Sudan connection: Are Ethiopian Jews descendants of the ancient Israelites?

| July 22, 2013 |
Ethiopian immigrant to Israel (CREDIT: Flickr/Jafi Israel). Ethiopian immigrant to Israel (CREDIT: Flickr/Jafi Israel).

The conventional theory among historians today attributes the origin of the Ethiopian Jews to a separatist movement that branched out of Christianity and adopted Judaism between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries (e.g. Quirin, 1992a, 1992b; Shelemay, 1989; Kaplan, 1995). The theory essentially holds the Ethiopian Jews to be the descendants of indigenous non-Jewish Ethiopians, and their belief in ancient Jewish descent to be just a matter of myth and legend. Proponents of the theory have been praised for being “thought-provoking” (Waldron, 1993) and for “demythologizing” (Gerhart, 1993) the history of the group. Consequently, scholars, and historians in particular, have been steered to ignore the compelling evidence for the ancient origins of the group.

I will present the historical evidence which, with the support of crucial genetic findings, strongly suggests that today’s Ethiopian Jews are the descendants of an ancient Jewish population. This study reinforces recent reviews of the DNA studies of the Ethiopian Jews (Entine, 2007) that have already pointed to major flaws in the traditional historical perspective. Furthermore, the latest research further suggests a strong historical affiliation between the Ethiopian Jews and Northern Sudan that is little discussed in literature. The paper analyzes the history of the Jews of Ethiopia in context of their peripheral geography in the Lake Tana area and the Semien.

The Beta Israel

Until they were forced to leave Ethiopia in the 1980s, Ethiopian Jews lived in small villages scattered in the northwestern region of the Ethiopian plateau around Lake Tana and in the Semien mountains area. They traditionally referred to themselves as the Beta Israel, and were referred to by other Ethiopians as Falasha, meaning “strangers” in the indigenous Semitic language Ge’ez. Thus, the term Beta Israel will be used throughout this article to label the community.

The community has venerated the Old Testament of the Ethiopian Bible and its religious language has been Ge’ez. Today, the Beta Israel show closest resemblance in external cultural characteristics to their surrounding Habash, i.e. the ethnic category that encompasses the Amhara and Tigray-Tigrinya populations. And although both the Habash-Christians and the Beta Israel claim royal descent from the time of King Solomon and Queen Sheba, an important difference exists (Entine, 2007, p.148-9). While the Christians claim descent from King Menelik—the offspring of Solomon and Sheba in Ethiopia—the Beta Israel claim descent from first-generation Israelites from the tribe of Dan who some believe accompanied Menelik as guards of honor.

To start with, the geographical definition of Ethiopia in historical sources must be addressed for it has distorted major studies on the history of the region. It wasn’t until recently that scholars realized that the name Ethiopia, in ancient and medieval sources, denoted the Nile valley civilization of Kush, also known today as ancient Nubia, in what is today Northern Sudan. On the other hand, the geographical area that encompasses the modern country of Ethiopia had in the past housed the ancient kingdom of Aksum, which developed in the northern parts of the plateau, and was sometimes referred to as Abyssinia. It is also worth mentioning that all of the Biblical, and a significant portion of the ancient, references to Ethiopia, or Kush, predate the establishment of Aksum in the first century CE.

As I have argued in a former paper (Omer, 2009a), analyzing the history of the Beta Israel within the boundaries of the contemporary country of Ethiopia is a problematic approach. That is because the political boundaries of the modern day countries of Sudan and Ethiopia were only defined towards the early twentieth century. However, even after the boundaries were specified, the Beta Israel settlements remained at the periphery and far from the interior of today’s Ethiopia, which is close to the western border region with Northern Sudan.

The political boundaries between the two states had remained, for the longest part of history, fluid and undefined in many areas. It was mostly the twentieth century borderline that defined the contemporary identity of the Beta Israel population as Ethiopian, and distinguished them from the populations of the flat plains of the Sudan, to the west. In other words, the Beta Israel have always represented a periphery population that, in the context of history, can never been seen as integral element of today’s Ethiopia.

Theories of history

Before proceeding further, I will present a brief overview of the hypothesis that the Beta Israel emerged out of Ethiopia’s Christianity. The hypothesis is best argued by Quirin (1992a) and Kaplan (1995). Quirin’s argument is based on the premise that the Beta Israel identity has “emerged out of a differential interaction with the Ethiopian state and dominant Abyssinian society” (1998, p. 1). Kaplan (1995) follows the same line of argument and concludes that “their ‘Judaism,’ far from being an ancient precursor of Ethiopian Christianity, developed relatively late and drew much of its inspiration from the Orthodox Church” (p. 157). They essentially argue that the religious substance of the Beta Israel has been adapted from the Jewish character already found in Ethiopia’s Christianity. Salamon (1999) also emphasizes the Christian roots of the Beta Israel, yet she leaves the question of the group’s actual origins open to question. She argues that they “constructed their identity in reference to their Christian neighbors, rather than to a Jewish ‘other’” (p. 4).

Lack of neutral analysis to the shared similarities between the religious traditions of the Beta Israel and that of the Ethiopian Church has been a major problem in the study of the group. Having said this, it should be noted that Ethiopian Christianity appears to be more influenced by Judaism than vice versa. Gatatchew Haile (as cited in Tibebu, 1995, p. 11) states:

Only a Christianity of a nation or community that first practiced Judaism would incorporate Jewish religious practices and make the effort to convince its faithful to observe Sunday like Saturday. In short, the Jewish influence in Ethiopian Christianity seems to originate from those who received Christianity and not from those who introduced it. The Hebraic-Jewish elements were part of the indigenous Aksumite culture adopted into Ethiopian Christianity.

Also, as Kessler (2012) points out, the theory does not indicate how the Beta Israel gained intricate comprehension of Jewish material encompassing pre-rabbinical principles based on the books of Enoch and Jubilees. In essence, the sum of Christian influences in Beta Israel religious traditions, which we should take great care not to exaggerate, may reflect nothing much more than the struggles of a Diaspora Jewish community at preserving whatever was left of its steadily vanishing heritage. Poverty, instability, persecution, and illiteracy across the centuries would have certainly caused the loss of any significant authentic Jewish scriptures. However, this should not deny the survival of the fundamental aspects of the Jewish identity and religion among the Beta Israel.

