Just like in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, there exists an ancient lineage which traces its unbroken roots back to a single powerful figure from the Bible. It just took modern science to prove it.
DNA history of the Kohanim
According to the Wikipage on the biblical figure of Moses’ older brother, Aaron: “Part of the Law (Torah) that Moses received from God at Sinai granted Aaron the priesthood for himself and his male descendants, and he became the first High Priest of the Israelites.”
Kohain is the Hebrew word for priest and Jewish kohanim are traditionally believed—and required by Jewish law—to be of direct patrilineal descent from Aaron. In English, the word Kohain has been translated into the surnames Cohen, Cowen, Cahn, Cahan, Carne, Cohn, Cone, Conn, Conway, Cohan, Cohaner, Cahanman, Chaplan, Keohan, and Kaplan.
Several scientists led by Dr. Karl Skorecki studied genetic markers for the present day kohanim and wrote about their findings in the magazine, Nature. Their work is also well described in an article by Rabbi Yaakov Kleiman.
“A genetic marker is a variation in the nucleotide sequence of the DNA, known as a mutation. Mutations which occur within genes—a part of the DNA which codes for a protein—usually cause a malfunction or disease, and is lost due to selection in succeeding generations. However, mutations found in so-called “non-coding regions” of the DNA tend to persist.
“Since the Y chromosome, besides for the genes determining maleness, consists almost entirely of non-coding DNA, it would tend to accumulate mutations. Since it is passed from father to son without recombination, the genetic information on a Y chromosome of a man living today is basically the same as that of his ancient male ancestors, except for the rare mutations that occur along the hereditary line. A combination of these neutral mutations, known as a haplotype, can serve as a genetic signature of a man’s male ancestry.”
The article goes on to say:
“… Dr. Skorecki and associates gathered more DNA samples and expanded their selection of Y chromosome markers. Solidifying their hypothesis of the Kohens’ common ancestor, they found that a particular array of six chromosomal markers were found in 97 of the 106 Kohens tested. This collection of markers has come to be known as the Cohen Modal Haplotype (CMH)–the standard genetic signature of the Jewish priestly family. The chances of these findings happening at random is greater than one in 10,000.
“The finding of a common set of genetic markers in both Ashkenazi and Sefardi Kohanim worldwide clearly indicates an origin pre-dating the separate development of the two communities around 1000 C.E. Date calculation based on the variation of the mutations among Kohanim today yields a time frame of 106 generations from the ancestral founder of the line, some 3,300 years, the approximate time of the Exodus from Egypt, the lifetime of Aharon HaKohen.
DNA allows us to trace our ancestry and even ancient migration patterns with surety we never had before. For so long, we were stuck with hypotheses and migration reconstructions, based on a spotty archaeological record.
The use of DNA in this way is like the invention of radio astronomy. This sub-discipline of astronomy uses radio frequencies from outer space to “see” things which normal optical astronomy cannot. Among other things, it has identified entire new classes of celestial objects, such as radio galaxies, quasars, and pulsars.
As radio astronomy is to its parent science, The understanding of DNA is to the study of world history. This new tool opened our eyes to a previously un-guessed at dimension of a very old and respected subject.