Leprosy in the Bible: Quarantine or Ritual?


| Introduction | Defining Leprosy | Diagnosing Leprosy | Curing/Reinitiation Rituals |
| Biblical Interpretation | Conclusion | Works Cited |

Defining Leprosy

The diagnosis of leprosy today differs greatly from leprosy in the Bible, often referred to as sara'at. (Sawyer, 242) The biblical form of leprosy was a serious skin infection, diagnosed by a priest. Symptoms that attracted attention would be swelling, some type of rash, or an unusually bright spot. (Leviticus 13: 24-28)  These diseases were considered highly infectious, which gives some clue that biblical leprosy was very different from what is diagnosed today. (Gilbert, 593-594)  This is because modern leprosy, also known as Hansen's disease, has a low chance of transmission. (World Health Organization)  While it is possible to contract Hansen’s disease through contact with fluids from the nose and mouth, infection is usually a result of close and frequent contacts with the afflicted.  Biblical peoples were unlikely to come into this much contact with the diseased, as leprosy victims were summarily exiled upon diagnosis.  Through this criteria, Hansen's disease differs greatly from the disease referenced explicitly in the Bible.  Also, while the physical diagnosis of disease in the past is difficult due to similar types of skeletal damage caused by different afflictions, the contorted skeletal damage that characterizes Hansen’s disease was not found in human remains in Israel until well after the time of the Old Testament. (Zias, 149-151) Coupled with the fact that the Bible contains no explicit descriptions of rotting limbs, hardened skin, loss of feeling, or grotesquely deformed faces makes it doubtful that Hansen’s disease was the biblical leprosy of old. (Gordon, 483-484)


(Top)
Hansen's Disease - Biblical leprosy is often confused with this infection.  (Source)


(Left)
Jesus cures a leper.
(Matthew 8: 1-3)
The modern equivalent of biblical leprosy remains somewhat unidentified to this day. (Source)

(Source)