A team of geneticists recently analyzed 6,529 individual genomes, representing 107 different human populations.1 They found genetic traces of African ancestry in various people groups and estimated the timing of the ancient African/non-African intermarriages. The results of their analysis of Jewish populations will come as no surprise to those who believe in the literal history of Genesis. Despite their extensive statistical analyses of reams of genetic data, the researchers relied on traditional historical sources to anchor their results to actual time. And along the way, what the authors termed a “striking finding” would actually have been anticipated by a more biblically literate investigation.
The team, led by researchers from Harvard Medical School, compared differences in DNA sequences between the individuals and processed the data with several focused analyses. For example, one algorithm called the 3 Population Test compared three populations at a time to detect whether or not one of them was ancestral to the other two.
The study results published in the online journal PLoS Genetics included the virtual absence of evidence for African genetic mixing among Northern Europeans. This makes sense, given their geographic distance. However, Southern Europeans appeared to have experienced a measure of mixing with Africans 55 generations ago, equivalent to approximately 1,600 years, assuming a generation time of 29 years and a constant mutation rate.2
But for all their ingenuity and labor, the authors still required written historical sources to anchor their results in real history. They even wrote that this result “needs to be placed in historical context.”1 They then recounted a “period of Roman occupation of North Africa that lasted until the early 5th century AD, and indeed tomb inscriptions and literary references suggest that trade relations continued even after that time.”1
So-called “molecular clock” data are always calibrated with secondary historical sources where possible, and the time-related results from this analysis are no exception. This is why molecular clocks, which were promising when first introduced, were soon recognized for their unreliability and are most often correlated with evolutionary “dates” given to fossils.3
The genetic analysis also discovered that all eight Jewish populations in the PLoS study contained three to five percent African DNA sequence patterns. This was “striking” because the individual Jewish populations were known, through secular historical records, to have been separated from each other for hundreds of years. African DNA was even found in modern descendants of Ashkenazi Jews, who have inhabited Northern Europe since the 1100s A.D.
The study authors said: “A parsimonious explanation for these observations is that they reflect a history in which many of the Jewish groups descend from a common ancestral population which was itself admixed with Africans, prior to the beginning of the Jewish diaspora that occurred in 8th to 6th century BC”.1
But unlike their other results, the authors did not correlate this explanation with historical records, being evidently content to let the reader speculate about possible associated events. Did they do so because those records are not secular but biblical? Was the Bible ignored because it is considered taboo as a subject of serious historical study?
Genesis records that Joseph, one of the 12 sons of Jacob (Israel), married an African from Egypt.4 Numbers chapter one records that Joseph’s descendants, including those of both Ephraim and Manasseh, together outnumbered those of the other tribes.5 And elsewhere, Numbers tells that the proportion of land area that Joseph’s descendants inherited was larger than other tribes. Together, these records show that the African DNA of Joseph’s wife had a high likelihood of spreading through subsequent generations of Jews. And later relatives could also have married Africans.
In fact, a few generations after Joseph, Moses married a woman who was African. Numbers 12:1 states: “And Miriam and Aaron spake against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married: for he had married an Ethiopian woman.”
Though the PLoS study specifically looked for DNA similarities with peoples of sub-Saharan Africa, the fact that any Jewish/African marriages are specifically recounted in biblical records opens the possibility that sub-Saharan Africans would also have intermarried with Jews. The ancient Hebrews considered all of Africa’s inhabitants as either Egyptian if they inhabited the Nile River region, or Ethiopian if they came from any place south of Egypt—including sub-Saharan Africa.
And perhaps others, during the time from roughly 1706 B.C. when the Israelites entered Egypt all the way until they were taken captive by Assyria in 721 B.C. and even later, also intermarried.6 In line with this date range, the genetic study provided a wide time range for African admixture with Jewish ancestors, “between 1,600–3,400 years ago.”1
When it comes to history, genetic analyses can provide clues at best, whereas ancient records provide more reliable information. This analysis of Jewish genes certainly corroborates what the Old Testament tells about the history of the Jewish nation, and this not surprising since “O LORD God, thou art that God, and thy words be true.”7
1. Moorjani, P. et al. 2011. The History of African Gene Flow into Southern Europeans, Levantines, and Jews. PLoS Genetics. 7 (4): e1001373.
2. More specifically, the team measured single nucleotide polymorphisms, which may be the result of random mutation or non-random cellular DNA alterations.
3. See, for example, Thomas, B. New Study Contradicts Flower Fossil Dates. ICR News. Posted on icr.org April 9, 2010, accessed May 25, 2011. And Thomas, B. Frozen Penguin DNA Casts Doubt on DNA-Based Dates. ICR News. Posted on icr.org November 25, 2009, accessed May 25, 2011.
4. Genesis 41:45.
5. Because these sons of Joseph were each blessed with “tribe” status on par with their uncles, their populations were counted separately. According to Numbers 1, Ephraim and Manasseh totaled 72,700 people at the time of the exodus from Egypt, and the next largest tribe was Zebulon, at 57,400. Also, each one inherited a separate land area within what is today known as Israel.
6. Dates based on Ussher’s Chronology, a charted summary of which can be found at creation.com
7. 2 Samuel 7:28.
Mr. Thomas is Science Writer at the Institute for Creation Research. (www.icr.org).