Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 24.djvu/819

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.



our present knowledge, and, after making due allowance for the necessarily imperfect translation of the Hebrew scriptures, we are forced to believe that Moses associated leprosy with other diseases, as many distinguished medical writers have done in later years. Indeed, it is only during the past few decades that the disease has been carefully studied in various parts of the world and its identity thoroughly established.

In studying the Mosaic laws respecting leprosy, we find statements made and directions given for its recognition by the priests who could not have referred to the disease which we now call leprosy. For instance, it is stated that if the leprosy cover the whole skin of him that hath the plague, the priest shall pronounce him clean. This would hardly apply to modern leprosy, which never involves the whole skin, as far as my observation goes. But there are other cutaneous affections which frequently do cover the afflicted subject "from his head even to his foot." Why the leper should have been pronounced unclean while the disease was spreading, and clean when it had reached that point where further spreading was impossible, I will leave for others to determine, merely remarking that a law which permitted only such lepers within the camp as were covered by the disease from head to foot could certainly not have had a sanitary origin. Furthermore, the rule that the leper should be shut up for seven days, and then examined by the priest, with a view to noting the change that had taken place in the mean time, would seem to indicate some other disease than modern leprosy, for the latter is extremely chronic in its course, and never presents any noticeable change in so short a time even under the most active treatment. What was meant by the reference to leprosy of clothing and of houses is now difficult to understand. There are infectious diseases at the present day, the germs of which may dwell for a time in clothing and the walls of houses, but there is nothing in connection with the modern leprosy which would justify us in believing that it ever infects an inanimate object.

On the other hand, if we assume that the leprosy of ancient times was identical with that of the present day, it seems strange that Moses failed to mention the loss of sensation, the deformity of the hands, and other features which are the most striking characteristics of the disease. That the leprosy which I have described has not changed its type in the course of centuries, as other diseases have done in a comparatively short time, is shown by the fact that some of the earliest medical descriptions are so correct that they might answer their purpose in a modern text-book, and we are therefore led to the conclusion that Moses, though possessing all the learning of the Egyptian priests, including the highest medical knowledge of his age, did not note the distinctive characteristics of leprosy, but classed it under one name with other prevalent diseases.

In this connection, it may be of interest to consider very briefly the character of the disease mentioned as leprosy in the New Testa-