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Lesson

#9
Eeeeew! Whats That?
Of scaly infec9ons, mold and mildew
(Levi&cus 13: 1 14: 57)

Eeeeew! What's That?

In Lesson #8 we addressed a lingering ques&on from Lesson #9 about the


dietary restric&ons in Levi&cus 11. If properly followed the dietary restric&ons
embodied a high moral and ethical standard which understood life as sacred
in all its various forms. At the &me of Jesus however1,500 years aMer
Levi&cus 11many observed the outward prac&ce of the laws me&culously,
but blatantly disregarded their deeper meaning. Jesus severely cri&cizes such
hypocrisy.
In the early days of the Church as Gen&les became believers, the dietary laws
(indeed, all 613 laws in the Torah) came into ques&on, for they posed a
signicant barrier to Gen&les seeking to enter the Church. At the Council of
Jerusalem in A.D. 50 (Acts 15) the Apostles and other Church leaders met in
Jerusalem to consider the ques&on: Should a Gen&le who wishes to be a
follower of Christ be required to observe the Mosaic law? Ul&mately, the
answer was no.
And with that decision the Church gained the poten&al to become a global
enterprise, rather than a minor sect within Judaism.
Eeeeew! What's That?

AMer addressing this ques&on in Lesson #8, we moved on to Lesson #9,


addressing the topic of childbirth, the subject of Levi&cus 12, and we learned
that when a woman gives birth to a son, she is impure for 7 days; on the 8th
day the boy is circumcised; for 33 days she is in a state of blood purity; and
on the 40th day she undergoes a ritual purica&on at the Temple. Jesus
mother, Mary, follows Levi&cus 12 precisely; as we read in Luke 2: 22-24, Mary
oers two turtledoves as her sacrice, the oering of a poor person. Marys
oering is the only evidence we have that Jesus was born into a poor family.
If a woman gives birth to a daughter, all the numbers in Levi&cus 12 double:
14 days of impurity and 66 days of blood purity, for a total of 80 days.
Far from sugges&ng anything nega&ve, these periods of impurity and blood
purity probe a profound reality. When a woman brings life into the world, she
simultaneously experiences signicant loss of blood, represen&ng a loss of
life. Consequently, these periods of impurity symbolically highlight the
intricate, primal struggle between life and death, a theme that lies at the very
heart of Scripture.
Eeeeew! What's That?

As we enter Levi&cus 13-14 we encounter detailed instruc&ons concerning


a condi&on that Scripture terms sara'at, a Hebrew word tradi&onally
translated leprosy. To be sure, saraat is a much broader term than
leprosy, or modern-day Hansens disease; in Scripture it is a condi&on that
infects people, clothing and even houses in the form of mold or mildew,
and it manifests itself as scales; hence, our Catholic Study Bible translates
saraat as scaly infec&on; Jacob Milgrom renders it as scale disease.
Ask a modern-day dermatologist what saraat is, based upon Levi&cus
13-14, and he or she will say, I dont know, for saraat does not describe
any known medical condi&on, either today or in the ancient past.
In Levi&cus sara'at is not a medical condi&on, but an emblem of sin and
death. Understanding the condi&on in this way opens the door to a much
deeper understanding of the scaly infec&ons in Levi&cus 13-14.

Eeeeew! What's That?

Levi&cus 13 and 14 together form one


unit on scaly infec&ons or scale
disease, a condi&on that renders a
person unclean.
On the surface, it makes sense that
living in a close-knit community, any
person with a disease that might infect
others would be deemed unclean
and would be isolated from the
community un&l the disease was
cured.

But thats not what Levi&cus 13


and 14 are about!

Eeeeew! What's That?

Wait! Im confused.
I thought these
chapters were about
leprosy.
Didnt
Not m e.

Jesus cure a man
with leprosy?
I thought I had
leprosy, but it
was only eas.

Eeeeew! What's That?

