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Bible Commentaries
Leviticus 13

Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament CommentaryKeil & Delitzsch

Verse 1

Leprosy. - The law for leprosy, the observance of which is urged upon the people again in Deuteronomy 24:8-9, treats, in the first place, of leprosy in men: ( a) in its dangerous forms when appearing either on the skin (vv. 2-28), or on the head and beard (Leviticus 13:29-37); ( b) in harmless forms (Leviticus 13:38 and Leviticus 13:39); and ( c) when appearing on a bald head (Leviticus 13:40-44). To this there are added instructions for the removal of the leper from the society of other men (Leviticus 13:45 and Leviticus 13:46). It treats, secondly, of leprosy in linen, woollen, and leather articles, and the way to treat them (Leviticus 13:47-59); thirdly, of the purification of persons recovered from leprosy (Lev 14:1-32); and fourthly, of leprosy in houses and the way to remove it (vv. 33-53). - The laws for leprosy in man relate exclusively to the so-called white leprosy, λεύκη λέπρα , lepra , which probably existed at that time in hither Asia alone, not only among the Israelites and Jews (Numbers 12:10.; 2 Samuel 3:29; 2 Kings 5:27; 2 Kings 7:3; 2 Kings 15:5; Matthew 8:2-3; Matthew 10:8; Matthew 11:5; Matthew 26:6, etc.), but also among the Syrians (2 Kings 5:1.), and which is still found in that part of the world, most frequently in the countries of the Lebanon and Jordan and in the neighbourhood of Damascus, in which city there are three hospitals for lepers ( Seetzen, pp. 277, 278), and occasionally in Arabia ( Niebuhr, Arab. pp. 135ff.) and Egypt; though at the present time the pimply leprosy, lepra tuberosa s. articulorum (the leprosy of the joints), is more prevalent in the East, and frequently occurs in Egypt in the lower extremities in the form of elephantiasis. Of the white leprosy (called Lepra Mosaica ), which is still met with in Arabia sometimes, where it is called Baras, Trusen gives the following description: “Very frequently, even for years before the actual outbreak of the disease itself, white, yellowish spots are seen lying deep in the skin, particularly on the genitals, in the face, on the forehead, or in the joints. They are without feeling, and sometimes cause the hair to assume the same colour as the spots. These spots afterwards pierce through the cellular tissue, and reach the muscles and bones. The hair becomes white and woolly, and at length falls off; hard gelatinous swellings are formed in the cellular tissue; the skin gets hard, rough, and seamy, lymph exudes from it, and forms large scabs, which fall off from time to time, and under these there are often offensive running sores. The nails then swell, curl up, and fall off; entropium is formed, with bleeding gums, the nose stopped up, and a considerable flow of saliva... The senses become dull, the patient gets thin and weak, colliquative diarrhea sets in, and incessant thirst and burning fever terminate his sufferings” ( Krankheiten d. alten Hebr. p. 165).

Verses 2-28

The symptoms of leprosy, whether proceeding directly from eruptions in the skin, or caused by a boil or burn. - Leviticus 13:2-8. The first case: “When a man shall have in the skin of his flesh (body) a raised spot or scab, or a bright spot.” שׂאת , a lifting up (Genesis 4:7, etc.), signifies here an elevation of the skin in some part of the body, a raised spot like a pimple. ספּחת , an eruption, scurf, or scab, from ספח to pour out, “a pouring out as it were from the flesh or skin” ( Knobel). בּהרת .)le , from בּהר , in the Arabic and Chaldee to shine, is a bright swollen spot in the skin. If ether of these signs became “a spot of leprosy,” the person affected was to be brought to the priest, that he might examine the complaint. The term zaraath , from an Arabic word signifying to strike down or scourge, is applied to leprosy as a scourge of God, and in the case of men it always denotes the white leprosy, which the Arabs call baras. נגע , a stroke (lit., “stroke of leprosy”), is applied not only to the spot attacked by the leprosy, the leprous mole (Leviticus 13:3, Leviticus 13:29-32, Leviticus 13:42, etc.), but to the persons and even to things affected with leprosy (Leviticus 13:4, Leviticus 13:12, Leviticus 13:13, Leviticus 13:31, Leviticus 13:50, Leviticus 13:55).

