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Do the Lemba and the Falasha have Jewish DNA?

March 1, 2012

Genetics and Linguistics in Sub-Saharan Africa Presented at SAfA 2004

http://www.rogerblench.info/Genetics/SAFA%202004%20genetics%20paper.pdf

From high antiquity to recent history6, one of the more bizarre episodes in the attempt to link genetics and linguistics is the case of the Lemba in Southern Africa7 (Hendrickx 1991; Spurdle & Jenkins 1996; Thomas et al. 2000). If you believe the many websites, the Lemba are a black Southern African Bantu speaking group who have Jewish Ancestry. They purportedly observe customs such as not eating pork, male circumcision, and keeping one day a week holy. According to their oral history, they came to Africa from “Sena in the north by boat”. The original group, which is said to have been almost entirely male, made its way to the coasts of Eastern Africa. If the Lemba do indeed have Jewish ancestry then one might expect to find a similarity between the Y chromosomes of Lemba men and those of Jewish men living in other parts of the world.

Needless, to say, this has stimulated the ‘lost tribes of Israel’  lobby. Tudor Parfitt, a lecturer in Jewish Studies has made a miniature media career through a book and television programme, Journey to the Vanished City: Search for a Lost Tribe of Israel (Parfitt 1997). In this bold essay into the unknown the brave hero ventures into South Africa and lo and behold uncovers the Lemba. This was linked to a study that compared the Y chromosomes of around 136 Lemba to those of Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews, Yemeni and non-Lemba Bantu speakers (Thomas et al. 2000). Researchers found evidence of Semitic origin in the Lemba, although it was not clear whether this origin was Jewish or Arab, or a mixture of both. The study also found that the Lemba carry the Cohen modal haplotype (CMH) at a frequency similar to that found in Jewish populations. The CMH has been suggested as a signature for the ancient Hebrew population. Non-Lemba Bantu speakers in the study did not carry the CMH. The researchers concluded that the Lemba most likely have a mixture of Jewish, Arab and Bantu origins, although the CMH present in Lemba men could have an exclusively Jewish origin. It is therefore claimed that the genetic evidence is therefore consistent with the Lemba oral tradition of a Jewish origin. Wilson & Goldstein (2000) even go so far as to refer to them as a ‘Bantu-Semitic Hybrid Population’.

The whole story has more than a whiff of Wilbur Smith. These ‘traditions’ are almost entirely spurious and do not date from the earliest records of the Lemba, but are an example of reinvention spurred by the interests of outsiders. The Lemba only now claim to be of Jewish origin because they have told this is the case, just as they now wear skull-caps and shawls in conformity with this spurious tradition. It seems very likely that even the claim that there is ‘Semitic’ DNA would be difficult to support and the likelihood that the frequency of CMH is really similar to modern day Jewish populations unlikely in the extreme. Bizarrely, the Lemba are now also claiming to have built Great Zimbabwe. Assuming the genetics result reflect anything at all, it is probably intermarriage with Arab traders in the past few centuries. It is noticeable that the Lemba have no language of their own and indeed no linguistic trace remains of their supposed Jewish forbears. Nonetheless, as quoted in Thomas et al. (2000), the Lemba are now writing books about themselves, recounting traditions of apparent Jewish origin. Search websites on Bantu genetics and this is the main topic they want to discuss; Judaic websites have begun to elaborate an entire mythology of the lost Jewish populations of sub-Saharan Africa8. Ruwitah (1997) has indeed pointed to this reinvention but to no good effect. By some irony, a series of studies of the Falasha, the ‘Black Jews’ of Ethiopia, who have always claimed to be Orthodox Jews and who were certainly practising Jewish religion when first encountered by outsiders, show no Jewish genetic traits at all (Lucotte & Smets 1999).

NOTES

6 It is hard not to be reminded of Karl Marx’ observation “Hegel remarks somewhere that all great, world-historical facts and personages occur, so to speak, twice. He has forgotten to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.” Opening sentences of ‘The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon’.
7 See an uncritical review at http://www.bioethics.umn.edu/genetics_and_identity/case.html#lemba.
8 See http://dickinsg.intrasun.tcnj.edu/diaspora/part1/pwrpnt/Judaism/sld013.htm

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38 Comments
  1. The Lemba Story: A Re-Invention?