Leprosy, or Hansens Disease, comes in

two forms: nodular and nervous;


generally both forms present
themselves. Nodular leprosy begins as
mahogany or sepia-colored spots,
followed by the appearance of nodules.
In the advanced stage the face is
completely disgured with nodules. As
the disease progresses, insensibility of
the skin and paralysis ensues, and the
ngers and toes may rot away.
Today, leprosy can be cured with mul&-
drug therapy (daily dapsone and monthly
rifampicin or clofazimine for 6-12
months); in ancient &mes leprosy could
not be cured.

Eeeeew! What's That?

The disease in Levi&cus has nothing in


common with leprosy, or modern-day
Hansens disease: the symptoms are
dierent; the disease in Levi&cus is
curable; and fabrics and homes can
contract the disease, as well as people.
The confusion began when the
Septuagint (the Greek transla&on of
the Hebrew Bible, c. 250 B.C.) rendered
the Hebrew sara'at as levpra (lepra), a
Greek generic term for a variety of skin
diseases, also used in the New
Testament (in Makhew 8: 1-4 Jesus
cures a lepro;V, (lepros = leper).
Early English transla&ons simply
englished levpra as leprosy, the
modern-day term for Hansons disease.
Eeeeew! What's That?

I didnt know that!


Well, Im relieved
that my
Not me.
misunderstanding
is
nally cleared up.
Im relieved
that my eas
are gone, too.

Eeeeew! What's That?

Saraat or scaly infec&on in a


person manifests itself in:
1. a mark, lesion or blotch on the skin;
2. the hair on the infec&on turns white;
3. the infec&on appears to be deeper than
the skin;
4. over &me the color of the infec&on
deepens;
5. raw esh may form in the infec&on;
6. scabs develop and spread, and
7. the skin takes on a scaly look.

If these symptoms occur the person


has saraat, a scaly infec&on, and
the priest must pronounce him or
her unclean.
Eeeeew! What's That?

10

When that happens, Levi&cus


13: 45-46 tells us that . . .
The garments of one aicted with a
scaly infec9on shall be rent and the
hair disheveled, and the mustache
covered. The individual shall cry out,
Unclean, unclean! As long as the
infec9on is present, the person shall be
unclean. Being unclean, that individual
shall dwell apart, taking up residence
outside the camp.

Eeeeew! What's That?

11

Yet, its important to note that


even though such people are
isolated from the community,
they are not isolated because
they are infec9ous!
Consider the case of Naaman,
the Aramean General in 2 Kings
1-13.

Eeeeew! What's That?

12

Pieter de Grebber. Elisha Refuses the GiR of Naaman (oil on canvas), 1637.
Franz Hals Museum, Haarlem, Netherlands.

Eeeeew! What's That?

13

Although Naaman is a leper:


he commands the Aramean army;
he is married and lives with his wife;
he is led into the king of Arams presence;
he brings giMs, including 10 festal garments,
that presumably are not infected by his
contact with them;
he stops at the prophet Elishas house;
Naaman speaks with his servants; and
he is cleansed by obeying Elishas command
to dip himself seven &mes in the Jordan
River.

If Naaman were infec&ous, he would


not be interac&ng with his king, his
wife, his servants and others; he
would be isolated.
Eeeeew! What's That?

14

Only among Israelites do the


leprosy regula&ons of
Levi&cus apply!
So, we must ask ourselves: why?
There are only four Israelites signaled out
in the Hebrew Scriptures who have
saraat, or leprosy:

1. Moses sister Miriam (Numbers 12:

1-16);
2. Davids commanding general, Joab (2
Samuel 3: 22-30);
3. Gehazi, the prophet Elishas servant
in the Naaman story (2 Kings 5:
19a-27); and
4. King Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26: 16-23)
Eeeeew! What's That?

