Chapter 9 (The leper and leprosy) pages 164-175
North begins by stating (page 164) that
‘We come now to the longest passage in the Bible that deals with a specific law...It fills two very long chapters in the Bible, Leviticus 13 and 14’
This is a difficult sentence to justify seeing as there are numerous different laws contained within these chapters relating to different conditions and situations.
True, the two chapters deal with laws surrounding both the leper and leprosy but the sacrifices are dealt with by seven chapters, not two.
More to the point, this is the longest passage that deals with a specific physical condition and what to do with the problems that it raised.
North notes (page 164) that
‘Leviticus 14 also deals with the extremely peculiar phenomenon, namely, plague of garments and houses’
Actually, the plague of garments is found in 13:47-59 and isn’t mentioned in chapter 14 except briefly at the conclusion (14:55).
North’s all-inclusive statement (page 164) that
‘...Mosaic-era leprosy was a sign of God’s curses in history and eternity’
is ungrounded. What North needs to show here is that God specifically states that all leprosy is a judgment upon an individual’s sin (or a corporate sin demonstrated in the lives of individuals), but nowhere in Scripture will we find such a statement - certainly, we may now think that leprosy is something that God may use as a judgment upon sin but that it was always a ‘sign’ of God’s reaction to sin?
North may be relating his theory to a few passages in the Old Testament where, for instance, Miriam suddenly contracts leprosy as a judgment upon her sin in opposing Moses (Numbers 12) or perhaps Gehazi for trying obtain material wealth for himself (II Kings 5:19-27) or even Uzziah who tried to offer incense in similar fashion to the priest (II Kings 5:5, II Chr 26:16-21). In these cases it’s certain that the leprosy was a demonstration of the judgment of God against an individual’s sin - but was leprosy, per se, always a ‘sign of God’s curses’?
Jesus’ dealing with the lepers that He encountered is significant here (Mtw 8:1-4, Mark 1:40-45, Luke 5:12-16, 17:11-19) for on no occasion does he forgive the individual their sin before healing them - as he did when he encountered other physical problems that needed this first (for instance, Mtw 9:1-8) and neither do we find Him breaking any curse that hung over the people concerned - He simply spoke the Word and the leprosy left them, they became ‘clean’.
Again surprising is the lack of a mention that we get in Leviticus chapters 13 and 14 for the need for the leper to have his sins forgiven before the day of his cleansing and restoration into the inheritance given to him by God. The only place that I can actually find a mention that God will place a leprosy on something is in the legislation surrounding ‘house leprosy’ (14:34) and, even then, the offering is never specified as a sin offering which is what would have been expected if sin had been the cause of the outbreak.
Therefore, that God might use leprosy in judgment is certain but that leprosy was a sign of God’s curses is incorrect - this latter statement would have the effect of seeing everyone who had a condition so described as suffering in their own body the consequences of sin.
North again states (page 165) that
‘This law was given by God directly to Moses and Aaron (Lev 13:1)’
but, Lev 14:1 tells us that this was spoken just to Moses. North continues by saying
‘The priesthood enforced this law, not the Levites (v.2)’
which is certainly how the verse reads. But this instruction was expanded - besides, North elsewhere seems to make a differentiation between the ‘priests’ (that he denotes as being Aaron and his sons) and the Levites - but such a clinical separation between the two is not Scriptural.
On a number of occasions, we read of the ‘Levitical Priesthood’ (Deut 17:9, 17:18, 27:9, Heb 7:11) but the equation ‘Levites=priests’ is conclusively shown in Deut 18:1 which reads
‘The Levitical priests, that is, all the tribe of Levi...’
Therefore the Scripture shows both that the title ‘Levitical priests’ can refer to the Levites and that the tribe were regarded as ‘priests’ the same as Aaron and his sons were. Then going on to read Deut 24:8, we note that
‘Take heed, in an attack of leprosy, to be very careful to do according to all that the Levitical priests shall direct you...’
which should be proof enough that the work of correctly identifying leprosy was as much a job for the Levites as it was for the High Priesthood. As North continues to be read, it must be noted that his ‘priests’ don’t necessarily hold the meaning of the Levites.
A little bit bewildered, I read North’s statement (page 165) that
‘The civil magistrate had to enforce the declaration of the priest’
Where now does this civil magistrate spring from? Certainly not from the chapters that are under consideration - indeed, as I seem to remember previously mentioning, at this point in Israel’s history, they were governed by elders who functioned in the role of judges in hearing the people’s cases to relieve Moses of the excessive burden.
