Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Chs. 13, 14. The Treatment of Leprosy
The word leprosy is now used to denote a malignant disease which in the Middle Ages swept over Europe and the British Isles. Traces of this visitation are found in the leper houses which were built in England. At present the disease is the subject of special treatment in Norway, but it is prevalent in India and elsewhere in the East and in parts of the Pacific Ocean. Many travellers have described the pitiable condition of the modern lepers, and the heroic action of Father Damien at the leper settlement of Molokai, Hawaii (†1889) in devoting his life to the alleviation of their sufferings has drawn public attention to the continued existence of this malady, but in by far the majority of cases these accounts of lepers and their sufferings are read with interest mainly because of the prominent position assigned to the treatment of leprosy in these chapters, and other references to lepers in both the Old and New Testaments. References are often made in the Bible to other diseases, but none are described with such particularity as that which is called leprosy. The symptoms here described refer to the earlier stages of the leprosy, if indeed that name be the right one. The Art. Leprosy in Enc. Bib. 111. (by Creighton) says, however, ‘it may be doubted whether anyone would ever have discovered true leprosy in these chapters but for the translation [of the Heb. word] in LXX. and Vulgate’ (quoted by Kennedy), Lev. ad loc. (Cent. Bible).
For translation of portions of the Talmudic treatise Negâim, which deals with leprosy, see Jos. Barclay’s Talmud, pp. 267 ff., and cp. the Midrashic commentaries Siphra (on Lev.) and Mechilta (on Exodus): see also the Art. Leprosy (A. Macalister) in HDB.
And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron, saying,
When a man shall have in the skin of his flesh a rising, a scab, or bright spot, and it be in the skin of his flesh like the plague of leprosy; then he shall be brought unto Aaron the priest, or unto one of his sons the priests:Leprosy in man (Leviticus 13:2-46)
Appearances in the skin which should be shewn to the priest (2–8)
2. a rising, or a scab, or a bright spot] Of the three words thus translated, the first is a common Heb. word for ‘lifting up,’ but employed in these chs. only in the sense of a swelling in or under the skin; the second (ṣappaḥath) occurs only here and Leviticus 14:56, the form miṣpaḥath from the same root only in Leviticus 13:6-8; the third is from a root signifying ‘to be bright or clear,’ and is used only in these chs. They all seem to denote an appearance like that of an angry-looking boil.
the plague of leprosy] rather a plague.
plague] lit. ‘a stroke’ (plaga; cp. a ‘stroke’ of paralysis), which also represents the sense of the Heb. word nega‘, which gives its name to the treatise Negâim. The leper was rejected as ‘smitten of God.’ See introd. note on ch. 14.
And the priest shall look on the plague in the skin of the flesh: and when the hair in the plague is turned white, and the plague in sight be deeper than the skin of his flesh, it is a plague of leprosy: and the priest shall look on him, and pronounce him unclean.3. The distinctive marks of leprosy are—the hair, which is generally very dark among Jews, turns while, and the swelling appears deep-seated; in that case the priest is at once to declare the man unclean.
If the bright spot be white in the skin of his flesh, and in sight be not deeper than the skin, and the hair thereof be not turned white; then the priest shall shut up him that hath the plague seven days:4. If any of the symptoms are not found, the man is to be shut up seven days and again examined.
And the priest shall look on him the seventh day: and, behold, if the plague in his sight be at a stay, and the plague spread not in the skin; then the priest shall shut him up seven days more:5. If the plague (i.e. the rising described in Leviticus 13:2) has not spread (the Heb. verb occurs only in chs. 13, 14), he is to be shut up another seven days, and if the spot then appears dull (the Heb. word in this sense is confined to the two chs.; it is applied to the eye becoming dim through age, 1 Samuel 3:2), and there is no sign of its spreading, the priest shall pronounce him clean.
And the priest shall look on him again the seventh day: and, behold, if the plague be somewhat dark, and the plague spread not in the skin, the priest shall pronounce him clean: it is but a scab: and he shall wash his clothes, and be clean.
But if the scab spread much abroad in the skin, after that he hath been seen of the priest for his cleansing, he shall be seen of the priest again:7. after that he hath shewn himself to the priest for his cleansing] i.e. in order to be declared clean. Three inspections by the priest are ordered with a week’s interval between each. If during either week the rising spreads, the priest shall pronounce him unclean.
It will be noticed that the word ‘plague’ is used to denote the rising or scab which is a mark of the leprosy, and also the person afflicted (in Leviticus 13:4; Leviticus 13:12-13; Leviticus 13:17 him that hath is not in the Heb.), as well as the disease itself in the phrase ‘the plague of leprosy.’
