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19. Good News for the Sick

A. Leprosy in the Bible: The Old Testament

In the Old Testament the Hebrew term for leprosy was used to indicate a number of skin conditions characterized by different kinds of skin lesions and associated with other symptoms, such as loss of hair, numbness, sores, and ulcers. These signs were associated with various deformities that set in as the disease progressed, such as depressed nose, withering of hands, swelling of feet, shortening of fingers and toes, etc. In those days, as the disease advanced and the victim had no recourse to adequate treatment, it could leave him with a dreadful facial appearance.

At times the disease was confused with other skin conditions, such as psoriasis (Leviticus 13:13). Similarly “leprosy of garments” (Leviticus 13:47 ff.) and “leprosy in the house” (Leviticus 14:34 ff.) may suggest fungal infestation on the garment, the linen and the walls of the houses.

Since the victims of leprosy were considered ceremonially unclean, even casual contact with them defiled other persons. Therefore victims of leprosy were isolated, away from family and friends and society. Generally they lived in groups outside the cities and at times even in neighbouring caves. They lived by begging. They were to wear torn clothes, keep their hair uncombed and cover their upper lip with a rag. In addition they were to cry out “unclean, unclean!”, ringing a bell as they walked along the street to warn others of their presence and preserve them from defilement (Leviticus 13:45,46). Those breaking the rules were subject to punishment.

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