Scientists have shed light on Jewish history with an in-depth genetic study, the BBC reports today. Research shows that most contemporary Jews descended from ancient residents of the Levant
The researchers analysed genetic samples from 14 Jewish communities across the world and compared them with those from 69 non-Jewish populations.
Their study, published in Nature, revealed that most Jewish populations were "genetically closer" to each other than to their non-Jewish neighbours.
It also revealed genetic ties between globally dispersed Jews and non-Jewish populations in the Middle East.
This fits with the idea that most contemporary Jews descended from ancient Hebrew and Israelite residents in the Middle Eastern region known as the Levant. It provides a trace of the Jewish diaspora.
Doron Behar from Rambam Health Care Campus in Haifa, Israel, led an international team of scientists in the study. He described it as a form of "genetic archaeology".
"It seems that most Jewish populations and therefore most Jewish individuals are closer to each other [at the genetic level], and closer to the Middle Eastern populations, than to their traditional host population in the diaspora," he explained.
There were exceptions to this key finding, though, as Dr Behar explained.
He said that his research revealed that Ethiopian and Indian Jewish communities were genetically closer to their neighbouring non-Jewish populations.
This may be partly because a greater degree of genetic, religious and cultural crossover took place when the Jewish communities in these areas became established.
Novel analytical techniques allowed the scientists to examine the genetic samples they took in unprecedented detail.
Dr Behar says the data from this study could aid future research into the genetic basis of diseases that are more prevalent in the Jewish population.
(map credit to Norman Einstein, creative commons)