And if the priest see that, behold, the scab spreadeth in the skin, then the priest shall pronounce him unclean: it is a leprosy.
When the plague of leprosy is in a man, then he shall be brought unto the priest;9–17. The first part of this section is obscure; most modern commentators explain Leviticus 13:9-11 as referring to another form of leprosy in which the rising described in Leviticus 13:10 appears without any of the premonitory symptoms of Leviticus 13:2; if in addition to the white hair (already mentioned in Leviticus 13:3) there is ‘quick raw flesh’ (Leviticus 13:10) in the rising, this is a sure sign of leprosy, and the man must be declared unclean at once without waiting for any further examination. By ‘quick raw flesh’ (Heb. ‘the rawness of raw flesh,’ or lit. ‘the quickness of quick flesh’) is understood an appearance like that of raw meat. The Heb. words for ‘raw flesh’ [bâsâr ḥay] are used of raw meat in 1 Samuel 2:15; Prof. Macalister describes it as ‘red granulation tissue’ (HDB. iii. 96a). The words ‘old leprosy’ must then mean a leprosy of long standing which has not manifested itself in the preliminary stages, but, when first noticed, shews this definite indication of the disease. It is possible that these verses may include the case when the first symptoms described in Leviticus 13:2 have been either unobserved or concealed.
Another explanation of Leviticus 13:9-11 is that they describe a fresh outbreak in one who has been pronounced clean, or who has been cured of a previous attack. The traditional interpretation of ‘quick raw flesh’ (the quickening of living flesh, A. V. mg.) is ‘sound flesh.’ The appearance of this sound flesh in a rising was, in the opinion of the rabbis, evidence that an old leprosy had developed fresh activity.
The words of Leviticus 13:7, ‘after that he hath shewn himself to the priest for his cleansing,’ are by some considered as referring to the third of the inspections prescribed in Leviticus 13:2-6. It has been observed that the suspected person at the first and second inspection must either be pronounced unclean, or shut up for further enquiry, and he cannot be pronounced clean till the third examination. Then Leviticus 13:7-8 would refer to the reappearance of leprous symptoms after a man had been pronounced clean by the priest, and Leviticus 13:9-11 would supply further rules for such cases.
And the priest shall see him: and, behold, if the rising be white in the skin, and it have turned the hair white, and there be quick raw flesh in the rising;
It is an old leprosy in the skin of his flesh, and the priest shall pronounce him unclean, and shall not shut him up: for he is unclean.
And if a leprosy break out abroad in the skin, and the leprosy cover all the skin of him that hath the plague from his head even to his foot, wheresoever the priest looketh;The case when the whole body is turned white (12–17)
A form of skin disease which is not infectious seems to be here indicated. A white efflorescence spreads over the whole body, which after a time peels off, and the skin resumes a healthy appearance. The presence of the raw flesh indicates disease (Leviticus 13:14-15), but as soon as the whole surface becomes white, the priest shall pronounce him clean.
Then the priest shall consider: and, behold, if the leprosy have covered all his flesh, he shall pronounce him clean that hath the plague: it is all turned white: he is clean.
But when raw flesh appeareth in him, he shall be unclean.
And the priest shall see the raw flesh, and pronounce him to be unclean: for the raw flesh is unclean: it is a leprosy.
Or if the raw flesh turn again, and be changed unto white, he shall come unto the priest;
And the priest shall see him: and, behold, if the plague be turned into white; then the priest shall pronounce him clean that hath the plague: he is clean.
The flesh also, in which, even in the skin thereof, was a boil, and is healed,Leprosy developing in the place of an old boil or a burn (18–28)
The distinguishing marks of leprosy are similar to those already indicated; it would seem that in these cases they are more easily recognised, for only one shutting up for seven days is required. The Heb. word (shĕḥîn) for ‘boil’ is used of Hezekiah (2 Kings 20:7) and Job (Job 2:7); also for ‘the botch (boil R.V.) of Egypt’ (Deuteronomy 28:17). As Egypt was notorious for malignant skin diseases, this expression may denote some form of leprosy.
And in the place of the boil there be a white rising, or a bright spot, white, and somewhat reddish, and it be shewed to the priest;
And if, when the priest seeth it, behold, it be in sight lower than the skin, and the hair thereof be turned white; the priest shall pronounce him unclean: it is a plague of leprosy broken out of the boil.