15

There are only four Israelites


signaled out in the Hebrew
Scriptures who have saraat,
leprosy:
1. Moses sister Miriam (Numbers 12:

1-16);
2. Davids commanding general, Joab
(2 Samuel 3: 22-30);
3. Gehazi, the prophet Elishas
servant in the Naaman story (2
Kings 5: 19a-27); and
4. King Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26: 16-23)

xxxx
Eeeeew! What's That?

16

Anselm Friedrich Feuerbach. Miriam (oil on canvas), 1862.


Na&onal Gallery, Berlin.

Eeeeew! What's That?

17

There are only four Israelites


signaled out in the Hebrew
Scriptures who have saraat,
leprosy:
1. Moses sister Miriam (Numbers 12:

1-16);
2. Davids commanding general, Joab
(2 Samuel 3: 22-30);
3. Gehazi, the prophet Elishas
servant in the Naaman story (2
Kings 5: 19a-27); and
4. King Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26: 16-23)

xxxx
Eeeeew! What's That?

18

Joab Pursues Sheba to the City of Abel-Bethmaacah [2 Samuel 20: 14-22] (illuminated
manuscript), Morgan Bible (Ms M. 638), c. 1240-1250. The Pierpont Morgan Library, New York.

Eeeeew! What's That?

19

There are only four Israelites


signaled out in the Hebrew
Scriptures who have saraat,
leprosy:
1. Moses sister Miriam (Numbers 12:

1-16);
2. Davids commanding general, Joab
(2 Samuel 3: 22-30);
3. Gehazi, the prophet Elishas
servant in the Naaman story (2
Kings 5: 19a-27); and
4. King Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26: 16-23)

xxxx
Eeeeew! What's That?

20

Bernhardt Rode. Gehazi akempts to awaken the son of the Sunammite woman with the sta of
Elisha [2 Kings 4: 29-31] (engraving), c. 1780.

Eeeeew! What's That?

21

There are only four Israelites


signaled out in the Hebrew
Scriptures who have saraat,
leprosy:
1. Moses sister Miriam (Numbers 12:

1-16);
2. Davids commanding general, Joab
(2 Samuel 3: 22-30);
3. Gehazi, the prophet Elishas
servant in the Naaman story (2
Kings 5: 19a-27); and
4. King Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26: 16-23)

xxxx
Eeeeew! What's That?

22

Rembrandt. King Uzziah Stricken with Leprosy (oil on canvas), 1635.


Chatsworth House, Derbyshire, England.

Eeeeew! What's That?

23

Interes&ng!
What do these
four stories
have in
Not me
common?

Get him
away from
me!

Eeeeew! What's That?

24

All four had transgressed Gods law;


all four were struck by God with
leprosy;
and all four were rendered


unclean as a result.
1. Miriam for speaking disrespectul words
against Gods servant, Moses;
2. Joab for murdering his rival, Abner (and
for undermining Davids claim to the
kingship);
3. Gehazi for dishonesty and for bringing
Israel into disrepute among the
Arameans; and
4. Uzziah for usurping the priests privileges
in oering incense in the Temple.

Eeeeew! What's That?

25

Exactly! So,
what do we
learn
from
Not me.
this?

Eeeeew! What's That?

Hes gone, but


his cloud of
bugs are s&ll
here!

26

As Jacob Milgrom insightully observes:


Biblical scale disease is dicult to
iden9fy. But one thing is certain: it is
ritual, not pathology.
As sin pollutes the sacred space of the
Tabernacle like a noxious cloud making
it unclean, so does sin pollute a
person like a noxious cloud, making
him or her unclean; and as the
sacred space of the Tabernacle must be
puried, so must an unclean person
be puried.
Consequently, we should approach the
occurrence and treatment of saraat
throughout Scripture as an element of
ritual, as a symbol or emblem of sin
and death, not as a medical condi&on.
Eeeeew! What's That?

27

If we examine Levi&cus 13 and 14


closely, we nd that the two chapters
make up one structural unit.

