Did You Know?

Was the leprosy described in the Bible the same as the disease known by that name today?

The medical term “leprosy” as used today refers to a human bacterial infection. This bacteria (Mycobacterium leprae) was first identified by Dr. G.A. Hansen in 1873. Researchers have discovered that the bacteria can survive outside the body in nasal secretions for up to nine days. They have also found that people in close association with leprosy patients have a greater chance of contracting the disease and that contaminated clothing is a possible source of infection. According to the World Health Organization, more than 220,000 new cases of leprosy were reported in 2007.

There is no doubt that leprosy afflicted people in the Middle East in Biblical times, and the Mosaic Law required that a person with leprosy be quarantined. (Leviticus 13:4, 5) However, the Hebrew word tsa·raʹʽath translated “leprosy” was not confined to a medical condition. Tsa·raʹʽath also affected clothing and houses. This kind of leprosy could appear in woolen or linen garments or in anything made of leather. In some cases, it could be eliminated by washing, but if a “yellowish-green or reddish plague” persisted, the garment or leather was to be burned. (Leviticus 13:47-52) In houses, the plague manifested itself as “yellowish-green or reddish depressions” in a wall. Affected stones and mortar were to be removed and discarded​—away from human habitation. If the leprosy returned, the building was to be demolished and the materials disposed of. (Leviticus 14:33-45) Some suggest that the leprosy in garments or houses might have described what is now called mildew or mold. However, this cannot be stated with certainty.

Why did the apostle Paul’s preaching in Ephesus cause an uproar among the silversmiths?

The silversmiths of Ephesus prospered by making “silver shrines of Artemis,” patroness of Ephesus, a goddess of hunting, fertility, and childbirth. (Acts 19:24) Her image was reputed to have fallen “from heaven” and was housed at the temple of Artemis in Ephesus. (Acts 19:35) This temple was viewed as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Crowds of pilgrims flocked to Ephesus during March/​April each year to attend festivals honoring Artemis. The influx of visitors generated demand for cult objects, used either as souvenirs, amulets, or offerings to the goddess or for family worship once the pilgrims returned home. Ancient inscriptions from Ephesus speak of the manufacture of gold and silver statues of Artemis, and other inscriptions specifically mention the silver-worker’s guild.

Paul taught that images “made by hands are not gods.” (Acts 19:26) Thus, the silversmiths saw their livelihood threatened and fomented a riot to protest Paul’s preaching. Demetrius, one of the silversmiths, summed up their fears, saying: “The danger exists not only that this occupation of ours will come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be esteemed as nothing and even her magnificence which the whole district of Asia and the inhabited earth worships is about to be brought down to nothing.”​—Acts 19:27.