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Friday, September 22nd, 2023
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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Bible Commentaries
Leviticus 13

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary

Verse 1


(1) And the Lord spake unto Moses and Aaron.—As laws of leprosy chiefly concerned the priests, who had to examine the symptoms and to decide whether they indicated the distemper or not, the Lord addressed the regulations to Aaron as well as to Moses. The leprosy discussed in this and the following chapters consists of three general classes: viz., (1) leprosy of man (Leviticus 13:2-46); (2) leprosy of garments (Leviticus 13:47-59); and (3) leprosy of houses (Leviticus 14:33-57).

When a man shall have in the skin of his flesh.—In discussing the leprosy of man, the lawgiver enumerates six different circumstances under which it may develop itself. The first circumstance adduced in Leviticus 13:2-6 is of its developing itself without an apparent cause. Hence it was enjoined that if anyone should notice in the skin of his flesh a rising or swelling, he should be taken to the priest. As the description of these symptoms is very concise, and requires to be specified more minutely for practical purposes, the spiritual guides of Israel, who had to explain the law to the priests during the second Temple, and who came in personal contact with this distemper, defined them as follows :—

A rising.—That is, a swelling, or swollen spot.

Or bright spot.—That is, a bright or glossy pimple. But these symptoms, when indicative of leprosy, assume respectively one of two colours, a principal or a subordinate colour. The principal colour of the rising spot is like that of an egg-shell, and the secondary one resembles white wool; whilst the principal colour of the bright pimple is white as snow, and the subordinate resembles plaster on the wall.

Then he shall be brought unto Aaron.—The following rules obtained during the second Temple with regard to the examination of the patient. Though anyone may examine the disease except the patient himself or his relations, yet the priest alone can decide whether it is leprosy or not, because the law declares that the priests must decide cases of litigation and disease (Deuteronomy 21:5); hence the patient must “be brought unto Aaron,” &c. But though the priests only can pronounce the patient clean or unclean, even if he be a child or a fool, yet he must act upon the advice of a learned layman in those matters. If the priest is blind of one eye, or is weak-sighted, he is disqualified for examining the distemper. The inspection must not take place on the Sabbath, nor early in the morning, nor in the middle of the day, nor in the evening, nor on cloudy days, because the colour of the skin cannot properly be ascertained in those hours of the day; but it must take place in the third, fourth, fifth, seventh, eighth, and ninth hours.

Verse 3

(3) When the hair in the plague is turned white.—Better, and the hair in the plagued spot, &c. The first symptom indicating the existence of the disorder is that the hair, which is generally jet-black among the Hebrews, turns white on the affected spot. The authorities during the second Temple defined it that there must at least be two hairs white, at the root and in the body of the bright spot, before the patient can be declared unclean. The word plague, in accordance with a usage common in Hebrew—to put the abstract for the concrete—denotes here the plagued spot, or the spot affected by the plague, whilst in Leviticus 13:4 it means the person affected by this disorder. Thus in Leviticus 19:32, “the hoary head” stands for hoary-headed person.

And the plague in sight be deeper than the skin.—Better, and the appearance of the plagued spot be deeper, &c. The second symptom which shows the development of the disorder is that the spot affected by this plague appears to be deeper than the rest of the skin.

Pronounce him unclean.—Literally, make him unclean. According to the frequently occurring phraseology a man is said to do that which in his official capacity he pronounces as done, or orders to be done. Thus Ezekiel is said “to destroy the city” when he simply foretold its destruction (Ezekiel 43:3). The existence of these two symptoms made it incumbent upon the priest to declare the person unclean, and hence imparting defilement.

Verse 4

(4) If the bright spot be white.—But if upon inspection there merely appeared a white spot in the skin, and the above named two symptoms were absent, the case was not to be decided.

Then the priest shall shut up him that hath the plague.—The individual thus suspected was to be separated from the rest of the community for seven days, during which time it would be seen whether it actually developed itself into this disorder. According to the canons which obtained during the second Temple, if a bridegroom was seized with this distemper he could not be shut up during the nuptial week. It will be seen that the words “him that hath” are in italics, thus indicating that they are not in the text; but “plague” here, as we have seen in Leviticus 13:3, denotes plagued person.

