Written for a Generation to Come
The History of the World in the Molecules of Life
KI Term Paper Winner:
[Ed Note: This spring, Koinonia Institute sponsored a contest for the best position paper on one of the Strategic Trends (Issachar track of KI). Wendy won first prize and was awarded $1000. Thanks to all who participated. We asked Wendy to summarize her paper for this month's issue of Personal UPDATE, this is that summary. If you would like to read the paper in it's entirety go to http://www.studycenter.com/library.html.]
The discovery of DNA as the blueprint of life in the 1950s was the starting block of a race to understand the molecular basis of life. One of the more intriguing findings to follow was that specific pieces of DNA can be used to study human history. Genetic anthropologists are now busy decoding that history, written in the molecules of life since the beginning of time. It is a record being deciphered only in our generation, and one which confirms the history of man recorded in Scripture in amazing detail.
Genetic anthropology is conducted using the Y-chromosome and mitochondrial DNA, two segments that have unique properties that facilitate studies of multigenerational inheritance. Y-chromosome DNA is passed only from father to son; similarly, mitochondrial DNA is passed only from the mother to her offspring. In addition, both accumulate changes at a predictable rate, producing genetic “bread crumbs” that make it possible to follow these bread crumbs (markers) as a population moved around the globe.
Intriguingly, in light of current scientific knowledge, the Bible seems to mention DNA itself: “Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them” (Psalm 139:16), as well as its recent potential to record both the time and the places where people lived: God “has made of one blood every nation of men to dwell upon the whole face of the earth, having determined ordained times and the boundaries of their dwelling” (Acts 17:26).
Current understanding of genetic processes confirm Biblical accounts throughout Genesis 6:3. Post-flood reduction in life spans match those predicted by a mathematic model, bringing current human life spans (under ideal conditions) to precisely the limit predicted by God in Genesis, as well as the exact average specified in Psalm 90:9-10. In addition, Job’s assertion that “man’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed” (Job 14:5 ) has also been recently confirmed. Human life spans have been demonstrated to be both pre-determined and programmed into the DNA itself, through a mechanism involving a repetitive DNA sequence at the end of each chromosome called a telomere. Part of the telomere is shaved off with every cell division; its complete removal initiates cell suicide.
The field of genetic anthropology, which allowed man’s history to be studied with DNA, first gained public awareness in 1987 with the announcement that mitochondrial DNA analysis had demonstrated that every human being on the planet descended from the same female. Similar analysis of Y-chromosomes found that every human male was also descended from a single individual human male. Scientists involved (gleefully) proclaimed that, since this identified male lived considerably after the female, the Bible had been officially repudiated, with headlines across the globe declaring “Adam and Eve Never Met!”
The scientists may need to review their Sunday School lessons. What “mitochondrial Eve” and “Y-chromosome Adam” really represent are really statistical entities called the Most Recent Common Ancestor, or MRCA, meaning the last shared relative. As such, they exquisitely confirm the Biblical account. Since the males on the ark were Noah and his sons, all should have had identical Y-chromosomes. The four women, however (Mrs. Noah, Ham, Shem, and Japheth), ostensibly not related, would therefore trace their maternal lineages back to the Biblical Eve. The MRCA of the men, then, was Noah, but the MRCA of the maternal lineage was NOT Mrs. Noah, but Eve—who did (according to both science and the Bible) live considerably before her statistical counterpart, Noah.
Genetics has confirmed the Bible’s (long discredited) claim that Noah’s family populated the entire world, putting to rest the widespread theory that humans evolved simultaneously in several places. Analysis of Y- and mitochondrial chromosomes also confirm after Noah, the population grew, dispersed into northeast Africa and the Levant, and gathered in the Middle East shortly before dispersing into the rest of the world, also matching the Biblical account of events between the times when eight people exited an ark and when the entire human population, 70 families strong, gathered at a plain in Shinar to build a tower.
We all know what happened next. God destroyed the tower and scattered the peoples. Numerous global cultures remember this event in legend, and, again, DNA analysis confirms it. Genetic and archaeological evidence demonstrate that, shortly after Noah, humans—in a sudden and rapid exodus—filled the globe. Scientists speculate endlessly as to what led these ancient humans to migrate en masse in this “Great Leap Forward”; the Bible provides the answer. DNA evidence can now detail the movements of these early fathers with some precision.
