The predominant and characteristic form of leprosy in the Old Testament is a white variety, covering either the entire body or a large tract of its surface, which has obtained the name of Lepra mosaica. Such were the cases of Moses, Miriam, Naaman and Gehazi. (Exodus 4:6; Numbers 12:10; 2 Kings 5:1,27) comp. Levi 13:13 But, remarkably enough, in the Mosaic ritual diagnosis of the disease, (Leviticus 13:1; Leviticus 14:1)... this kind, when overspreading the whole surface, appears to be regarded as "clean." (Leviticus 13:12,13,16,17) The Egyptian bondage, with its studied degradations and privations, and especially the work of the kiln under an Egyptian sun, must have had a frightful tendency to generate this class of disorders. The sudden and total change of food, air, dwelling and mode of life, caused by the exodus, to this nation of newly-emancipated slaves, may possibly have had a further tendency to produce skin disorders, and severe repressive measures may have been required in the desert-moving camp to secure the public health or to allay the panic of infection. Hence it is possible that many, perhaps most, of this repertory of symptoms may have disappeared with the period of the exodus, and the snow-white form, which had pre-existed, may alone have ordinarily continued in a later age. The principal morbid features are a rising or swelling, a scab or baldness, and a bright or white spot. (Leviticus 13:2) But especially a white swelling in the skin, with a change of the hair of the part from the natural black to white or yellow, ch. (Leviticus 13:3,4,10,20,25,30) or an appearance of a taint going "deeper than the skin," or, again, "raw flesh" appearing in the swelling, ch. (Leviticus 13:10,14,15) was a critical sign of pollution. The tendency to spread seems especially to have been relied on. A spot most innocent in other respects, if it "spread much abroad," was unclean; whereas, as before remarked, the man so wholly overspread with the evil that it could find no further range was on the contrary "clean." ch. (Leviticus 13:12,13) These two opposite criteria seem to show that whilst the disease manifested activity, the Mosaic law imputed pollution to and imposed segregation on the suffered, but that the point at which it might be viewed as having run its course was the signal for his readmission to communion. It is clear that the leprosy of Levi 13,14 means any severe disease spreading on the surface of the body in the way described, and so shocking of aspect, or so generally suspected of infection, that public feeling called for separation. It is now undoubted that the "leprosy" of modern Syria, and which has a wide range in Spain, Greece and Norway, is the Elephantiasis graecorum. It is said to have been brought home by the crusaders into the various countries of western and northern Europe. It certainly was not the distinctive white leprosy, nor do any of the described symptoms in Levi 13 point to elephantiasis. "White as snow," (2 Kings 5:27) would be a inapplicable to elephantiasis as to small-pox. There remains a curious question as regards the leprosy of garments and houses. Some have though garments worn by leprous patients intended. This classing of garments and house-walls with the human epidermis, as leprous, has moved the mirth of some and the wonder of others. Yet modern science has established what goes far to vindicate the Mosaic classification as more philosophical than such cavils. It is now known that there are some skin diseases which originate in an acarus, and others which proceed from a fungus. In these we may probably find the solution of the paradox. The analogy between the insect which frets the human skin and that which frets the garment that covers it--between the fungous growth that lines the crevices of the epidermis and that which creeps in the interstices of masonry--is close enough for the purposes of a ceremonial law. It is manifest also that a disease in the human subject caused by an acarus or by a fungus would be certainly contagious, since the propagative cause could be transferred from person to person. (Geikie in his "Life of Christ" says: "Leprosy signifies smiting, because it was supposed to be a direct visitation of Heaven. It began with little specks on the eyelids and on the palms of the hands, and gradually spread over different parts of the body, bleaching the hair white wherever it showed itself, crusting the affected parts with shining scales, and causing swellings and sores. From the skin it slowly ate its way through the tissues, to the bones and joints, and even to the marrow, rotting the whole body piecemeal. The lungs, the organs of speech and hearing, and the eyes, were attacked in turn, till at last consumption or dropsy brought welcome death. The dread of infection kept men aloof from the sufferer; and the law proscribed him as above all men unclean. The disease was hereditary to the fourth generation." Leprosy in the United States: The Medical Record, February, 1881, states that from the statistics collected by the Dermatological Society it appears that there are between fifty and one hundred lepers in the United States at present.
Is modern leprosy contagious?:
Dr. H.S. Piffard of New York, in the Medical Record, February, 1881, decides that it is in a modified degree contagious. "A review of the evidence led to the conclusion that this disease was not contagious by ordinary contact; but it may be transmitted by the blood and secretions. A recent writer, Dr. Bross, a Jesuit missionary attached to the lazaretto at Trinidad, takes the ground that the disease in some way or other is transmissible. It is a well-established fact that when leprosy has once gained for itself a foothold in any locality, it is apt to remain there and spread. The case of the Sandwich Islands illustrates the danger. Forty years ago the disease did not exits there; now one-tenth of the inhabitants are lepers." This is further confirmed by the fact stated by Dr. J. Hutchinson, F.R.S., that "We find that nearly everywhere the disease is most common on the seashore, and that, when it spreads inland, it generally occurs on the shores of lakes or along the course of large rivers."
Leprosy as a type of sin:
"Being the worst form of disease, leprosy was fixed upon by God to be the especial type of sin, and the injunctions regarding it had reference to its typical character." It was
(3) ever tending to increase;
(4) incurable except by the power of God;
(5) a shame and disgrace;
(6) rendering one alone in the world;
(7) deforming, unclean;
(8) "separating the soul from God, producing spiritual death; unfitting it forever for heaven and the company of they holy, and insuring its eternal banishment, as polluted and abominable."
(9) Another point is referred to by Thompson (in "The Land and the Book"): "Some, as they look on infancy, reject with horror the thought that sin exists within, and you can find more about that here on st-takla.org on other commentaries and dictionary entries. But so might any one say who looked upon the beautiful babe in the arms of a leprous mother. But time brings forth the fearful malady. New-born babes of leprous parents are often as pretty and as healthy in appearance as any; but by and by its presence and workings become visible in some of the signs described in the thirteenth chapter of Leviticus."--ED.)
Main reference: Smith's Bible Dictionary (1860s)
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