Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
Lev. 13-14: The Laws Relating to Leprosy
The leprosy is the most terrible of all the disorders to which the body of man is subject. There is no disease in which hope of recovery is so nearly extinguished. From a commencement slight in appearance, with but little pain or inconvenience, often in its earlier stage insidiously disappearing and reappearing, it goes on in its strong but sluggish course, generally in defiance of the efforts of medical skill, until it reduces the patient to a mutilated cripple with dulled or obliterated senses, the voice turned to a croak, and with features of ghastly deformity. When it reaches some vital part it generally occasions what seem like the symptoms of a distinct disease (most often dysentery), and so puts an end to the life of the sufferer.
It was an all but universal impression that the leprosy, above all other diseases, came upon man as an irresistible stroke of superhuman power, either in the way of punishment for personal sin or of an affliction with some definite purpose. This natural suggestion was confirmed and realized upon several occasions in the history of the Israelites. A stroke of leprosy was the mark of the divine displeasure at the slow faith of Moses Exo 4:6, at the contumacy of Miriam Num 12:10, at the dishonesty of Gehazi Kg2 5:27, and at the impious presumption of Uzziah Ch2 26:19-20. One of the denunciations against Joab, on account of the death of Abner, was that his children should be lepers Sa2 3:29.
It is now considered by all the best authorities that the Hebrew word for the disease does not denote the disease which is more properly called the leprosy (see Lev 13:12), but that which is known to physicians as the elephantiasis: the origin of which is ascribed to an animal poison generated in or received into the blood, and accumulated therein probably by a process analogous to fermentation. This poison primarily affects either the skin, or the nerves and nervous centers. In this way, two forms of elephantiasis are distinguished, the "Tuberculated," and the "anaesthetic" or "non-tuberculated," of which the former is the more common.
Medical skill appears to have been more completely foiled by elephantiasis than by any other malady. The anaesthetic form alone seems to be in some degree amenable to remedies and regimen.
The question as to whether elephantiasis is contagious or not, is one of most unique interests in connection with the Levitical law. Many facts tend to prove that, as a rule, it was not; but that under certain circumstances (e. g. when the ulcers are running) contagion might be developed.
The skin of his flesh - An expression found nowhere but in this chapter. It probably denotes the cuticle or scarf skin, as distinguished from the curls or true skin.
Rising ... scab ... bright spot - The Hebrew words are the technical names applied to the common external signs of incipient elephantiasis.
Like the plague of leprosy - Like a stroke of leprosy.
The hair in the plague is turned white - The sparing growth of very fine whitish hair on leprous spots in the place of the natural hair, appears to have been always regarded as a characteristic symptom.
the plague in sight be deeper than the skin of his flesh - Rather The stroke appears to be deeper than the scarf skin. The bright spot changed to a brownish color with a metallic or oily luster, and with a clearly-defined edge. This symptom, along with the whitish hair, at once decided the case to be one of leprosy.
And the plague spread not - Rather, advance not, so as to show that the disease is under the cuticle and assuming the symptoms of Lev 13:3.
Somewhat dark - Rather, somewhat dim: that is, if the spot is dying away.
Seen of the priest for his cleansing - The purport of these words is doubtful. They probably mean "seen by the priest and pronounced clean," and refer to the visit of the suspected leper to the priest at the end of the second week. But some have taken the words to mean "seen by the priest with a view to be pronounced clean," and regard the sentence of the priest as provisional, holding good only until the symptoms may appear to resume their progress. Compare Lev 13:35.
If the rising be white - Or, If there be a white rising. The term very probably denotes the white Bulla or patch of Anaesthetic elephantiasis when it has re-appeared.
Quick raw flesh in the rising - The margin gives the literal rendering. The symptom here noted exhibits a more advanced stage of the disease. The expression might denote an ulcer or open sore with "proud flesh" appearing in it.
The disease here indicated appears to be that now known as Lepra commonis, the common White Leprosy, or Dry Tetter. It first shows itself in reddish pimples, the surface of which becomes white and scaly, spreading in a circular form until they meet each other and cover large patches of the body. It scarcely affects the general health, and for the most part disappears of itself, though it often lasts for years.
