In search of the historical Abraham
According to the written and oral traditions of the three major religions of the Western world, Abraham was a real person who lived in the Middle East nearly 4,000 years ago. According to each respective tradition, he was the first of the Fathers of the Jewish people, fathered the Arab nations and Islam, and laid the conceptual basis for Christianity. Tradition relates that he may have influenced early Eastern religion, as well.
Abraham is the first to be called a Hebrew - Ivri—one who passes over from one side to the other. He received this title because he actually crossed over Euphrates River, in present day Iraq, as he traveled to the Promised Land at the call of God. Philosophically, he earned the distinction as a Hebrew for his clarity of truth, for at a time that the entire world was of one opinion, he was of another. He was born, according to the Talmud, into a world that had largely lost recognition of the one God—the Creator, Sustainer, and Supervisor of the universe. He recognized at an early age that there must be only one Creator and Prime Mover of all. It was not a popular opinion at the time, but he was a fighter for truth and freedom, and he placed his life on the line for his belief. In his lifetime, he continually faced and passed major tests of his strength of conviction and commitment to his vision of truth of the reality and unity of God.
The Jewish people regard Abraham as their original forefather, the father of Isaac, and the grandfather of Jacob. Abraham is also revered as the forefather of the Arab nations and Islam, as he was also the father of Ishmael, his son through Hagar, Sara’s Egyptian princess handmaiden. The Koran reports that Abraham and Ishmael raised the foundations of the Kaaba, the cube-shaped black stone structure in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, which is Islam’s holiest shrine. During the annual Haj pilgrimage, Moslems from all over the world circle the Kaaba, reinforcing the central role of Abraham and Ishmael in Islamic faith. Christianity, as well, regards Abraham as a Patriarch. He is the acknowledged father of monotheism, the progenitor of Western religion.
Can recent genetic research give some indication of the existence of the historical Abraham?
Recent genetic studies of the Jewish people clearly indicate that the roots of the Jewish nation can be traced to the Middle East. This research confirms the geographical origin of the core of every major Jewish Diaspora community. (See: “Jewish Genetics”)
Furthermore, the discovery of the “Cohen Gene”—the genetic signature shared by the majority of Kohanim—the Jewish priestly family worldwide, is an indication that this signature is that of the ancient Hebrews. (See: “The Cohen - DNA Connection”)
Based on the DNA of today’s Kohanim, the geneticists have dated their “Most Common Recent Ancestor” to 106 generations ago, approximately 3,300 years before the present. This is in agreement with the Torah’s written and oral tradition of the lifetime of Aaron, the original High Priest and founder of the Kohen lineage. Further genetic studies have found that the CMH-the Cohen Modal Haplotype-a haplotype of the MED (J) haplogroup-is not exclusive to Kohanim, and not unique to Jews. It is also found in significant percentages among other Middle Eastern populations, and to a lesser extent, among southern Mediterranean groups. A haplotype is a group of distinct DNA markers—neutral nucleotide mutations, which when found together indicate a lineage. These particular markers were discovered on the Y-Chromosome, which is passed from father to son, without change, thus establishing a paternal lineage pattern.
All of the above is scientific fact, which has only become known in recent years. Using these findings as a basis, perhaps we can speculate and consider some implications of the findings.
If the CMH is the genetic signature of Aaron, the father of the Kohanim, it must also have been the genetic signature of Aaron’s father, Amram, and that of his father, Kehat, and of his father, Levi. Levi’s father was Jacob who also must have had the CMH as his Y-Chromosome genetic signature, as did his father, Isaac.
Thus we arrive at Abraham. Abraham was only seven generations removed from Aaron, a matter of a few hundred years. Genetic signatures change slightly only over many generations. Thus, it is very reasonable to assume that the CMH, the most common haplotype among Jewish males, is therefore also the genetic signature of the Patriarch Abraham.
This would explain why we also find the CMH in high numbers among Arabs and other Middle Easterners today. These peoples traditionally claim to be the progeny of Abraham through his son Ishmael, who would also have to be carrying Abraham’s male genetic signature. These markers are also found among some southern Mediterranean and European peoples.
Besides the Jews, there are other populations that share the “Abrahamic Genetic Signature” as their primary Y-markers. These include Lebanese, Syrians, Druze, Iraqi Kurds, some southern and central Italians, and Hungarians. It is also found among some Armenians. These may be descendants of Abraham through his grandson Esau, brother of Jacob, some of whose progeny, according to Talmudic tradition, founded the early roots of the empire of Rome. As Isaac’s son and Abraham’s grandson, Esau would also have had these same Y-chromosome lineage markers. Please keep in mind that this part .>is the author’s speculation only.
The Jewish Kohanim have maintained the Abrahamic lineage to the highest degree among the Jewish People. Jewish is not a genetic definition—other peoples, through marriage and conversions, have joined the Jewish People. However, being a Kohen is a genetic definition—father to son starting from Aaron, the High Priest. And despite their having been scattered throughout the world for over 2,000 years, the extended family of Kohanim have maintained their genetic integrity equivalent to the highest percentages of the other Middle Eastern groups which never left the region.
. Based on the dating of the Most Recent Common Ancestor of the Kohanim as approximately 3300 years, it is not unreasonable to assume that it is the male descendants of Patriarch Abraham today who possess this DNA signature. However, Abraham may not be the exclusive source of these markers, for they are a component of a more ancient Middle Eastern gene pool.
“From Me, behold, I make My covenant with you, you shall be the father of many nations… And I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make of you nations, and kings shall come from you.” Genesis 17:4, 6
The promise and prophecy of God to Abraham was that he would be the progenitor of great nations, that his descendents—literally “his seed”—would be numerous “as the stars in the heavens and as the sands on the seashore,” (Genesis 22:17). And indeed, the number of people in the world today with the “Abrahamic Genetic Signature” is too large to count precisely. A reasonable estimate is in the hundreds of millions.
This article is based on a chapter from the new book, DNA and Tradition: the Genetic Link to the Ancient Hebrews. Click here to order.