Skip to main content
Bible Q

Is “leprosy” in the Bible the same as the disease that’s called leprosy nowadays?

Leprosy (Hansen’s Disease) did not exist in the Ancient Near East. The Bronze Age Hebrews had no word for ‘leprosy’ (Hansen’s Disease). Leviticus 13 and14, chapters containing laws concerning ‘leprosy’, are talking about a non-lethal but possibly infectious skin disease which will clear itself up if left alone for a couple of weeks. The relevant scholarly literature has recognised this for some time; see, for example:

  • Jastrow, ‘The So-Called ‘Leprosy’ Laws: An Analysis of Leviticus, Chapters 13 and 14′, The Jewish Quarterly Review, New Series (4.3.357-418), 1914
  • Lewis, ‘A Lesson from Leviticus: Leprosy’, Man, New Series (22.4.593-612), 1987
  • Hess, ‘A Reassessment of the Priestly Cultic and Legal Texts’, Journal of Law and Religion, 17.1/2.375-391), 2002
  • Ostrer, ‘Leprosy: Medical Views of Leviticus Rabba’, Early Science and Medicine (7.2.138-154), 2002
  • Heller, et al., ‘Mold “tsoro ‘ot,” Leviticus, and the history of a confusion’, Perspectives in Biology and Medicine (46.4.588-91), 2003

This is why some modern English Bible translations use phrases like ‘skin disease’ instead of the traditional ‘leprosy’; see, for example, 2Kings 5:1 in the following Bible versions (the highlighted phrase is usually rendered ‘leprosy’):

Now Naaman, the commander of the king of Syria’s army, was esteemed and respected by his master, 1  for through him the Lord had given Syria military victories. But this great warrior had a skin disease. (NET)

…The man was a brave warrior, but he had a skin disease. (HCSB)

…He was a brave soldier. But he had a skin disease. (NIrV)

…He was a mighty and brave man, but he had a skin disease. (NCV)

Also compare the footnotes for this verse in other versions of the Bible, e.g.:

Leprosy was a term for several skin diseases… (ESV)

The Hebrew word [rendered as ‘leprosy’] was used for various diseases affecting the skin — not necessarily leprosy… (NIV)

Or [suffered] from a contagious skin disease. The Hebrew word used here and throughout this passage can describe various skin diseases. (NLT)

leprosy: The word translated “leprosy” was used for many different kinds of skin diseases. (CEV)

No Comments yet!