A “lost tribe” in Nigeria is turning to genetics to determine whether members have an ancestral connection to the land of Israel.
“In this modern day of scientific advancement, one of the ways we can ascertain whether we are or not related to Jews is by doing DNA matching,” said Dozie Ikedife, an 86-year-old Igbo doctor who helped organize the group test in early February.
The Igbo are one of Nigeria’s largest ethnic groups and have long claimed ancestral ties to the biblical Israelites — but the new test has sparked heated internal debates among the Igbo about whether genetic testing will help or hurt their movement.
“You’re running to get a DNA test and you won’t believe you’re the people of the bible till the white man says so,” a video blogger known as Chukwuemeka said. “It’s really, really sad,”
Jewish Voice Ministries International, a Messianic Jewish organization based in Arizona, coordinated the genetic test of more than 100 Igbo men with local coordination with Ikedife, who operates a private hospital. Jewish Voice sent two employees to gather genetic samples in Nnewi, a city in southeastern Nigeria near the Udoji Forest. Samples were collected using kits from Family Tree DNA, a commercial company that offers genealogical analysis — including a focus on Jewish ancestry.
Messianic Jews believe Jesus was the Messiah and despite being labeled apostates by mainstream Jewish groups, still consider themselves Jews. Like the better known Messianic organization Jews for Jesus, Jewish Voice seeks to “spread the good news” to Jews — but has a special mandate to reach “lost tribe” groups, and has been stepping up their efforts in Africa.
“Depending on how the results come out, this could be very significant,” said Ezra Benjamin, Jewish Voice’s director of global outreach. Samples are being sent to Family Tree DNA’s laboratories in Texas and will be processed in a few months.
But many Igbo are wary.
“No one ever dug up any skeleton of any Levite to measure their DNA and put it on a database,” Chukwuemeka said, using the Hebrew title for biblical priest. The homepage of Chukwuemeka’s website, called “Igbos are the Real Hebrews,” opens with the line: “The Jewish people today who claim to be the Hebrews over in the state of Israel are not the real people of the bible.”