Moreover, a basic question that Kaplan (1995) and Quirin (1998) do not address is: Why would Christians become Jews? As Teferi (2013) explains, converting to Judaism requires the abandonment of the essence of Christianity (p. 179), which makes a conversion unlikely. The only reasonable suggestion, Teferi indicates, as to why Christians would have become Jewish is if they were forced to (p. 180) convert, which is also unlikely.

Worth mentioning are the accounts of the sixteenth century Christian monks, Abba Saga and Abba Sabra, which have been of major importance to proponents of the traditional Christian origin theory. Quirin (1992a) as well as Kaplan (1995) present the two monks as central figures in establishing the religious institutions of the Beta Israel. This is based on the idea that the monks must have been responsible for introducing monasticism and the clergy system found within the Beta Israel traditions.

This aspect of the argument is problematic for three reasons. First, there is nothing concrete to confirm the historicity of the two monks. Second, a different sixteenth century report suggests that many Beta Israel practiced monasticism prior to the alleged arrival of the two monks (Teferi, 2013, p. 185). The report refers to Jews from Abyssinia (or Aksum) and “their books, their priests and their monks” (as cited in Teferi, 2013, p. 185; Norris, 1978). Third, as stated by Kessler (2012), “Quirin tends to confuse the basic tenets of the Beta Israeli Falashas with the rites and forms of their practices” and “does not appreciate that the religion ‘as it has come down to us’ [as cited in Quirin, 1992a, p. 68]. In essence this means a belief in the oneness of the Almighty, based on the teachings of the Torah (Orit), and a faith in the coming of the Messiah,” which “more than ritual differences – important though they are – distinguish Judaism from Christianity and could not conceivably have been invented by the rebel monks” (Preface to Third, Revised, Edition section).

The Beta Israel and Kush (Northern Sudan)

In order to trace the origin of the Beta Israel, we must start in Northern Sudan, where the oldest evidence for Jews in the Horn of African area points. This is not only important because of the geographical relevance between the Beta Israel and Kush, but also because of the immense evidence that link between the two.

The history of the Beta Israel in context of their neighboring ancient land of Kush, in what is today Northern Sudan, has surprisingly not been the subject of a serious investigation. Kessler (2012) is one of very few contemporary scholars who has attempted to elaborate on the connection between the Beta Israel and Kush, and has recognized the tendency among scholars “to underrate the significance of the impact of ancient Egypt and of Nubia or Meroë” (Preface to Third, Revised, Edition section) on development of the African Horn region.

References to Kush appear in the Bible as well as in extra-Biblical narratives and traditions. The Bible mentions directly the presence of Jews in Kush; the book of Zephaniah states (note that Ethiopia in ancient sources referred to Northern Sudan, not to the modern country of Ethiopia): “From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia [Kush], My worshipers, My dispersed ones, Will bring My offerings” (3:10, New American Bible). Psalm 87:4 and Isiah 11:11 make the same indication.

Also, the Bible identifies a number of important Biblical characters as Kushite. In Numbers (12:1), the wife of Moses is claimed to have been a Kushite. Zipporah, Moses’ wife known by name, is commonly described in Biblical traditions as being of Kushite ancestry. In Ezekiel (Exagoge: 60-65) Zipporah tells Moses about her motherland:

Stranger, this land is called Libya [Africa]. It is inhabited by tribes of various peoples, Ethiopians [Kushites], black men. One man is the ruler of the land: he is both king and general. He rules the state, judges the people, and is priest. This man is my father {Jethro} and theirs.

The Midrash Book of Jasher (Hapler, 1921), provides a detailed account of Moses’ journey to the southern kingdom of Kush; including how he gained the admiration of its people (p. 132):

Twenty-seven years old was Moses when he began to reign over Cush [Kush], and forty years did he reign. And the Lord made Moses find grace and favor in the sight of the children of Cush, and the children of Cush loved him exceedingly.

What makes Kush central to the study of the Beta Israel is that it has defined the groups’ identity until medieval times. Rabbi David ben Solomon ibn Zimra, the sixteenth century Chief Rabbi of Egypt, whose acknowledgment of the Beta Israel as rightful Jews has later been of significant importance in their recognition by the world Jewry, states: “those [Jews] who came from the Land of Cush are without doubt of the tribe of Dan…” (as cited in Lenhoff & Weaver, 2007, p. 303).

The identification of the Beta Israel with Kush is best illustrated in the writings of Jewish scholar and traveler Eldad Ha-Dani in the ninth century. Eldad identifies himself as being a citizen of an independent Jewish state “beyond the rivers of Cush” (Hapler, 1921, p. 49). He also identified himself as being of an Israelite origin from the tribe of Dan, and thus his last name Ha-Dani. Eldad’s geographical affiliation and identification with the tribe of Dan strongly corroborate with what is known of the Beta Israel (Omer, 2009b; Epstein, 1891; Schindler & Ribner, 1997, p.2; Teferi, 2013, p. 188-9; Schloessinger, 2009, p. 1-9).

Moreover, Eldad’s description of the ethnic groups and geography of the African Horn region appears to be fairly legitimate and reinforces the historicity of his accounts (Borchardt, 1923-1924). In the course of his narrative, he elaborates on the migration story of his Israelite ancestors—the tribe of Dan—from the time when they left the “land of Israel” (Hapler, 1921, p. 52), passed through Egypt, and finally settled down in “the land of Cush”(p. 53). He states: “The inhabitants of Cush did not prevent the children of Dan from dwelling with them, for we [the children of Dan] took the land by force” (p. 53). The fact that Eldad identifies his people with Kush, and not with Aksum, demonstrates the very strong historical identity bond that ties between the Beta Israel and Northern Sudan. And although scholars commonly view the affiliation with the tribe of Dan in context of other world myths about the ten lost tribes of Israel (e.g. Segal, 1999; Schwartz, 2007, p.1x), some scholars have proposed an actual Samaritan origin for the Beta Israel on basis of a variety of religious and linguistic evidence (Shahîd, 1995, p.94-5; Leonhard, 2006, p.39-42). Hence, tribal Israelite descent amongst the Beta Israel is not unlikely.