A ‘civil magistrate’ is not a concept that runs through the culture of the day - though, perhaps, North means his readers to assume that he means the elders? More importantly, though, Leviticus chapters 13 and 14 make no mention of either a ‘civil magistrate’ or an ‘elder’ because they weren’t to get involved. When North asserts that the civil magistrates had to enforce the decision of the priest, he’s adding to Scripture - we aren’t told either that the priest, having made the decision, turned to the elders to enforce his decision or, should the individual refuse to obey the priest, that the elders had to step in to enforce the decision on his behalf.
This may seem like a minor point but, later in the chapter, North will begin to mention the responsibilities of the State as if his point is proven that the passage concerns them - but, as we’ve just seen, there’s no mention of their need to get involved (even if the concept had existed at that time in Israel’s history).
North states (page 165) that
‘...while the text does not say so, this law indicates that a priest had to reside in every city. He did not offer sacrifice there’
This was the case when the Israelites eventually gained possession of Canaan (and by ‘priests’ I would only agree with North if he is meaning ‘Levites’) but the Scriptures 13:1-14:32 have to do with the march, not the settlement in the land.
Again, this is quite important as North will go on to make a differentiation between the ‘camp’ and the ‘city’, between ‘rural’ lepers and ‘city’ lepers that’s largely unwarranted - the problem is that he’s not realised that the laws concerning the leper and leprosy would have need to have been amended or ‘re-interpreted’ by the Israelites in the light of what they understood to be the ‘camp’ when they entered the land.
That the priests, the Levites, were in every city is correct by appeal to such Scriptures as Deut 12:12, 12:18, 14:27, 16:11 and 18:6.
North’s statement that the priest didn’t offer sacrifice in the cities where they were located is correct (though, perhaps, it would have been better to say that they ‘shouldn’t have’ offered sacrifice!!), but what of the offering of the birds for the cleansing of the house and which made ‘atonement’ (Lev 14:48-53)? Wasn’t this a sacrifice? That the offering was sacrificed locally is more than a possibility as the blood had to be sprinkled on the house - extremely impractical if it had to be offered miles away.
Therefore, it would appear that the priesthood did have a sacrificial function within the cities though the main sacrifices (Leviticus chapters 1-7) had to be offered at the central location.
North makes a very interesting statement (and we still haven’t got passed the first full page of this chapter, yet!!!) when he says (page 165)
‘I argue in this chapter that the leprosy of Leviticus was not a communicable biological disease but rather a judicial affliction. It was not what is known today as Hansen’s disease’
Firstly, North’s ‘judicial decision’ is probably a reference to his assertion that he sees leprosy as a curse of God - I therefore disagree with him here.
Secondly, what about his statement that the leprosy mentioned here is not Hansen’s disease (the traditionally ‘re-named’ disease of leprosy)?
I agree - and disagree.
How can we say that God didn’t have in mind to protect His people from communicable diseases? The problem here is that we don’t know what the Israelites thought about the way diseases were contracted or passed on - we may view the laws that have come down to us with 21st Century eyes and see in them a provision to remove the spread of disease, but our same knowledge that has alerted us to bacteria and viruses has denied the existence of God and His ability and willingness to heal.
The question, initially, must be
‘Did the Israelites believe in the existence of micro-organisms that infected those around them?’
I think the answer must be ‘no’ though I would have a hard job proving it either way. If this is the case (and it’s no more than speculation) then they wouldn’t have seen the laws of Leviticus chapters 13-14 as preventing the spread of leprosy - they would have viewed it in much different terms, seeing as the effect of the disease was to render the person ‘unclean’ before God and therefore in need of removal from the camp of Israel.
But, that’s not to say that God was not protecting them from disease. Therefore I disagree with the relevant statement made by North.
North’s statement that the condition with which the laws dealt was not Hansen’s disease is probably correct (though, if the legislation had been carried out, it would have been a serious hindrance to the spread of what’s now known as Hansen’s disease).
But I need to do more than just state my opinion!
When we look at the ‘leprosy’ described in the passage, we see that the same word is used to speak of the condition that’s found in both garments and houses - Hansen’s disease is not known to do this.
More than this, the onset of today’s ‘leprosy’ is much different to that which is being described here - I don’t intend going in to the initial symptoms and contrast them with what the Levitical passage says as I would only be précising other people’s work (I have no medical training) but I’d recommend the short discussion presented by Wenham in his commentary on pages 194-197.
It would be nice to positively identify the condition (though they’d be different on man, in the house and in the garment) but perhaps all that can be said is that it was a skin complaint when it appeared on individuals, the Hebrew word employed meaning something like ‘scales’ and the descriptions used indicating that the presence of white, dead skin was one of the tell-tale signs.