Verse 5

(5) And the priest shall look on him.—If at the end of a week there is no alteration in the symptoms, the case must be adjourned for another seven days. The same priest who inspected it at the first must examine it again, as another one could not tell whether it has spread or not. If the priest died in the interim, or was taken ill, another priest could examine the patient, but could not pronounce him unclean. If the seventh day happened to be a Sabbath or feast day, the case had to be put off to the following day.

If the plague in his sight be at a stay.—Better, if the plagued spot remain the same in its colour, that is, if the suspicious spot which caused the individual to be shut up had not altered its complexion. The expression here translated “sight” is the same which is rightly rendered by “colour” in the Authorised Version in Leviticus 13:55 of this very chapter. (Comp. also Numbers 11:7.) It will thus be seen that though the affected spot had not spread, still it retained its unhealthy and suspicious complexion.

Verse 6

(6) And the priest shall look on him again.—If, on further examination at the end of another week, the priest finds that the bright spot looks darker, and that it has not spread, he is to pronounce the patient clean, and set him at liberty, since it was simply an ordinary scurf; but though not leprous, the eruption indicated some impurity in his blood, and he had therefore to wash his garments.

Verses 7-8

(7, 8) But if the scab spread.—As Leviticus 13:5 prescribes that the priest who examines the patient after seven days’ quarantine, and finds no spreading of the affected spot, is to give another seven days’ quarantine, the verses before us declare what the examining priest is to do when he notices that the spot has spread.

For his cleansing.—That is, for the purpose of being declared clean. If, after he had appeared before the priest to be examined and declared not leprous, at the expiration of the first week of seclusion the priest finds that the spot has spread, he must pronounce him unclean, since the spreading indicates that it is leprosy.

Verse 9

(9) When the plague of leprosy is in a man.—The second case, discussed inverses 9-17, is of leprosy re-appearing after it has been cured, when a somewhat different treatment is enjoined. In its re-appearance, as in its first manifestation, the patient is forthwith to be brought to the priest.

Verse 10

(10) If the rising be white.—If the distemper actually returns, one of two symptoms indicates it. A white rising will be noticed in the skin, which changes the black hair into white. The white hair only then indicates the disorder when it co-exists with the white rising or swelling which produced it. If the original white swelling, which discoloured the hair, disappears, and a fresh white swelling forms itself around the existing white hair, it is no indication of uncleanness.

And there be quick raw flesh in the rising.—Rather, or if there be, or and likewise if there be, &c. This clause gives the second of the two symptoms, either of which indicates the return of the disorder. According to the administrators of the law during the second Temple, the phrase here translated “quick raw flesh” in the Authorised Version, which literally means “the quickening of live flesh,” denotes “sound flesh,” or a spot in the flesh assuming the appearance of life after it had been paled by the whiteness which overspread the whole surface. The size of this spot of live flesh, which indicated the disease and made the patient unclean, had to be at least that of a lentil. This rendering is given by the LXX,, the Chaldee, &c. An insulated spot of sound flesh in the midst of a tubercle was considered a sign of the fretting and consuming progress which the disease made in the surrounding flesh.

Verse 11

(11) It is an old leprosy.—Either of these symptoms showed that it was the re-appearance of the old distemper, and rendered quarantine needless. The priest is, therefore, to pronounce him unclean at once.

Verses 12-13

(12, 13) And if a leprosy break out abroad.—There were, however, two phases of this returned distemper which exempted the patient from uncleanness. If the leprosy suddenly covered the whole body so that the patient became perfectly white, in which case there could be no appearance of live flesh, then he was clean. This indicated the crisis, as the whole evil matter thus brought to the surface formed itself into a scale, which dried and peeled off.

Verse 14

(14) But when raw flesh appeareth.—Rather, but in the day when sound flesh appeareth again, that is, whenever patches of natural flesh appear intermingled with the white scurf, he forthwith becomes unclean, since this showed that the disease had not exhausted itself. Because it is here said, “But in the day when sound flesh,” &c, and not simply “but when sound flesh,” &c., the administrators of the law in the time of Christ concluded that there were days on which the examination of this distemper was not undertaken: viz., during the seven nuptial days, and the seven days of the great pilgrim festivals of Passover and Tabernacles.

