Or, as Mr Thomas puts it, Genetics [sic] Analysis of Jews Confirms Genesis. Same thing? Let’s see…
What actually happened? A study was investigating the genetic evidence for further “sub-Saharan African gene flow into some West Eurasian populations after the initial dispersal out of Africa that occurred at least 45,000 years ago” (I’m quoting from the actual study here, by the way). They found that “the proportion of African ancestry in many Southern European groups is 1%–3%, in Middle Eastern groups is 4%–15%, and in Jewish groups is 3%–5%.”
What Brian Thomas picks up on is that the “3%–5%” is (to continue to quote the study) “consistent” over all the “8 diverse Jewish groups we studied”, which had been separated from each other for some thousands of years in many cases. Thomas uses this to back up the following claim:
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
(See Thomas’ articles for his references)
These claims are…interesting in a number of ways. We’ll get to them shortly. Mr Thomas also says that:
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?
Thomas’ interpretation here is wrong on multiple counts. The study authors are biologists, not historians, and so can only make explanations based on biology and general population movement and mixing. It is not wise to take your explaination directly from the Bible, especially as your sole source. The study does talk about groups of Irani and Iraqi Jews “thought to descend at least in part from Jews who were exiled to Babylon about 2,600 years ago”, but then they give two references for this (Levy H, Ebrami H (1999) (1999) Comprehensive history of the Jews of Iran: Mazda Publ. and Rejwan N (1985) (1985) The Jews of Iraq: 3000 Years of History and Culture: Westview Press.), neither of which come directly from the Bible. I doubt that the same thing can said of the descendants of Jacob. Secondly, they authors remark (right before the quote) that “An important caveat is that there is significant heterogeneity in the dates of African mixture in various Jewish populations”, something that Mr Thomas seems to have forgotten. What this means is that while in all Jewish groups the mixture seems to be the same, said mixing seems possibly to have happened at different times for different groups. The quoted explanation is merely the winner if you apply Occam’s Razor at this point. We don’t yet know if that is exactly the case. It is therefore infinitely premature for the authors to “speculate about possible associated events”, or anyone else for that matter – especially, as stated above, since the authors are biologists, and to do so would be operating out of their feilds, dangerous at the best of times.
It would take an absurdly more precise study to back up Numbers 1 or 12. You can’t possibly (at least at present) confirm or deny whether or not a particular marriage occurred, interracial or otherwise via such a method. You may be able to shed some light on whether “later relatives could also have married Africans” but doing so doesn’t really help or hinder his argument. Finally, Thomas’ headline was misleading – “Genetics Analysis of Jews Confirms Genesis” – really? All of it? I like mine better…