If this is the case, conditions such as eczema - and even dandruff - could be included within the English translation ‘leprosy’. The condition found within the walls of a house or the garment would probably have been the result of a fungal growth which may - or may not - have been harmful to the owners had it been left unchecked.
I again disagree with North’s statement (page 165) that
‘...this plague was judicial in its frame of reference, not biological’
on the grounds that he’s excluded the biological possibility, but if he’d referred to Num 5:1-4 in support of the first clause of his statement then it would be far more easily seen. The Scripture (my italics) reads
‘Command the people of Israel that they put out of the camp every leper, and every one having a discharge, and every one that is unclean through contact with the dead. You shall put out both male and female, putting them outside the camp, that they may not defile their camp, in the midst of which I dwell’
God is here saying that the prime reason for the exclusion of the leper (and the other conditions) is so that the camp of Israel is not defiled, at the centre of which God dwelt. Practically, God is saying that the condition of the leper is one that imparts (ceremonial?) uncleanness to the camp and that it mustn’t abide in God’s presence.
The primary purpose of the legislation, therefore, was to keep the camp of Israel clean (and, notice, we’re talking about the camp, not the settled nation within the land).
By extension, the legislation concerning the leprosy found in garments and houses will have been given for the same reason.
North begins by considering the situation of the house with leprosy that would only have come about once the Israelites had entered the Promised Land. North correctly notes that the leprosy in this case was put upon the house by God Himself (Lev 14:34).
Harrison notes (page 155) that
‘The fact that the incidence of this condition was attributed consciously to God merely reflects the consistent monistic philosophy of the Old Testament writers. God was the ground of all existence, and therefore everything took its rise from Him’
If this was the case, why isn’t God spoken of as putting leprosy on the leper? Or of putting leprosy on the garment? There’s a distinction here between the legislation that was given to the Israelites as applying to them while they were on the journey and that which was to soon apply after their entry into Canaan. North’s ‘curse’ (page 166) is too strong a word to use as it equates the leprous house as being a direct judgment upon sin. If this was the case, personally, I would have expected it to be listed in the judgments upon the Israelites contained in Deut 28:15-68 but it’s lacking.
Perhaps no more can be said than what’s in the Scripture at this point - that God may choose to put a fungal growth within (the ‘on’ of North is a little misleading - the growth is identified as being within the property) a house for whatever reason - this, I know, sounds like an argument designed to cover up the writer’s inability to determine the reason for God’s action in doing this. Well, certainly I can’t come to a conclusive understanding of why this should be - based on Scripture - but neither do I want to go beyond the bounds of what the Scripture actually says.
North goes on (page 166ff) to consider the possibility that the house only became unclean when the priest crossed the threshold (when he entered the house).
I’ve discussed this in the ‘Introduction to part 2’.
North has noted that the furniture had to be removed from the house otherwise it could be declared ‘unclean’. This, says North (page 167)
‘...indicates that it was the priest’s legal status, as an agent of God, that produced the unclean status of the things inside the house’
North then asks the question (page 167) to prove the legal status of the legislation rather than any biological application
‘...why wasn’t it mandatory to burn the furniture that had been moved outside the house?’
Answer - because the furniture wasn’t infected with the disease. The furniture had to be removed in case the leprosy in the wall was found to be of the type that needed the house to be quarantined for 7 days. In that case, presumably, the furniture would have had to have remained within the house because, once the priest had seen the problem the possibility would be that it would eventually be declared unclean - no risk could be taken that the furniture could have imparted uncleanness during the period that the condition was being decided upon.
But, to remove the furniture meant that, should the house need to be quarantined, the furniture could still be used and would not be declared ‘unclean’ should that declaration be necessary (note that the declaration ‘unclean’ was only pronounced by the priest after curative action had been taken and failed).
North notes the initially confusing situation when a priest who examines a leper can pronounce him clean when the white covering has covered him ‘as far as the priest can see’ (Lev 13:12-4). It would be natural to think that the leper in such a condition would have little going for him but God instructs the examining priest that, in such situations, the person may not be declared unclean.
If, however, raw skin is seen on the body, then the leper is immediately pronounced ‘unclean’ (13:14-15).
North’s reasoning as to why this case should be considered thus may be worth going along with (pages 168-9) if it wasn’t for the problem that it appears to contradict his statements elsewhere that the leper was under the curse of plague from God (page 164 previously quoted) - could the individual be declared clean when he was so totally under God’s curse?
Something needs explaining here, and North’s explanation that Jesus being totally afflicted on the cross becomes acceptable to God is dubious. It was the total affliction of Christ that led to His total rejection by God (Is 53:7-8) in order that we might become acceptable through that rejection.