Verse 15

(15) And the priest shall see the raw flesh.—Rather, the sound flesh. It will be seen that it is the sound flesh only, and not the white hair, which renders the patient unclean.

Verses 16-17

(16, 17) Or if the raw flesh turn again.—Rather, yet if the sound flesh changeth again and becometh, &c. As soon, however, as the patches of sound flesh resume the white colour, so that the whole body is again white, without exhibiting any spots, the patient is to betake himself to the priest, who, after assuring himself of the fact, will pronounce him clean.

Verse 18

(18) The flesh also, in which.—Rather, and if there is in the skin of the flesh a boil. The third case, discussed in Leviticus 13:18-28, is of leprosy developing itself from a healed boil, or from an inflammation which has apparently been healed. According to those who administered the law in the time of Christ, the boil and inflammation here meant are such as arise from a stroke by a piece of wood or a stone, and from having come in contact with pitch or hot water, thus distinguishing it from the burn by fire mentioned in Leviticus 13:24.

Verse 19

(19) And in the place of the boil.—If the cicatriced sore breaks out again, and exhibits the usual symptoms of leprosy, the patient is to show himself to the priest.

White, and somewhat reddish.—Better, of a white-reddish colour. This symptom is peculiar to re-opened cicatriced sores, and hence has not been mentioned before. The authorities in the time of Christ describe the mixture of red and white as follows :—“It has the appearance of red wine poured into water, and is either a palish white or somewhat darker.”

Verse 20

(20) Behold, it be in sight lower than the skin.—Better, Behold, its appearance is lower than the other skin. If upon examination the priest finds that the spot has assumed a deeper appearance than the rest of the skin, and the hair turned white—which were the two critical symptoms—he forthwith declared it leprosy.

Verse 21

(21) But if the priest.—In the absence, however, of these two symptoms, the patient is to be put in quarantine for one week only.

Verse 22

(22) And if it spread much abroad.—If, on inspecting it again at the end of the seven days’ seclusion, the priest finds that the spot has spread, it was evident that the blood was vitiated, and that the distemper began to develop in the body.

It is a plague.—That is, of leprosy. The word “leprosy,” which has here dropped out of the text, is still preserved in some of the ancient versions.

Verse 23

(23) But if the bright spot stay.—As the spreading of the spot is a sure sign of the disease lurking in the system, its continuing in the same condition showed that it was simply the re-opening of the boil. The priest is therefore to pronounce the patient clean, or clear of leprosy.

Verse 24

(24) Or if there be any flesh, in the skin whereof there is.—Rather, or if there is in the skin of the flesh. As a burn or inflammation arising from contact with pitch or hot water was adduced in Leviticus 13:18, the verse before us specifies a sore, pustule, or blister occasioned by “a burning of fire,” as the Margin of the Authorised Version rightly has it, and not a hot burning, as it is in the text. The ancient canons distinctly define this by “that which is burnt with a coal or with embers, whatsoever is from the force of actual fire, is the burning here meant,” in contradistinction to the burn or inflammation mentioned in Leviticus 13:18.

And the quick flesh that burneth.—Rather, and the sound flesh of the burning (see Leviticus 13:10), that is, the tender flesh which is renewed (after it has lost the purulent matter in it) and exhibits these symptoms.

Verse 25

(25) Then the priest shall look.—If upon examination the priest finds that the hair which was before black has now turned white.

And it be in sight deeper than the skin.—Better, and its appearance is deeper than the other skin. (See Leviticus 13:3; Leviticus 13:20.)

Verse 26

(26) But if the priest look on it.If these symptoms are absent, the same directions are to be followed as laid down in Leviticus 13:21, in the case of a boil or an inflammation.

Verses 27-28

(27, 28) And the priest shall look.—The directions here given as to what the priest is to do at the end of the week’s quarantine are the same as those given in Leviticus 13:23-24. It will be seen that there is a difference in the treatment of the suspicious symptoms in case No. 1, and in the case before us, No. 3. In the former instance, where there is no apparent cause for the symptoms, the suspected invalid has to undergo two remands of seven days each before his case can be decided; whilst in the instance before us, where the boil, the inflammation, or the burn visibly supplies the reason for this suspicion, he is only remanded for one week, at the end of which his case is finally decided.