Another important twelfth century Jewish traveler, Benjamin of Tudela, writes about independent Israelite cities in mountains in Eastern Africa—in a clear reference to the Beta Israel settlements in the Semien mountains—from which the inhabitants “go down to the plain-country called Lubia [or Nubia]” (Benjamin as cited in Kaplan, 1995, p. 50). Though Benjamin does not refer to Kush, his uses the more medieval name of Northern Sudan, Nubia.

A third, no less significant source, is the fifteenth century scholar, Obadiah ben Abraham of Bertinoro, who discusses trade relations between the Beta Israel and Kush: “They believe them-selves to be descendants of the Tribe of Dan, and they say that the pepper and other spices which the Cushites sell come from their land” (as cited in Abrahams & Montefiore, 1889, p. 195).

Furthermore, archeological findings indicate strong communication ties and travel between Aksum and Kush, starting from the early stages of the Aksumite kingdom (Fattovich, 1975, 1982; see also Phillipson, 1998, p. 24). As mentioned previously, the civilization of Kush predates that of Aksum with more than fifteen hundred years. While Kush was already a flourishing kingdom by 1700 BC, and rose as a Mediterranean empire in the eighth century BC, Aksum did not emerge as a recognizable kingdom until the first century CE. Although the archeology of pre-Aksum, in what is today Ethiopia, reflects a dominant South Arabian culture, the later archeology of Aksum shows stronger and direct cultural influences from Kush (Pirenne, 1967; Fattovich, 1982, 1975).

Furthermore, during the Meroitic period, when Kush was centered at Meroe, from 270 BC- 400 CE, the Kushites conducted extensive building activities east of the Nile. Starting from around the first century, constructions included numerous hafirs and other water sources (Welsby, 1998, p. 128), which indicates the intensification of human movement between the kingdom of Kush and with the, by then, emerging kingdom of Aksum. It should also be noted, in this regard, that Aksum’s only direct-land access to the Mediterranean was through the Sudan.

Kessler (2012) has identified a number of traditional Beta Israel crafts and production practices that are historically associated with the people of Kush; those are domestically made pottery, cotton weaving, basketry, and leatherwork. More importantly is the traditional role of the Beta Israel as ironsmiths, which corresponds with Meroe’s distinctive role in ancient history in the discovery and manufacture of iron. Being rich in ore, the Kushites employed iron in all the different industries of the kingdom including agriculture (Asante, 2012, p. 96).

Given all these indications, the possibility that the Jews who entered the kingdom of Aksum, which did not mature until the first century CE, came from Kush becomes likely. Even though such speculations seem to still fall short of explaining the exceptional affiliation between the Beta Israel and Northern Sudan in medieval references, they pose crucial inquiries regarding the origin of this group.

Finally, in context of our search for the historical, and possibly genealogical, connections between the Beta Israel and Northern Sudan, an important point regarding the physical features of the group must be made. Contrary to what is commonly assumed, and as I stressed formally in an essay (Omer, 2012, p. 1), the Beta Israel do not really look like their surrounding non-Jewish Ethiopians. As a Northern Sudanese myself, I was able to notice that most of the Beta Israel look closer to the people of Northern Sudan in physical appearance, than they do to the non-Jewish Ethiopians. In other words, although a non-Jewish Ethiopian can easily be distinguished from a Northern Sudanese by looks, no distinction can mostly be drawn between an Ethiopian Jew and a Northern Sudanese. The majority of them do not look like the non-Jewish Ethiopians.

On the other hand, and despite the expected difficulty in distinguishing East African specific physical features for people from other places, Western scholar, Leslau (1979), who visited Ethiopia in the 1940s was able to notice some “facial traits” (p. xii) among the Beta Israel, which he mistakenly associates with the stereotypical look of the “Oriental Jew”.

The Beta Israel and Aksum

The traditional Christian origin theory argues that the contemporary Beta Israel developed separately from the ancient Jews of Aksum. Quirin (1992b) states: “The ‘Falasha’ emerged as an identifiable, named group during the period from the fourteenth to the sixteenth century” (p. 203); in agreement, Kaplan argues: “Nothing in the written sources can be interpreted as reliable evidence for the survival of a distinct well-defined Jewish community in Ethiopia for the period from the seventh to the 14th century” (1995, p. 55).

However, historical evidence strongly contradict Quirin’s and Kaplan’s conclusion. To start with, it has been confirmed with certainty that Judaism in Aksum predates the introduction of Christianity, in the fourth century. Kaplan (1995) admits that “the linguistic evidence would seem to clearly indicate that Jewish influences in Ethiopia were, at least in part, both early, i.e., Aksumite, and direct” (p. 19). Linguistic evidence found in translations of Biblical material into Ge’ez, has already shown that a Jewish society had entered Aksum sometime between the first and fourth centuries (Kaplan, 1995, p. 13-20). As a result of this, the influence of Judaism in the Ethiopian Orthodox church has been overwhelming and has no counterpart in the contemporary Christian world. Traditions including circumcision on the eighth day of birth (Ullendorff, 1956), the historical upholding of the Saturday Sabbath (Ullendorff, 1968, p. 109-13), the architectural division system of the Ethiopian church that mimics Solomon’s Temple (Ullendorff, 1968, p. 87-97), as well as a diversity of other features, testify to a powerful former Jewish culture.

Additional evidence comes from the sixth century reign of Kaleb, the fervently Christian king of Aksum who adopted vigorous policies to convert the non-Christian inhabitants of the kingdom. In the early decades of the century, he restored Christianity to South Arabia by defeating its Jewish king. Unfortunately there are no sources to elaborate on his domestic policies towards the Jews; however, a few but significant sources provide crucial indications for the origins of the Beta Israel settlements in the Lake Tana area and the Semien. Some of these sources mention that Kaleb had two sons; one Gabra Masqal and another Beta Israel (Kaplan, 1995, p. 39; Getatchew Haile, 1982). Beta Israel is said to have unsuccessfully attempted to deter Gabra Masqal’s path to the throne. In this account, it seems that the name Beta Israel was used as propaganda to symbolize the disobedience of the Jews to conversion. (Of course the idea that Kaleb himself was a Beta Israel is also subject to speculation).

