Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Jewishness of Ethiopian Jews

Ethiopian Jews (Beta Israel) have for a long time in population genetics been identified as genetic outliers among other Jews (who mostly prove to be genetically related to one another), they and Yemenite Jews plot quite solidly in their home regions of the Arabian Peninsula & the Horn of Africa respectively.

Horn of Africa

In terms of Haplogroups, Ethiopian Jews as per Behar et al. 2009 prove quite clearly to be outliers among other Jews whether Mizarahi (West Asian) or Western (Ashkenazi & Sephardi) [1]:

For one, their most dominant Y-DNA Haplogroup is A3b2/ A-M13 [2] [3] which is a pretty native marker in the Horn of Africa, found among Ḥabeshas, Afars, Oromos & even Somalis to a much smaller extent [4]. In fact, among the Cushitic and Ethiopian Semitic speaking populations I have seen so far tested; they and Gedeos prove to be the peak of A3b2. A3b2 is a generally African marker not really found among other Jews, it's often common among "Nilotic" & various East African peoples [5].

But then haplogroups are essentially better for marking migration patterns rather than saying something absolute about someone's ancestry. A population through a bottle-neck or founder-effect could be extremely rich in one marker that marks a certain subset of their ancestry that actually could make up about ~20% or less of their whole ancestry for example. 

F.e. Finns are very rich in Haplogroup N (~60% of males tested in one paper) [6], a haplogroup with a rough spread that looks like this:

However in terms of their autosomal DNA/ their actual ancestry; Finns are much more genetically similar to Norwegians, Frenchman, Scotts, Icelanders, Balts (Batls are rich in Haplogroup N as well) and the like. In fact they're among the populations that are the richest in the Western European Hunter-Gatherer component, one of the key (if not the key) native ancestral components in Europe. [8]

What Haplogroups could have done for Ethiopian Jews is at least show clear evidence of some ancient Levantine-Judaic input, perhaps showing through in J-M267 subclades specific to Jews for example but instead, the haplogroups Ethiopian Jews demonstrate prove entirely native to the Horn of Africa-> singling them out among other Jews.

Their haplogroups which tie them very strongly to Ethiopia correlate with their autosomal DNA where Ethiopian Jews are ultimately extremely close to Xamir Agaws & Ḥabeshas:

Link: Ethiopian Jews cluster strongly with Tigrinyas, Amharas & "Afars" (Xamir Agaws)

All forms of ADMIXTURE runs from genome bloggers such as the author of Harappa World (Zack) alongside Dienekes Pontikos or David Wesolowski find that they once again fit best in the Horn of Africa, looking quite similar to Ḥabeshas, Somalis & so and so.

In fact, Shriner et al. despite it's various flaws alongside Hodgson et al.'s , proves often useful in discerning a population's "Cushitic influence" or at least the amount of shared more recent and most likely post-Neolithic shared ancestry between various "Horners" (specifically Cushitic & Ethiopian Semitic peoples) and in this case:

~70% of the ancestry in Beta Israels/ Ethiopian Jews would essentially be recently (within the last few thousand years) shared ancestry with Somalis (Somalis are only made to be a proxy for "Cushitic" in the above chart to make things easier to grasp), the rest would just be some Omotic admixture alongside some of the newer West Asian ancestry we find among Ḥabeshas & other Agaws as well as some Oromos. [8]

In fact linguistically, they didn't really even speak Hebrew historically... Beta Israels are more or less former Western Agaws who spoke dialects of Qimant ( - , - ), an Agaw/ Central-Cushitic language.

Their former homeland in Ethiopia

To top that off, their liturgical language was also not Hebrew but instead Ge'ez, a Northern Ethiopian Semitic language spoken by the Aksumites, closely related to modern Tigrinya & Tigre-> it serves as a liturgical language for many Ethiopian & Eritrean Orthodox Christians. There are even early manuscripts in both of their Qimant dialects using the Ge'ez script.

Genesis 29.11–16 in Ge'ez

It seems quite evident that genetically, linguistically & historically: they are native to the Horn and really nowhere else. Their fabled Judaic origins or them having at least some Jewish/ Levantine ancestors is really just fabled. Such origins are as valid as the Solomonic Dynasty's claims to a Solomonic heritage or the Somali Darod & Isaaq clans claims to a Hashemite heritage... I'll give you a clue; none of those claimed origins (just like theirs) are real/ valid. At least according to the genetic & linguistic (and sometimes even historical) data we have on these populations. Ethiopian Jews are an Ethiopian population that's more or less converted to Judaism.