    “The whole story has more than a whiff of Wilbur Smith. These ‘traditions’ are almost entirely spurious and do not date from the earliest records of the Lemba, but are an example of reinvention spurred by the interests of outsiders. The Lemba only now claim to be of Jewish origin because they have told this is the case, just as they now wear skull-caps and shawls in conformity with this spurious tradition. It seems very likely that even the claim that there is ‘Semitic’ DNA would be difficult to support and the likelihood that the frequency of CMH is really similar to modern day Jewish populations unlikely in the extreme.” Genetics and Linguistics in Sub-Saharan Africa Presented at SAFA 2004, p. 10

    • Carrel permalink

      the lemba do have jew dna, and i dont think they jjust claim to be jew for the fantasy of it. but the falasha dnt have jew dna

      • To be sure the Cohen Modal Haplotype found among the Lemba would prima facie show evidence of Jewish origins that would presumably link them to genotypes found among all worldwide Jewish communities. It is true if we give credence to the scientific literature that such genetic linkages are completely absent among the Falasha Beta Israel. However, it should be noted that the matrilineal DNA among the Ashekenazi show the L2a1 haplotype originating in Africa that begs the question of possible Bantu origins!

      • The latest studies by Soodyall in 2013 show that they are not likely to be Jewish at all, but Arabic. The Cohen modal haplotype was extended to 12 instead of 6 markers, and was found only in jews and not at all in the Lemba. The matrilineal DNA of the Ashkenazi is largely Italian – The paternal ancestry of Ashkenazim is entirely Jewish from the Middle east whereas only a portion of the Lembas are Middle Eastern I suggest you read the latest population studies instead of misquoting.

    • Wuriga permalink

      @Davis, Lemba oral history is not a re-invention. This is one of the many stories of the many faces of the Jewish people. The biggest problem in the west is their failure to liberate themselves of Victorian fantasy that being Jewish is being white of Polish or Russian or British or French origin. Being Jewish by matching with Ashkenazim is simply one of the worst attempts of European Jews of declaring everyone un-Jewish. Science has become a tool in the hands of people of the lie.

  2. lombokula permalink

    Don’t be conned by this rubbish article what the hell is Cohen DNA? When was it named this? Lmao! Real Israeli Jews are Semites like Arabs which would essentially make them Arab. Judaism is a religion not a race or even a people. the attempt to prove that Judiasm is a people may be linked to trying to justify building a colony in the Middle East then claiming it is a homeland for what now appears to be a bunch of racist White Europeans claiming to be returning Jews.

    There is also more than a whiff of the old Hitler penchant for trying to prove you are unique God chosen race apart from all others. There is no such thing as Cohen whatever. And the quack geneticist has probably just named some Europe-Semite mix with this fraudulent name.

    There is no such thing as Jewish DNA, this is an absolute load of rubbish.

    • I will agree that there is no such thing as “Jewish DNA.” But IF there were, it would appear that the Lemba would be more “Jewish” than any Jew on earth today.

      • The latest studies with higher resolution show the Lemba not to be Jewish at all. See Wikipedia

      • There is such a thing as DNA that is customarily found in the Middle Eastern and Africa. In the Middle East today you find a mixture of DNA’s which reflects all the people who have converged to that specific area. There is also African DNA. But there is no such thing as Jewish DNA. Jewish is not a race and has never been a race, calling any DNA Jewish is a con. This would be akin to talking some nonsense about Muslim or Christian DNA, there is no such thing. Those saying that the Lemba are not Jewish need to ask themselves what the hell they think they mean? It would be correct to say that the Lemba are not European, most Israeli’s of the Ashkenazi pedigree test mostly as European. so saying people do not have their DNA is a moot point/ What needs to be checked is Middle Eastern and African DNA. Hebrew is an Afroasiatic language, which shows that the original Hebrews started out as African indigenes. Trying to compare anyone’s DNA to people who are nothing to do with the ancient Hebrews and arrived in the Middle East speaking Yiddish a Germanic language is nothing but a White supremacist con.

      • Lombokula commented, “There is such a thing as DNA that is customarily found in the Middle Eastern and Africa.” This DNA that is customarily found in the Middle East is lacking in the Falasha population as the article points out, “a series of studies of the Falasha, the ‘Black Jews’ of Ethiopia, who have always claimed to be Orthodox Jews and who were certainly practicing Jewish religion when first encountered by outsiders, show no Jewish genetic traits at all (Lucite & Smets 1999).” I also challenge the contention that, the Falasha “were certainly practicing Jewish religion when first encountered by outsiders,” That certain indigenous African people groups were practicing Judaism has been the observation of many European explorers’ first encounters when they observed certain African people groups practicing, laws of “niddah” women’s menstruation), circumcision, new moon observances and animal sacrifices. None however except for the Falasha were observing the Jewish sabbath, which is the distinguishing feature and primary identifier of any Jewish community, Jewishness or of Judaisms. Sabbath observance among Ethiopian Christians rather than reflecting social or genetic origins may instead point to the primitiveness of their Christian practices whose first or earliest communities were observers of the Jewish sabbath.