Also, during the sixth century, the Alexandrian traveler Cosmas Indicopleustes reports on military conflicts between an Aksumite king (probably Kaleb) and enemies in the “Semenai [Semien]“(McCrindle, 1897, p.67); this may indicate that Jewish resistant movements were already being clustered in the indicated area. Another reference from medieval Abyssinia speaks about events taking place around the sixth century, and mentions the name “Falash[a]” (as cited in Kaplan, 1995, p. 39; also see Varenbergh, 1915-16).

By the mid sixth century, Aksum began to decline and struggled to control its northern and peripheral territories. By the late decades of the century, the frontier regions to the north and west of Lake Tana were mostly independent and may have already been inhabited by Jews. From the seventh to the fourteenth centuries, the mentioned areas remained isolated from Aksum, which seemingly explains the decline in references to Jews in Aksumite sources.

Eldad’s reference to his independent Jewish state “beyond the rivers of Cush” (Hapler, 1921, p. 53) during the ninth century seems to point to the same Lake Tana area of the Beta Israel. Writing in the twelfth century, Benjamin of Tudela appears to corroborate Eldad’s account by mentioning independent Israelite cities in Eastern Africa: “And there are high mountains there and there are Israelites there and the Gentile yoke is not upon them” (as cited in Kaplan, 1995, p. 50). It appears that by “mountains” Benjamin is referring to the Semien.

Finally, the Jewish queen Judith, who is deeply situated in Ethiopian history and traditions, is described as coming from a region “west” (Trimingham, 1952, p. 52) of Aksum and ruled Aksum sometime in the late ninth or tenth century, is yet another strong indication of the presence of Jews in this region prior of the fourteenth century. The Christian Zagwe dynasty that succeeded Judith to the throne and ruled until the late thirteenth century is widely described as being of Jewish roots (Briggs, 2009, p. 18). Judith’s possible Jewish background is further enforced by the fact that the dynasty governed from Lasta, which has been a vigorously Jewish area.

Given the various references for Jewish presence in the region across the centuries, there appears to be no persuasive reason to assume that the Beta Israel have emerged as recently as the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries. It is also very unreasonable to suggest that all such historical references to Jewish presence in the designated regions, which greatly correspond with the historical and cultural context of the contemporary Beta Israel, are coincidental.

Genetic evidence

In recent years, DNA studies have shown the conventional historical theory endorsed by Kaplan (1995) and Quirin (1992b) to be very much unreliable. An in-depth analysis of genetic research by Entine (2007, p. 149) states:

The Falasha may have been a rump group that remained true to its historical roots when the Ethiopian king converted to Christianity in the fifth century. For centuries, the Black Jews maintained separate traditions from their Christian countrymen. While most Ethiopians ate raw meat, drank heavily, and rarely washed, the Falasha cooked their meat and were scrupulously sober and relentlessly hygienic.

Although the precise relationship between the ancient Jews of Aksum and the contemporary Beta Israel community has not been clearly understood by geneticists, studies have already confirmed some historical continuity within the group (Entine, interview, July 7, 2013). Thus, the widely accepted theory among geneticists, as proposed by Entine (2007) and supported by research and subsequent studies (Saey, 2010; Ostrer, 2012), suggests that the group was formed as early as the fourth to sixth centuries period. The fact that studies found the Beta Israel to be genetically so diverged from other Jewish communities (e.g. Lucotte & Smets, 1999) may suggest that the group was initiated by Jewish settlers who converted a majority of local people to Judaism more than two thousand years ago (Begley, 2012). Accordingly, Entine (2013) concludes, “That would mean that Ethiopian Jewry predates Ashkenazi Jewry” (interview, July 7); however, this does not necessarily suggest that the Beta Israel descent can be specifically traced to the Fertile Crescent.

Moreover, despite the fact that the genetic distance between the Beta Israel and other contemporary Jewish groups is large, studies have already cited cases of Ethiopian Jews with genetic markers common in other Jewish populations (Hammer, et al., 2000).

The wide range of historical evidence available on the Beta Israel points to the survival of an ancient Jewish heritage within the group. Furthermore, sources suggest the establishment of the Beta Israel settlements in their contemporary Lake Tana locations to be much earlier than the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries period some historians have suggested. In addition, the African ethnicity of the Beta Israel appears to be more complicated than just Ethiopian, and seems to reflect a strong Northern Sudanese element as corroborated by the wide range of mentioned historical observations and the peripheral geography of the population.

We need more historical investigation on the origin of the Beta Israel that is not dictated by concepts of the conventional historical theory. Recent genetic studies have already confirmed an ancient heritage within the contemporary Beta Israel population. Hence, the approach suggested by the traditional historical theory in simplifying the origins of the group to local and former-Christian converts is neither geographically persuasive nor convincing from a historical point of view.

Ibrahim M. Omer is a Research Assistant at California State University Monterey Bay, Visual & Public Arts Department, Museum Studies Program

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  • Joseph De Soto

    DNA evidence is clear. The Ethiopian Jews are NOT the descendants of ancient Israelites. Their link to Modern Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews is near 0%. I am a geneticist and have looked deeply into the subject. The problem with the internet is that any anyone can give an opinion regardless of their expertise or in most cases lack thereof.

    • http://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/ Jon Entine

      Joseph: That’s what this article says. It disputes the belief–that’s what it is–that Ethiopian Jews are “recently” converted Christians and makes it clear that their Jewish belief is the result of first millennium conversions (which pre-date the formation of Ashkenazi Jewry). As you know, that’s what the DNA evidence suggests. So…what is your point?

    • Markos Alemu

      Who said, ancient Israelite had only Sephradic or Mizrahi DNA? Ethiopians were part of Mosses people as per the Bible and ancient Israelite were most likely mixed race. You look frustrated! Don’t be that racist, all are likely from ancient roots.

    • derek

      Hey Joseph I am ashkenazi e1b1b1c1a…my confusion is why do you say that ethiopians have no DNA link to ancient or modern jews…They have plenty of J haplogroup and also many e1b1b1c…All jewish groups have these haplogroups…. (J and E1b1b1c)

      • Markos Alemu

        I agree with you!! Ethiopian semites do carry about 33% J1c3 and about 24% of E1b1b1c1 (EM-34). I think Joseph wants to see lighter skins and not of the DNA. Ethiopian Jews generally cluster with Ethiopian semites.

