Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Leviticus 13

Leviticus 13: Rules for infectious skin diseases, and mildew

Synopsis

Continuing with rules about uncleanness, this chapter examines infectious skin diseases and mildew. It’s a fairly long chapter, and seems even longer than it is—you can only read about infectious skin diseases for so long, before you get a bit bored…

Before we even start, I would bring attention to the phrase “infectious skin disease” used in this chapter; in previous versions of the Bible, such as the King James Version (KJV), this was translated as “leprosy,” but the footnote for verse 2, in the NIV indicates that “the Hebrew word was used for various diseases affecting the skin—not necessarily leprosy.” So if you have a different version of the Bible, and keep seeing the word “leprosy,” just keep in mind that this is a bad translation of the Hebrew, and mentally substitute the phrase “infectious skin disease.”

  • When someone had symptoms that might have indicated an infectious skin disease—“a swelling or a rash or a bright spot on his skin” (verse 2)—he was to be brought to one of the priests, for examination.
  • When the priest examined him, he was to see if the sore was more than skin deep, or if the hair on the skin had turned white. If so, he was to deem it an infectious skin disease, and pronounce the person ceremonially unclean.
  • If the spot did not appear to be more than skin deep, and the hair hadn’t turned white, the priest was to put the person in isolation for seven days, and reexamine him on the seventh day.
    • If the sore was unchanged, the person was to be put in isolation for another seven days.
    • The priest was to examine the man again on the seventh day, and see if the sore had faded. If so, the man was to be pronounced clean; the man was to wash his clothes, and then he would be clean.
  • If, after the man was pronounced clean, the rash reappeared, he was to appear before the priest again, who would pronounce him unclean.
It’s not explicitly stated, but I assume that the priest could pronounce the man clean at any of these examinations, if the rash had faded.

  • Anyone with an infectious skin disease was to be brought to the priest, for examination. The priest was to look for “a white swelling in the skin that has turned the hair white” and “raw flesh in the swelling” (verse 10). If these conditions were found, the priest would deem it a chronic skin disease, and pronounce the person unclean.
  • In this case, the man was not to be put in isolation, “because he [was] already unclean” (verse 11).
In this case, the person is unclean, and the skin disease is chronic, so there was no point in putting him in isolation—however, I’m not sure what the person was supposed to do. However, as the next set of rules show, all was not necessarily lost…

  • When an infectious skin disease spread over the entire body, turning the person’s skin all white, the priest was to pronounce the person clean.
  • If raw flesh ever appeared, the person would be declared unclean again, but if the raw flesh changed and turned white again, the priest would pronounce him clean again.
I don’t know much about infectious skin diseases—or rather, I don’t know anything about infectious skin diseases—so I don’t know the significance of these rules.

  • If someone had a boil, which healed, and in its place a white swelling or reddish spot appeared, the priest was to examine him.
    • If the spot appeared to be more than skin deep and the hair had turned white, the person would be declared unclean, as the spot would be deemed to be an infectious skin disease.
    • If there was no white hair, and the spot didn’t appear to be more than skin deep, the person was to be put in isolation for seven days. After the seven days, if the spot was spreading, the priest would deem it to be an infectious skin disease, and pronounce the person unclean, but if it was not spreading, it would be deemed to just be a scar from the boil, and the priest was to pronounce the person clean.
  • If someone was burned, and a reddish-white or white spot appeared in the raw flesh of the burn, the priest was to examine him.
    • If the hair had turned white, and the spot appeared to be more than skin deep, he would deem it to be an infectious skin disease, and pronounce him unclean.
    • If there was no white hair, and it didn’t appear to be more than skin deep, the person was to be put in isolation for seven days, and then reexamined. If the spot was spreading, it would be deemed to be an infectious skin disease, and the person would be unclean; otherwise, it would simply be deemed to be a scar or swelling from the burn, and the person would be declared clean.
  • If a person had a sore on their head or on the chin, the priest was to examine the spot, and see if the spot looked more than skin deep, and if the hair in it was yellow and thin. If so, it would be deemed to be an infectious skin disease, and the person would be declared unclean.
    • If it was not more than skin deep, and the hair looked normal, the person would be put in isolation for seven days, and then reexamined.
    • After the seven days, if it was unchanged, the person was to be shaved, except for the diseased area, and put back in isolation for another seven days.
    • After that seven days, if the spot still hadn’t spread, and didn’t look more than skin deep, the person would wash his or her clothes, and be pronounced clean.
    • After the person was pronounced clean, if the spot began to spread, the priest was to reexamine them. If the itch had spread, the priest didn’t need to look for yellow hair—he would simply deem the person unclean. However, if, in his judgement, the spot looked unchanged, and black hair had grown in it, the itch would be deemed to be healed, and pronounced clean.
Again, not knowing anything about infectious skin diseases, I don’t know what to make of these rules. I assume there are hygienic reasons for doing things this way.

  • If someone had white spots on their skin, the priest was to examine them. If the spots were dull white, it would be deemed to be a harmless rash, and the person would be declared clean.
I don’t really have anything to say here.

  • When a man lost his hair, and became bald, he would be clean.
  • However, if there was a reddish-white sore on his bald head or forehead, it would be deemed to be an infectious skin disease; the priest was to examine him, and pronounce him unclean.
  • In this case, the person was to wear torn clothes, let his hair be “unkempt”—or uncover his head, depending on how you translate the Hebrew—and cover the lower part of his face and cry out “Unclean! Unclean!” As long as he had the infectious skin disease, he was to live alone, outside the camp.
This is an interesting one, as it’s the first instance of an infectious skin disease which caused a person to have to perform these measures. I’m not sure if the disease indicated by these symptoms was more serious than the other diseases in this chapter.

  • If “any woolen or linen clothing, any woven or knitted material of linen or wool, any leather or anything made of leather” (verse 47–48) was contaminated with mildew, and the mildew was greenish or reddish, the priest was to examine it.
  • He was to isolate the item for seven days, and then reexamine it; if the mildew had spread, the article was to be deemed unclean, and burned.
  • However, if, after the seven days, the mildew had not spread, the priest was to order the item to be washed, and then put it back in isolation for another seven days. After that seven days, if the mildew looked the same—even if it hadn’t spread—it was to be deemed unclean, and burned. But if the mildew had faded, the priest would tear the contaminated part out, and the rest would be deemed clean.
  • If the mildew ever reappeared in the item, it was to be deemed unclean, and burned.

Thoughts

Phew. There are a lot of rules in this chapter about “infectious skin diseases.” It’s not the most interesting read; especially when you don’t know much about such diseases in the first place, and can’t really understand the importance of the rules.

In the next chapter, these rules will be continued; there will be rules for cleansing from infectious skin diseases and mildew.

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