Leviticus 13:3

A person so diseased was to be pronounced unclean, ( a) if the hair of his head had turned white on the mole, i.e., if the dark hair which distinguished the Israelites had become white; and ( b) if the appearance of the mole was deeper than the skin of the flesh, i.e., if the spot, where the mole was, appeared depressed in comparison with the rest of the skin. In that case it was leprosy. These signs are recognised by modern observers (e.g., Hensler); and among the Arabs leprosy is regarded as curable if the hair remains black upon the white spots, but incurable if it becomes whitish in colour.

Leviticus 13:4-6

But if the bright spot was white upon the skin, and its appearance was not deeper than the skin, and the place therefore was not sunken, nor the hair turned white, the priest was to shut up the leper, i.e., preclude him from intercourse with other men, for seven days, and on the seventh day examine him again. If he then found that the mole still stood, i.e., remained unaltered, “in his eyes,” or in his view, that it had not spread any further, he was to shut him up for seven days more. And if, on further examination upon the seventh day, he found that the mole had become paler, had lost its brilliant whiteness, and had not spread, he was to declare him clean, for it was a scurf, i.e., a mere skin eruption, and not true leprosy. The person who had been pronounced clean, however, was to wash his clothes, to change himself from even the appearance of leprosy, and then to be clean.

Leviticus 13:7-8

But if the scurf had spread upon the skin “after his (first) appearance before the priest with reference to his cleansing,” i.e., to be examined concerning his purification; and if the priest notice this on his second appearance, he was to declare him unclean, for in that case it was leprosy.

Leviticus 13:9-17

The second case (Leviticus 13:9-17): if the leprosy broke out without previous eruptions.

Leviticus 13:9-11

“If a mole of leprosy is in a man, and the priest to whom he is brought sees that there is a white rising in the skin, and this has turned the hair white, and there is raw (proud) flesh upon the elevation, it is an old leprosy.” The apodosis to Leviticus 13:9 and Leviticus 13:10 commences with Leviticus 13:11. חי בּשׂר living, i.e., raw, proud flesh. מחיה the preservation of life (Genesis 45:5), sustenance (Judges 6:4); here, in Leviticus 13:10 and Leviticus 13:24, it signifies life in the sense of that which shows life, not a blow or spot ( נגע , from מחה to strike), as it is only in a geographical sense that the verb has this signification, viz., to strike against, or reach as far as (Numbers 34:11). If the priest found that the evil was an old, long-standing leprosy, he was to pronounce the man unclean, and not first of all to shut him up, as there was no longer any doubt about the matter.

Leviticus 13:12-13

If, on the other hand, the leprosy broke out blooming on the skin, and covered the whole of the skin from head to foot “with regard to the whole sight of the eyes of the priest,” i.e., as far as his eyes could see, the priest was to pronounce the person clean. “He has turned quite white,” i.e., his dark body has all become white. The breaking out of the leprous matter in this complete and rapid way upon the surface of the whole body was the crisis of the disease; the diseased matter turned into a scurf, which died away and then fell off.

Leviticus 13:14-19

“But in the day when proud flesh appears upon him, he is unclean,...the proud flesh is unclean; it is leprosy.” That is to say, if proud flesh appeared after the body had been covered with a white scurf, with which the diseased matter had apparently exhausted itself, the disease was not removed, and the person affected with it was to be pronounced unclean.

The third case: if the leprosy proceeded from an abscess which had been cured. In Leviticus 13:18 בּשׂר is first of all used absolutely, and then resumed with בּו , and the latter again is more closely defined in בּעורו : “if there arises in the flesh, in him, in his skin, an abscess, and (it) is healed, and there arises in the place of the abscess a white elevation, or a spot of a reddish white, he (the person so affected) shall appear at the priest's.”