      • Aaron Levius

        Hello

        I am and my family have been Jewish forever. I am of Sephardic lineage on both sides of my family. I also am E1b1b1c1a on my Fathers side and K1 on my mothers side. I know and have studied long on the DNA evidence about haplogroup J1 VS E-M123 I feel its the other way around from what your stating here. J1 came from Northern Mesopotamia and Persia, Babylon and Syria. During these city states captured our Israeli ancestors they mixed J1 with their DNA into the populations of our Jewish heritage. Here is a VERY good article on studies done on the mosaic haplogroups of Jewish ancestry and where they come to be. http://www.jogg.info/11/coffman.htm Here is a cut and paste that cannot be ignored

        In fact, the best candidate for possible E3b Israelite ancestry among Jews is E-M123. This sub-clade occurs in almost the same proportions (approximately 10-12%) among both Ashkenazim and Sephardim (Semino et al. 2004). According to Cruciani (2004), E-M123 probably originated in the Middle East, since it is found in a large majority of the populations from that area, and then back migrated to Ethiopia. He further notes that this sub-clade may have been spread to Europe during the Neolithic agricultural expansion out of the Middle East. However, because E-M123 is also found in low percentages (1-3%) in many southern European and Balkan populations, its origin among Jewish groups remains uncertain (Semino et al. 2004). Yet the fact that both Sephardim and Ashkenazim possess this sub-clade in similar high frequency supports an Israelite/Middle Eastern origin.
        Haplogroup J2 among Jews has been erroneously interpreted in the past as exclusively “Israelite” or “Middle Eastern” in origin. Among Ashkenazim, J2 occurs among 23.2% of the population, while Sephardim have 28.6% (Semino et al. 2004). While these percentages are nearly identical to Iraqi (22.4%) and Lebanese (25%) groups, they are also comparable to Greek (20.6%), Georgian (26.7%), Albanian (19.6%), Italian (20-29%), and to a lesser extent, French Basque (13.6%) populations (Semino et al. 2004).

    • GW

      If you’re a geneticist, why should Ethiopians be compared to Ashkenazi’s versus the other way around? Ashkenazi’s blood is damaged by European blood lines isn’t it? Or does one’s bias set in when doing these comparisons?

    • ricoh

      Your statement, shows exactly what you are doing giving your opinion. Your statement, is your statement, with no concrete scholarship to back up your opinions. Everything story in the old testament takes place in Africa, not Poland, not Russia not Germany or any European country. They are truly the real Jews in comparison to the their European brethren, my God, the are from the ancient land of Kush, not you.

    • An Ethiopian Jew

      Typical Racist Mizrahi Jew Ethiopian Jews Are The Original Jews Whatever You Like It Or Not!

  • Joseph De Soto

    The article is not peer reviewed and has no relevance or accuracy

    • Ibrahim Omer

      Yes it is peer reviewed…and I didn’t get your point!

      • Markos Alemu

        One very odd and non realisitc comment is your intention to separate the culture and life styles of northern Ethiopia with Ethiopian Jews: 1. Eating raw meat is a very recent Amhara tradition linked with Ahmed Gran attack in Ethiopian monarch after 16th century. 2. ‘Rarely wash their body’ is obviously the result of your hatred look against northern Ethiopian Christians. 3. Drink heavily!! That is linked to your Muslim religion and not from scholarity work. All in all, better attempt but avoid those hateful and racist personalities. Besides, Sudanese and Ethiopians are all genetically the same!

        • Ibrahim Omer

          Markos, thank you for the comment. It is my intention to clarify the point that the Ethiopian Jews are not solely the product of the modern geographical domain of Ethiopia. I think that the Ethiopian Jews have probably never been fundamentally “Ethiopian”. As suggested in the article, the linkage between the Ethiopian Jews and Sudan in historic sources is more than strong.

          I think it is a fact that the current Ethiopia-Sudan national border is the result of twentieth century colonial politics. During colonial times, the populations of some Ethiopian border-towns like El-Metema, which was once an important city for the Ethiopian
          Jews, was constituted of majority Arabic- speaking Northern Sudanese. As a result of borders politics, population shifts took place resulting in conventionally Ethiopian demographics.

          On the other hand, the statements I cited about the culture is true. Ethiopian Jewish traditions are exceptionally strict on maintaining hygiene, and are restrictive on alcohol consumption. And the community does not subscribe to eating raw meat.

          Also, the tradition of eating raw meat is found in many cultures around the world, and is not exceptional to Ethiopia and Somalia. In Arab countries like Syria and Lebanon, Kibbeh Nayyeh is a popular dish made of raw ground meat.

          Also, the Ethiopians and Northern Sudanese do display different physical features and are not typically the same. Such differences may not be discernible to people from other cultures.

          • Markos Alemu

            I agree and as I have said, your approach is rather sensible but probably not popular by this racist world. About 40% of their Y DNA haplotype is shared by Nilotic people of the Nile Vally but Ethiopian Amhara carry just 10% and there were elephantine Jews and the Nile Vally has hidden many mysterious and hidden evidences. Ethiopian Jews are likely to be very ancient Hebrew and people of Mosses and hence not considered as Normative Jews. I believe they were founders and sources of ancient Hebrew traditions. I just share what I have read and observed and ofcourse not to comment on academic works

          • Markos Alemu

            I think if we understand the word ‘Ethiopia’ to be the same as ‘Cush’ in hebrew, then Cush had more ancient root in southern arabia than todays Ethiopia and Sudan. There are several hints in the Bible that refer to Arabia than Sudan. Today’s Ethiopia also preceeds the ancient Cush in Sudan. The word Aksum is derived from sabean word KSM to mean people of cush. Ethiopia was a vast territory and todays Ethiopia was rather at the center.

          • Ibrahim Omer

            The ancient civilization and kingdom of Kush was located within the boundaries of what is today the Republic of the Sudan. The first largest center of the Kushite civilization was Kerma, followed by Napata, and finally Meroe; the latter ancient city is approximately 125 miles north of Khartoum.

            The civilization of Kush precedes that of Aksum; this is an archeological fact, not a historical theory. As mentioned in the article, “all of the Biblical, and a significant portion of the ancient, references to Ethiopia, or Kush, predate the establishment of Aksum in the first century CE”. Actually, archeological evidence indicates that Aksum, during its early development, have been significantly influenced by Kush.

