Y-chromosomal Aaron is the name given to the hypothesized most recent common ancestor of many of the patrilineal Jewish priestly caste known as Kohanim (singular "Kohen", "Cohen", or Kohane). In the Torah, this ancestor is identified as Aaron, the brother of Moses. The hypothetical most recent common ancestor was therefore dubbed "Y-chromosomal Aaron", by analogy to Y-chromosomal Adam.
The original scientific research was based on the discovery that a majority of present-day Jewish Kohanim either share, or are only one step removed from, a pattern of values for 6 Y-STR markers, which researchers named the Cohen Modal Haplotype (CMH). However it subsequently became clear that this six marker pattern was widespread in many communities where men had Y chromosomes which fell into Haplogroup J; the six-marker CMH was not specific just to Cohens, nor even just to Jews.
More recent research, using a larger number of Y-STR markers to gain higher resolution more specific genetic signatures, has indicated that about half of contemporary Jewish Kohanim, who share Y-chromosomal haplogroup J1c3 (also called J-P58), appear to be closely related. A further approximately 15% of Kohanim fall into a second distinct group, sharing a different but similarly tightly related ancestry. This second group fall under haplogroup J2a (J-M410). A number of other smaller lineage groups are also observed.
Although membership in the Jewish community has, since at least the second century CE, been passed maternally (see: Who is a Jew?), tribal identity, and membership in the group that originally comprised the Jewish priesthood (Cohen or Kohen; plural: Cohanim or Kohanim), has been patrilineal. Modern Kohanim claim descent from a biblical person, Aaron, brother of Moses, in the direct lineage from Levi, the patriarch of the Tribe of Levi, great grandson of Abraham, according to the tradition codified in the Tanakh (שמות / Sh'mot/Exodus 6). DNA testing is aiding scholars to trace the lineages found among modern Jewish populations, including contemporary Cohen families, to decipher origins of the people groups who were joined to the ancient Israelites and to identify genetic admixture and genetic drift.
For human beings, the normal number of chromosomes is 46, of which 23 are inherited from each parent. Two chromosomes, the X chromosome and Y chromosome, determine sex. Women have two X chromosomes, one inherited from their mother, and one inherited from their father. Men have an X chromosome inherited from their mother, and the Y chromosome inherited from their father.
Males who share a common patrilineal ancestor also share a Y chromosome, diverging only with respect to accumulated mutations. Since Y-chromosomes are passed from father to son, all Kohanim men should theoretically have almost identical Y chromosomes; this can be tested with a genealogical DNA test. As the rate that mutations accumulate on the Y chromosome is relatively constant, scientists can estimate the elapsed time since two men had a common ancestor. (See molecular clock.) "The Samaritan M267 lineages differed from the classical Cohen modal haplotype at DYS391, carrying 11 rather than 10 repeats", as well as, have a completely different haplogroup, which should have been "J1". Samaritan Kohanim descend from a different patrilineal family line, having haplogroup E1b1b1a (M78) (formerly E3b1a).
The Cohen hypothesis was first tested by Prof. Karl Skorecki and collaborators from Haifa, Israel, in 1997. In their study, "Y chromosomes of Jewish priests," published in the journal Nature, they found that the Kohanim appeared to share a different probability distribution compared to the rest of the Jewish population for the two Y-chromosome markers they tested (YAP and DYS19). They also found that the probabilities appeared to be shared by both Sephardic and Ashkenazi Cohens, pointing to a common Cohen population origin before the Jewish diaspora under the Roman empire. However, this study also indicated that only 48% of Ashkenazi Cohanim and 58% of Sephardic Cohanim have the J1 Cohen Modal Haplotype.
