Leprosy proper, or lepra tuberculosa, in contradistinction to other skin diseases commonly designated by the Greek word lepra (psoriasis, etc.), is a chronic infectious disease caused by the bacillus leproe, characterized by the formation of growths in the skin, mucous membranes, peripheral nerves, bones, and internal viscera, producing various deformities and mutilations of the human body, and usually terminating in death.

The foregoing sketch of the pathology of leprosy may serve to illustrate some of the many passages of the Bible where the disease is mentioned. From the epoch of the sojourn of the people of God in the desert down to the times of Christ, leprosy seems to have been prevalent in Palestine: not only was it in some particular cases (Numbers 12:10; 2Kings 5:27; Isaiah 53:4) looked upon as a Divine punishment, but at all times the Hebrews believed it to be contagious and hereditary (2Samuel 3:29); hence it was considered as a cause of defilement, and involved exclusion from the community.

From this idea proceeded the minute regulations of Lev.,xiii,xiv, concerning the diagnosis of the disease and the restoration to social and religious life of those who were cleansed. All decisions in this matter pertained to the priest, before whom should appear personally both those who were suspected of leprosy and those who claimed to be healed. If, at the first examination, the signs-coloured nodule, blister, shining spot (xiii,2), discoloration of the hair (3)-were manifest, isolation was pronounced at once; but if some of the signs were wanting, a seven-days quarantine was ordered, at the term of which a new inspection had to take place; should then the symptoms remain doubtful, another week's quarantine was imposed. The appearance of "the living flesh" in connexion with whitish blotches was deemed an evident sign of the infection (10). White formations covering the whole body are no sign of leprosy unless "live flesh" (ulceration) accompany them; in the latter case, the patient was isolated as suspect, and if the sores, which might be only temporary pustules, should heal up, he had to appear again before the priest, who would then declare him clean (12-17). A white or reddish nodule affecting the cicatrix of an ulcer or of a burn would be regarded a doubtful sign of leprosy, and condemned the patient to a seven-days quarantine, after which, according as clearer signs appeared or not, he would be declared clean or unclean (18-28). Another suspicious case, to be re-examined after a week's seclusion, is that of the leprosy of the scalp, in which, not leprosy proper, but ringworm should most likely be recognized. In all cases of acknowledged leprous infection, the patient was to "have his clothes hanging loose, his head bare, his mouth covered with a cloth" and he was commanded to cry out that he was defiled and unclean. As long as the disease lasted, he had to "dwell alone without the camp" (or the city). Like the presence of leprosy, so the recovery was the object of a sentence of the priest, and the reinstatement in the community was solemnly made according to an elaborate ritual given in Lev., xiv.

In connexion with leprosy proper, Leviticus speaks also of the "leprosy of the garments" (xiii,47-59) and "leprosy of the house" (xiv,34-53). These kinds of leprosy, probably due to fungus formations, have nothing to do with leprosy proper, which is a specifically human disease.

Elisha Cures Naaman's Leprosy (2King,5)

Published Date: 
Monday, February 12, 2018