Outcomes of Messianic Genetic ‘Testing’ of African Jews Unfolding — More questions than answers

When I read in some online newsletters some months ago that some “Jewish scientists” arrived Nigeria, to test the DNA of the Igbo people for “Jewishness”, I was not amused, because I know that there is no DNA test for “Jewishness.” Little probing revealed that whom one of the newsletters, the ‘Authority’ called Jewish scientists were members of the American messianic group called Jewish Voice International. These coupled with the fact that no important and duly registered newspaper carried the news stirred my interest. I decided to follow the exercise and know how it would end. I gathered that the religious body Jewish Voice collaborated with a Nigerian religious group called, Redeemed Israel Community of Naza­renes Association (RI­CON) on this exercise. They got saliva samples from both states that Igbos are native to, and states that Igbos are not native to for the tests. According to Isaac Ojo, writing for the Authority newsletter of 27th February 2017, and quoting the RICON DNA Committee Secretary Win Gozie Aguh, “………. specimens of males were randomly selected from nine South East and South South states where the Igbos are found.” The states are, according to Ojo, citing RICON,  “ Abia, Anambra, Enugu, Ebonyi, Imo, Delta, Cross Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Rivers States.”  It is important to note the following: Igbos are not native to 2 of the states; are not majorities in two others, and in the five which they are the solid majority and are native to, non Igbos also reside.

These set off alarms. Has DNA tests which determine Jewishness been developed? Are members of Jewish Voice “Jewish scientists” or “Israeli scientists” as they are also addressed by the newsletters that carry their activities in Nigeria? Why did RICON get samples from non Igbo areas and claim that it got Igbo samples? I decided to await the outcome of the testing.

DNA screening is not new to the Igbo. I have had my DNA analyzed, because I wanted to know if my genes would show connections to the Middle East, where I believe that the Hebrew religion and culture which closely resemble my Igbo culture and religion originated. My result which I shall attach to the bottom of this article shows a Middle Eastern connection. Deeper study of the data reveals that my genes, you might say ancestors, were at the Red Sea. Some other Igbos have had theirs analyzed, and the results are similar to mine.

After five months, the “Jewish scientists”, using the words of the Authority newsletter of August 7, 2017, arrived in Nigeria and announced their findings. According to the Authority, “The International President of Jewish Voice Ministries, Rab­bi Jonathan Bernis, announced that the result of saliva samples taken in
Nnewi had shown that the Igbo were not Jews…….The Israeli in company of three of his compatriots said that none of the 124 specimen taken from Nigeria matched the samples in the Houston labora­tory which has 17 years’ experience in DNA business.”

Continuing, the Authority reported that Bernis noted, “however ….. that the result does not rule out the claim of Igbo to Israeli descent as more research would still be made to authenticate the claims.”

Relying on what the newsletter cites Bernis as having said, his findings raises only questions and produced no answers. How did Jewish Voice’ partners determine who was Igbo when they selected their subjects as they got specimen from people who are native to clearly non Igbo territory, from their own admission? Did Jewish Voice verify that the specimens in the laboratory that tested its ‘Igbo’ samples belonged to people who did not convert to Judaism?  A convert to Judaism is as Jewish as someone who has been Jewish for 1000 years, but the person who converted may not have genetic connections to the Middle East as I have, if the person’s gene pool has no Middle Eastern connections.

It would be interesting to see the responses of Jewish Voice and RICON to these questions.

My raw DNA result

Ilona is a lawyer and author of a forthcoming book on ethno-history of African Americans

About the Author
Remy Ilona, is a PhD candidate at the University of California, Riverside, where he also functions as a teaching assistant. He is also the secretary-general of Hebrew-Igbo people, an Igbo socio-cultural organization. He is also an author of 10 books. He is of Ibo or Igbo extraction, and a lawyer by training, as well as a historian of the Ibo. He is among the leaders shepherding the Ibos re-emerging Judaism.