Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Ethiopian Eunuch as a Foreshadowing of the Coming Gentile Mission -Reverend William E. Flippin, Jr.: (Acts 8:36-49)

I have always been fascinated by the continent of Africa, especially the country of Ethiopia. It seems to me that my heart literally skips a beat when I think about Ethiopia and what it means to me personally.
Recently, I have studied the meaning of Ethiopia in the Greco-Roman world and have concluded that the Ethiopian eunuch as described by Acts 8:36-49 was a foreshadowing of the coming Gentile Mission. On the road to Gaza, Philip, the charismatic deacon came upon an Ethiopian eunuch. Was this eunuch even of Ethiopian origin did he look like Halle Selassie or was this just a reference to someone who resided to the "ends of the earth"?
I believe that it is the later that a person of "Ethiopian origin" does not refer to the actual kingdom of Meroe or the legendary land of romance whose inhabitants enjoyed that utopian existence as illustrated in the references of Solomon and Sheba. In 23 BCE, the Romans launched a military expedition to Ethiopia which caused any reference to the real or perceived references in the Greco-Roman world literature to be explicitly negative. The statement of "Ethiopian" was derived not from archaeological research or authentic ethnographical study but from the location of Ethiopia: the ends of the earth. That view is further reflected in classical, biblical and patristic sources such as Isaiah 18:17 and Luke 11:31. It is the key to understanding why the person whom Philip baptizes is an Ethiopian.

The convert is a great catch, socially and symbolically. He is a male member of the ruling class and, at the same time a marginal figure (inasmuch as actual eunuchs were theoretically excluded from the people of God). Josephus, the Jewish historian expands the prohibition against males with defective genitals (Deuteronomy 23:1) by claiming they are outcast and lacked the mutual respect for life. The Romans also associated circumcision with castration as a form of genital mutilation. The writer of Luke-Acts used this marginal figure I believe to fulfill the promise of Isaiah 56:3-7.

The Ethiopian Eunuch represents the foreshadowing of the coming Gentile mission as announced in Acts 1:8 and Luke 24:13-35, why does the author not place it at the close of his work? Because the three questions posed by Philip leading to the Eunuch's baptism speaks not of conversion but instead illustrates a continual story of "conversion," a foreshadowing of the Gentile mission.

It is hard for me to even think that perhaps this figure mentioned in Acts was not Ethiopian and just a foreshadowing of the mission to come is hard to fathom. However, I do believe that this story reveals the most meaningful aspect of the gospel's message-its liberating and saving power for the marginalized people of the world. The story universalizes the dignity and worth of all descendants of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, not limited to Ethiopians but affirms that we are all Gentiles saved by God's grace expressed twenty years later in the writings of Paul to the church of Ephesus. Such a foreshadowing is not a negation of our heritage or "blackness" but expands our scope in embracing the overall Gentile mission affirming that the grace of God can overcome all human constraints.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Roots of Jewishness - ScienceNOW

