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Leprosy During The First-Century CE

One of Jesus’s reported miracles was that of cleansing a leper. Like many diseases, leprosy was considered a form of divine punishment for worldly sins, and the outward signs of the disease were taken as proof that the victim was utterly embroiled in sin.

According to tradition, the soldiers of Alexander the Great contracted the illness when they invaded India in the 4th century BCE and carried it into the Middle East and then throughout the eastern Mediterranean upon their return home. On the other hand, genetic analysis of the leprosy bacillus indicates that the bacterium may have evolved some 100,000 years ago in eastern Africa or southwestern Asia and traveled with humans along their migration and trade routes.

The point is that leprosy was common during Miriam’s time. And so, she frequently encounters groups of leprosi, whether in Alexandria or Caesarea. Here’s an example from THE DEADLIEST FEVER:

The sun was inching up the eastern sky and warming my back as we headed west along the Canopic Way. Now the streets were humming with the clatter of millstones; the calls of tinkers; the pleas of beggars; the tide of horses and mule carts, chariots and wagons, and oxcarts and drays. My bearers had to stop for a spilled barrel of beer puddling the pavement, a parade of the leprosi and the pious carrying gifts to the temples, and an imperial litter whose bearers paused in front of every arcade, gallery, and public building for the notables to ogle.

No wonder the books in the Miriam bat Isaac Series have been praised for their accurate depiction of first-century life and bringing the reader right there. To watch the book trailer, click here.

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