Reference List:


  1. What is your hypothesis of their ethnogesis ? Basically Ethiopia is fairly close to Yemen which hosted a community in similar conditions. Do you think there is any connexion or is the religious belief of Queen Saba descedancy most plausible ?! Cheers !

    1. "What is your hypothesis of their ethnogesis ?"

      I don't know if I have a "hypothesis", so to speak. I'd just say that they're a Central-Cushitic/ Agaw populaton that likely has some Ethiopian Semitic speaker ancestry/ admixture from Habeshas. Though many Amharas are in fact the descendants of Agaws assimilated within the last few centuries.

      "Basically Ethiopia is fairly close to Yemen which hosted a community in similar conditions. Do you think there is any connexion"

      No, I don't think there really is a connection with Yemenite Jews here... Yemenite Jews are pretty culturally distinct from what Beta Israels were like before their move to Israel. Beta Israels historically spoke dialects of Qimant (a Central-Cushitic language) and were later somewhat "Ethio-Semitized" into speaking Amharic and Tigrinya from what I know. Their liturgical language has almost always been Ge'ez and their culture seems quite native to the Northern Ethiopian Highlands. In fact the script they utilized for their Qimant dialects was the Ge'ez script.

      Yemenite Jews in contrast show much more blatantly Judaic influences like using the Hebrew script for their variant of Yemenite Arabic:


      Or actually speaking a form of Hebrew with some real historical weight behind it, to my knowledge:


      As well as having some clear Hebrew liturgy. While I can't find the works of these scholars at this juncture-> I've heard of the idea that what Beta Israels practiced was never truly "Judaism" but some sort of off-shoot of Aksumite Old Testament Christianity, but for lack of sources I'll just sort of pay "lip-service" to that idea and say it isn't anything concrete for the time being.

      In truth; I honestly have no clear idea how they became to be "Jews" but genetically they don't seem to have any influences from the Levant at all and are a very clearly native Ethiopian population and there really is no genetic or lingusitic evidence for contact between them and Yemenite Jews.

    2. "In truth; I honestly have no clear idea how they became to be "Jews" but genetically they don't seem to have any influences from the Levant at all and are a very clearly native Ethiopian population and there really is no genetic or lingusitic evidence for contact between them and Yemenite Jews"

      What makes you believe that "Judiasm" has all common genetic root?? Logically, Moses people were likely from diffrent genetic root, but united for their common belief. Even if what you said is true, what makes you think the current prevailing middle eastern genetic profile existed unaffected for over 3,000 years? We know Ethiopian Jews carry Y DNA E-M34 at 13.6% (Cruciani et al. 2004), distinct from other cushites. Also, your language evidence is weak to convince any one...for we know central cushites and eastern cushites are genetically distinct...the former clusters with the semites.

    3. "What makes you believe that "Judiasm" has all common genetic root??"

      Being "Jewish" is not simply about adhering to Judaism. Jews are an ethno-religious group (emphasis on the ethno) and Ashkenazim, Sephardim and even a good number of Mizrahim clearly share ancestral roots beyond simply being fellow Eastern Mediterranean people. As in, they share descent from the Bronze and Iron Age Levant owed to Canaanite speaking Levantines. Judaism for much (not all) of its history very much functioned as an ethnic religion that was extremely difficult for non-Jews to convert into.

      "We know Ethiopian Jews carry Y DNA E-M34 at 13.6% (Cruciani et al. 2004), distinct from other cushites. "

      For a guy who's been trying to leave comments on this blog for 1-2 years or something; you really haven't been following it very well. E-M34 is found all over the Horn region and even PEAKs among Omotic speaking Horn Africans whom Cushitic and Ethiopian-Semitic speaking Horn Africans likely, to some notable extent, got the Y-DNA marker from but further inquiry into the subclades of E-M34 present in the Horn is required, I'll admit that much. Nevertheless, you're being pretty silly if unknown subclades of E-M34 are your proof that they have ancestry from Hebrew speaking Jews from the Levant or elsewhere, despite the rest of the evidence (autosomal DNA, the rest of their Haplogroup profile, linguistics, history and cultural anthropology) pointing to the opposite as far as I've seen.


      "Also, your language evidence is weak to convince any one...for we know central cushites and eastern cushites are genetically distinct...the former clusters with the semites."

      The only language arguments I recall making is that they historically didn't speak Hebrew or use it as a liturgical language (which is true) and that their historical spoken languages (mother tongues) were Central Cushitic in origin rather than Northwestern Semitic or Canaanite derived like Hebrew (which is also true). This does point to the fact that their claimed "Jewish origins" are pretty dubious. Especially since Yemenite Jews (right next door) used to use Hebrew as a liturgical and spoken language, unlike Ethiopian Jews.