            Yes, there are few references in Biblical traditions to small Kushite migratory clan/s in the Levant. However, these references have nothing to do with the geographical location of the Kush.

          • Markos Alemu

            Well, thank you Dr.Ibrahim. I am not historian nor archeologist. But, I usually ask, ‘Why there are mostly conflicting evidences and claims. I personally believe the magnificent role of cushites in the land of today’s Sudan. My objection is against some of your assertion that says ‘Ethiopia was called Abyssinia/Axum’ and leading to say ‘Today’s Ethiopia has nothing to do with the Biblical Ethiopia’. Look, why are we rushing to a conclusion with out deeply looking other evidences like linguistic and cultural studies? I always insist these lands were never two in ancient world but one. Even, what you have said Archeological evidence is very skewed and appears racist. What is your comment on Dr. Bernard Leeman archiological findings about Ethiopian Jews and their connection with Dam’t civilization?

            http://www.ethiopianorthodox.org/amharic/holybooks/arkofthecovenent.pdf

    • http://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/ Jon Entine

      Joseph, If you goal is to rant, you’re doing a good job. If you’re goal is to make a point, and hopefully engage in dialogue as a way to persuade people to your perspective, you are failing miserably. The only point you made is that Ethiopian Jews are not the descendants of ancient Israelites–which is what Ibrahim concluded as well. So haranguing him and this article for not making a point which is indeed included in his article suggests you did not read the article, did not comprehend the article, or have some odd, yet still unstated, ulterior motive.

      As for your comment that the article was not peer reviewed, as the author has stated, it was. But what if it had not been? By your measure, no history book or article should be considered as part of public discourse unless it was peer reviewed—yet very little historical research is peer reviewed. So that’s obviously a ridiculous standard.

      Moreover, peer reviewed works are no guarantee of integrity or accuracy. Peer review is clearly an imperfect process, to say the least. Shoddy reviewing or reviewers have allowed subpar science into the literature as a matter of course. Just look, for example, as at recent the peer reviewed article by Eran Elhaik on the Khazarian theory. His research was flawed, out of the mainstream and easily challenged–yet that abomination was approved in what was obviously a broken peer reviewed process, and published. Here is my article on it: http://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/2013/05/13/jewish-researcher-attacks-dna-evidence-linking-jews-to-israel/.

      So you’re contending that abortion of study is ‘good scholarship’ and this study is not?

      Drummond Rennie, deputy editor of Journal of the American Medical Association is an organizer of the International Congress on Peer Review and Biomedical Publication, which has been held every four years since 1986. He remarks: There seems to be no study too fragmented, no hypothesis too trivial, no literature too biased or too egotistical, no design too warped, no methodology too bungled, no presentation of results too inaccurate, too obscure, and too contradictory, no analysis too self-serving, no argument too circular, no conclusions too trifling or too unjustified, and no grammar and syntax too offensive for a paper to end up in print. Richard Horton, editor of the British medical journal The Lancet, has said that, “The mistake, of course, is to have thought that peer review was any more than a crude means of discovering the acceptability—not the validity—of a new finding.”

      So your appear to the authority of peer review–which doesn’t even apply in this case–is quite lame. Scholarly information is vetted by a combination of academic peer review and public discourse among both experts and the public. Ideas and theories are tested in the lab and deconstructed in vigorous debates, then tested in the lab again, and the process continues. Your style–shouting and attacking–has not proved a durable style to improve the quality of ideas.

      I understand that although you do not appear to have written in any peer reviewed journals on Jewish ancestry, you take these issues personally, because of your understanding of your historical past as a descendant of forcibly converted Spanish Jews. Those issues are near and dear to me as well…I’d think you’d find my chapter on on Anuism in Abraham’s Children quite moving. I would hope you would show others you are exploring their own ancestry, and utilizing historical and scientific tools to do so, similar respect.

  • Lorrain

    First of all the cradle of civilization is ‘AFRICA’. The oldest remains of mankind is found in Ethiopia; which again is with the land of Cush that the bible speaks about and validates to be the origin of mankind. So in essence, ‘all’ races are descendants of the African race. The problem with the world is that everyone wants to be superior to Africans which is why so many want to disqualify what archeologist have already confirmed. It is also proven biblically and historically that that King David had a son with Queen of Sheba who is also African. So if King David was a Jew, why wouldn’t his son who has an Ethiopian Mother not also be a Jew?

    • http://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/ Jon Entine

      Lorrain, With all due respect, there is absolutely no evidence that King David had a son with the Queen of Sheba or anyone from Africa. That’s a biblical myth. There are no Y chromosomal markers in Ethiopian male Jews that confirm that tall tale. The Ethiopian Jewish community have a proud history of Jewishness that pre-dates the Ashkenazi Jewish community but is the result of mass conversions, almost certainly from the 4th-6th centuries, and not have an Israelite genetic inheritance. If you’re curious about the history, from genetics and archaeological/anthropology, you’d find my book “Abraham’s Children” a thoughtful read. Good luck with your research!

      • derek

        Hey Jon,,,I am ashkenazi e1b1b1c1a which i understand is quite common
        amoung ethiopian jews…(albeit a slightly different version of
        e1b1b1c1a)…Also they have around 10-20% haplogroup J….Seems to me
        that they have plenty of ancient israelite stock,,,particularly the J
        folks….I beleive e1b1b1c is an ancient canaanite stock that was
        brought into the hebrew tradition…thoughts?

        • http://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/ Jon Entine

          Hi Derek, This is what is called “disputed territory.” There is no question that most Ethiopian Jews are descended from converts, probably from the 4th-5th centuries. However, it is also likely, based on evidence from some more recent DNA studies, that some Ethiopian Jews are descendants of ancient Israelites who migrated to Ethiopia in the 1st-3rd centuries. It’s also fascinating stuff!

          • derek

            Thx for the response Jon,,,I am aware of the concencus that most ethiopian jews are converts,,,however you did not answer my question….If they are mostly converts why is there a decent amount of J, and a large amount of e1b1b1c1 in their population, both of which are found in all jewish groups…

          • http://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/ Jon Entine

            J is a large haplogroup that includes Jews and non-Jews, so alone it is not indicative of anything, necessarily. Do not know about e1b1bc1…you’d need to seek guidance from a genetic genealogist.

