Aaron the Priest and His Modern Day Descendants

Aaron the High Priest
by Henry Schile (1874)

Dr. Karl Skorecki, a former professor at the University of Toronto, has applied genetics to study Jewish genealogies. After studying the genetic make-up of modern-day Jewish priests, Skorecki has concluded that today’s Cohanim (Jewish priests), “are descended from a single common male ancestor – biblically said to be Aaron, the older brother of Moses.”

In an article written by Peter Goodspeed for the National Post, Skorecki is quoted as saying that today’s Cohanim have been geographically separated for at least a thousand years but they share “a Biblical oral tradition of common male ancestry dating back more than 100 generations.” According to the Bible, the priestly work was assigned to Aaron and his descendants, and has been passed on from father to son ever since the Exodus of the people of Israel from Egypt.

Goodspeed wrote:

He reasoned the Cohanim should all have a common set of genetic markers at a higher frequency than the general Jewish population. After consulting Dr. Michael Hammer, a geneticist at the University of Arizona and a pioneer in studying the Y chromosome, the two men developed an experiment to test his thesis.

Besides determining maleness, the Y chromosome consists almost entirely of non-coding DNA, which is passed from father to son without recombination. Therefore the genetic information on a Y chromosome of a man living today is basically the same as that of his ancient male ancestors, with rare mutations that occur along hereditary lines.

By tracking those neutral mutations or genetic markers scientists can come up with the genetic signature of a man’s male ancestry.

Dr. Skorecki’s test found an array of six common chromosomal markers in 97 of the 106 Cohens he tested. Calculations based on variations of the mutations rooted the men’s shared ancestry 106 generations in the past – 3,300 years ago, or the approximate time of Exodus.

Skorecki’s conclusions are controversial because they depend on a new technology that is still in the developmental stages. However, many scientists are using genetical research in historical study and the results are confirming the reliability of the technology. If the genetic evidence shows that Jewish priests today are related to a common ancestor that lived more than three thousand years ago, then this information can have a bearing on information provided by the Biblical record.

Claude Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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