A chromosome test has confirmed the strict father-to-son inheritance of priestly status in Jewish tradition, according to researchers from Oxford University. After the Exodus from Egypt, men of the tribe of Levi were given special religious responsibilities and descendants of Moses’s brother Aaron formed a priestly caste called the Cohanim.
Geneticist David Goldstein and his colleagues tested descendants of both tribes to see if their Y chromosomes, inherited from their fathers, were distinguishable from those of the general Jewish population. They report in today’s Nature that they found many different types of Y chromosomes among the descendants of the tribe of Levi and among most Jews, but there was much less diversity among the men who considered themselves to be Cohanim. They calculate that the latest common ancestor of all modern-day Cohanim lived sometime between the Exodus and the destruction of the first Temple in 586 BC.
Compiled by Times medical writer Thomas H. Maugh II