In a subsequent study the next year (Thomas MG et al., 1998), the team increased the number of Y-STR markers tested to six, as well as testing more SNP markers. Again, they found that a clear difference was observable between the Kohanim population and the general Jewish population, with many of the Cohen STR results clustered around a single pattern they named the Cohen Modal Haplotype:
xDE xDE,PR Hg J CMH.1 CMH CMH.1/HgJ CMH/HgJ Ashkenazi Cohanim (AC): 98.5% 96% 87% 69% 45% 79% 52% Sephardic Cohanim (SC): 100% 88% 75% 61% 56% 81% 75% Ashkenazi Jews (AI): 82% 62% 37% 15% 13% 40% 35% Sephardic Jews (SI): 85% 63% 37% 14% 10% 38% 27%
Here, becoming increasingly specific, xDE is the proportion who were not in Haplogroups D or E (from the original paper); xDE,PR is the proportion who were not in haplogroups D, E, P, Q or R; Hg J is the proportion who were in Haplogroup J (from the slightly larger panel studied by Behar et al. (2003)); CMH.1 means "within one marker of the CMH-6"; and CMH is the proportion with a 6/6 match. The final two columns show the conditional proportions for CMH.1 and CMH, given membership of Haplogroup J.
The data shows that the Kohanim were more than twice as likely to belong to Haplogroup J than the average non-Cohen Jew. Of those who did belong to Haplogroup J, the Kohanim were more than twice as likely to have an STR pattern close to the CMH-6, suggesting a much more recent common ancestry for most of them compared to an average non-Cohen Jew of Haplogroup J.
Further study published in 2009 found new markers and better defined variant J1e* (now J1c3, also called J-P58*). This research demonstrates that 46.1% of Kohanim carry Y chromosomes belonging to a single paternal lineage (J-P58*) that likely originated in the Near East well before the dispersal of Jewish groups in the Diaspora. Support for a Near Eastern origin of this lineage comes from its high frequency in our sample of Bedouins, Yemenis (67%), and Jordanians (55%) and its precipitous drop in frequency as one moves away from Saudi Arabia and the Near East (Fig. 4). Moreover, there is a striking contrast between the relatively high frequency of J-58* in Jewish populations (»20%) and Kohanim (»46%) and its vanishingly low frequency in our sample of non- Jewish populations that hosted Jewish diaspora communities outside of the Near East.
Thomas, et al. dated the origin of the shared DNA to approximately 3,000 years ago (with variance arising from different generation lengths). The techniques used to find Y-chromosomal Aaron were first popularized in relation to the search for the patrilineal ancestor of all contemporary living humans, Y-chromosomal Adam.
The finding led to excitement in religious circles, with some seeing it as providing some "proof" of the historical veracity of part of the Bible or other religious convictions. There was also criticism that the paper's evidence was being overstated.
Cohens in other haplogroups
Behar's 2003 data points to the following Haplogroup distribution for Ashkenazi Cohens (AC) and Sephardic Cohens (SC) as a whole:
Hg: E3b G2c H I1b J K2 Q R1a1 R1b Total AC 3 0 1 0 67 2 0 1 2 76 4% 1½% 88% 2½% 1½% 2½% 100% SC 3 1 0 1 52 2 2 3 4 68 4½% 1½% 1½% 76% 3% 3% 4½% 6% 100%
The detailed breakdown by 6-marker haplotype (the paper's online-only table B) suggests that at least some of these groups (e.g. E3b, R1b) contain more than one distinct Cohen lineage. It is possible that other lineages may also exist, but were not captured in the sample.
Does a CMH prove Cohen ancestry?
One source of early confusion was a widespread popular notion that only Cohens or only Jews could have the Cohen Modal Haplotype. It is now clear that this is not the case. The Cohen Modal Haplotype (CMH), whilst notably frequent amongst Cohens, is also far from unusual in the general populations of haplogroups J1 and J2 with no particular link to the Cohen ancestry. These haplogroups occur widely throughout the Middle East and beyond. Thus, while many Cohens have haplotypes close to the CMH, a greater number of such haplotypes worldwide belong to people with no likely Cohen connection at all.
||This article possibly contains original research. (March 2014)|
The discussion above applies to the published scientific papers. In principle, additional resolution could be obtained by determining the Cohen haplogroup more narrowly, and/or testing more Y-STR markers to determine whether there is an extended characteristic Cohen haplotype.
