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The disease we call leprosy today doesn’t seem to be the same as what was called leprosy in the Bible. While modern leprosy may appear to be the same, since the skin turns white and it is extremely debilitating, there are some major differences.
Ancient leprosy seemed to have been extremely contagious, so people that had it weren’t allowed to approach those that were healthy, while modern leprosy is listed as only ‘mildly contagious.’
Also, the white skin coloration for modern leprosy comes from external skin scaling, while the Bible’s description of leprosy was of a whiteness (or redness) that was internal or deep into the skin, and it caused hollow spots under the skin. Also, once a person’s skin had turned completely white, God’s Law no longer considered the disease to be contagious (see Leviticus 13:12-17).
Medical descriptions of modern leprosy say that it comes as the result of a bacterial infection. While this may also have been true of ancient leprosy (in fact, it could have come from a bacteria that people have become largely immune to today), the fact that it could be found in clothing and leather goods, and that it was so hard to kill by washing, suggests that Bible leprosy may have been caused by a mold or fungus.
It would seem unlikely in the dry climate of Palestine that clothing in particular would develop bacterial infections, unless they were extremely dirty, which is doubtful, knowing the IsraElite view of cleanliness. However, mold can grow almost anywhere, and it is extremely hard to destroy. The fact that ancient leprosy grew on walls in Bible times seems to indicate that it was a type of mold.
Descriptions about where and how leprosy developed in Bible times are also interesting. Notice that it often started in wounds, sores, or in the hairline. Also, the fact that it was found on clothing (which was usually damp due to sweating in the arid climate) indicates that the disease was spread by close and prolonged contact with skin or through abrasions. However, modern Bedouins no longer seem to be plagued by this malady.
The fact that the bacteria, mold, or fungus was carried and transmitted from clothing and hair seems to be quietly affirmed by the fact that there is no mention of the disease attacking the genitals… which would normally be expected today, due the common use of tight-fitting underwear. Why not? Well, the ancient IsraElites apparently didn’t wear underpants. The fact that such things had to be specifically made for those that served in Jehovah’s Temple, indicates that they weren’t customary.
Another interesting fact about the leprosy of Bible times, is that people who suffered from it could eventually (or even spontaneously) get over it without a need for modern antibiotics or treatments. The fact that Leviticus chapter 14 gives extensive rules for the cleansing and repatriating of those that became well, indicates that this may have been a fairly common occurrence.
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