Part
1

Saraat in people (13: 1-46)


Introduc&on, (v. 1)

Example #1, (mark on skin, 2-8)


Example #2, (raw esh, 9-17)

Example #3, (boil, 18-23)

Example #4, (burn on skin, 24-28)

Example #5, (infec&on on head or beard, 29-37)

Example #6, (mul&ple blotches, 38-39)

Example #7, (baldness, 40-44)
Conclusion,( vv. 45-46)

Saraat in garments (13: 47-59)


Introduc&on (47-48)


Examina&on of garments (49-58)
Conclusion (59)

Eeeeew! What's That?

28

If we examine Levi&cus 13 and 14


closely, we nd that the two chapters
make up one structural unit.

Part
2

Purica&on aMer saraat in people (14: 1-32)


Introduc&on ( vv. 1-2)

Phase #1, Reintegra&on Ritual (2-8a)







Phase #2, Interval (8b-9)


Phase #3, Full integra&on (10-20)

Introduc&on (10-11)


Guilt oering (12-18)


Sin oering (19a)


Burnt oering (19b-20a)

Conclusion (20b)
Poor Persons Sacrice (21-32)

Purica&on aMer saraat in housing (13: 33-53)



Part of a house (33-42)

Whole house (43-55)

Conclusion (vv. 54-57)


Eeeeew! What's That?

29

Well look at one example of saraat in


people to illustrate, since similar pakerns
recur for each, and then well look at the
cleansing ritual aRer one is cured.

Part 1

Saraat in people (13: 1-46)ll look at one example


Introduc&on, (v. 1)

Example #1, (mark on skin, 2-8)


Example #2, (raw esh, 9-17)

Example #3, (boil, 18-23)

Example #4, (burn on skin, 24-28)

Example #5, (infec&on on head or beard, 29-37)

Example #6, (mul&ple blotches, 38-39)

Example #7, (baldness, 40-44)
Conclusion,( vv. 45-46)

Saraat in garments (13: 47-59)


Introduc&on (47-48)


Examina&on of garments (49-58)
Conclusion (59)

Eeeeew! What's That?

30

Saraat in People
Mark on the skin, (13: 1-4)
Part 1Examination and Quarantine
The Lord said to Moses and Aaron: When someone has on
the skin a mark, lesion, or blotch which appears to develop
into a scaly infection, the person shall be brought to Aaron,
the priest, or to one of the priests among his sons. If the
priest, upon examination of the skins infection, finds that the
hair on the infection has turned white and the infection itself
appears to be deeper than the skin, it is indeed a scaly
infection; the priest, on seeing this shall declare the person
unclean. If, however, the blotch on the skin is white, but
does not seem to be deeper than the skin, nor has the hair
turned white, the priest shall quarantine the afflicted person
for seven days.

Eeeeew! What's That?

31

Saraat in People
Jacob Milgrom reminds us that the enigma of
scale disease cannot be resolved by medical
science, but it can, at least, be illuminated
once the medical approach is abandoned and
attention is directed to the text itself. We
are dealing with ritual, not medicine.
Moreover, the text stresses that it is not the
disease per se but its appearance that is the
source of the impurity.

Ordina>on of Aaron and His Sons

32

Saraat in People
Mark on the skin, (13: 1-4)
When someone has on the skin a mark, lesion, or blotch
which appears to develop into a scaly infection, the person
shall be brought to the priest.
If the priest finds that
(1) the hair on the infection has turned white;
(2) the infection itself appears to be deeper than the skin:
the priest shall declare the person unclean [tame].
If, however, the
(1) blotch on the skin is white;
(2) does not seem to be deeper than the skin;
(3) nor has the hair turned white:
the priest shall quarantine the afflicted person for 7 days.

Eeeeew! What's That?

33

Saraat in People, cont.


Mark on the skin, (13: 5-6)
Part 2Quarantine Period
Should the priest, upon examination on the seventh day, find
that the infection has remained unchanged in color and has
not spread on the skin, the priest shall quarantine the person
for another seven days. Should the priest, upon examination
again on the seventh day, find that the infection is now
faded and has not spread on the skin, the priest shall
declare the person clean; it was merely a scab. The person
shall wash his garments and so become clean again.

