Fr. James' Lectionary

The Lectionary is both a reading program for completing all of Holy Scripture on a one year schedule, and a daily comment on a portion of the day's reading wedded to a poem to give an added perspective on the theme.

Location: Amherst, Virginia, United States

Monday, March 27, 2006

Tzara'at--Skin Affliction: Bible Commentary on Leviticus 13 with poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, from The Ancient Mariner

Daily Readings
Job 41, Exodus 32:1-33:6, Leviticus 13, I Timothy 4

Daily Text: Leviticus 13

Tzara‘at—Skin Affliction
Chapter 13 of Leviticus clearly points out that the priest must declare a person with skin afflictions as clean or unclean. This is a ritual pronouncement; it had nothing to do with medical diagnosis or treatment, and in reality had little to do with protection of the community. Rather it spoke to whether the person was being punished for sin or not.

The Hebrew word tzara‛at described skin afflictions of a variety of sorts. Gradually, it became synomous with the word for leprosy, but this occurred via the Latin Vulgate that translated tzara‛at as leprosy, which strictly speaking, only refers to Hansen’s disease. Plaut notes that there is a serious question, one that cannot be answered conclusively, as to whether tzara‛at ever means ‘leprosy’ [185:828].

As it relates to garments, tzara‛at seems to be some variety of mildew or fungus (Plaut 185:836). Obviously, however, we might with hindsight view these eruptions on skin or cloth, or in chapter 14 in houses, it was a fearful issue for these ancient peoples. Partly, because they were beyond explanation, they were attributed to God’s punishment of sin or transgression. God has always held the answer to humanity’s unanswerable questions.

from The Ancient Mariner, pt. III
Samuel Taylor Coleridge


I bit my arm, I sucked the blood,
And cried, A sail! a sail!

Gramercy! they for joy did grin,
And all at once their breath drew in,
As they were drinking all.

When that strange shape drove suddenly
Betwixt us and the Sun.

And straight the Sun was flecked with bars,
(Heaven’s Mother send us grace!)
As if through a dungeon-grate he peered
With broad and burning face.

Her lips were red, her looks were free,
Her locks were yellow as gold:
Her skin was white as leprosy,
The Night-mare Life-in-Death was she,
Who thicks man’s blood with cold.

The naked hulk alongside came,
And the twain were casting dice;
‘The game is done! I’ve won! I’ve won!’
quoth she, and whistles thrice.

The Sun’s rim dips; the stars rush out:
At one stride comes the dark;
With far-heard whisper, o’er the sea,
Off shot the spectre-bark.

Collect for the Day
This is another day, O Lord. I know not what it will bring forth, but make me ready, Lord, for whatever it may be. If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely. If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly. If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently. And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly. Make these words more than words, and give me the Spirit of Jesus. Amen. [BCP:461:In the Morning]


Blogger Norm said...

Leprosy is the oldest recorded diseases. It is located worldwide and until 1968 was believed to be uncontrollable and incurable. Leprosy is caused by the bacillus Mycobacterium leprae; identified by the Norwegian physician G. A. H. Hansen (1841-1912). The disease is usually transmitted by personal contact or contact with soil. The incubation period is many months. Tubercular leprosy (Hansen’s disease) begins with reddish patches and progresses into nodules and deformities. It first attacks the body’s cooler parts (teeth). Anesthetic leprosy destroys the sensory nerves. They can become blind from not blinking. This is all from the gradual loss of the sense of pain. A leper leads a life free of pain: the consequences of which are horrifying. Blindness and loss of body parts.
Leprosy (or Hansen's disease) is an infectious condition caused by the pathogen Mycobacterium leprae which was first described in 1847. It is characterised initially by a macular rash, progressing to dermal nodules most commonly on the nose, face, extensor sufaces of the limbs and the mucous membranes of the upper respiratory tract. Later there is chronic ulceration, with lymph node and peripheral nerve involvement.
By contrast, the disease process called 'leprosy' in older English translations of the Bible (Hebrew sara'at, Greek lepra) was characterised by white skin and hair, thickening and infiltration of the skin and ulceration (Lev 13:3-28). It could also appear on the walls of homes, on items made from leather and as mildew on linen or wool. (Lev 14:33-53)
True leprosy does not affect other objects in this way and whiteness of the hair (leucotrichia) does not occur, despite the fact that leucoderma may result from scarring.
The less specific NIV rendering of sara'at as 'infectious skin disease' is probably more helpful given our uncertainty.
Hebrew Sara-at = “Leprosy” is a generic term that includes various skin diseases (including what is called leprosy today), as well as blemishes affecting garments (mildew) and buildings. Most scholars agree that this word should not be equated with Hansen’s disease. The scientific knowledge of germs was unknown to the Hebrews, but they still had a deep grasp of how disease spreads among the community through sores and clothing. Those who were diagnosed with leprosy were required to separate themselves from the community, not for medical but religious reasons. Biblical lepers were treated not as ill but as ritually unclean. The priest had no technique for healing lepers; he only determined whether or not they had been healed (“cleansed”). When he considered the affliction healed, he then offered the correct sin and guilt offerings so that the former leper might be atoned for this impurity. Biblical characters such as Moses (Ex4:6-7), Miriam (Num12:9-15) and Naaman (2King5:14) were healed of leprosy. The cases of Naaman and Uzziah (2Chron26:16-21) show that even officials and kings with sara’at were not exempt from negative social consequences.
The New Testament term, Greek Lepra is found only in the gospels. Jesus apparently disagreed with Levitical policies regarding lepers: he touched lepers (Mk1:41). Lepers were considered the most out cast and provided Jesus with opportunity to prove that His love and power extended to all. The cases describe in the New Testament may have actually been leprosy (Hansen’s disease): there was a known outbreak of leprosy in the Near East in 300BC which spread to Italy by 100BC. Finding true leprosy in Palestine during Jesus’ ministry would have been very possible.

12:33 PM  

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