But if the priest look on it, and, behold, there be no white hairs therein, and if it be not lower than the skin, but be somewhat dark; then the priest shall shut him up seven days:
And if it spread much abroad in the skin, then the priest shall pronounce him unclean: it is a plague.
But if the bright spot stay in his place, and spread not, it is a burning boil; and the priest shall pronounce him clean.23. the scar of the boil] The Heb. for ‘scar’ occurs only here and in Leviticus 13:28. It is from a root signifying ‘to burn,’ which is found in Ezekiel 20:47 (Heb. 21:3), ‘all faces … shall be burnt.’
Or if there be any flesh, in the skin whereof there is a hot burning, and the quick flesh that burneth have a white bright spot, somewhat reddish, or white;
Then the priest shall look upon it: and, behold, if the hair in the bright spot be turned white, and it be in sight deeper than the skin; it is a leprosy broken out of the burning: wherefore the priest shall pronounce him unclean: it is the plague of leprosy.
But if the priest look on it, and, behold, there be no white hair in the bright spot, and it be no lower than the other skin, but be somewhat dark; then the priest shall shut him up seven days:
And the priest shall look upon him the seventh day: and if it be spread much abroad in the skin, then the priest shall pronounce him unclean: it is the plague of leprosy.
And if the bright spot stay in his place, and spread not in the skin, but it be somewhat dark; it is a rising of the burning, and the priest shall pronounce him clean: for it is an inflammation of the burning.
If a man or woman have a plague upon the head or the beard;Leprosy in the hair of the head or face (29–37)
The treatment is similar to that in the preceding cases, but two periods of confinement are prescribed, and the hair is to be shaven after the first seven days.
Then the priest shall see the plague: and, behold, if it be in sight deeper than the skin; and there be in it a yellow thin hair; then the priest shall pronounce him unclean: it is a dry scall, even a leprosy upon the head or beard.30. yellow thin hair] The Heb. word for ‘yellow’ is used only here and in Leviticus 13:32; Leviticus 13:36.
a scall] a dry scall A.V.; the Heb. word néthek is used only in this section, and denotes ‘what one is inclined to scratch or tear away’ (Oxf. Lex.).
And if the priest look on the plague of the scall, and, behold, it be not in sight deeper than the skin, and that there is no black hair in it; then the priest shall shut up him that hath the plague of the scall seven days:
And in the seventh day the priest shall look on the plague: and, behold, if the scall spread not, and there be in it no yellow hair, and the scall be not in sight deeper than the skin;
He shall be shaven, but the scall shall he not shave; and the priest shall shut up him that hath the scall seven days more:33. It is enjoined in the Mishna (Tal. Bab. Neg. x. § 5) that two hairs on each side of the scall should be left so that the priest might judge whether the disease had spread.
And in the seventh day the priest shall look on the scall: and, behold, if the scall be not spread in the skin, nor be in sight deeper than the skin; then the priest shall pronounce him clean: and he shall wash his clothes, and be clean.
But if the scall spread much in the skin after his cleansing;
Then the priest shall look on him: and, behold, if the scall be spread in the skin, the priest shall not seek for yellow hair; he is unclean.
But if the scall be in his sight at a stay, and that there is black hair grown up therein; the scall is healed, he is clean: and the priest shall pronounce him clean.
If a man also or a woman have in the skin of their flesh bright spots, even white bright spots;White spots in the skin (38, 39)
These, if they are dull, and not of the character described in Leviticus 13:3, are a ‘tetter’ (freckled spot A.V.), a skin disease which is not of a leprous character. The Heb. word bohaḳ (only in Leviticus 13:39) is still used by the Arabs to denote this kind of eruption.
Then the priest shall look: and, behold, if the bright spots in the skin of their flesh be darkish white; it is a freckled spot that groweth in the skin; he is clean.
And the man whose hair is fallen off his head, he is bald; yet is he clean.Baldness in the back or front part of the head (40–44)
This is not in itself a sign of uncleanness, but if in either part a reddish white plague (white reddish sore A. V.) appears, he must be seen by the priest. The word ‘bald’ in Leviticus 13:40 means bald at the back of the head, as distinguished from forehead bald in Leviticus 13:41.
And he that hath his hair fallen off from the part of his head toward his face, he is forehead bald: yet is he clean.
And if there be in the bald head, or bald forehead, a white reddish sore; it is a leprosy sprung up in his bald head, or his bald forehead.