Verse 29

(29) If a man or woman.—The fourth case, discussed in Leviticus 13:29-37, is leprosy on the head or chin. Cases where this distemper attacks first the hairy parts are not uncommon.

Verse 30

(30) Behold, if it be in sight deeper.—Better, Behold, if its appearance is deeper. The first symptom of its existence is the same as usual—the depression of the affected spot.

And there be in it a yellow thin hair.—Whilst the symptom of leprosy in other parts of the body consisted of the hair turning white on the affected spot, in the case of this distemper breaking out on the head or chin it was indicated by the naturally black hair changing its colour into a golden appearance, and becoming short. According to the administrators of the law during the second Temple, the colour of the hair became like that of the new plumage of young pigeons after they have lost their first feathers, or, in other words, like the appearance of thin gold. By the “thin hair” those authorities who came in contact with the disorder understand small or short hair. Hence they laid down the following rule: The condition of the hair constituting one of the signs of leprosy is its becoming short; but if it be long, though it is as yellow as gold, it is no sign of uncleanness. Two yellow and short hairs, whether close to one another or far from each other, whether in the centre of the affected spot or on the edge thereof,—no matter whether the affection on the spot precedes the yellow hair, or the yellow hair precedes the affection on the spot,—are symptoms of uncleanness.

It is a dry scall, even a leprosy.—The ancient canons laid down by those authorities in the time of Christ who had the official treatment of this distemper define the word (nethek), which is translated “dry scall” by an affection on the head or chin, which causes the hair on those affected parts to fall off by the roots, so that the place of the hair is quite bare.

Verse 31

(31) It be not in sight deeper than the skin.—Better, its appearance is not deeper than the other skin. If the first symptom which manifests itself in the depression of the affected spot is absent.

And that there is no black hair in it.—Better, but there is no black hair in it; that is, the healthy black colour of the hair is absent, which is a suspicious sign. The phrase, “there is no black hair in it,” is another way of saying “there is yellow hair in it.” The presence of yellow hair, however, on the first inspection, though suspicious, did not necessarily indicate by itself leprosy, since the hair sometimes turned yellow temporarily in the case of an ordinary ulcer, and resumed its natural black colour when the patient returned to his usual health. Hence, the absence of the black hair was simply a suspicious symptom, which required the attention of the priest, for which reason the patient had to be put in quarantine for seven days. The alteration of the word “black” into “yellow,” which has been adopted by those commentators who follow the LXX.,is therefore unnecessary. Indeed, if this reading be adopted, both the unfavourable symptoms mentioned in Leviticus 13:30, which indicate leprosy—viz., (1) the depression of the affected spot, and (2) the discolouring of the hair—would be absent. There would be no reason for quarantine, as the priest in the absence of these criteria would have to pronounce the man clean. (See Leviticus 13:37.)

Verse 32

(32) The scall be not in sight deeper than the skin.—Better, the appearance of the scall is not deeper than the other skin. If at the expiration of the seven days’ quarantine, the priest, on examining the spot which had a resemblance to leprosy, finds that it has not developed those signs which this distemper always discloses within this time.

Verse 33

(33) He shall be shaven.—The priest, for the sake of making sure, and to be able to examine the patient more thoroughly, is to have his head and beard shaved. This operation was performed by professional barbers, who were always on the spot.

But the scall shall he not shave.—The place, however, where the scall appeared was not to be shaved, so that the priest might be able to see the colour of the hair. The manner in which the shaving was performed during the second Temple was as follows: The hair round the scall was all shaved off, except two hairs on each side, which were close to the affected spot, to enable the priest to see whether the spot is spreading or not.

Verse 34

(34) And in the seventh day.—If at the expiration of the second week of quarantine the priest sees that none of the symptoms which generally indicate this distemper have appeared, he is to pronounce him clean, upon which, after performing the necessary ablutions, he is restored to the privileges of the sanctuary. (See Leviticus 13:6.)

Be in sight deeper than the skin.—Better, is in appearance deeper than the other skin.