Leviticus 13:20

If the priest found the appearance of the diseased spot lower than the surrounding skin, and the hair upon it turned white, he was to pronounce the person unclean. “It is a mole of leprosy: it has broken out upon the abscess.”

Leviticus 13:21-23

But if the hair had not turned white upon the spot, and there was no depression on the skin, and it (the spot) was pale, the priest was to shut him up for seven days. If the mole spread upon the skin during this period, it was leprosy; but if the spot stood in its place, and had not spread, it was השּׁחין צרבת , “the closing of the abscess:” literally “the burning;” here, that part of the skin or flesh which has been burnt up or killed by the inflammation or abscess, and gradually falls off as scurf ( Knobel).

Leviticus 13:24-28

The fourth case (Leviticus 13:24-28): if there was a burnt place upon the skin of the flesh ( מבות־אשׁ , a spot where he had burnt himself with fire, the scar of a burn), and the “life of the scar” - i.e., the skin growing or forming upon the scar (see Leviticus 13:10), - “becomes a whitish red, or white spot,” i.e., if it formed itself into a bright swollen spot. This was to be treated exactly like the previous case. המּכוה שׂאת (Leviticus 13:28), rising of the scar of the burn, i.e., a rising of the flesh and skin growing out of the scar of the burn.

Verses 29-31

Leprosy upon the head or chin. - If the priest saw a mole upon the head or chin of a man or woman, the appearance of which was deeper than the skin, and on which the hair was yellow ( צהב golden, reddish, fox-colour) and thin, he was to regard it as נתק . Leprosy on the head or chin is called נתק , probably from נתק to pluck or tear, from its plucking out the hair, or causing it to fall off; like κνήφη , the itch, from κνάω , to itch or scratch, and scabies, from scabere . But if he did not observe these two symptoms, if there was no depression of the skin, and the hair was black and not yellow, he was to shut up the person affected for seven days. In בּו אין שׁחר (Leviticus 13:31) there is certainly an error of the text: either שׁחר must be retained and אין dropped, or שׁהר must be altered into צהב , according to Leviticus 13:37. The latter is probably the better of the two.

Verses 32-34

If the mole had not spread by that time, and the two signs mentioned were not discernible, the person affected was to shave himself, but not to shave the nethek, the eruption or scurfy place, and the priest was to shut him up for seven days more, and then to look whether any alteration had taken place; and if not, to pronounce him clean, whereupon he was to wash his clothes (see Leviticus 13:6).

Verses 35-36

But if the eruption spread even after his purification, the priest, on seeing this, was not to look for yellow hair. “He is unclean:” that is to say, he was to pronounce him unclean without searching for yellow hairs; the spread of the eruption was a sufficient proof of the leprosy.

Verse 37

But if, on the contrary, the eruption stood (see Leviticus 13:5), and black hair grew out of it, he was healed, and the person affected was to be declared clean.

Verses 38-39

Harmless leprosy. - This broke out upon the skin of the body in בּהרת plaits, “white rings.” If these were dull or a pale white, it was the harmless bohak , ἀλφός (lxx), which did not defile, and which even the Arabs, who still call it bahak , consider harmless. It is an eruption upon the skin, appearing in somewhat elevated spots or rings of inequal sizes and a pale white colour, which do not change the hair; it causes no inconvenience, and lasts from two months to two years.

Verses 40-41

The leprosy of bald heads. - קרח is a head bald behind; גּבּח , in front, “bald from the side, or edge of his face, i.e., from the forehead and temples.” Bald heads of both kinds were naturally clean.

Verses 42-44

But if a white reddish mole was formed upon the bald place before or behind, it was leprosy breaking out upon it, and was to be recognised by the fact that the rising of the mole had the appearance of leprosy on the skin of the body. In that case the person was unclean, and to be pronounced so by the priest. “On his head is his plague of leprosy,” i.e., he has it in his head.