Nevertheless, various opinions exist about which Haplogroup the direct descendants of Y-chromosomal Aaron belong to.
As it happens, three of the four markers for which they do match the CMH-6 were the markers tested by Malaspina et al. (2001). This appears to explain the finding of that paper that "typing a limited number of Italian Cohanim (A. Novelletto unpublished obs.) for the STRs used here, we determined that the Cohen Modal Haplotype ('an important component in the sharing of Ashkenazic and Sephardic Israelite Y chromosomes', Thomas et al. 2000) does indeed belong to network 1.2" (i.e. the population having DYS413a,b<=18, which is the signature of the J2a4 subclades).
Other carriers of the DNA
Following the discovery of the very high prevalence of 6/6 CMH matches amongst Cohens, others were quick to look for it, and often to see it as a signpost for possible Jewish ancestry, though the chromosome itself is not exclusive to Jews.
News of 6/6 matches in the Lemba of Southern Africa were seen as confirming a possible Jewish lineage (Thomas MG et al. 2000); and some suggested that 4/4 matches in non-Jewish Italians might be a genetic inheritance from Jewish slaves, deported by Emperor Titus in large numbers after the fall of the Temple in AD 70, some of whom were put to work building the Colosseum in Rome.
Such speculation was to some extent tempered when it was realised that Haplogroups J1 and J2 represented at least two different lineages which could be associated with the CMH, (the Italians mostly belong to Haplogroup J2); and that individuals with at least 5/6 matches for the original 6 marker Cohen Modal Haplotype occur widely across the Middle East, with significant frequencies in various Arab populations mainly with J1 Haplogroup, "that are not traditionally considered admixed with mainstream Jewish populations" – notably Yemen (34.2%), Oman (22.8%), Negev (21.9%), and Iraq (19.2%); and amongst Muslim Kurds (22.1%), Bedouins (21.9%), and Armenians (12.7%).
On the other hand, Jewish populations were found to have a "markedly higher" proportion of full 6/6 matches, according to the same (2005) meta-analysis, compared to these non-Jewish populations, where "individuals matching at only 5/6 markers are most commonly observed".
The authors nevertheless warn that "using the current CMH definition to a infer relation of individuals or groups to the Cohen or ancient Hebrew populations would produce many false-positive results," and note that "it is possible that the originally defined CMH represents a slight permutation of a more general Middle Eastern type that was established early on in the population prior to the divergence of haplogroup J. Under such conditions, parallel convergence in divergent clades to the same STR haplotype would be possible."
Y-DNA patterns from around the Gulf of Oman were analysed in more detail by Cadenas et al. in 2007. The detailed data confirm that the main cluster of haplogroup J1 haplotypes from the Yemen appears to be some genetic distance different from the CMH-12 pattern typical of Eastern European Ashkenazi Cohens.
J2 Kohanim haplotype tree
|This section needs additional citations for verification. (September 2013)|
Dr. Karl Skorecki, the founder of CMH, reported during a Conference for Kohanim in Jerusalem 2007, that he and his research team have discovered not one but two Cohen Modal Haplotypes, which he called J1 and J2. “Pinchas the zealot mentioned in the Bible may be the origin of J2” said Skorecki. According to the observed mutations rates, certain J2 haplotypes found on FTDNA database projects share a common ancestor who lived 3100+/-200 years bp, as Skorecki revealed to the public. Below we can see the J2 Cohanim haplotype tree formed by 21 different traditional surnames related to Cohanim lineages in both Ashkenazi and Sephardic respective communities. – This is how Joseph Felsenstein`s scientific genetic computer software placed them, considering their haplotypes. Only one different Cohanim surname was used in this case to represent the closest haplotype found in each family that can best stand for the exclusive cluster below formed by these 21 haplotypes.