        >

    • Mr. Lombokula, your conclusion “There is no such thing as Jewish DNA” is correct, but it escapes me why you would say “Don’t be conned by this rubbish article” (Genetics and Linguistics in Sub-Saharan Africa) when the point of article supports the conclusion you make. William’s thesis is based upon the premise that the “Hebrewisms” he observed originate from the myth of a supposed Hebrew/Jewish/Israel migration or dispersion into Africa from Southwestern Asia and as such are not indigenous to the African people groups he writes about. He does not conclude that such so-called “Hebrewisms” are originally and authentically African sourced.

  3. caleb permalink

    yes,i believe because i am also a Lemba DNA has proven. if someone does not even understand do not respond harshly,please!!

    • Dear Caleb,
      Perhaps you should read the PDF article “Genetics and Linguistics in Sub-Saharan Africa Presented at SAfA 2004” a little more critically. It says among other things:

      “These ‘traditions’ are almost entirely spurious and do not date from the earliest records of the Lemba, but are an example of reinvention spurred by the interests of outsiders. The Lemba only now claim to be of Jewish origin because they have told this is the case, just as they now wear skull-caps and shawls in conformity with this spurious tradition. It seems very likely that even the claim that there is ‘Semitic’ DNA would be difficult to support and the likelihood that the frequency of CMH is really similar to modern day Jewish populations unlikely in the extreme. Bizarrely, the Lemba are now also claiming to have built Great Zimbabwe. Assuming the genetics result reflect anything at all, it is probably intermarriage with Arab traders in the past few centuries. It is noticeable that the Lemba have no language of their own and indeed no linguistic trace remains of their supposed Jewish forbears. Nonetheless, as quoted in Thomas et al. (2000), the Lemba are now writing books about themselves, recounting traditions of apparent Jewish origin. Search websites on Bantu genetics and this is the main topic they want to discuss; Judaic websites have begun to elaborate an entire mythology of the lost Jewish populations of sub-Saharan Africa Ruwitah (1997) has
      indeed pointed to this reinvention but to no good effect. By some irony, a series of studies of the Falasha, the ‘Black Jews’ of Ethiopia, who have always claimed to be Orthodox Jews and who were certainly practising Jewish religion when first encountered by outsiders, show no Jewish genetic traits at all (Lucotte & Smets 1999)”

      How do you answer these observations?

      • kevin permalink

        Where in scripture soes it say that Israelites ever wore skull caps? It doesn’t. And as someone else has pointed out what was the basis of for the baseline dna? How does a group of whites claim a black ancestry? Egyptians or Mizriam (one of the sons of Cush) at that time were all BLACK. Joseph’s brothers could not tell him apart from the Mizraim or Egyptians who were all BLACK. When Moses was on the run from Pharaoh the young girl at the well told her father that the Egyptian, read Mizraim the black son of Cush, helped them. The images painted on the walls of Egyptian crypts show the Hebrews as having dark brown skin. The Persian kings that defeated the Israelites have paintings that depicts the Israelites as having dark brown skin and hair braided in the same cornrow style that you see on just about any African American from South Central LA.
        So if the idea is truth (which I doubt is the real objective) then we should be looking for the true Jews among people with dark brown skin. I would suggest you start the line of Haile Salessie, the Lemba and the beta Israel in India if and when you are looking for true Israel.

      • You stated, “The images painted on the walls of Egyptian crypts show the Hebrews as having dark brown skin.” What are your sources that substantiate such claims? I would appreciate any facts or evidence within Egyptian archeology or art depicting Israel in Egypt that corroborates the Genesis/Exodus narratives.

      • Maybe you should read this book which clearly puts HEBREW not Jew customs in the heart of Africa. Showing that if anything it is those Europeans claiming to be related to the ancient Europeans that took up African customs not the other way round.

        How you wanna start speaking nonsense about Jew cultures who the hell are the Jews?

        https://archive.org/details/HebrewismsOfWestAfricaFromNileToNigarWithTheJews

        Stop wasting people’s time with your BS and lies about these Jews who came from Europe speaking a Germanic language. They are nothing to d with the Afroasiatic hebrew speakers.

  4. BHUBA(judha) selamolela permalink

    Lembas also known as vhalungu which means “white man” have old Jewish customs that are not similar to most modern Jewish populations and these Jewish or semitic customs where noted by the early Christian missionaries who observed the lembas customs and they concluded that the Lembas have customs and traditions that are non African and were similar to old testament biblical customs and that they have a secret prayer that has a mixture of Hebrew and Arabic and that they end their prayer by the Hebrew word “Amin” therefore the lemba have been Jews before the arrival of modern researchers and the statement that they are “example of reinvention spurred by the interests of outsiders” is completely untrue.

