Erich Lessing

Jesus heals a leper. This scene, from a 12th-century manuscript in the Athos Monastery in Greece, depicts a miracle of cleansing described in all three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 8:2–3; Mark 1:40–42; Luke 5:12–13). In the Bible, leprosy is not only a disease; it is also a state of impurity (Leviticus 13:1–46). Having leprosy, or coming into contact with a leper, renders one unfit to offer sacrifices at the Temple. A person who contracts leprosy-impurity must undergo purificatory rituals—ablutions, waiting periods, the burning of clothes—to be pronounced “clean.”

In healing the leper, Jesus would thereby have become impure. Some scholars argue that Jesus deliberately flouted the biblical purity laws—not only by mingling with lepers, but by touching the blind and raising the dead—because he sought to promote a vision of a more just society. Author Fredriksen, however, points out that “impurity” is associated neither with sinfulness nor with class distinctions; rather, impurity is regularly contracted in the course of everyday life, such as when a parent dies, as a result of childbirth, or when a man has a seminal emission. After healing the leper, Jesus would simply have had to undergo a ritual cleansing to be purified; and there is no reason to believe that he did not do so.