Eeeeew! What's That?

34

Saraat in People
Mark on the skin, (13: 5-6)
Notice once againfor the umpteenth time
the repetition of the number seven.
If we were dealing with a skin pathology,
rather than a ritual, the 7-day quarantine
periods would produce little significant
evidence for progression or remission of the
disease, reinforcing our position that we are
dealing with ritual, not pathology.

Ordina>on of Aaron and His Sons

35

Saraat in People, cont.


Mark on the skin, (13: 7-8)
Part 3Recurrence
But if after the person was examined by the priest and
declared clean, the scab spreads at all on the skin, the
person shall once more be examined by the priest. Should
the priest, upon examination, find that the scab has indeed
spread on the skin, he shall declare the person unclean; it is
a scaly infection.

Eeeeew! What's That?

36

When the priest declares a


person unclean, remember
what happens:
The garments of one aicted with a
scaly infec9on shall be rent and the
hair disheveled, and the mustache
covered. The individual shall cry out,
Unclean, unclean! As long as the
infec9on is present, the person shall be
unclean. Being unclean, that individual
shall dwell apart, taking up residence
outside the camp.




(13: 45-46)

Eeeeew! What's That?

37

As Jacob Milgrom noted, it is not the disease


itself, but the discolored, scaly appearance
of the disease that makes one unclean.
Consequently, fabrics and houses can also
have leprosythe discolored, scaly
appearance of mold and mildew.
The story of Miriams leprosy highlights the
meaning of this leprous appearance.
Recall that when Aaron sees his sister
stricken with saraat, he cries out to Moses:
Do not let her be like the s9llborn baby that
comes forth from his mothers womb with its
esh half consumed.




(Numbers 12: 12)

Miriam appears to be a walking corpse.

Eeeeew! What's That?

38

The primal struggle between life and


death emerges in many ways in
Scripture through myth, stories, images
and symbols. In Levi&cus 13 and 14
saraat is a symbol or emblem of death.
The unclean person is a walking,
talking reminder that when sin entered
the world in Genesis 3, decay and death
quickly followed, and we are all subject
to it.
In Gods plan of redemp&on Christ
ul&mately conquers death, and we are
granted eternal life through him. But in
our story it will take a while to get
there.
In the leprosy chapters of Levi&cus we
see a vivid reminder of whats at stake.
Eeeeew! What's That?

39

Got it!

For unto you a child is born . . .

40

I never saw the


leprosy in Levi&cus
13 that way. But if
thats the case, the
ritual Not
in Lm
evi&cus
e. 14
must &e in somehow.
Thats too
complicated for me!
I think Ill have a
snack.

Eeeeew! What's That?

41

Levi&cus 14 addresses
purica&on aMer saraat has
been healed and the priest has
declared the infected person
clean.
And it is a very curious ritual!

Eeeeew! What's That?

42

Purificaiton Rite
(14: 1-4)
The Lord said to Moses: This is the ritual for someone
that had a scaly infection at the time of that persons
purification. The individual shall be brought to the
priest, who is to go outside the camp. If the priest,
upon inspection, finds that the scaly infection has
healed in the afflicted person, he shall order that two
live, clean birds, as well as some cedar wood, scarlet
yarn and hyssop be obtained for the one who is to be
purified.

Eeeeew! What's That?

43

Purification Rite
(14: 1-4)
The unclean person has already been
healed. This is not a healing rite, but a
purification rite;
the unclean person dwells outside the camp,
and the priest goes out to him and;
the four items2 live, clean birds; cedar
wood; scarlet yarn and; hyssopare brought
on behalf of the man as gifts.

