Jewish priesthood has multiple lineages: study

'Cohamin' founded by a number of unrelated male lines

Throughout Jewish history, the priesthood, called “Cohanim,” have had a distinct status. Thought to be the descendants of Aaron, the brother of Moses, their role has always been most important on Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement. But in advance of Monday’s holiday, new research is emerging about their lineage. Building on a decade-old study, which identified the DNA marker signature of the Cohanim (the Cohen Modal Haplotype), a group of geneticists have found the priesthood was established by several unrelated male lines. Using a much larger sample, the geneticists have developed a more fully resolved signature called the extended Cohen Modal Haplotype, and were able to tease apart a number of male lines that founded the Cohanim in ancient times. Says Michael F. Hammer, a population geneticist in the Arizona Research Laboratory’s Division of Biotechnology at the University of Arizona, “These findings should motivate renewed interest in historical reconstructions of the Jewish priesthood as well as additional high resolution DNA marker analyses of other populations and ‘lost tribes’ claiming ancient Hebrew ancestry.”

University of Arizona

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