          • derek

            I have studied e1b1b1c->m123,, and its subgroups for many years after I learned this was my haplogroup. All my research points to it being from the area of ancient canaan, being absorbed into the hebrew culture when the hebrews took over..Im suprised you have not done any research on it since it is the most dominant of any E1b1b haplogroup in all jews (across mizrahi,sephardic,ashkenazi,ethiopian). As im sure your aware of the main jewish haplogroup is J (j1 and j2),,then the next most abundant is E1b1b1c(specifically e1b1b1c1a)…. It is also common in semetic arabian populations, especially yemen.

          • Markos Alemu

            The specific sub-clade of EM-123, called EM-34 or E1b1b1c1a is picked in Jordan but the next highest is in Ethiopia, where Ethiopian Jews carry it atleast 14%. This haplotype is rare and most realistic ancient semitic root than J itself. The only problem with Ethiopians is their darker skin color and many ofcourse fear them as they might be the only survivers of the ancient.

      • Markos Alemu

        there is considerable possibility that both Abraham and Solomon might have carried haplotype E1b1b1c1, which is about 14% in Ethiopian Jews but rare in other Jews. No one is sure if these fathers carried haplotype J. Studies that bases on the majority principle may not always be true. Ethiopian Jews could be the only survivers of the ancient.

  • Shea F. Kenny

    Why don’t you people read the Torah? It clearly states when “God” is laying down the “laws”, failure to comply with each and every one of them, will result in all sorts of calamities. And CLEARLY states that the inheritors of the law, will come from across the waters, and be of a different color.
    Next?

    • http://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/ Jon Entine

      The bible happens to be a book of fiction.

  • Rena

    The bottom line is the world does not want to accept the fact that the people who everyone acknowledges as “Jews” today are not the real Jews. But rather, dark-skinned people who have either been sold into slavery or ended up somewhere in Africa fleeing are the real Jews and/or Israelites. If you don’t believe in the Bible, I don’t understand why this topic would be of interest to you anyway. It is confusion to do all this genetic testing when scientists and researchers are comparing with people who are converts anyway, and like I said before are not the real Jews.

  • Aaliyah Lewi

    Good article, however how could the Ethiopian Yi
    sraelites be from the tribe of “Dan” when Solomon was from the tribe of Yahudah? Hebrew Yisraelite linage is patriarchal.

  • The Truth

    I dont understand what the problem is–the Bible VERY CLEARLY identifies the sons of Noah and their offspring Ham is the father of Cush (Sudan/Ethiopia), Mizarim (Egypt which is in Africa), and Phut (Inner Africa where the Egyptians clearly states they descended), and Canaan (Middle East) so why does the Bible link all of these places to one father? You can’t believe in the Bible and not believe in what it says. You can not understand the Bible unless you are honest about it foundations being in black Africa. All of the 1st dynasties of Egypt were black African right where Moses was raised as Pharoah’s grandson so what did Moses look like? Look up and read what all of the Ancient Greeks that visited Egypt and other parts of Africa…they were very clear in color, customs, and civilization that pre-dated their own and the Egpytians say that they came from beyond Nubia in Phut.

  • The Truth

    Saying black Hebrews or Jews is an Oxymoron. There have been African Hebrews for thousands of years. You can not open a Bible new or old testiment and show where it does not speak of Cush and the Cushites sometimes interchanged with other names Midianites, Kushites, Ethiopians, and so on and son–you dont get to re-write history thousands of years later. It was verified by the writers of the time who thought very highly of the Cushites (Kushites) Moses married a Kushite no body said anything about her color because she herself thought Moses was an Egyptian (funny how nobody knew a distinction between the look of the Egyptians from the Hebrews)! By the way Ethiopia is the only country on earth who has claimed to have the Ark of the Covenant–many have gone there in search of it; it also was the only place on earth who had the entire Book of Enoch–the great grandfather of Noah–Africa has nothing to prove about her rightful place in history and civilization of the world and most importantly as the Mother of Judaism & Christianity if you remove Africa there is no foundation for religion.

  • kenneth

    A 2010 study by Behar et al. on the Genome-wide structure of Jews observed that the Beta Israel had similar levels of the Middle Eastern genetic clusters as the Semitic-speaking Tigreans and Amharas. However, compared to the Cushitic-speaking Oromos, who are the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia, the Beta Israel had higher levels of Middle Eastern admixture.

    In other studies where Ethiopian Jews exhibited markers that are characteristic of both East African and Middle Eastern populations, they had Y-chromosome haplotypes (e.g., haplotypes Med and YAP+4S) that were common in other Jewish populations.

  • kenneth

    a little more than half of them have jewish ancestry and half of them come from mixed marriges and a proportion of them descend from converts. They’re jewish…period!

  • kenneth

    A 2010 study by Behar et al. on the Genome-wide structure of Jews observed that the Beta Israel had similar levels of the Middle Eastern genetic clusters as the Semitic-speaking Tigreans and Amharas. However, compared to the Cushitic-speaking Oromos, who are the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia, the Beta Israel had higher levels of Middle Eastern admixture.
    In other studies where Ethiopian Jews exhibited markers that are characteristic of both East African and Middle Eastern populations, they had Y-chromosome haplotypes (e.g., haplotypes Med and YAP+4S) that were common in other Jewish populations.

  • kenneth

    a little more than half of them have jewish ancestry and half of them come from mixed marriges and a proportion of them descend from converts. They’re jewish…period!

  • bbarnavi

    Not to be a bible-thumper, but observance of Saturday Sabbath and eighth-day circumcision is NOT proof of Jewish tradition at all. There’s this little book called the Torah, which the Ethiopian Judaizers rendered as the Orit. Within this book are these aforementioned “Jewish traditions”, which are in fact Biblical laws. That an Axumite or a modern Seventh Day Adventist observes these laws does not indicate proof that the person is Jewish.