Verses 35-36

(35, 36) But if the scall spread.—If, after the scall had remained stationary for a fortnight, and the patient had been pronounced clean, he is brought again because the scall had spread after the lapse of the two quarantines, he is to be forthwith pronounced unclean, whether it was accompanied by yellow hair or not.

Verse 37

(37) But if the scall be in his sight at a stay.—Better, But if the appearance of the scall hath remained the same.

And that there is black hair grown up therein.—Better, And if black hair hath, &c. If, in addition to its not spreading, the healthy colour of the hair has returned, it shows that the patient is cured of the leprosy, and the priest shall pronounce him clean. (See Leviticus 13:31.) According to the adminstrators of the law, there had at least to be two black hairs, of such a length that the top could bow towards the root. If two hairs grew up on the healed scall, one black and the other white or yellow, or one long and the other short, the patient could not be declared clean.

Verse 38

(38) If a man also or a woman.—The fifth case, discussed in Leviticus 13:38-39, is the harmless leprosy, which does not render the patient unclean.

Bright spots, even white bright spots.—These white spots, which are of unequal size, and a little higher than the skin, generally appeared on the neck and face, and did not change the colour of the hair.

Verse 39

(39) Then the priest shall look.—If the priest, upon examination, finds that these elevated spots are of a dull or palish white colour, then he is to pronounce the patient clean, that is, free of leprosy, since it is simply a white eruption or tetter, which lasts for a few months, causes no inconvenience, and by degrees disappears of itself. Hence it is called bahack, or “white scurf,” and not leprosy. This nameless disorder, which still prevails in the East, is to this day called by the Biblical name bahack.

Verse 40

(40) And the man whose hair is fallen off—Better, And if a man loseth the hair of his head. The sixth and last case, discussed in Leviticus 13:40-44, is leprosy either at the back or in the front of the head. Though baldness in itself was regarded as a disgrace, and often looked upon as a Divine punishment (2 Kings 2:23; Isaiah 3:17; Jeremiah 48:37), yet the simple fact of the mere falling of the hair is not to be taken as a sign of leprosy.

He is bald; yet is he clean.—Better, if he is backhead bald, he is clean. The baldness mentioned in the first part of the verse in general terms is now more minutely specified as consisting of two kinds of baldness.

Leviticus 13:41-42 distinctly show that the word (kçrçach), here translated simply “bald” in the Authorised Version, denotes a person who has lost hair from the crown of his head downwards towards the channel of his neck, as the administrators of the law during the second Temple rightly define it, in contradistinction to the fore baldness which immediately follows.

Verse 41

(41) And he that hath his hair fallen off—Rather, And if he loseth the hair of his head.

He is forehead bald.—This, which according to the administrators of the law, was from the crown of the head descending to his face, and constituted the man a gibbèach, was also not a sign of leprosy.

Verse 42

(42) And if there be in the bald head.—Better, But if there be in the bald backhead. But if a reddish-white eruption appears either in the hinder or fore part of the bald head, resembling that which arises in the place of healed boils (see Leviticus 13:19-24), then it indicates the existence of leprosy.

In his bald head.—Better, in his bald backhead.

Verse 43

(43) Then the priest shall look.—It is then the duty of the priest to ascertain whether the white-reddish rising in the bald backhead or bald forehead is in appearance like the leprosy in the skin of the flesh described in Leviticus 13:2, excepting, of course, the white hair, which in this case could not exist.

As the leprosy appeareth in the skin of the flesh.—Better, in appearance like the leprosy in the skin of the flesh. Though the reddish-white eruption is the only symptom mentioned whereby head-leprosy is to be recognised, and nothing is said about remanding the patient if the distemper should appear doubtful, as in the other cases of leprosy, yet because it is here said “in appearance like the leprosy in the skin of the flesh,” the administrators of the law during the second Temple inferred that all the criteria specified in one are implied in the other. They interpret this phrase, “they are, and therefore must be treated like, leprosy in the skin of the flesh.” Hence they submit that there are two symptoms which render baldness in the front or at the back of the head unclean: viz., (1) live or sound flesh; and (2) spreading. “If live or sound flesh is found in the bright spot on the baldness at the back or in the front of the head, he is pronounced unclean; if there is no live flesh, he is shut up, and examined at the end of the week, and if live flesh has developed itself, and it has spread, he is declared unclean, and if not, he is shut up for another week. If it spreads during this time, or engenders live flesh, he is declared unclean, and if not, he is declared clean. He is also pronounced unclean if it spreads or engenders sound flesh after he has been declared clean.” Of course, the fact that the distemper in this instance develops itself on baldness precludes white hair being among the criteria indicating uncleanness.