From his head even to his foot, wheresoever. the priest looketh - The first appearance of the Lepra Commonis may take place in any part of the body, especially, however, at the larger joints of the limbs; but the spots of elephantiasis are almost always first seen, on those parts which are habitually exposed, the face, ears and hands.
Raw flesh - See Lev 13:10.
Boil - Probably ulcer. In Job 2:7, and Deu 28:27, Deu 28:35, it would seem highly probable that the word expresses the ulcers of elephantiasis.
Lower than the skin - Rather, reaching below the scarf skin.
A burning boil - Rather, the scar of the ulcer; literally, "the burn of the ulcer."
The sense of this verse is: "Or if there be flesh of which the skin has been affected by severe inflammation, and the sore of the inflammation has become a glossy spot, somewhat reddish or white."
"And if the glossy spot continues unchanged and makes no advance in the skin, and is rather indistinct" (see the note at Lev 13:6), "it is the mark of the inflammation, and the priest shall pronounce him clean, for it is the (mere) hurt of inflammation."
Scall - As this is the name for another disease not allied to the leprosy, it would have been better to retain the original word נתק netheq. It is a true elephantiasis, and is recognized by modern writers under the name of the Fox mange.
There is no black hair in it More probably, there is no yellow hair in it.
Be in his sight at a stay - Or, Does not alter in appearance.
Freckled spot - If Lev 13:12 refers to the Lepra commonis, the Hebrew בהק bôhaq here may denote some kind of eczema, a skin disease of a somewhat similar external character.
Lev 13:38, Lev 13:39 would seem more in their natural place between Lev 13:17-18.
Sore - Rather, stroke. It is the same word which elsewhere in this and the next chapter is rendered plague.
The leper was to carry about with him the usual signs of mourning for the dead. Compare Lev 10:6 and margin reference.
The leper was a living parable in the world of the sin of which death was the wages; not the less so because his suffering might have been in no degree due to his own personal deserts: he bore about with him at once the deadly fruit and the symbol of the sin of his race. Exo 20:5. As his body slowly perished, first the skin, then the flesh, then the bone, fell to pieces while yet the animal life survived; he was a terrible picture of the gradual corruption of the spirit worked by sin.
His head bare - Rather, "his head neglected." See Lev 10:6 note.
Unclean, unclean - Compare the margin reference.
Dwell alone - More properly, dwell apart; that is, separated from the people.
Though thus excluded from general contact with society, it is not likely that lepers ceased to be objects of sympathy and kindness, such as they now are in those Christian and Moslem countries in which the leprosy prevails. That they associated together in the holy land, as they do at present, is evident from Kg2 7:3; Luk 17:12. It has been conjectured that a habitation was provided for them outside Jerusalem, on the hill Gareb (Bezetha), which is mentioned only in Jer 31:39.
Without the camp - Compare the margin reference. A leper polluted everything in the house which he entered. A separate space used to be provided for lepers in the synagogues.
The garment - Rather, The clothing, referring to the ordinary dress of the Israelites in the wilderness; namely,, a linen tunic with a fringe Num 15:38 and a woolen cloak or blanket thrown on in colder weather.
Rather, "And the clothing in which there is a stroke of leprosy, whether the stroke is in clothing of wool or in clothing of linen; or in yarn for warp or in yarn for woof, either for linen clothing or for woolen clothing; or in a skin of leather or in any article made of leather."
A fretting leprosy - i. e. a malignant or corroding leprosy. What was the nature of the leprosy in clothing, which produced greenish or reddish spots, cannot be precisely determined. It was most likely destructive mildew, perhaps of more than one kind.
Somewhat dark - Rather, somewhat faint. Compare Lev 13:6.
Either - in these verses, should be or. See Lev 13:47, Lev 13:49.
It should be noticed that no religious or symbolic rite is prescribed for leprosy in clothing. The priest had only to decide whether the process of decay was at work in the article presented to him and to pronounce accordingly. Compare the leprosy in houses, Lev. 14:33-53.