  • Maire

    Site purports to be about science – goes on to quote the Bible a dozen plus times. “Where ideology trumps science” – what a joke. Peer reviewed or not, the article is poorly written and clearly intended to obscure the fact that as a *whole,* DNA studies on Ethiopian Jewry points to a mass conversion to Judaism by locals rather than a migration of actual Jews from the Levant to Ethiopia. “The Jews of Ethiopia
    are so distantly related to other Jews that their community must have been
    founded by only a few itinerants who converted local people to Judaism and then
    married within the local population.” http://in.reuters.com/article/2012/08/06/us-science-genetics-jews-idINBRE8751EI20120806?mlt_click=Master+Sponsor+Logo%28Active%29_19_More+News_sec-col1-m1_News

    • Jon Entine

      Marie, Individual articles reflect the views of the individuals who write them. There is no enforced editorial viewpoint of “the site.” In fact, I wrote an entire book on the ancestry of the Jewish people–“Abraham’s Children: Race, Identity and the DNA of the Chosen People” (www.abrahamschildren.net) — and report the DNA research on Ethiopians. You take on it is correct. Next time, don’t shoot before your aim. The GLP carries literally thousands of articles from people with different perspectives.

  • Joseph De Soto

    I AM EMBARASSED BY THE COMMENTS ON HERE. I DEAL WITH FACT NOT OPINION AND THE DNA IS CERTAIN. THE ETHIOPIAN JEWS HAVE NO RELATIOPNSHIP TO THE HEBREWS OF THE BIBLE. IT IS CORRECT HOWEVER, THAT THE ASHKENAZI OR EUROPEAN JEWS ALSO ARE NOT RELATED TO THE JEWS OF THE BIBLE. THE ASHKENAZI JEWS ARE DESCENDENTS OF THE KHAZARS A BABARIAN TURKISHJ TRIBE. NOW DO SOME HEBREWS LOOK AFRICAN?? ABSOLUTELY, BUT THE QUESTION HERE WAS WERE THE ETHIPION JEWS DESCENDENTS OF
    THE .ANCIENT HEBREW BY BLOOD? THE ANSWER IS NO. THE QUESTION OF ARE THE ETHIOPIAN JEWS JEWISH? THE ANSWER IS YES. THEY ARE DESCENDENTS OF CONVERTS JUST LIKE THE ASHKENAZI (EUROPIAN JEW). AND HENCE JEWISH BY RELIGION BUT NOT BE BIRTH.

    • Jon Entine

      Sorry Joe, you are wrong. Ashkenazi Jews have almost no DNA linked to the Khazars. That was a popular view that has since been emphatically disproven, most recently You are correct about Ethiopian Jews.

    • An Ethiopian Jew

      I Dont Care What You Say I know For A Fact That Ethiopian Jews Are The Original Jews Since i Know My People History And The Fact That Alot Of Books And Artifacts Were Stolen From Us By The Europeans.
      Your People And The Europeans Are Converts And Not Jews By Bloodline.

  • Markos Alemu

    I sometimes wonder why people run to the new and unreliable science of DNA while Bible clearly tells you who the original Hebrews were. The very apparent limitation of DNA is its failure to figure out the identity of an ancient but extinct population while it remains good tool to identify the relationship among people.

    The very first mention of a country or a nation to be mentioned in the Bible are Havilah and Ethiopia, both are almost in the same area of today’s Ethiopia. It just tells you the author himself was likely to be an Ethiopian (Enoch?), as man naturally start to mention the country he knows most.The Bible also clearly stated Ethiopia among the four corners where there were Hebrews. Also the Bible clearly tells his children dispersed beyond the rivers of Ethiopia. In the new testament we learn the Ethiopian Eunuch that came for worship. What else do we need?

  • aviel hadani

    josph de soto,you want a fact here a fact:4 yemenait jews and 4 ethiopian jews and 4 lubyan jews have passed Dna test the Results is that they have a common Ancestors from the Middle East,further mor,the roman
    Historiographer from the 4 century c.e.,claudianos in his book “against etrupios” tells about extensive settelments of the jews in ethiopia and
    Specificly refers to abyssinia. in his words:”Jam frugibus aptum Aoquor ct mnetum lylvil Delphina videbo Jam oochlois hot nines junctol et quitlquid inane Nutrit Judaicis quae pingitur India velis” The lines of Claudian do not refer to the East Indies but to Ethiopia which the ancient ecclesiastical historians call India. They assure us for instance that Aedesius and Frumentius carried the Gospel to the Indians meaning the Ethiopians The Jews were established in considerable numbers in Ethiopia. notice that india=ethiopia indies=hindos. this is a most clear of mantion of jews in ethiopia in 4 century,even Herodotus,and pliny the elder mantion jews in ethiopia..what about you,joseph de soto? do you have a historical mantion of jews in europe from 4 century or even(i will be nice whit you) from the 5 century except rome?.and do you now what was the skin color of the judeans in the land of israel in the 1 century b.c.? i will tel you.they look like the bedouin in sinai desert and the ethiopian jews look like bedouins,brown,to dark brown.sorry!

  • aviel hadani

    joseph de soto,and why thers is a jewish dna connection Between ethiopian jews yemenite jews ashkenazi jews and libyan jews? if you dont like them(ethiopian jews), dont lik them,but do’nt lie!

  • Matu

    So what Enoch actually Ethiopian (or Black)?

  • Jss

    Like jews all over the world they are likely a mix of ancient jews mixed with their host populations. People are so obsessed with race and proving how people look today has something to do with how they looked 2000 years ago. It’s ridiculous! Middle eastern people who mix with europeans or Africans will rather quickly take on those characteristics not to mention after 2000 years of mixing. People always have an agenda: to prove most jews are ‘fake’ jews, or that all jews were really black or really white. The reality is like most Mediterranean populations the ancient Hebrews probably could have been pale or dark but it’s undeniable that intermarriages have been happening for centuries. The beta Israel are part of my family and are just as jewish as us ashkenazi and as the sepahardi people. I love how people always try to tell us what our own history is!! There are REAL jews of all races, it’s called diaspora. Stop trying to rewrite jewish history to exclude or include whoever is convenient for you. Jewish communities have been in Europe and Africa for centuries they were viewed as jews in antiquity but now people want to claim we’re all just fake converts. DNA disagrees. We’re all the same people!

    • Jss

      And by ‘you’ I was referring to those who try to tell jews who and what jews really are. Not the writer or anyone specific…