German National Museum

Cleansed or healed? Ten lepers begging for mercy meet Jesus as he enters the city (Luke 17:12–13) in the left half of this illumination from a manuscript known as the Golden Gospels (c. 1020–1030). On the right side, the cleansed lepers depart, except for a Samaritan, who “when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice” and “fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks” (Luke 17:15–16). This is the only instance in the New Testament in which leprosy is said to have been “healed” rather than “cleansed.” The distinction is important because Jewish law treated leprosy as a ritual impurity rather than as just a medical problem. The Bible treats it as a divine punishment usually associated with impiety. Perhaps the Levitical laws of ritual purity did not apply to a foreigner or sectarian such as the Samaritan, thus leading the biblical author to say he was “healed” rather than “cleansed.”