Ordina>on of Aaron and His Sons

44

Purificaiton Rite
(14: 5-8a)
The priest shall then order that one of the birds be
slaughtered over an earthen vessel with fresh water in
it. Taking the living bird with the cedar wood, the
scarlet yarn and the hyssop, the priest shall dip them,
including the live bird, in the blood of the bird that
was slaughtered over the fresh water, and then
sprinkle seven times on the person to be purified from
the scaly infection. When he has thus purified that
person, he shall let the living bird fly away over the
countryside. The person being purified shall then wash
his garments, shave off all hair, and bathe in water,
and so become clean.

Eeeeew! What's That?

45

Jacob Milgrom explains that the


bird rite in Levi&cus 14 is a
residue of a pagan exorcis&c
rite that banishes evil from the
community. In this riteas well
as in the scapegoat of
Levi&cus 16Israel pulled the
rite up by its pagan roots and
transformed it into a
monotheis&c ritual compa&ble
with Tabernacle/Temple
worship.
Anthropologically, that is
probably what happened.
Eeeeew! What's That?

46

Through a Chris&an
interpreta&ve lens, however, we
dig far deeper into the
underlying, typological meaning
of the rite.
If saraat or leprosy is an
emblem of sin and death, it is
Christ who conquers sin and
death through his own death,
burial and resurrec&on.
Consequently, Chris&an typology
invites us to see Christ in all the
elements of the bird rite.
Eeeeew! What's That?

47

Heres How It Works


The sinful person lives outside the community,
apart from the family of God; as St Paul
says, we are dead in trespass and sin, like
the leper, a walking spiritual corpse.
Sinful from birth, we can do nothing to
save ourselves; only God can save us by the
gift of his son, freely given;
The bird rite reminds us of what that gift
is: the person and work of Christ.

Ordina>on of Aaron and His Sons

48

Purificaiton Rite
(14: 5-8a)
The priest shall then order that one of the birds be
slaughtered over an earthen vessel with fresh water in
it. Taking the living bird with the cedar wood, the
scarlet yarn and the hyssop, the priest shall dip them,
including the live bird, in the blood of the bird that
was slaughtered over the fresh water, and then
sprinkle seven times on the person to be purified from
the scaly infection. When he has thus purified that
person, he shall let the living bird fly away over the
countryside. The person being purified shall then wash
his garments, shave off all hair, and bathe in water,
and so become clean.

Eeeeew! What's That?

49

The Bird Rite


Slaughtered birdthe death of Christ;
Earthen vesselthe person of Christ incarnate;
Fresh waterthe water of baptism;
Living birdresurrection of Christ;
Cedar woodthe cross;
Scarlet yarnshed blood of Christ on the cross
Hyssoptraditionally used for cleansing (lifted to
Christ on the cross)
Dip themfully identify them with the death of
Christ;
Sprinkle 7 timesthe clean person is purified;
Living bird flies awayChrist takes away our sin.

Ordina>on of Aaron and His Sons

50

That is
Not me.
very cool!
Wow!

Eeeeew! What's That?

51

The Bird Rite


After the bird rite the newly clean person
may reenter the camp, where he waits seven
days.
On the eighth day he offers:
Guilt offering (14: 14-18)
Sin offering (19a)
Burnt offering (19b-20)
Through a Christian interpretative lens, the
person is now clean, his sin is forgiven and
God views him as holy and righteous.

Ordina>on of Aaron and His Sons

52

Jean-Marie Melchior Doze. Christ Cleansing a Leper (oil on canvas), 1864.


Musee des Beaux-Arts, Nimes, France.

Eeeeew! What's That?

53

1. What are the rst signs that a person has


saraat, or leprosy?
2. When such a person presents himself to
the priest, what happens?
3. If a person is found to be unclean, what
happens?
4. When a persons infec&on appears to
heal, what does he or she do?
5. When Jesus heals the leper in Makhew 8,
what happens?
Eeeeew! What's That?

54

Copyright 2015 by William C. Creasy


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Eeeeew! What's That?

55