Skin diseases in Leviticus - why the need for a law?

Project: Dissertation

Layman's description

My dissertation starts from a close reading of Leviticus 13-14, asking the question of why the unknown skin disease treated here has received so much attention. The age-old identification with leprosy is long since abandoned, but some kind of stigma remains. Why are skin diseases so carefully treated, when no other disease has its own law? Why this disease and not any other?

The law on צרעת (tsara'at) in Lev 13-14 is an odd one. It revolves around one particular disease, which one we do not know for sure. Early on, tradition identified tsara'at with leprosy. This idea has now been discarded by most researchers, and many modern Bible translations choose general expressions like “skin affliction” for this unknown illness.

My research concerns not the translation, but the inclusion: Why is this law included at all? Why so much legal material on one single disease, when other diseases are not considered at all? Whatever translation we choose, it is obvious that Leviticus does not describe tsara'at as a contagious or even very harmful disease.

While scholars today have abandoned the identification with leprosy, the association is still strong on a popular level, especially where leprosy is still a more common disease. Some estimates suggest there are about 10 million sufferers worldwide, most in developing countries. Statistics, as well as medical treatment, are being hindered by the age-old stigma which keeps people from seeking medical care. One factor in this stigmatization, unfortunately, is the book of Leviticus. When the Bible is being used for preaching and personal reading, the stigma of skin disease may be reinforced. But: have we really understood the point of the text? Or are we creating a different problem?
Effective start/end date2009/09/012013/12/31