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Bridgeway Bible Dictionary

Leprosy

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Among the health laws God gave to Israel through Moses were laws concerning leprosy. However, both biblical scholars and medical scientists have clearly shown that what the Old Testament calls leprosy is not always the disease that we today call leprosy. The word used of leprosy in the Old Testament had a broad meaning and denoted a number of infectious skin diseases, some of which could be cured. It applied even to germ-carrying fungus or mildew on clothes and buildings (Leviticus 13:1-17; Leviticus 13:47-59; Leviticus 14:33-53).

The laws given through Moses were concerned not with treating the disease, but with isolating infected people so that others in the community did not become infected. When people saw any abnormality in their skin, even if only a rash, boil or falling out of the hair, they had to report it to the priests. The priests then isolated the infected person till they could ascertain whether the skin condition was a dangerous disease. If it was not, the person carried out a cleansing ceremony and returned to normal life in the community. But if it was real leprosy the person was excluded from the community entirely (Leviticus 13:18-46).

This exclusion of lepers from normal society resulted in many of them becoming beggars (Leviticus 13:45-46; Numbers 5:2; 2 Kings 7:3; 2 Kings 7:8; Luke 4:27; Luke 17:12). Important people may not have become beggars, but they still had to be isolated from the community (2 Chronicles 26:21).

If people had leprosy or any other infectious skin disease, they were ceremonially unclean and therefore unable to join in the normal religious life of the nation. If they were healed, they had to go to the priest and carry out a cleansing ceremony before they could join in religious activities again (Matthew 8:1-4).

The cleansing ceremony lasted eight days. Those who were healed, previously ‘dead’ through their disease, symbolized their death by the ritual killing of a bird, symbolized their cleansing by draining the bird’s blood into a bowl of pure water, and symbolized their new life of freedom by releasing a second bird that had been stained with the blood of the first. They were then sprinkled by the priest with the blood of the bird seven times, after which they washed and shaved. They then returned to the community, but not yet to their own dwelling place (Leviticus 14:1-9). After waiting a further seven days, they offered sacrifices, then resumed normal religious, social and family life (Leviticus 14:10-32).


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Bibliography Information
Fleming, Don. Entry for 'Leprosy'. Bridgeway Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/bbd/l/leprosy.html. 2004.

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