Vandy researcher: Portrayal of lepers in Bible misconceived, built up Jesus's holiness

Photos of the effects of leprosy. PHOTOS: CDC

NASHVILLE, Tenn.--New research from a Vanderbilt assistant professor finds interpretations of the portrayal of lepers in the New and Old Testament could have been exaggerated.

Ricky Shinall is an assistant professor of surgery and also holds a Masters of Divinity along with a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from Vanderbilt University.

Shinall examined stories on leprosy in the religious texts and says while there were rules and customs to separate people suffering from the disease, the practice was not universal and treatment of lepers varied by community and the time they lived.

Leprosy is a bacterial infection affecting the skin and nervous system which can lead to disfigurement. While treatable in today's medicine, the infectious disease was of concern in the time of Jesus until modern medicine evolved.

Shinall says the misconception all lepers were stigmatized is not correct and could have been a way for early scholars to 'build up Jesus' holiness by overemphasizing the stigma' lepers faced in Jewish society at the time. It could have also been a way to show Judaism negatively.

Shinall's research paper states there is actually evidence in the gospels lepers had relatively unhindered social access. "Interpretations that see the overcoming of social stigma in Jesus's healings of leprosy stem not so much from consideration of the textual evidence as from a latent tendency to construe Judaism negatively in order to make Jesus appear in a more positive light."

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