Recent DNA analysis has confirmed a specific genetic marker which is only present in the Cohanim. This discovery attaches scientific credibility to the idea that all Cohanim are the patriarchal descendants of Moses” brother Aaron. Certain tribes from Africa who claim to have Jewish roots were also confirmed to have the Cohen genetic signature. Most men can only name their male ancestors going back a few generations. Members of the Jewish priesthood (Cohanim) are an unusual group in that the men of this ancient priestly class can claim descent from a single male ancestor.
Reuters (March 1, 2003). Excerpt:
“Extensive DNA testing has found the Bene Israelis, clustered in and around the western city of Bombay, are direct descendants of a hereditary Israelite priesthood that can be traced back 3,000 years to Moses” brother, Aaron.”
Kevin Davies. Cracking the Genome: Inside the Race to Unlock Human DNA. New York: The Free Press, 2001. Excerpts from pages 182-183 Davies” book :
“But the most remarkable application of Y-chromosome markers is to Jewish populations in the Middle East and beyond… Aaron thus became the first Jewish priest, or cohen, a tradition that has since been handed down from father to son. [Michael] Hammer, Karl Skorecki, David Goldstein, and colleagues studied Y markers from three hundred Jews, including more than one hundred cohanim, and found that half of the Jewish priests shared the same genetic signature, compared to less than 5 percent in the lay Jewish population…. The results of the DNA studies [of the Lemba people of South Africa] were stunning: a significant portion of the Lemba Y chromosomes exhibit the characteristic genetic signature found in the cohanim, including more than 50 percent of the Buba, one of the 12 Lemba clans. These markers have also turned up in the Bene Israel, the oldest Jewish community in India…”
Martha Molnar. “Priestly Gene Shared By Widely Dispersed Jews.” Press Release. 10 July 1998
ScienceDaily (July 14, 1998) — NEW YORK, N.Y., and HAIFA, Israel, July 9, 1998 — The finding last year of genetic links among Jewish men thought to be descendants of the Biblical high priest Aaron was greeted with tremendous interest and clamoring for more information. A team of British and Israeli scientists have now found additional information that links the priestly cast, the Cohanim, which includes men with last names that are variations on “Cohen.”
God anointed Aaron and his sons so that the priests could only come from Aaron”s lineage. According to Jewish tradition, Aaron”s family name was HaCohen and the high priest was named the Cohen Gadol And God said, “Appoint Aaron and his sons to serve as priest; anyone else who approaches the sanctuary must be put to death.” (Numbers 3:10, KJV)
According to biblical accounts, the Jewish priesthood began about 3,000 years ago when Moses anointed his older brother Aaron the first high priest. Ever since, the priestly status has been handed down from father to son through the ages. If this hereditary tradition has been closely followed, the Y chromosomes of the Cohanim today should bear some resemblance to one another because of their unbroken link back to a common ancestor, Aaron.
According to Jewish tradition, only males from the direct line of Aaron could serve as priests in the holy temple of God. Biblical teaching confirms this custom was followed from the first tabernacle, the temple of Solomon, through the Jewish exile in Babylon, and continued to the destruction of the Herod”s temple by Titus in 70 AD. These priests, called Cohanim (sometimes spelled Kohanim), were all patriarchal descendants of Aaron and given the charge by God to exercise the holy rituals of temple worship and to keep their bloodline pure.
Genetic studies among Cohanim from all over the world reveal the truth that about 50 percent of Cohanim in both Sephardic and Ashkenazic populations have an unusual set of genetic markers on their Y chromosome. What is equally striking is that this genetic signature of the Cohanim is rarely found outside of Jewish populations. Gene-scan outputs of microsatellite DNA analysis of genetic samples taken from a Lemba (top) and a member of the Cohanim.
The Y chromosome also keeps track of time. Small mutations occur in the DNA being passed on, and these changes build up with each generation. Like the tick of a clock, the number of these mutations is a measure of time passed. By looking at the differences between Y chromosomes in the Cohanim, researchers can estimate roughly how many generations ago members of the priesthood had a common ancestor. Remarkably, the evidence suggests the Cohanim chromosomes coalesce at a date that corresponds with when the priesthood is thought to have begun.
Several Orthodox Jewish teachings also say that a new temple will be built at some future date. Following tradition, the temple would also require a high priest serving from the genealogy of Aaron. While the title of Cohanim continues to exist today, the idea of Aaron”s lineage persisting after 3000 years has invited widespread skepticism because the concept could not be scientifically proven. However today this tells a different story. A computerized list of all known priestly candidates in Israel is maintained.