      You also have comprehension problems... Genetically, Central Cushitic speakers like Xamir Agaws and Beta Israels are very closely related to Somalis. Stop acting like there's some sort of huge distinction. The only real difference between Beta Israels/Xamir Agaws and Somalis is ~10-15% Ari Blacksmith-like admixture and about ~10% or so later West Eurasian admixture in Beta Israels and Xamir Agaws. The rest of Beta Israels & Xamir Agaws' ancestry (65-85%) looks essentially identical to Somalis. Don't be silly and act as though these are deeply diverged and highly distinct populations. And stop acting as though Ethiopian Semitic speakers are "genetically Semites who are closer to Yemenites than Somalis" which is what you've claimed with past comments of yours I never allowed through because they were too silly.

      Ethiopian Semitic speakers look to be overwhelmingly derived from local Cushitic speaking Horn Africans (i.e. Central-Cushitic speakers) who share the overwhelming majority of their ancestry with local Eastern-Cushitic speaking Horn Africans which is exactly why they cluster so close to Beta Israels (and much closer to Somalis than to Yemenite Jews or Muslims). Beta Israels and other Agaws = what Armenians and Pontic Greeks are to Anatolian Turks (but in a Horn African context). If this bothers you for some odd reason; that's your problem, not mine.


    4. Anyway, stop trying to make comments, Markos. You're an astonishingly silly commenter who doesn't seem to think too hard before he makes comments and you can consider yourself effectively banned from commenting from here on out. You also really sealed this ban when you tried to comment on this post a while back:


      And randomly started noting that Somalis are like ~10% less West Eurasian than Habeshas and that this and "possibly skin color differences" were making me feel jealous (wtf?). You're not, and never will be, the kind of commenter who is welcome to make comments here but please do take care of yourself.

      But if it makes you feel any better... I have nothing against Beta Israels. This post was not made to be inflammatory or to "degrade" them which is what I think you believe it was made for. This post was simply made so that some curious and level-headed Beta Israels could read it and get a more accurate understanding of their origins and/or be inspired to do some of their own research into all of this.

  2. Okay, there was a new comment that I prevented from going through comment approval after I read the first three words ("Fucking Somali prick") since I figured it was just some unnecessarily crass troll and moved it along, I read the rest of the comment a bit later however and one section of it caught my eye so I'll be sharing a screenshot of how it appeared in my email below alongside replying to it here:


    "Fucking Somali prick, who has no grasp of accurate genetic research on Jews."

    1. I don't see how anything I've said or done warrants insults. What did I do that was prickly beyond sharing facts you seem to dislike? Stop being an emotional asshole and speak to people civilly.

    2. And I'm afraid you have no grasp of Horn African and Jewish genomics if you seriously think Beta Israels are anything other than pretty much entirely "Horn African" in their genomic profile.

    3. Keep my ethnic group out of this. If you have beef with me; fine... But every Somali out there collectively did nothing to you, you worthless sack of garbage.

    "FYI, Ethiopian Jews share at least 4 Identical Y-DNA Haplotypes marker, and 2 Mt-DNA profiles with Yemenite Jews and Mizrachi Jews."

    Thanks for the share. Care to point those lineages out? I've seen Beta Israel Y-DNA and mtDNA results several times and every single time, like in the example I shared, they look less "recently Levantine" than Christian Habeshas like Tigrinyas and Amharas. This correlates with autosomal DNA too where it's clear as day that Tigrinyas, for example, have 10-15% more recent West-Eurasian ancestry than them. But please, don't just say things. Share these Y-DNA lineages and mtDNA lineages. Share their frequencies too. Share the studies you got them from as well or even reliable seeming 3rd party databases. I'm also going to have to ask that you share lineages they clearly and recently share with all Jews (Western Jews included) because if you're only pointing to a few shared with Mizrahim then I have a strong feeling already that you're mistaking lineages owed to the later West Eurasian admixture in Agaws and Habeshas for being owed to "Jewish admixture":


    Would also help if these lineages aren't really found in some other Horn African populations like Oromos, neighboring non Beta Israel Agaw speakers, Habeshas, and so on.

    For the record, this bit is the ONLY reason why I've decided to reply to your comment. Otherwise, I'd have just moved it along after reading the rest of your comment but you got me curious here.

    Continuation of my reply:


    Sharing the rest via an image because of this comment section's word-limit.