Besides, the thrust of this passage (it runs 13:9-17) deals with raw flesh being present and being the reason for the pronouncement ‘unclean’ by the priest. Even if there was white skin, raw flesh mustn’t be visible beneath it (13:9-11).
Therefore, perhaps it’s best to see in the ‘totally white skin’ a reference to the need for raw skin to accompany it before it could be pronounced unclean. No raw flesh, no uncleanness - whatever the extent of the white skin.
Harrison tries to assert (page 142) that the condition of the skin in the case of the leper being pronounced ‘clean’ was a loss of pigmentation but the Scripture doesn’t read this way to me - the main indication of uncleanness is red skin (accompanied by dead or dying skin).
North sees the legislation as applying to the ‘city’ (page 169) but these laws have to do with the camp of Israel and have no application given here to show how they would be applied when they eventually had settled in Canaan.
North sees the offering of the ‘guilt offering’ upon the day of the leper’s cleansing (page 170) as being
‘…a priestly re-entrance fee - a fee analogous to the payments required of those who sought adoption into the family of Levi (Lev 27:2-8)’
The Scripture quoted doesn’t actually mention that, firstly, anyone had been seeking adoption (it’s a third party who gives a gift of persons to the Lord) and, secondly, that they were to be adopted into the tribe of Levi.
The guilt offering is difficult to understand not just because it’s the wrong age of animal as specified in Lev 5:14-6:7 (there it’s a ram but for the leper it’s a male lamb - Lev 14:10-12 - the difference being in the maturity of the offering).
The significant factor, though, is that there’s no payment being made and, as we saw when we discussed the guilt offering that had no restitution specified (5:17-19), it spoke of a troubled conscience when no specific sin or transgression was known.
It seems reasonable to presume that a similar meaning is intended here and that the significance of the application of the blood (14:14) is paralleled in the application of the blood during the High Priest’s ordination (8:22-24) where we noted Harrison’s comments (page 100) concerning
‘...hearing God’s voice (the ear), doing what God wants to be done (the hand) and walking in the ways of God (the foot)...’
What’s just as significant, though, is that oil is similarly applied (14:17).
North’s notes under the heading ‘Disinheritance’ (pages 170-1) are a puzzle. He states that
‘...the requirement that the individual be cast out of the congregation means that he would have to be forced outside the boundaries of any city. On the other hand, a diseased person who lived in a rural area...would not have to leave his home or his family’
The only time that the city is mentioned in Leviticus chapters 13-14 is in connection with a leprosy that was within a house (that is, after the Israelites had come in to the land) - it’s not used in connection with a leper (even Num 5:1-4 mentions no ‘city’).
North has missed the point of the legislation. Lev 14:33-53 was given for a situation that would arise when they settled in the land while the remaining verses dealt with the problems of the march. How Israel dealt with the application of the laws when they settled in Canaan is not certain - there were certainly lepers still within Israel (II Kings chapter 7) but was this what the Levitical legislation intended to be done?
The Scriptures are, unfortunately, silent.
Later on, North will assert (page 171-2 - my italics) that
‘Because the individual’s presence in the countryside was not a threat to his neighbours, there is reason to believe that the curse of God had something to do with the presence of the city’
This needs Scriptural proof seeing as it’s based upon his assumption that the leper was treated differently according to where he lived.
North’s statement (page 171) that
‘...neither the State nor the church was required by God to support the afflicted person financially’
is only correct if, by ‘State’ we read ‘elders’ and by ‘church’ we read ‘the nation of Israel’.
North draws the chapter to a close with a sudden change of tack. It now seems that the removal of the individual from the city was aimed at halting ‘the spread of the disease’ (page 172). He writes
‘The concern was public health, but it was not a concern about biological contagion. It was concern about the willingness of God to afflict other individuals with the disease or other afflictions because of the rulers’ willingness to enforce God’s law...it would probably be safe to say that [the quarantining process] was entirely judicial’
We’ve already seen that the application of the law was entirely a matter for the priesthood - the concept of a ‘ruler’ is purely fanciful. His assertion that the presence of the leper may cause the spread of a disease (which was not spreadable) by God’s will is, again, fanciful – we’ve previously shown that leprosy was not considered to show conclusively that a person was being judged by God.
Most of North’s conclusion (pages 174-5) is based upon a consideration of the role of the State in the Levitical passage - as previously shown, the State isn’t mentioned so it undermines most of what he’s trying to promote. That some of his conclusions are correct is, perhaps, surprising but, like North, I would agree (page 175) that no
‘...presuppositions are...a valid substitute for biblical exegesis’
It would be nice, though, if there had been some accuracy in the foundations taken from the text, upon which his conclusions were based.
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