The left branch is the Sephardim branch. All J2 Kohanim families listed have a surname and tradition directly related to Sephardic Kohanim, as Askenazi Kohanim also carry in their respective communities. In this case illustrated above with table and graphic, Joseph Felsenstein`s methods for making coalescence statistically independent comparisons using 21 familiar markers haplotypes shows a well shaped, defined, and geographically distributed Kohanim Tree. Despite two thousand years since the destruction of the Second Temple, and the spread of the Jewish population into the Diaspora, the deadly Crusades, Kohanim families managed to survive the persecutions and kept their lineages intact, imprinted in their Y Chromosomes as a unique and common signature. This signature, distinctly reflecting the Kohanim ancestral haplotype, visibly identifies today and recognizes these 21 Jewish priest families, directly related to one common Kohanim ancestor who by some estimates lived 2400 ± 300 years ago.
A similar investigation was made with men who consider themselves Levites. Whereas the priestly Kohanim are considered by those who believe in the historicity of Aaron to be descendants of Aaron, who in turn was a descendant of Levi, son of Jacob, the Levites (a lower rank of the Temple) are considered descendants of Levi through other lineages. Levites should also therefore share common Y-chromosomal DNA.
The investigation of Levites found high frequencies of multiple distinct markers, suggestive of multiple origins for the majority of non-Aaronid Levite families. One marker, however, present in more than 50% of Eastern European (Ashkenazi) Jewish Levites points to a common male ancestor or very few male ancestors within the last 2000 years for many Levites of the Ashkenazi community. This common ancestor belonged to the haplogroup R1a1 which is typical of Eastern Europeans or West Asians, rather than the haplogroup J of the Cohen modal haplotype, and most likely lived at the time of the Ashkenazi settlement in Eastern Europe, and thus was not really a Levite.
The E1b1b1 haplogroup (formerly known as E3b1) has been observed in all Jewish groups worldwide. It is considered to be the second most prevalent haplogroup among the Jewish population outside of the J haplogroups. According to one non-peer reviewed paper it has also been observed in moderate numbers among individuals from Ashkenazi, Sephardic and Samaritan communities having traditions of descending from the tribe of Levi, suggesting that the E1b1b1 men claiming to be Levites may have existed in Israel before the Diaspora of 70 CE.
The Samaritan community in the Middle East survives as a distinct religious and cultural sect and constitutes one of the oldest and smallest ethnic minorities in the world, numbering just less than 700 members. As a religious sect, reportedly, the Samaritans broke away from the mainstream Judaism around the fifth century BCE but according to Samaritan accounts it was the southern tribes that left the original worship set forth by Joshua. The Samaritans have maintained their religion and history to this day. Samaritans claim to descend from the Biblical Israelite tribes of Ephraim, Menashe and Levi.
Since the Samaritans maintain extensive and detailed genealogical records for the past 13–15 generations (approximately 400 years) and further back, it is possible to construct accurate pedigrees and specific maternal and paternal lineages. Y-Chromosome studies have shown that the majority of Samaritans belong to haplogroups J1 and J2, while the Samaritan Kohanim belong to haplogroup E1b1b1a (formerly known as E3b1a). However, the last member of the Samaritan High-Priestly family, which claimed descent from Eleazar, the son of Aaron, died in 1623 or 1624. There was a time in later periods like the 17-18th centuries that Samaritan sages by mistake wrote to European scholars that their priests are from Uziel b. Kehat. But Samaritan sources, chronicles and lists of lineage connecting the Samaritan Priests of the last 387 years since 1624 [The year that the Priestly Family from Phinhas was ceased] to Itamar b. Aaron the nephew of Moses, meaning that they are all from Aaronic origin. All Samaritan Priests of the present are linked to the father of the family that lived in the 14th century 'Abed Ela b. Shalma that was the House of 'Abtaa from Itamar, son of Aaron. Since that date the priest has called himself "Ha-Kohen Ha-Lewi", which means the Priest-Levite, instead of "Ha-Kohen Ha-Gadol", a title which referred to the High-Priest as in previous times.
