these Bible passages are interpreted as literal, they predict a new Jewish temple will be built in Jerusalem at some future date. While there is overwhelming support in Israel for building a new temple, there are serious logistical problems including the fact that the Muslim Mosque "Dome of the Rock" stands on temple mount today.

Many biblical scholars have scoffed at the prophetic validity of a future Jewish temple because there are special requirements about genetic lineageís of the priests that may be impossible to confirm. According to Jewish tradition, only males from the direct line of Aaron could serve as priests in the holy temple of God. This tradition began when Moses brought his brother Aaron before God to be anointed as the first high priest to the Israelites. Historical documentation confirms Aaronís lineage was stringently followed from the first temple of Solomon, through the Jewish exile in Babylon, and continued past the destruction of Herodís temple by Titus in 70 AD. These priests called Cohanim, persist today and are charged with performing all religious rituals for the Jewish people.

While todayís Cohanim continue to endure as the group charged with implementing the rites of the Jewish faithful, it has always been an issue sparking vigorous debate whether the members of this priestly order were in fact direct bloodline descendants of Aaron. Now due to scientific advances in DNA analysis, the existence of a common genetic marker in todayís Cohanim can be investigated to determine if Aaronís lineage has been preserved.

Since the Cohanim priesthood is only transferred through males, the confirmation of their bloodline was believed to rest in the Y-chromosome. Y-chromosome DNA analysis has proven useful in constructing patrilineal genealogies in the past because it is passed down exclusively through males and most of the genetic material is noncoding (does not cause life-threatening mutations). If the Cohanim have succeeded in preserving their bloodline, they should have a higher frequency of common genetic markers (called haplotypes) in their Y-chromosomes than the general Jewish population. The scientific results indicate:

The general Jewish community possesses certain genetic haplotypes that are absent in most of the Cohanim 1.

More surprising, the Cohanim possess a single haplotype that is absent in most of the general Jewish community2.

This single haplotype (called the Cohen modal haplotype) was then tested on the Cohanim in two major Jewish communities. The results indicate that the Cohen haplotype is strikingly prevalent and similar in both communities; which strongly suggests the Cohanim all descended from a single male common ancestor. Mutational analysis also suggests this common ancestor lived about 3000 years ago approximately when Jewish tradition believes Aaron was anointed to the priesthood 3.

There have been other "dispersed tribes" which follow ancient Jewish traditions who have attempted to claim a blood lineage to Israel. A black African clan named the "Lemba" and the "Bene Israel" from India have made this claim and have submitted their DNA to analyze for the "Cohen modal haplotype.

The Lemba are a black race of people from northern Africa alleging their ancestors descended from Israelites. While they do practice a curious number of Jewish rituals (such as dietary laws), their assertions to Jewish lineage have been rejected in the past. Several Lemba males were tested for the Cohanim modal haplotype in a recent study. Results indicate that ~50% of the male Lemba leaders contain the Cohen gene. This is a striking discovery since only ~10% of the general male Jewish population carry this Cohen haplotype 4.

The "Bene Israel" are located in India and considered to be a very curious and obscure community. The legend of the "Bene Israel" (translated Children of Israel) goes back to 175 BC when their Israeli ancestors supposedly were fleeing the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes by escaping to India. Except for possessing numerous Indian customs, the "Bene Israel" remarkably observed Saturday as their Sabbath. The "Bene Israel" were also recently tested for the presence of the Cohanim haplotype. Results confirm they had a greater than 50% occurrence of the Cohen genetic marker 4.

It has now been demonstrated that the priestly order of Cohanim has a common genetic marker that is characteristic of only ~10% of the general Jewish population and completely absent in gentiles. While this is not a direct confirmation that the Cohanim specifically descended from Aaron, it does demonstrate a separation and preservation of this priestly group that has persisted for over 3000 years. It is fascinating that the Bible independently confirms the Cohen priestly line existed in the past and is expected to continue in the future, ready to fulfill any prophetic destiny that Almighty God has for them.

References

1.

Hammer, M.F., K. Skorecki, S. Selig, S. Blazer, B. Rappaport, R. Bradman, N. Bradman, P.J. Waburton, M. Ismakklowicz, 1997. Y Chromosomes of Jewish priests. Nature 385: 32-35.

2.

Thomas, M.G., K. Skorecki, H. Ben-Ami, T. Parfitt, N. Bradman, D.B. Goldstein. 1998. Origins of Old Testament priests. Nature 394: 138-140.

3. Ref. 1.
4. Ref. 2.
5. Ahmed, R. Z. July 20, 2002. Indiaís children of Israel find their roots. The Times of India.

Patrick H. Young is a resident of Central Ohio. He has a Ph.D. in Chemistry and been employed in industry as a research chemist and materials scientist for over 17 years. He has a website at creationists.org/patrickyoung.html and his email address is patrickyoung@creationists.org.


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