DNA tests that have been done on what is said to be Saint Luke?s body have produced evidence that it may really be the physician who followed the apostle Paul on his missionary journeys and wrote one of the gospels, as well as the New Testament book of Acts. Genetic analysis suggests that whoever is buried in his tomb came from Syria, which, according to historical records, was his birthplace.
Legends say that St. Luke came from Antioch, which in Roman times belonged to Syria, and died in Thebes, Greece, around 150 AD, at the age of 84. According to carbon dating, the body belongs to a person who died between 72 AD and 416 AD.
It?s thought that he was first buried in Greece, before being moved to Constantinople in Turkey around 300 AD, and then to his final resting place in Padua, Italy, about a thousand years ago. The authentic body of Luke could have been replaced by the body of another person from Greece or Turkey at some point during this journey.
Scientists in Italy were asked by the Bishop of Padua to find out what they could about the body. The tomb in the basilica of St. Justina was opened by a committee led by the Bishop and two teeth were removed. DNA extracted from the teeth suggests that whoever is buried in the lead coffin was not Greek.
Guido Barbujani, who led the study, says, ?We can be confident that the body does not belong to an individual who came from Greece. We cannot rule out the possibility that the body belonged to an individual who came from Turkey.? Because Turkey and Syria are close to each other, the two populations are not very different genetically. DNA testing can?t answer the question of whether the body was really that of Luke, but it can establish where the person came from. ?We can identify important features of the human past by studying samples coming from ancient bones,? Barbujani says. ?A piece of DNA can often attribute an individual to a continent but not to a sub-continent or country unless you have a specific hypothesis to test.?
Dr. Barbujani and his colleagues collected DNA samples from modern Greek, Turkish and Syrian people. They examined their mitochondrial DNA, which is the DNA handed down from the mother, and compared it with DNA extracted from the body?s teeth. Genetic markers show the body is three times more likely to have a Syrian than a Greek origin.
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