The biblical tradition of the Cohen family living among the Samaritans is found in 2 Kings 17:27–28, where it indicates that only one Israelite Cohen was sent back from exile from Assyria by the King of Assyria to teach those living in the Northern Kingdom of Israel (Samaria). This suggests why some Samaritans may claim association of haplogroup E3b1a with the biblical Kohanim. In the same period only 27,290 (Annals of Sargon)of the ten Northern Tribes were exiled to Assyria, the Assyrians relocated those non-Israelites to the region around Samaria, explaining why those claiming to be Leviim or Kohanim were actually Syrians, who appointed other non-Israelites as priests ("Kohanim") from their own people.
Thus far, no claims of ancestry of coming from the Levite tribe for male haplogroups outside of the "J" series can be scientifically substantiated because the mutation of haplogroups is so slow that no one coming from the family of Levi could have another haplogroup.
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- Malaspina, P; Tsopanomichalou M, Duman T, Stefan M, Silvestri A, Rinaldi B, Garcia O, Giparaki M, Plata E, Kozlov AI, Barbujani G, Vernesi C, Papola F, Ciavarella G, Kovatchev D, Kerimova MG, Anagnou N, Gavrila L, Veneziano L, Akar N, Loutradis A, Michalodimitrakis EN, Terrenato L, Novelletto A (July 2001). "A multistep process for the dispersal of a Y chromosomal lineage in the Mediterranean area". Ann. Hum. Genet. 65 (4): 339–49. doi:10.1046/j.1469-1809.2001.6540339.x. PMID 11592923.
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- Joseph Felsenstein Software
- Based on Joseph Felsenstein Software results
- Israel First International Kohen Conference – The Center of Kohanim – Jerusalem – Cohen-Levi Organization
- Understanding of Jewish priests’ genealogy – 18 July 2007 • By Gil Zohar
- J Haplogroup Project at FTDNA, Cohen Project FTDNA, Iberian Project FTDNA
- Katz surname – A surname common among Ashkenazi Kohanim. It is an abbreviation formed from the initials of the name Kohen Tzedeq (כּ״ץ), and has been used since the seventeenth century, or perhaps somewhat earlier, as an epithet of the descendants of Aaron.
- Cohen surname – a kohen (or cohen, Hebrew כּהן, "priest", pl. כּהנִים, kohanim or cohanim) is a Jew who is a direct male descendant of the Biblical Aaron.
- Kaplan is a surname common among Ashkenazi Kohanim, usually indicating descent from the priestly lineage. In Polish, "kaplan" means "priest"
- Kahan – a Jewish surname from the Hebrew "Kohen", a priest. Variations of this are, Kohn, Kahen, Kahn, Kahan and Kahane.