Interestingly, both genetic and linguistic data reflect a trifold division of humanity about the time that Ham, Shem, and Japheth would have existed, with one group (Ham and his descendants) going west into Africa and east along the coasts into the south Pacific, one group (Japheth) colonizing Europe as well as central and northeast Asia, North America and South America, and the last (Shem) remaining largely in the Middle East.
Archaeological, genetic, and linguistic evidence puts small, ancient original settlements in the Basque area of France, the Australian archipelago, and the Kalahari Desert area of Africa, almost assuredly comprised of the families of the sons and grandsons of Noah. This fact, and evidence of small bands of cousins left along the way, both confirms and provides a mechanism for another Biblical assertion: “These were the three sons of Noah, and from them came the people who were scattered over the earth” (Genesis 9:19). Reproductive isolation of a small population is the defined method, in genetics, of producing a diversity of physical traits leading to the development of defined races (seen clearly in dog breeding and in the prevalence of rare diseases in inbreeding populations like the Amish.) Noah’s descendants, as 70 families spread out across the whole world, would have (influenced by environmental conditions as well as random genetic factors), over time, exhibited a wide spectrum of distinguishing physical traits.
God’s calling out of the Jewish nation—a distinctly scientific concept in its own right called creating a cohort—has also been genetically confirmed. Y-chromosome studies proved conclusively that Arab and Jewish populations shared a MRCA, who by genetic dating lived about 4000 years ago. In addition, it was demonstrated that although dispersed, Jews had remained obedient to the command to refrain from intermarrying; the authors observed that “the level of divergence among Jewish populations was low despite their high degree of geographical dispersion.”
Y-chromosome analysis has also demonstrated a particular set of markers, called the Cohen Modal Haplotype (CHM), which is distinctly associated with Jewish men who claim genetic descent from Aaron and therefore believed to be that possessed by Aaron himself. Analysis of the genetic data estimates that the original possessor of the CHM lived about 3300 years ago, placing him squarely in the appropriate time period.
Further Y-chromosome studies show that the Jewish peoples were, in fact, globally dispersed, yet retained genetic and national identity to a remarkable degree. Jews from Europe, the Middle East, and Northern Africa shared almost identical genetic profiles, with only slight differences which nonetheless allow the Diaspora to be traced, showing clear westward movement in both Europe and Northern Africa after 70 A.D. One of the more intriguing applications of Y-chromosome and mitochondrial DNA testing is its ongoing revelation of the depths of the dispersal, confirming long-held traditions of Jewish origin among certain isolated tribes. The South African Lemba’s claims to Judaic heritage, for example, were largely ignored until genetic profiling finally demonstrated a high prevalence of the CHM among their male members. Numerous similar populations, spread across the globe, have been genetically identified as descendants of Israel as well.
God’s promise to keep His people throughout their exile (and to gather them to Himself before the end times) is also being documented. Genetic analysis has shown that hidden Jews fled the Spanish Edict of Expulsion in 1492 in the crews of Spanish ships bound for the New World and spread their descendants therein, confirmed genetically most recently in long-term Hispanic residents of New Mexico and in the Melungeons, a mystery population in Tennessee who appear to be descendants of the earliest Spanish landings along the east coast, including the vanished colony at Roanoke in the early 1500s. As Jews around the world reclaim their history, genetic confirmation of their heritage is being employed to both confirm their heritage and support their repatriation, creating the ingathering of Jewish exiles predicted by the Bible. We are seeing prophecy fulfilled before our eyes!
As fascinating as the detailed parallel of DNA analysis with the history of the world written in Scripture is, the most significant application of the technology may be yet to come, fulfilling prophetic aspects of the future. Scheduled for June 2007 is what is being billed as “the biggest family reunion of all time, 3000 years in the making!” Organizers aim to gather every male descendant of the Davidic line in Jerusalem for a celebration of all things Mashiach—including mass genetic testing, with the objective of identifying genetic markers specific to the Messianic line. As exciting as providing a genetic way to verify the credentials of the Messiah may be, the possibility looms that the technology could be misapplied. Will a world leader emerge whose (only recently possible) genetic profile can confirm a valid claim to the Davidic throne? Only time will tell. But DNA, the molecule of life, will continue to write the story.
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Wendy Wippel is a former molecular biologist at the CDC, now a medical and science writer and founder (in her dreams) of the new scientific discipline, molecular theology. She resides in Hernando, Mississippi with her husband and two daughters.