Scholars of all kinds have long debated one seemingly simple question: What is "Jewishness?" Is it defined by genetics, culture, or religion? Recent findings have revealed genetic ties that suggest a biological basis for Jewishness, but this research didn’t include data from North African, Ethiopian, or other Jewish communities. Now a new study fills in the genetic map—and paints a more complex picture of what it means to be Jewish.
Modern Jews, who number more than 13 million worldwide, are traditionally divided into various groups. They include Middle Eastern Jews, who live in Iraq, Iran, and other places in the Levant; Sephardic Jews from Spain and Portugal; Ashkenazi Jews from Europe, who comprise 90% of American Jews; North African Jews from Morocco, Algeria, and other countries north of the Sahara; Ethiopian Jews; and many other communities scattered across the globe. In the Bible, the roots of Jewishness reach back 4000 years to Abraham and his descendants. But historians have suggested the story of Jewishness is more complicated, and may not include a single ancestor. Some have even argued that most modern Jews are descended from converts to Judaism and don’t share genetic ties at all.sn-jewish.jpg
Family ties. Most Jewish populations share a genetic connection, but some groups, such as Ethiopian Jews (pictured here, sharing unleavened bread ahead of Passover), stand alone.
Credit: Eliana Aponte/Reuters
Recent studies have turned to DNA for answers. In 2010, human geneticist Harry Ostrer of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City and colleagues found that three of the major Jewish groups—the Middle Eastern, Sephardic, and Ashkenazi Jews—share a genetic connection going back more than 2000 years, and are more closely related to each other than to nearby non-Jewish groups. Genetic ties within each of the groups were even closer, about the equivalent of fourth or fifth cousins. But that study didn't include North African Jews, who represent the world's second largest Jewish population, or any groups whose claim to Jewishness has been controversial, such as Ethiopian Jews.
So Ostrer and his colleagues gathered new DNA samples from Jews living everywhere from Morocco to Yemen. Using three distinct strategies for identifying genetic similarities, including a method called identity by descent (IBD) that can determine how closely related two individuals are, the team compared these DNA samples to each other, to the samples from their 2010 study, and to samples from non-Jews. Most of the sampled groups shared genetic features, indicating a common heritage dating back to before Roman times, the team reports today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. North African Jews—and Moroccan/Algerian Jews in particular—showed a close genetic connection to Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews, and little evidence of interbreeding with contemporary non-Jewish populations in North Africa. Georgian Jews shared genetic features with Middle Eastern Jews, instead. Yemenite Jews were distantly related to Middle Eastern Jews, while Ethiopian Jews formed their own cluster and shared little IDB with other Jewish populations. Each group showed little interbreeding with local non-Jewish groups. Moroccan/Algerian Jews, for example, were about as close genetically as third or fourth cousins; Jews from the Tunisian Island of Djerba were as close as first cousins once removed.
"I didn’t know what to expect," Ostrer says. "I've been surprised to learn there's such a shared biological basis for Jewishness." The team's results suggest that while most Jewish groups are genetically related, some are not and instead arose from converts to Judaism. But regardless of their origins, Jewish groups remained genetically isolated once formed.
The results complement historical accounts of multiple Jewish migrations and expulsions. The genetic ties between North African Jews and Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews may reflect the expulsion of European Jews from Spain and Portugal during the Spanish Inquisition in the late 1400s, and their limited breeding with local North African populations in the centuries that followed. Distinct populations, such as Ethiopian Jews, likely arose from Jewish founders who converted the local population by proselytizing but did not intermarry. "This is certainly the most extensive genomic study of Jewish populations to date," says geneticist Sarah Tishkoff of the University of Pennsylvania, who was not involved in the work. "And it shows there's both a genetic and a cultural component to being Jewish."
Identifying the genetic component of Jewishness—though controversial because the Holocaust was predicated on the idea that Jewishness was a genetic trait that could be eliminated from the German population—could have medical as well as historical value, Tishkoff adds, because many Jewish populations have high incidences of genetic disease. Knowing more about the groups' biological makeup could enable doctors to provide more informed genetic counseling to Jewish couples, or better personalize courses of treatment. Tishkoff notes that the little-studied Jewish populations of India, sub-Saharan Africa, China, and Burma weren’t examined in the latest analysis. Ostrer says his team plans to include their DNA in a future study to complete what he calls "the tapestry of Jewishness."

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Study completes genetic map of N. Afr... JPost - Health & Science

Until now, how N. African Jews are related to other Jewish groups, non-Jewish neighbors had not been well defined.

