1973
Why was there so much leprosy during Old Testament and New Testament times? It seems to be everywhere mentioned in the scriptures.
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“Why was there so much leprosy during Old Testament and New Testament times? It seems to be everywhere mentioned in the scriptures.” Ensign, Nov. 1973, 14–15

Why was there so much leprosy during Old Testament and New Testament times? It seems to be everywhere mentioned in the scriptures.

The word leprosy is translated from a Hebrew term which means “a smiting” and a Greek word meaning “scaly” or “scabby.” Although some scholars believe this disease of the skin (described in detail in Lev. 13–14) was quite common among the Hebrews, others suggest that the stringent laws concerning identification, separation, and purification argue against the disease’s being too widespread.

One who had the disease was considered to have been smitten by God, and the “uncleanness” pronounced upon him by the priest seems to have had ceremonial, rather than sanitary, significance. If a man was completely covered with leprosy, for example, he was considered clean. (Lev. 13:12–13.) Again, if a house was suspected of containing the disease, the furniture was removed before the priest pronounced the house unclean so that the furniture might not also be unclean. Those who had the disease and were pronounced unclean by the priest had to live apart from the community. (Josephus, Ant. 3:261–264, refers to such an existence as “a living death.”) These unfortunate sufferers were living symbols to Israel of Isaiah’s charge to “be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the Lord.” (Isa. 52:11.)

Later Judaism expected the Messiah to remove this affliction, and Jesus often fulfilled this messianic expectation by cleansing lepers. (See Matt. 10:8; Matt. 11:5; Mark 1:40–44; Luke 17:12–19.)

  • C. Wilfred Griggs, assistant professor of ancient scripture and associate member, Institute for Ancient Studies, Brigham Young University