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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
1. Old Testament Instances:
The first Old Testament mention of this disease is as a sign given by God to Moses (Exodus 4:6 (Jahwist)), which may be the basis of the story in Josephus' Apion , I, 31, that Moses was expelled from Heliopolis on account of his being a leper (see also I, 26 and Ant. , III, xi, 4). The second case is that of Miriam (Numbers 12:10 ), where the disease is graphically described (EP2 ). In Deuteronomy 24:8 there is a reference to the oral tradition concerning the treatment of lepers, without any details, but in Lev 13; 14 (Priestly Code) the rules for the recognition of the disease, the preliminary quarantine periods and the ceremonial methods of cleansing are given at length. It is worthy of note that neither here nor elsewhere is there any mention of treatment or remedy; and Jehoram's ejaculation implies the belief that its cure could be accomplished only by miracle ( 2 Kings 5:7 ).
The case of Naaman (2 Kings 5:1 ) shows that lepers were not isolated and excluded from society among the Syrians. The leprosy of Gehazi (2 Kings 5:27 ) is said to have been the transference of that of Naaman, but, as the incubation period is long, it must have been miraculously inflicted on him. The four lepers of Samaria of 2 Kings 7:3 had been excluded from the city and were outside the gate.
The leprous stroke inflicted on Uzziah (2 Kings 15:5; 2 Chronicles 26:23 ) for his unwarrantable assumption of the priestly office began in his forehead, a form of the disease peculiarly unclean (Leviticus 13:43-46 ) and requiring the banishment and isolation of the leper. It is remarkable that there is no reference to this disease in the prophetical writings, or in the Hagiographa.
2. Leprosy in the New Testament:
In the New Testament, cleansing of the lepers is mentioned as a specific portion of our Lord's work of healing, and was included in the commission given to the apostles. There are few individual cases specially described, only the ten of Luke 17:12 , and the leper whom our Lord touched (Matthew 8:2; Mark 1:40; Luke 5:12 ), but it is probable that these are only a few out of many such incidents. Simon the leper (Matthew 26:6; Mark 14:3 ) may have been one of those cured by the Lord.
3. Nature and Locality of the Disease:
The disease is a zymotic affection produced by a microbe discovered by Hansen in 1871. It is contagious, although not very readily communicated by casual contact; in one form it is attended with anesthesia of the parts affected, and this, which is the commonest variety now met with in the East, is slower in its course than those forms in which nodular growths are the most prominent features, in which parts of the limbs often drop off. At present there are many lepers to be seen at the gates of the cities in Palestine. It is likewise prevalent in other eastern lands, India, China, and Japan. Cases are also to be seen in most of the Mediterranean lands and in Norway, as well as in parts of Africa and the West Indies and in South America. In former times it was occasionally met with in Britain, and in most of the older English cities there were leper houses, often called "lazarets" from the mistaken notion that the eczematous or varicose ulcers of Lazarus were leprous (Luke 16:20 ). Between 1096 and 1472, 112 such leper houses were founded in England. Of this disease King Robert Bruce of Scotland died. There was special medieval legislation excluding lepers from churches and forbidding them to wander from district to district. Leprosy has been sometimes confounded with other diseases; indeed the Greek physicians used the name
The homiletic use of leprosy as a type of sin is not Biblical. The only Scriptural reference which might approach this is Psalm 51:7 , but this refers to Numbers 19:18 rather than to the cleansing of the leper. The Fathers regarded leprosy as typical of heresy rather than of moral offenses. (See Rabanus Maurus, Allegoria , under the word "Lepra.")
(1) Leprosy in Garments.
The occurrence of certain greenish or reddish stains in the substance of woolen or linen fabrics or in articles made of leather is described in Leviticus 13:47 ff, and when these stains spread, or, after washing, do not change their color, they are pronounced to be due to a fretting leprosy (
(2) Leprosy in the House (Leviticus 14:34 ff).
The occurrence of "hollow streaks, greenish or reddish," in the plaster of a house is regarded as evidence that the wall is affected with leprosy, and when such is observed the occupant first clears his house of furniture, for if the discoloration be pronounced leprous, all in the home would become unclean and must be destroyed. Then he asks the priest to inspect it. The test is first, that the stain is in the substance of the wall, and, second, that it is spreading. In case these conditions are fulfilled, it is pronounced to be leprosy and the affected part of the wall is taken down, its stones cast outside the city, its plaster scraped off and also cast outside the city; new stones are then built in and the house is newly plastered. Should the stain recur in the new wall, then the whole house is condemned and must be destroyed and its materials cast outside the city. The description is that of infection by some fungus attacking whatever organic material is in the mud plaster by which the wall is covered. If in woodwork, it might be the dry rot ( Merulius lacrimans ), but this is not likely to spread except where there is wood or other organic matter. It might be the efflorescence of mural salt (calcium nitrate), which forms fiocculent masses when decomposing nitrogenous material is in contact with lime; but that is generally white, not green or reddish. Considering the uncleanly condition of the houses of the ordinary fellah, it is little wonder that such fungus growths may develop in their walls, and in such cases destruction of the house and its materials is a sanitary necessity.
4. The Legal Attitude:
It should be observed here that the attitude of the Law toward the person, garment or house suspected of leprosy is that if the disease be really present they are to be declared unclean and there is no means provided for cure, and in the case of the garment or house, they are to be destroyed. If, on the other hand, the disease be proved to be absent, this freedom from the disease has to be declared by a ceremonial purification. This is in reality not the ritual for cleansing the leper, for the Torah provides none such, but the ritual for declaring him ceremonially free from the suspicion of having the disease. This gives a peculiar and added force to the words, "The lepers are cleansed," as a testimony to our Lord's Divine mission.
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Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Leper; Leprosy'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/isb/l/leper-leprosy.html. 1915.