DNA strand double helix
Jews pray in a Tunisian synagogue [file]A just-published, “definitive” study of Jews of North African origin has set their place on the genetic map of the Jewish Diasporas. This completes research of contemporary Jewish populations following previous work on Ashkenazim, Sephardim and Mizrahi Jews who originated in Europe and the Middle East.
The study – led by Prof. Harry Ostrer of the departments of pathology, genetics and pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at New York’s Yeshiva University, was just published online in the Proceedings of the US National Academy of Sciences.
The researchers analyzed the genetic make-up of 509 Jews from 15 populations compared with genetic data on 114 individuals from seven North African non-Jewish populations.
North African Jews are the second largest Jewish Diaspora group. Until now, how they are related to each other, to other Diaspora groups and to their non-Jewish North African neighbors had not been well defined.
The study also included members of Jewish communities in Ethiopia, Yemen and Georgia.
The findings support the historical record of Middle Eastern Jews settling in North Africa during classical antiquity, converting non-Jews to Judaism and marrying local populations, thereby forming distinct populations that stayed largely intact for more than two millennia.
“Our new findings define North African Jews, complete the overall population structure for the various groups of the Jewish Diaspora and enhance the case for a biological basis for Jewishness,” said Ostrer, an Einstein physician who is director of genetic and genomic testing for the division of clinical pathology at nearby Montefiore Medical Center. Ostrer noted that obtaining a comprehensive genetic fingerprint of various Jewish subpopulations can help reveal genetic links to heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other common diseases.
In a previous genetic analysis, the researchers showed that modern-day Sephardi (Greek and Turkish), Ashkenazi (Eastern European) and Mizrahi (Iranian, Iraqi and Syrian) Jews originating in Europe and the Middle East are more related to each other than to their contemporary non-Jewish neighbors, with each group forming its own cluster within the larger Jewish population.
In addition, each group showed Middle-Eastern ancestry and varying degrees of mixing with surrounding populations.
Two of the major Jewish populations – Middle Eastern and European Jews – were found in the Einstein study to have diverged from each other about 2,500 years ago.
North African Jews exhibited a high degree of endogamy – a term that refers to marriage within their own religious and cultural group – in accordance with their community’s custom.
Two major subgroups within this overall population were identified – Moroccan/Algerian Jews and Djerban (Tunisian)/Libyan Jews. The two subgroups varied in their degree of European mixture, with Moroccan/Algerian Jews tending to be more related to Europeans, which most likely resulted from the expulsion of Sephardi Jews from Spain during the Inquisition starting in 1492.
Ethiopian and Yemenite Jewish populations also formed distinctive genetically linked clusters, as did Georgian Jews.
The Jerusalem Post asked for comments on the paper from Prof. Karl Skorecki, a leading genetics researcher and nephrologist – kidney care specialist –at Haifa’s Rambam Medical Center who has done pathfinding work on the ancient links of the Priestly Tribe and Y chromosomes.
“This Einstein-led research is definitive,” said Skorecki, a modern- Orthodox Jew who said he is closely familiar with the paper and the “superb researchers” involved in it.
“One of its great strengths is the interdisciplinary collaboration, including among other experts such as historians. The context of historical expertise greatly enhances the ability to understand and draw inferences from the genetic analysis,” Skorecki said.
“This paper continues the team’s excellent work in the past few years on DNA markers across the entire genome. The second largest Diaspora community, from North Africa, was missing. The various Jewish communities share with each other and have a great deal of overlap.”
Skorecki said he did not work with the team this time, but has before. “A monopoly is not good,” he said. “It’s better for many different groups from different parts of the world to work independently and even competitively perform similar research, as it adds to credibility and confidence.”
Jews who were forced out of Spain and Portugal in the late 15th century moved eastward to Bulgaria, Turkey and Saloniki, but also to Morocco in North Africa.
“This is clear. There is very interesting genetic consistency and a confirmation of history that we have obtained from archival historical records. Using genetics can also be a historical tool,” the Rambam expert said.
“When one looks for geneticbased predisposition to diseases, it’s important to know to what other population the given group is genetically related, in this case, the non-Jews in the same area. The new findings show that there was not much Jewish admixture with the local non-Jewish population in North Africa. Compared to the variation of the worldwide population, Jewish communities were quite different. They mostly married among themselves, with not enough mixing with the non- Jewish group to make it possible to separate the DNA.
One can see that there is shared Jewish ancestry of Near East origin among Ashkenazim and other Jews who had been separated for thousands of years.”
Skorecki,  who is also at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, noted that new studies, such as a major one a few weeks ago from University College London researchers in the American Journal of Human Genetics, have shown that the general population in Ethiopia has the most diverse structure in the world.
“There was a great deal of diversification, so it’s a great place to study genetics,” said Skorecki.
“Many researchers,” he continued, “believe that humans originated in more than one place, but contemporary humans probably descend mostly from humans from northeast Africa, such as Ethiopia.
“I, like them, think that they were dark skinned, and as they moved, their skin color evolved to adapt to their environment,” said Skorecki.
His own research group at Rambam and others are currently involved in studying the whole genome of three billion letters.
Now Jewish samples are being studied for whole genome sequences – every single letter of the bases making up pairs in the DNA – which will provide even more insight on human health.
Skorecki believes the non-Jewish academic world is interested in Jewish genetics as scholars of history. Probably, the Jewish connection to the Bible also interests them, he said.
There is similar international interest in the people of Iceland and their diseases, just as there is in the Druse who often marry their first cousins, and Ashkenazi Jews who married among themselves for many centuries.
“One can understand their genetic structure and then learn a lot about health. Everything is headed towards whole genome studies,” said Skorecki.
A “personalized medicine initiative” based at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot and coordinated by Nobel Prize laureate Prof. Aaron Ciechanover, also of the Technion, is using modern technologies to get samples and understand genomes and proteins,” said the Rambam researcher.
Having two adult children who married Sephardi Jews, Skorecki said there is currently a “|window of opportunity” to do Jewish genetic research as Jewish/non-Jewish and Sephardi/ Ashkenazi intermarriage occurs. Assimilation in the US is high, but “in Israel, we welcome the coming together of descendants of separate Jewish communities and their marriage in Israel. Scientists in my grandchildren’s generation will say they are just Jews.”

