Lineage of the Aaronic Priesthood
Levi, one of twelve sons Abraham, had three sons and named them Gershon, Kohath, Merari (Figure 2). Moses and Aaron were also descended from the tribe of Levi through Amram and Kohath (Figure 2).
When the Lord anointed Aaron’s line to the priesthood, he also presented the tribe of Levi to Aaron3. The Levites were commanded to provide Aaron assistance in carrying out the priestly duties4. This included the assignments of taking care of all the furnishings of the Tent of Meeting and fulfilling the obligations of the Israelites by doing the work of the tabernacle.
God said, “I have taken the Levites from among the Israelites in place of the first male offspring of every Israelite woman. The Levites are mine, for all the firstborn are mine. When I struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, I set apart for myself every firstborn in Israel, whether man or animal.” (Numbers 3:12-13 KJV)
The Gershonites were responsible for the care of the tabernacle and tent, its coverings, the curtain at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, the curtains of the courtyard, the curtain at the entrance to the courtyard surrounding the tabernacle and altar, and the ropes—and everything related to their use (Numbers 3:25-26, KJV).
The Kohath clan were responsible for the care of the ark, the table, the lampstand, the altars, the article of the sanctuary used in ministering, the curtain, and everything related to their use (Numbers 3:31-32, KJV).
The Merari clan was responsible for the frames of the tabernacle, its crossbars, posts, bases, all its’ equipment and everything related to their use, as well as the posts of the surrounding courtyard with their bases, tent pegs and ropes (Numbers 3:36-37, KJV).
THE PRIESTLY ORDER OF COHANIM
When the Israelites were in the wilderness, God told Moses to have his brother Aaron, and Aaron’s four sons brought before him so they may serve as priests to the people. God anointed Aaron and his sons so that the priests could only come from Aaron’s lineage. According to Jewish tradition, Aaron’s family name was HaCohen and the high priest was named the Cohen Gadol5. And God said, “Appoint Aaron and his sons to serve as priest; anyone else who approaches the sanctuary must be put to death.” (Numbers 3:10, KJV)
There were thirteen Cohen Gadol’s from the time of Aaron’s anointing in the wilderness to the completion of David’s temple by King Solomon6. Zadok was the first Cohen Gadol in David’s temple7. All future priests (eighteen in all) were from the direct line of Zadok up to the destruction of Solomon’s temple and the Jewish exile in Babylon. The high priest at the time of this exile was Josadek8.
After 70 years of Jewish exile in Babylon, Cyrus, King of Persia, gave a decree to allow the Jews to go back to their land and rebuild their temple. Joshua the son of Josadek was chosen to serve as high priest in the new temple. Summarily, Jewish history accounts for 83 Cohen Gadols from the time of Aaron’s anointing to the destruction of Herod’s temple by Titus in 70 AD9.
The Jewish Torah states that there is no way to be promoted into the priesthood. The Jewish priesthood is only passed down from father to son10. Jewish tradition also says this priesthood will be everlasting. Exodus 29:9 (KJV) speaks of the “Priesthood as a statute forever.” Exodus 40:15 (KJV) says, ” it shall be for them an appointment to an everlasting Priesthood throughout their generations.”
Numbers 25:13 (KJV) says “it shall be to him and to his descendants after him a covenant of everlasting Priesthood.” The priesthood of Cohanim is one of many everlasting covenants made to the Jewish people by God. This idea is one of the foundational premises behind the Jewish belief that a future temple must be built.
THE COHANIM GENETIC MARKER
Since the Cohanim priestly order is transferred only through males, the confirmation of their bloodline is believed to rest in the Y-chromosome11. Y-chromosome DNA analysis has proven useful in constructing patrilineal genealogies in the past because (1) the Y-chromosome is transferred from the father to son essentially unchanged and (2) most of the genetic material is noncoding12. However, small changes (called polymorphisms) can occur, but since most are noncoding, the mutation is less likely to be life threatening13. Identifying different combinations of these polymorphism’s that are inherited together (haplotypes) is the first step in this type of analysis14. When these haplotypes are interpreted properly, a patriarchal genetic roadmap can be developed providing information that reconstructs a human history passed down from father to son for several generations15.
By Patrick Young, PhD
Figure I: Genetic Lineage from Noah to the Twelve Tribes of Israel – http://www.creationists.org/patrickyoung/images/article12_figure1.jpg
Figure 2: The Genetic Lineage of the Levites and Cohanim – http://www.creationists.org/patrickyoung/images/article12_figure2.jpg