    • Dear BHUBA, When one engages the research and the literature objectively your statement ‘…the statement that they are “example of reinvention spurred by the interests of outsiders” is completely untrue’ will not bear up under scientific scrutiny or the available evidence presented for your consideration in the documentation presented in these blog articles. You cannot say “is completely untrue” if you cannot demonstrate it. That the Lemba “have old Jewish customs that are not similar to most modern Jewish populations and these Jewish or semitic customs where noted by the early Christian missionaries” is not unique to the Lemba. Such “old Jewish customs” are found in many other African people groups.

  5. BUBHA(judha) selamolela permalink

    I’d like to point out that the study about the extended CMH in 2013 by Soodyall concluded that
    “ A sample of 261 males (76 Lemba, 54 Remba, 43 Venda and 88 SA Jews) was initially analysed”
    “Although 24 individuals (10 Lemba and 14 SA Jews) were identified as having the original CMH (six STRs), only one SA Jew harboured the extended CMH”. Therefore this study is inconclusive in terms of identifying true Jewish DNA because out of the 88 SA JEWS who were all Ashkenazi Jews only one harboured the extended CMH so that means out of the 88 SA JEWS only one person can be identified as a true Jew which means 87 SA Ashkenazi Jews are actually claiming to be Jews. And one more thing I would like to point out is that the extended CMH is found at a frequency of 1.5 % amongst the general Jewish population in Israel and only 29.8% of all cohanim(Jewish priests) were found to have the extended CMH so judging from this we can conclude that the extended CMH is a rear genetic mutation of the original CMH and therefore we cannot base Jewish DNA ancestry upon that because only a very small portion of all Jews have this extended CMH while the majority that say they are Jews don’t have the extended CMH so this means the is a lot of discrepancies about this research because it is biased.
    About the issue that most African tribes share the same customs as the Lemba that is a false statement and should be corrected put because Lemba’s have similar customs as Jews, for example they do not eat pork which all African tribes eat pork, and they do not eat meat that is not ritually slaughtered the kosher way. Lemba culture prohibits eating animals that are not considered kosher e.g animals without hooves and that do not chew the cud. All these NonAfrican food taboos makes lemba’s distinctly different from all the other African tribes that lives among them who eat bush meat(bats/bush rats/rabbits/monkeys ect….

  6. BReel permalink

    Those are not the only “old jewish customs” to found among Africans. Many Africans have one day as a holy day which is often saturday, some such as Yoruba prostrate to elders, and have traditions similar to Sampson abd Samuel’s letting the dreadlocked hair grow. Many West Africans share many words or similar words as Hebrew and some as the Ewe have a similar name for god as Yhwh. Marriage rites, menstral traditions, marrying of the brother’s wife, same sacrifices and even tribal names are same are similar to biblical characters. Lemba are not the only tribe with oral stories of coming from that region.
    One last thing they have not any ANCIENT Hebrew dna to compare modern Jewish dan to for confirmation that Ashkenazi Jews are descended from those Hebrews!

    • You stated among other things that “Many Africans have one day as a holy day which is often saturday…” Please inform us what indigenous African people group observe “Saturday” as a holy day, and which indigenous African people group have a seven day week in their indigenous calendar traditions or cosmology? Sources or references for your citations would be appreciated,

      • BReel permalink

        I’d rather you do your own research as people can be source biased sometimes. Those few socalled “old jewish customs” that were mentioned are few as many more customs can be found among one etnic African group.

        Find out what the missionaries said of the Igbo or what Olaudah Equiano had to say!
        Precolonial Akan/Ashanti Ohene dress customs and day of
        worship.

        Just research African naming ceremonies day and day of circumcision

        Simpler Jewish customs in africa

        That cohen gene marker is just that, a cohen marker not an Israelite marker. Tribes could be part of the Hebrews and not of the priestly Aaronite clan, so just because a people dont have the priestly genes dont mean they wouldnt be hebrews, they’re just not of the Aaron line!

        Still where is source of the proof of Jewish dna being actually Jewish? Did they ever find Judah’s remains or Aaron’s to verify?

  7. Stop conning yourselves all these customs are African customs there is no such thing as Jewish customs, and the Arabs have long been accusing Israel of stealing their customs and putting their name on them. Even circumcision comes from sub-Saharan Africa and predates Islam and Arabia. Do not be conned by those claiming to be Jews today. The only thing those s called Jews came to Israel with is a Germanic language called Yiddish. In fact those so called Israeli can’t even live in the area without contracting skin cancer because they are not indigenous to that region of the world.