Then the priest shall look upon it: and, behold, if the rising of the sore be white reddish in his bald head, or in his bald forehead, as the leprosy appeareth in the skin of the flesh;43. as the appearance of leprosy] The criterion of white hair is absent, but the other tests of leprosy already mentioned are sufficient to determine whether the outbreak is leprous. According to tradition, two periods of seclusion were necessary as in Leviticus 13:2-6 and in Leviticus 13:29-37.
He is a leprous man, he is unclean: the priest shall pronounce him utterly unclean; his plague is in his head.
And the leper in whom the plague is, his clothes shall be rent, and his head bare, and he shall put a covering upon his upper lip, and shall cry, Unclean, unclean.45. his clothes shall be rent] not the usual Heb. word, but one used only here and in Leviticus 10:6, Leviticus 21:10; Jewish tradition exempted women from rending their clothes. The actions of the leper here prescribed are those of a mourner; rending the garments, and letting the hair go loose (cp. Leviticus 10:6, Leviticus 21:10; Ezekiel 24:17), covering the upper lip (cp. Ezekiel 24:17; Ezekiel 24:22; Micah 3:7), crying, Unclean (Lamentations 4:15). The leper was regarded as one dead; Miriam is so described (Numbers 12:12) and Josephus refers to lepers as ‘in no way differing from the dead’ (Ant. iii. 11. 3). Cp. mediaeval rites relating to lepers in HDB. iii. 98 b.
The office from the Sarum Manual used at the seclusion of a leper may be found in R. M. Clay’s Mediaeval Hospitals, pp. 273 ff.
Rules for treatment of leprous persons (45, 46)
All the days wherein the plague shall be in him he shall be defiled; he is unclean: he shall dwell alone; without the camp shall his habitation be.
The garment also that the plague of leprosy is in, whether it be a woollen garment, or a linen garment;Leprosy in garments (47–59)
The nature of these spots in clothing is not clear. It is generally supposed that they are caused by mildew or moth (see Art. Leprosy, HDB.); another suggestion is that the clothing had been worn by a leprous person, but this is not stated in the text. The materials of the garments are either wool, linen, or skin.
Whether it be in the warp, or woof; of linen, or of woollen; whether in a skin, or in any thing made of skin;48. whether it be in warp, or woof] The LXX. and other versions translate thus; another suggestion is that different ways of working up the material are meant (so R.V. mg.).
And if the plague be greenish or reddish in the garment, or in the skin, either in the warp, or in the woof, or in any thing of skin; it is a plague of leprosy, and shall be shewed unto the priest:
And the priest shall look upon the plague, and shut up it that hath the plague seven days:
And he shall look on the plague on the seventh day: if the plague be spread in the garment, either in the warp, or in the woof, or in a skin, or in any work that is made of skin; the plague is a fretting leprosy; it is unclean.51. a fretting leprosy] i.e. malignant.
He shall therefore burn that garment, whether warp or woof, in woollen or in linen, or any thing of skin, wherein the plague is: for it is a fretting leprosy; it shall be burnt in the fire.
And if the priest shall look, and, behold, the plague be not spread in the garment, either in the warp, or in the woof, or in any thing of skin;
Then the priest shall command that they wash the thing wherein the plague is, and he shall shut it up seven days more:
And the priest shall look on the plague, after that it is washed: and, behold, if the plague have not changed his colour, and the plague be not spread; it is unclean; thou shalt burn it in the fire; it is fret inward, whether it be bare within or without.55. it is a fret, whether the bareness be within or without] The Heb. word for ‘fret’ occurs only here, and probably means a depression in the surface caused by the material being eaten away. The Heb. words which follow are those used for baldness in the back or front of the head in Leviticus 13:40-41. They are used here to denote the back or front of the garment, the inside or outside. The word ‘fret’ has nothing in common with ‘fretting’ in Leviticus 13:51.
And if the priest look, and, behold, the plague be somewhat dark after the washing of it; then he shall rend it out of the garment, or out of the skin, or out of the warp, or out of the woof:56, 57. If after washing, the colour is dim, the affected part is to be torn out, and if any further sign of infection is found, the garment must be burnt.
And if it appear still in the garment, either in the warp, or in the woof, or in any thing of skin; it is a spreading plague: thou shalt burn that wherein the plague is with fire.
And the garment, either warp, or woof, or whatsoever thing of skin it be, which thou shalt wash, if the plague be departed from them, then it shall be washed the second time, and shall be clean.58. The garment which after washing (Leviticus 13:54) shews no further sign of the plague, is to be washed again, and then declared clean.
This is the law of the plague of leprosy in a garment of woollen or linen, either in the warp, or woof, or any thing of skins, to pronounce it clean, or to pronounce it unclean.