Verses 45-46

With regard to the treatment of lepers, the lawgiver prescribed that they should wear mourning costume, rend their clothes, leave the hair of their head in disorder (see at Leviticus 10:6), keep the beard covered (Ezekiel 24:17, Ezekiel 24:22), and cry “Unclean, unclean,” that every one might avoid them for fear of being defiled (Lamentations 4:15); and as long as the disease lasted they were to dwell apart outside the camp (Numbers 5:2., Numbers 12:10., cf. 2 Kings 15:5; 2 Kings 7:3),

(Note: At the present day there are pest-houses specially set apart for lepers outside the towns. In Jerusalem they are situated against the Zion-gate (see Robinson, Pal. i.p. 364).)

a rule which implies that the leper rendered others unclean by contact. From this the Rabbins taught, that by merely entering a house, a leper polluted everything within it ( Mishnah, Kelim i. 4; Negaim xiii. 11).

Verses 47-52

Leprosy in linen, woollen, and leather fabrics and clothes. - The only wearing apparel mentioned in Leviticus 13:47 is either woollen or linen, as in Deuteronomy 22:11; Hosea 2:7; Proverbs 31:13; and among the ancient Egyptians and ancient Greeks these were the materials usually worn. In Leviticus 13:48. שׁתי and ערב , “the flax and the wool,” i.e., for linen and woollen fabrics, are distinguished from clothes of wool or flax. The rendering given to these words by the early translators is στήμων and κρόκη , stamen et subtegmen (lxx, Vulg.), i.e., warp and weft. The objection offered to this rendering, that warp and weft could not be kept so separate from one another, that the one could be touched and rendered leprous without the other, has been met by Gussetius by the simple but correct remark, that the reference is to the yarn prepared for the warp and weft, and not to the woven fabrics themselves. So long as the yarn was not woven into a fabric, the warp-yarn and weft-yarn might very easily be separated and lie in different places, so that the one could be injured without the other. In this case the yarn intended for weaving is distinguished from the woven material, just as the leather is afterwards distinguished from leather-work (Leviticus 13:49). The signs of leprosy were, if the mole in the fabric was greenish or reddish. In that case the priest was to shut up the thing affected with leprosy for seven days, and then examine it. If the mole had spread in the meantime, it was a “grievous leprosy.” ממארת , from מאר irritavit, recruduit ( vulnus ), is to be explained, as it is by Bochart, as signifying lepra exasperata . הנּגע ממארת making the mole bad or angry; not, as Gesenius maintains, from מאר = מרר acerbum faciens , i.e., dolorem acerbum excitans , which would not apply to leprosy in fabrics and houses (Leviticus 14:44), and is not required by Ezekiel 28:24. All such fabrics were to be burned as unclean.

Verses 53-55

If the mole had not spread during the seven days, the priest was to cause the fabric in which the mole appeared to be washed, and then shut it up for seven days more. If the mole did not alter its appearance after being washed, even though it had not spread, the fabric was unclean, and was therefore to be burned. “It is a corroding in the back and front” (of the fabric of leather). פּחתת , from פּחת , in Syriac fodit, from which comes פּחת a pit, lit., a digging: here a corroding depression. קרחת a bald place in the front or right side, גּבּחת a bald place in the back or left side of the fabric or leather.

Verse 56

But if the mole had turned pale by the seventh day after the washing, it (the place of the mole) was to be separated (torn off) from the clothes, leather or yarn, and then (as is added afterwards in Leviticus 13:58) the garment or fabric from which the mole had disappeared was to be washed a second time, and would then be clean.

Verses 57-59

But if the mole appeared again in any such garment or cloth, i.e., if it appeared again after this, it was a leprosy bursting forth afresh, and the thing affected with it was to be burned. Leprosy in linen and woollen fabrics or clothes, and in leather, consisted in all probability in nothing but so-called mildew, which commonly arises from damp and want of air, and consists, in the case of linen, of round, partially coloured spots, which spread, and gradually eat up the fabric, until it falls to pieces like mould. In leather the mildew consists most strictly of “holes eaten in,” and is of a “greenish, reddish, or whitish colour, according to the species of the delicate cryptogami by which it has been formed.”

Bibliographical Information
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Leviticus 13". Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kdo/leviticus-13.html. 1854-1889.
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