“The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, ‘When anyone has a swelling or a rash or a shiny spot on their skin that may be a defiling skin disease, they must be brought to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons who is a priest.'”-Leviticus 13:1-2
The Hebrew word for “skin disease” is TZARA’AT.
However, the majority of English Bible translations out there will render TZARA’AT as “leprosy”.
Although I’ve talked about this before, now is as good a time as ever to tell the truth about this topic.
Leprosy or what the medical community terms “Hansen’s disease” is absolutely NOT what is being described here in Leviticus.
Leprosy was very, very rare!
For instance, based on the evidence of thousands of skeletons and mummies dug up and examined in Egypt, true leprosy didn’t even appear in that country up until the 5th century AD.
And a priest hardly ever encountered somebody with real leprosy.
The reason this translation error occurred in the first place is quite laughable.
The New Testament Greek word for “skin disease” is LEPRA.
However, LEPRA does NOT mean “leprosy”.
Let me say that again.
I don’t care how similar the pronunciation is, but LEPRA is NOT referring to “leprosy”.
The word LEPRA was just English-ized into the word “leprosy”.
The actual Greek word for real leprosy is ELEPHANTIASIS.
And you know what, ya ain’t gonna find the word “elephantiasis” anywhere in the New Testament.
Because that’s not what it was.
So you can purge from your mind all of those movie scenes of leper colonies where people were exiled to.
In spite of both theological scholars and the medical community having long ago already deemed that what is being referred to here in Leviticus has absolutely NOTHING to do with leprosy, the WRONG translation of TZARA’AT into “leprosy” stuck.
No doubt because leprosy is so intensely grotesque in appearance and actually quite a deadly disease, it provided great drama for Bible stories and sermons.
Alright then, if TZARA-AT is absolutely NOT leprosy, then what exactly is it referring to?
Well, it’s hard to be exact because TZARA-AT could be referring to a wide variety of different skin diseases and abnormalities.
And as we’re going to see in Leviticus 13, any one of these skin diseases rendered somebody ritually impure or UNCLEAN.
If you want to get medical about it, the general scholarly consensus is that TZARA-AT was probably one of the three skin diseases.
This ailment is characterized by flaky white skin that can be a small patch or even cover the whole body. Symptoms are persistent and intense itchiness. This condition is not contagious nor is it fatal, but it is very uncomfortable.
This disease is a fungus that attacks the hairy parts of the body, but usually just the scalp. This condition is very contagious and can even leave a permanent disfigurement to the affected area. If the scalp was affected, permanent baldness is the result. What makes this disease particularly dangerous is that it doesn’t just affect the hair follicles but penetrates into the deepest layers of skin.
This disease causes the skin to lose its pigmentation (natural color) resulting in white spots appearing on the skin.
Of course, the above examples are by no means exhaustive, but I think quite representative of the various forms TZARA-AT could take.
Although the different kinds of TZARA-AT were not deadly, they were more than just mere nuisances.
Some of the afflictions could last a lifetime.
In some cases, they brought about intense itching and physical deformities could also result.
In fact, before starting to write this post, I was thinking of inserting images of examples of TZARA-AT into this post but decided against it because the photos were to be honest a bit stomach-turning to look at.
My whole point is that even though TZARA-AT was not a fatal disease like leprosy, when a Hebrew came down with a skin condition, he or she was struck with terror.
Because he or she could possibly be excommunicated from the community of Israel and his or her outward condition was seen to be a reflection of inner UNCLEANNESS.