Verse 45

(45) His clothes shall be rent.—As leprosy was regarded as a visitation from God for sin committed by the person thus afflicted, the patient is to rend his garments like one mourning for the dead. (See Leviticus 21:10.) During the second Temple the administrators of the law exempted leprous women from rending their clothes, which was evidently owing to a feeling of decorum.

And his head bare.—Better, and his hair be dishevelled. This was another sign of mourning. (See Leviticus 10:6.) The legislators during the second Temple also exempted leprous women from letting their hair fall in the disorderly and wild manner over their heads and faces which was the custom for mourners to do.

And he shall put a covering upon his upper lip.—To veil the beard, which was the pride of the Oriental, was also a sign of mourning. (Comp. Ezekiel 24:17; Ezekiel 24:22; Micah 3:7.) This was generally done by throwing the skirt of the garment over the lower part of the chin.

And shall cry, Unclean.—As leprosy was most defiling, and as the very entrance of a leper into a house rendered everything in it unclean, the person thus afflicted had to warn off the passers by, lest they should approach him, and by contact with him become defiled. In some instances this was done by a herald, who preceded the leper. Hence the rendering of the ancient Chaldee paraphrase of Jonathan by “a herald shall proclaim, and say, Depart, depart from the unclean !”

Verse 46

(46) He shall dwell alone.—In consequence of his extreme defilement, the leper had to live in seclusion outside the camp or city (Numbers 5:1-4; Numbers 13:10-15; 2 Kings 7:3, &c.). According to the legislation during the second Temple, if he stood under a tree and a clean person happened to pass by, he defiled the passer by. In the synagogue which he wished to attend they were obliged to make him a separate compartment, ten handbreadths high and four cubits long and broad. He had to be the first to go in and the last to leave the synagogue. Hence, leprosy was regarded as a living death, and as an awful punishment from the Lord (2 Kings 5:7; 2 Chronicles 26:20), which they invoked upon all their mortal enemies (2 Samuel 3:29; 2 Kings 5:27). The leper was debarred from conjugal intercourse. These ancient Rabbinic laws were imported into the Christian Church during the Middle Ages. When any one was afflicted with this distemper, the priest, wearing his stole and holding the crucifix, conducted him into the church, where the leper had to exchange his clothes for a peculiar black garment, and the mass was read over him and the service for the dead. He was then taken to a sequestered house, where earth was thrown upon his feet as a sign of burial, and was admonished never to appear otherwise than in his black garment and barefooted. He was not allowed to enter a church, or any place where there was a mill or bread was baked, or come near a well or fountain. He forfeited both the right of inheritance and of disposing of his property, for he was considered a dead man.

Verse 47

(47) The garment also that.—Better, And if a garment hath. The fact that the same phrase, “plague of leprosy,” is used both in the case of garments and of human beings, and that the symptoms and working of leprous garments and those of leprous men are identical, shows beyond doubt that the same distemper is meant. The theory, therefore, that “plague of leprosy” is here used figuratively of garments fretted by a species of animalculæ or vermin, which feed upon and corrode the finer parts of the texture in the manner of moths, is contrary to the uniform import of this phrase in the discussion of the disorder, and is against the testimony of the administrators of the law during the second Temple, who came in personal contact with the complaint. They assure us that leprosy of garments and houses was not to be found in the world generally, but was a sign and miracle in Israel to guard them against an evil tongue. Equally untenable is the theory that it denotes an infectious condition of clothes caused by contact with the leprous matter of wounds and boils, which is so strong that it corrodes and injures all kinds of texture. Neither the regulations here laid down, nor the further development of them exhibited in the canons which obtained during the second Temple, regard leprosy as contagious. This is evident from the fact that the priest was in constant and close contact with the leper; that the leper who was entirely covered was pronounced clean, and could mix with the community (see Leviticus 13:12-13); that the priest himself ordered all the things in a leprous house to be taken out before he entered it, in order that they might be used again (see Leviticus 14:36); that according to the ancient canons a leprous minor, a leprous heathen or proselyte, as well as leprous garments in houses of non-Israelites, do not render any one unclean, nor does a bridegroom who is seized with this malady during the nuptial week defile any one. All this most unquestionably implies that there was no fear of contagion on the part of the authorities who had personally to deal with this distemper.

