Do all Cohen descend from Aaron?

Years ago, people looking at mitochrondrial DNA determined that most (if not all) humans alive today descended from a single female ancestor. The scientists doing the research named the woman “Eve” and think she lived in northern Africa. This isn’t meant to prove the biblical account in Genesis, but it does remind us all that are truly descended from a single female ancestor who lived something like 200,000 years ago.

I was reminded of this today when I came across this report from a group of researchers at the University of Arizona who were using related techniques to determine whether or not the members of hereditary, but non-active, priesthood within Judaism (the Cohen) descend from Aaron the brother of Moses.

There was some research done about a decade ago that seemed to validate the claim, but there was more work to be done.

The new study used a broader spectrum of DNA tracing techniques (which have developed in the interim) to reanalyze the original samples and to include additional genetic information.

“Using the new data, Hammer and his team were able to pinpoint the geographic distribution of a genetically more resolved Cohen Modal Haplotype and tease apart a multiplicity of male lines that founded the priesthood in ancient Hebrew times. The more fully resolved Cohen Modal haplotype (called the extended Cohen Modal Haplotype) accounts for almost 30 percent of Cohanim Y chromosomes from both Ashkenazi and non-Ashkenazi Jewish communities, is virtually absent in non-Jews, and likely traces to a common male ancestor that lived some 3,200 years ago in the Near East.

Additional Y chromosome lineages that are distinct from that defined by the extended Cohen Modal Haplotype, but also shared among Cohanim from different Jewish communities, reveal that the priesthood was established by several unrelated male lines.”

Read the full article here.

The upshot? The biblical account of one common ancestor for the judaic priesthood doesn’t seem to be valid. But it does appear that the priesthood does spring from a specific group of people at some point in Jewish history. And one particular individual was the common ancestor of a large number of modern day Cohens.

Author: Nick Knisely

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...

1 thought on “Do all Cohen descend from Aaron?”

  1. I wouldn’t believe for a minute that every single child born to a Cohen father for the past 3,200 years was actually fathered by that male. No one would expect a completely uniform marker.

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