From ancient byways to modern highways, glimpses of faith are everywhere...

Friday, February 22, 2013

Leprosy: Then and now

Mycobacterium leprae (red rods)
Many biblical students are familiar with the story of Naaman, which has a miraculously happy ending.

2 Kings 5 (NIV) tells us that Naaman was "commander of the army of the king of Aram."  (Aram is now geographically located in central Syria.)  He was "highly regarded" by his people, "but he had leprosy."  Naaman's "wife" (actually a young female captive from Israel) suggested that he go see "the prophet who is in Samaria" in order to be healed of this disease.  Aram's king then sent a letter to the king of Israel (along with a great deal of silver and gold) urging that Naaman be cured.  Although Israel's king could do nothing, the prophet Elisha offered to help.  Elisha ordered the resistant Naaman to simply wash himself "seven times in the Jordan" so that he "will be cleansed" and his "flesh will be restored."

Elisha's response reflects the ancient view that "leprosy" [which was then an umbrella term for a host of skin conditions] was the outer reflection of unresolved sin.  In his article Leprosy in the Bible:  Quarantine
or Ritual? – Alan Shen reports that "the Hebrew word for leprosy, sara'at" means "to strike down."  This suggests the Israelite belief that "God was punishing a victim [leper] for sinning."  Even kings such as Uzziah (whose sin was "burning incense in the house of God") were subject to this type of divine retribution.  Banishment of biblical lepers was sometimes looked upon as a means of appeasing Yahweh.

The word "leprosy" within current medical terminology is much more specific.  It refers to a systemic condition that is caused by the Mycobacterium leprae/lepromatosis (aka "leprosy germs").  The infectious spread of these germs is generally  viewed scientifically rather than religiously.  The "cure" is more often viewed pharmaceutically than spiritually. 

Copyright February 23, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

No comments:

Post a Comment