'LEPROSY' IN THE BIBLE - WHAT WAS IT?
Superstition and false religious beliefs can have devastating PSYCHOLOGICAL effects
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Leprosy is a very enigmatic subject. Often it is associated with the Bible but only in the older versions. Most of the later translations render the Hebrew and Greek words as "Terrible Skin Disease" etc. and yet, paradoxically, "Leprosy", as we know it today, basically is not a skin disease. Essentially, it is a disease which affects the nerves, although not the central nervous system. Only the peripheral nerves and their cutaneous branches are involved. What then was the "leprosy" of the Bible? Was it what we call "Hansen’s Disease" today? The answer is No. The Hebrew word "Tsara’ath" may have included Hansen’s Disease or what is called True Leprosy today, but even this is doubted
That Hebrew word is not a precise medical term referring to a specific disease . Rather does is seem to refer to a whole range of disfiguring conditions that resulted in rejection by a society that, in its ignorance, attributed such afflictions to punishment from God. Today, there are about thirty conditions which can be confused with early and late Hansen’s Disease and these are discussed in "DIFFERENTIAL DIAGNOSIS".
Some references to "leprosy" in the Bible obviously refer to conditions other than Hansen’s Disease. "Naaman the Leper", (2 Kings 5:27) for example, was said to be "leprous" - as "white as snow" . This, clearly, is not what we call leprosy (Hansen’s Disease) today because Hansen’s Disease does not cause the skin to become white. The condition which can be confused with leprosy and which causes a whitening of the skin, is Leucaderma or Vitiligo. In true leprosy or Hansen’s Disease, there can be some loss of pigment in the skin but it never becomes white because of the disease. Similarly, in Exodus 13:44, we read of a person with a hand "leprous and white as snow". In Leviticus 13:10 and 20, Biblical "leprosy" even resulted in the hair turning white. This does not happen in patients with Hansen’s Disease, nor is their scalp (except in vary rare cases) affected by the disease as in Leviticus 13:42. However, there can be loss of eyebrows (Madarosis) because that is one of the COOLER areas of the body. Other patches, in cooler areas, also can suffer hair loss.
Biblical "leprosy" could also involve clothing and leather garments (Leviticus 13:37-48); maybe it was a form of mildew . In Lev.14:37 it could even affect walls of buildings. Dr Stanley Browne believes that in Lev.13 v.18, it could be a form of boil; v:24 - an infection complicating a burn; v:29 - ringworm or sycosis of the scalp; v:36 a form of pustular dermatitis; v:42 - a favus or desert sore.
Biblical "leprosy" also had a religious connotation. It was such a repulsive condition that it was imagined that God used it as an instrument of divine punishment - See the punishment suffered by Miriam in the Bible’s Book of Numbers 12:9 , also in 2 Chronicles, where King Uzziah was said to have been "Smitten" by God with "leprosy".
In the book of the Prophet Isaiah chapter 53:4, it stated that the coming Suffering Servant would be "Smitten of God and Afflicted" . In the Greek Septuagent translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, the word "Leprosum" is used. It is the adjectival form of the Greek word "lepra", translated "leprosy" . The germ responsible for leprosy is Mycobacterium leprae or, for short - M.leprae. Was Jesus Christ a "leper"? Incidently, we should never call a person a “leper” but rather a “leprosy patient” or a “leprosy sufferer”.
Clinically, Jesus was not a “leper” but, if we understand that Biblical leprosy was more than just a disease - it was a “condition” - there is truth in claiming that he was a “leper”., “Lepers” were those who were rejected by society and this is the most devastating thing about neglected, untreated Hansen’s Disease. It can result in rejection where there are no treatment facilities and no health education by which people may be freed from superstition and ignorance. There is a sense in which Jesus was a “leper” because we rejected him. Every time we reject a person in real need, virtually, we are rejecting Jesus - making him a “leper” - because, in the Christian faith, we really come into contact with God through people and particularly people in real need (Matthew 25 34-40)
The first religious exercise of the fundamentalist Pharisees in Biblical times was to thank God that they were not born in any of the four following categories, and they prayed :- “I thank you God that I was not born a Gentile (a foreigner) a slave, a ‘leper’ or a woman! In their ignorance and in a society dominated by patriachal prejudice , they believed that the God Yahweh or Jehovah had placed a “curse” on these four groups of people! Therefore, in a spiritual sense, from this point of view, it is tragic that there are a lot of “lepers” out there in society - people whom we REJECT for whatever cause. Sadly, we tend to reject people because they are different in some way or other - too fat, too short, of a different race, culture, creed, gender or speak a different language etc.. Jesus rejected no one. To really experience the dynamism of the Christian faith, we have to go with Christ - “outside the camp”( Hebrews 13:13 - terminology referring to the place where “lepers” were isolated”), “bearing the stigma” or empathising with people rejected by society. Sadly, most religions are male dominated, are prejudiced in some way against women and have male gods when, in fact, the Great Supreme Spirit of the Universe, called God, is beyond gender, and racial prejudice. In Islam also, their male-god Allah, in the Koran, expresses a very demeaning attitude towards women which accounts for their oppression in the cult today.
The Christian faith becomes meaningful only when we identify with Christ in caring for those who, in our society today, are rejected for whatever reason. In our modern era, Biblical “leprosy” could even include AIDS because some of its victims are rejected by society. This is the reason why so many caring organisations, with a concern for leprosy sufferers, are Christian . They feel the call not only to medically treat people with some exotic disease, but to help rejected people develop a sense of self esteem and, once more, feel accepted by the human race. From this point of view, AIDS has a close relationship with Leprosy (Hansen’s Disease) . Victims of both these conditions need an extra portion of human compassion.
Another reason for the cruel stigma associated with leprosy is the false conception that many people have of God as one thought to be an etherial monster which uses leprosy as a punishment for sin. Because most gods are considered to be male, with some (Islamic "Allah" and Hebrew "Yahweh" for example) thought to be anti-female (See Genesis in the Bible and "Cow" in the Koran),Hansen's Disease, which APPARENTLY turns a male into a female in some circumstances(when the male testes are involved), is a way of saying that "leprosy" is a divine punishment for sin !! For more on this, please click on :-
"LEPROSY - NEW HOPE AND CONTINUING CHALLENGE",
by Dr. Stanley G. Browne.
This book gives more informative details re. "Biblical leprosy" .
It is published by The Leprosy Mission, at:-
THE LEPROSY MISSION INTERNATIONAL
The above TLM site is very informative - look for the LINKS.
Please also visit Leprosy-related Web-Sites with many LINKS at :-
INTERNATIONAL BENEVOLENT SERVICES -
Caring for leprosy sufferers, widows and orphans in India.
At the above site, go down the page to "WEBSITES INDEX" for links to more leprosy sites.
INTERNATIONAL FEDERATION OF ANTI-LEPROSY ASSOCIATIONS (ILEP)
ILEP is an Association of over 30 anti-leprosy organisations dedicated to the treatment of leprosy sufferers and the eradication of the disease.
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THIS SITE WAS LAST UPDATED ON 14th. JANUARY 1999