Whether it be a woollen garment.—As among the ancient Egyptians and Greeks, woollen and linen garments were the only apparel worn by the Israelites. (Comp. Deuteronomy 22:11; Hosea 2:7; Hosea 2:11; Proverbs 31:13.) The administrators of the law during the second Temple, however, took this enactment literally as referring strictly to wool of sheep and flax, but not to hemp and other materials. Hence they declared that a material made of camels’ hair and sheep’s wool is not rendered unclean by leprosy if the camels’ hair preponderates, but is unclean when the sheep’s hair preponderates, or when both are equal. The same rule also applies to mixtures of flax and hemp. Dyed skins and garments are not rendered unclean by leprosy. We have here another proof that these authorities did not regard leprosy as contagious.

Verse 49

(49) And if the plague be greenish.If one of

these symptoms manifests itself in a woollen or linen garment, or in a leathern vessel, it must forthwith be shown to the priest. The Jewish canons define the colour of the green symptom to be like that of herbs, and that of the red to be like fair crimson.

Verse 50

(50) And the priest shall look.—If upon examination the priest finds that the garment or vessel in question exhibits one of these symptoms, he must put it in quarantine for a week, as in the case of a human being. (See Leviticus 13:4.)

Verse 51

(51) And he shall look on the plague.—If at the end of the week, when the priest examines it again, he finds that the distemper has spread, it undoubtedly indicates malignant leprosy. Here, again, the symptom of spreading is the same in the garment as in the human being. (See Leviticus 13:5-6; Leviticus 13:8, &c.) The leprous garment, like a human leper, makes everything and everybody unclean by contact with it, or by coming into the house where it remains.

Verse 52

(52) He shall therefore burn.—As this distemper could never be eradicated from stuffs, the garments which have once become possessed of leprosy had to be burnt.

Verses 53-54

(53, 54) And if the priest shall look.—If, however, after a week’s quarantine, the priest on examination finds that the disease has not spread, he must order the affected garments to be washed, and shut them up for another week, when it will be seen whether the colour has changed, and the distemper has disappeared or not.

Verse 55

(55) And the plague be not spread.—Better, though the plague hath not spread. If after the washing of the affected spot the priest finds that its appearance has not changed, it must nevertheless be burnt, since the retention of the suspicious colour indicates that it is leprosy.

It is fret inward, whether it be bare within or without.—Better, it is a corroding in the fore baldness thereof or in the back baldness thereof. (See Leviticus 13:42-43.) That is, though it has not spread in breadth, the distemper has eaten into the fabric, either on the upper side, which is compared to the forehead, or into the under side, which is compared to the hinder part of the head in human head-leprosy.

Verse 56

(56) Behold, the plague be somewhat dark.—But if after the washing the priest finds that the suspicious colour has changed from green or red into a darkish colour, and the spot has contracted, he is to cut out the affected spot and burn it, and declare the garment itself clean. (See Leviticus 13:6.)

Verse 57

(57) And if it appear still.—If, after the affected piece has been cut out and burnt, the distemper appears again in another part of the garment or skin, it indicates beyond doubt that it is spreading leprosy; the garment must therefore be entirely destroyed, as in stuffs this disorder is incurable.

Verse 58

(58) And the garment . . . —According to Leviticus 13:54; Leviticus 13:56, the suspicious symptoms often disappeared after the stuffs had been washed and put in quarantine for a week, thus showing that it was not real leprosy. But though non-leprous, the garments had to be washed a second time before they could be pronounced fit for use.

Verse 59

(59) This is the law of the plague of leprosy.—That is, the above-mentioned regulations are to guide the priests in their decisions whether a garment or leathern utensil is leprous or not, and in their declaration of its being clean or defiling.

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Leviticus 13". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/leviticus-13.html. 1905.
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