- Kovacs – the Hungarian equivalent of Cohen
- Shapiro – very old surname where the first bearer was a Cohen (see Israeli Names)
- Kagan – in Hebrew, this name is spelled "kaf-shin-daled-nun" and is an acronym for "Kohanei Shluchei DeShmaya Ninhu," which is Aramaic for, "priests are the messengers of heaven"
- Maze – well-known kohen name among Moroccan Jews (acronym of "mi zerat Aharon," i.e. "from the seed of Aaron")
- Garfinkel – common Ashkenazic surname from Yiddish gorfinkl ‘carbuncle’. Carbuncle is the stone used to represent the Tribe of Levi that Kohanim are part of
- Cowan – frequently a variation of Cohen
- Coyne – a common variation of Cohen surname in families that arrived from Ireland
- Cohen Pereira or Cohen Paraira family – Some references in internet: (1a) "As the deportation of the Jews of Holland gathered momentum in the autumn of 1942, the Cohen Paraira family of four fled their house in Scheveningen, near the Hague, and looked for a place to hide. The father, David, and the son Bob (subsequently Avraham) found refuge on a large farm belonging to the Crum family, who lived in the village of Rhenen, near Arnhem" http://www1.yadvashem.org/righteous_new/netherlands/crum.html ; (1b)"The Righteous Among the Nations from Norway, the Netherlands, and Poland to be Recognized at Yad Vashem Ceremonies" On 6 June 2007, a ceremony posthumously honoring five Dutch people took place in the Garden of the Righteous at Yad Vashem in the presence of children of the Righteous and survivors (Holocaust). Albartha and Klaas Crum hid the "Cohen Paraira" family for a year and a half in their home in Rhenen. Survivors of the Holocaust Avraham Cohen Paraira and Elisheva Lehman Cohen Paraira attended the ceremony." http://www1.yadvashem.org/about_yad/press_room/press_releases/31.05.07.html (2) Cohen Paraira R. van D. – and – Benjamin van Jacob Rodrigues Pereira, two top Sephardim artist that have work published at Jewish Historical Museum – Amsterdam. http://www.jhm.nl/resourcecentre.aspx?database=joodsepers&trefwoord=Cohen%20Treves,%20R.%20van%20M. (03) David Ph. Cohen Paraira (President Portuguese Jewish Synagogue) – (Cohen Paraira et al., 1991) Book – De Snoge, monument van Portugees Joodse cultuur. http://www.jodensavanne.sr.org/article1.html (04) Frederico Gazel Cohen Pereira – National Brazilian Champion in Chess.
- Cohen Rodrigues family – Some references in internet: From Genealogical Department of the Center for Research on Dutch Jewry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem – 425 family members found – http://shum.huji.ac.il/~dutchjew/genealog/cohen_rodrigues/index.htm Some: (01) Moses Cohen Rodrigues "Hij woonde bij zijn zoon Salomon in februari 1941" . (02) Jacob Cohen Rodrigues – (died 1 Feb 1943 Auschwitz, occupation) (03) Aaron Cohen Rodrigues (birth 22 Feb 1835 Amsterdam) (04) Artur Cohen Rodrigues (Lisboa 1877–1961) (writer; Vida – Portugal. See the full Pedigree of Cohen Rodrigues here: http://shum.huji.ac.il/~dutchjew/genealog/cohen_rodrigues/c.htm
- Cunha – Sephardic version of Cohen – Ibn Ezra – a famous family of Cohanim from Spain; Abraham ibn Ezra – famous Rabbi from Spain. Abraham ibn Ezra, in "Z. D. M. G." l.c. p. 422), it is certain that he was born in Toledo. – http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=11&letter=I
- Found in the database of Cohanim Askenazim and Sephardim Project at FTDNA. http://www.familytreedna.com/public/cohen/default.aspx?section=yresults
- The program software belongs to Joseph Felsenstein (Felsenstein, 2005).
- Cohen Askenazim and Sephardim Project at FTDNA
- Behar, DM; Garrigan D, Kaplan ME, Mobasher Z, Rosengarten D, Karafet TM, Quintana-Murci L, Ostrer H, Skorecki K, Hammer MF (2004). "Contrasting patterns of Y chromosome variation in Ashkenazi Jewish and host non-Jewish European populations" (PDF). Hum. Genet. 114 (4): 354–365. doi:10.1007/s00439-003-1073-7. PMID 14740294.
- Nebel, A; Filon D, Faerman M, Soodyall H, Oppenheim A (2004). "Y chromosome evidence for a founder effect in Ashkenazi Jews". European Journal of Human Genetics 13 (3): 388–91. doi:10.1038/sj.ejhg.5201319. PMID 15523495.