    • Lombokula commented , “Stop conning yourselves all these customs are African customs there is no such thing as Jewish customs…” To this I would tend to agree. Much of what we know to be indigenous African customs are the same or similar to what we identify as Biblical customs. It is this very observation that led many outsiders’ initial “gaze” on African culture to make the conclusion that theses African people groups found observing such customs originated from the mythical “lost tribes” of Israel.

      >

  8. Mr. BReel, if you have looked at the articles on this blog, it will testify to the length and breath of my scholarship and research. To date I can find nothing to support what you allege with regard to a “Saturday” holy day or of an indigenous reoccuring seven day week cosmology that is more in line with a Roman solar calendar tradition. I rely more on “African sourced” anthologies rather than the European based anthologies you reference. As far as Olaudah Equiano is concerned, you must take into consideration that his recollections of Igbo traditions and the conclusions he makes of them are informed from and his thoroughly European and Christian “Negropean” world view of Africans. I have studied Akan traditions and am familiar with “the god of Saturday” just as much as I am familiar with “the god of Wednesday” neither of which are “holy days”. Male circumcision originated in Africa and is an “Africanism” not a so-called “Hebrewism”. Male circumcision is Africa’s contribution to “the book” religions. This as well as “female circumcision” was a feature of the African ritual traditions including among the Agau Falasha (before they became “Beta Israel”), but I doubt one would call that a “Hebrewism” or any part of so-called “old jewish customs” or “Jewish customs in Africa.” I recommend you refer you to the “About” section to this blog.

    • BReel permalink

      Ok fair enough!
      Yes about Equiano and his CONclusion (but who knows) but I was just refering to the traditions he noticed. One thing with the Igbo though is that the people who inhabited Jerusalem before Israel’s conquest had the same name in pronunciation as Igbo, the Jebu (Y’bu or E’bu, I’bo depending on what vowel is put in)

      Circumcision being Africa’s contribution to “the book” fair enough, thats where I was headed with the whole thing that these socalled “old jewish customs” are in fact age old African traditions.

      Not to say all of Africa’s traditions or any or Jewish in origin but that many if those Jewish customs can be found among MANY African nations.

      Im aware of the calendar differences and week counting as Igbo had a four day week

      • The people who inhabited Jerusalem before Israel’s conquest were black peppercorn nappy headed people, ethnically and phenotypically African Canaanites that some want to denominate as Jew, Hebrew or Israelite. As Rabbi James Kugel speaking of Jewish origins puts it, “We have met the Canaanites and they are us.” James L. Kugel, How to Read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture, Then and Now (New York: Free Press, 2007), 382.

        See http://www.lessing-photo.com/p3/080203/08020367.jpg

  9. Terry Everitt permalink

    Whatever happened to just reading the bible? There is no mention of “Jewish customs” Leviticus 23 clearly states “these are the feast of the Lord” not feast of the Jews. And to pinpoint the true Hebrew isrealites, just read the curses in Deuteronomy 28. Not to mention revelation 2:9 where Jesus has a special plan for those who say they are Jews, but are not.

  10. Husayn permalink

    People forget about the Qahtanis

  11. Rael permalink

    Why do they keep comparing African Hebrews to Arab and European Hebrews? There is more proof that Hebrews are originallyof African stock. This is literally putting the horse before the cart.

  12. Thanks for visiting my blog africaisrael where I present my Africa Israel Hypothesis. Is that all you cared to comment about i.e, to submit your blog address and article about the Lemba Jewish identity phenomenon? because my entire blog is a response to this Africa Jewish identity issue. I think it is important to consider all sides of the issue in order to get a proper perspective of the reality. What that reality is, is the object of the discussion that my blog invites it readers to comment on and participate in.

  13. Wuriga permalink

    @Davis. Who has Jewish DNA? As for the Ashkenazim there are questions concerning their Jewishness due to such information relating to a huge wave of conversions to Judaism of Greeks, Romans, Arabs, and other people. Of specific mention are the theories surrounding Karzar conversion. These days facts are manufactured in all sorts of labs. It is difficult to conclude that someone has a Jewish blood when we cannot tell who is a real Jew. Only if we are ready to accept that if there is a people called Jews, then Jewish people have many faces.

  14. Wuriga permalink

    @Davis. I am starting to suspect that the author of this article is a Muslim attempting to prove that all people are Muslims. By trying to tell us that Lembas and Falashas dont have Jewish DNA tells me you are simply misguiding yourself. We have received this kind of information before using other tricks.

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