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July 8, 1974

The Disease of the Soul: Leprosy in Medieval Literature

Author Affiliations

American Medical Association Chicago

JAMA. 1974;229(2):210. doi:10.1001/jama.1974.03230400070045

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Leloir in his 1886 treatise wrote that there was only one leprosy, however variable its course as a disease. Yet, there has always been a second leprosy, not the mycobacterial infection but the companion mythical and mystical disturbance never entirely separated.

Concepts of disease as punishment for sin, by no means unique to leprosy, have, however, pervaded and confused most inquiries into leprosy history. Those who have sought to unravel the contradictions of biblical references, or to calm the emotional response (as prevalent today as ever) to a socially awkward disease have usually succeeded only in emphasizing their own bias.

Perhaps because he is a scholar and not a physician, Brody has been able to treat the mystiques of leprosy effectively without becoming entangled in its vines. Wisely staying away from the murky clinical references of ancient days, he is content that leprosy may easily have undergone much modification in