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Jewish Heart for Africa receives UN reco... JPost - International

“Part of our mission is to try and improve the image of Israel,” founder of New York-based organization tells 'Post.'

Lubuulo Primary School in eastern UgandaPHOTO: MATTHEW REBER
A non-profit organization that focuses on bringing Israeli sustainable technologies to African villages has received special consultative status to the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

The New York-based organization, Jewish Heart for Africa, was one of 241 groups to receive the status out 624 applicants.

By earning this status, Jewish Heart for Africa will be able to participate in nearly all intergovernmental processes at the UN that concern social and economic development.

“This is a truly momentous milestone in our organization’s short span, and a significant moment of recognition for our life-saving, empowering and humanitarian mission of love, solidarity and peace between the people of Israel and Africa,” said board member Isaiah Chabala, a former Zambian ambassador to the UN and the EU who facilitated the organization’s application.

“Jewish Heart for Africa is making an invaluable and lasting contribution to the people of Africa and to the realization of the Millennium Development Goals as well, in particular poverty eradication and the promotion of sustainable development,” Chabala said.

The consultative status at ECOSOC will allow seven Jewish Heart for Africa representatives to receive annual access passes to the UN premises and participate in all ECOSOC meetings as well as those of many other UN bodies.

In early July, Jewish Heart for Africa celebrated the completion of its 58th solar project in Africa and bringing 250,000 people throughout the continent sustainable solutions to fulfill their basic needs.

The organization has installed solar panels at schools, medical clinics and orphanages in villages throughout Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania and Malawi.

The panels bring electricity to communities located far off the grid, allowing them to have refrigerators filled with vaccines, water pumps and light bulbs.

“Part of our mission is to try and improve the image of Israel,” Sivan Borowich Yaari, founder of Jewish Heart for Africa, toldThe Jerusalem Post on Wednesday. “One of the things we are doing well is that we are making sure the local governments in the countries we work know about the work we are doing with Israeli technologies.”

To get her organization’s message across, Borowich Yaari said she always meets with the relevant ministers, first ladies and village chiefs in the countries that she visits.

However, she explained, “We always wanted to try and do a bit more.”

As a result, the group has worked for the past two-and-ahalf years to achieve this UN recognition, a process that involved officials examining its work on the ground, financials and board members, according to Borowich Yaari.

By acting as an official consultant to ECOSOC, the organization will be able to make even more African governments aware of what Israel has to offer in terms of sustainability, she explained.

“By being in Israel and by seeing what is now being done in Israel I know that there is a lot of things that can help many of the African countries,” Borowich Yaari said. “I think that by being part of [ECOSOC] we can share with the rest of the African community some solutions they can implement in their own countries – whether it be with us or with their own forces.”