The Anti-Missionary’s Charge:
Jesus could not have been pure (thus sinless) because He touched leprous and unclean dead bodies. In touching the leper He became impure under the Mosaic Law, therefore He did not perfectly keep the Mosaic Law and cannot be the Messiah.
The fact that Yeshua touched a leper – an unclean body – does not disqualify Him from Messiahship. This is especially true in light of the rabbinic doctrine concerning the “Leper Messiah,” taken from Isaiah 53. Contact with “leprosy” was a requirement for being the Messiah, an authenticating qualification, rather than a disqualification. According to Raphael Patai (The Messiah Texts, page 17) the name of the Messiah connected to Isaiah 53:4 is “The Leprous of the House of Study.”
The Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 98b, in reference to Isaiah 53:4 states:
What is his [the Messiah’s] name?-“The School of R. Shila said: His name is Shiloh, for it is written, until Shiloh come. The School of R. Yannai said: His name is Yinnon, for it is written, His name shall endure forever: e’er the sun was, his name is Yinnon. The School of R. Haninah maintained: His name is Haninah, as it is written, Where I will not give you Haninah. Others say: His name is Menahem the son of Hezekiah, for it is written, Because Menahem [‘the comforter’], that would relieve my soul, is far. The Rabbis said: His name is ‘the leper scholar,’ as it is written, Surely he hath born our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him a leper, smitten of God, and afflicted.”
In addition, see Rafael Patai’s The Messiah Texts (page 31), and the story of the Baal Shem Tov and the Leper Messiah.
[One Friday afternoon a young Talmudic scholar was riding with the Ba’al Shem in a cart across the open field, when] all of a sudden he espied a village in the distance, and he was filled with joy, for he thought that they would surely spend the Sabbath there, and not out in the open. And in that very moment they entered the village, and, behold, the horse went on of its own through the village and did not stop at any house. The youth became saddened by this, for [it seemed that] they would, after all, not spend the Sabbath in the village. But when the horse reached the end of the village, it stopped in front of a ruin. The youth thought that they would spend the Sabbath in that ruin and became filled with joy, for it was better than being in the field. And the Ba’al Shem entered the ruin, and the youth went after him. And, behold, in the ruined house lived an old man, a leper; from head to foot there was no hale spot in his body, he was so full of wounds and boils. And his wife and children walked about in torn and tattered garments. And when the Ba’al Shem opened the door, the old man became filled with joy, and ran up to the Ba’al Shem, and said to him, “Peace be unto you, my Master and Teacher!” And he who saw not their joy has never seen joy in his life. And they went into a separate room, and talked there about half an hour. And then they took permission from each other, and parted from each other in fierce love, like the love of David and Jonathan. And then the Ba’al Shem took his seat in the cart, and the horse trotted along on its own…
[On the way back home the youth asked the Ba’al Shem: “What was the meaning of] the joy which the encounter with the old leper caused to both of you?…” And the Ba’al Shem said to him: “…As for what happened between me and the old man in the village, as it is known, there is a Messiah in every generation in This World, in reality, clothed in a body. And if the generation is worthy, he is ready to reveal himself; and if, God forbid, they are not worthy, he departs. And behold, that old man was ready to be our True Messiah, and it was his desire to enjoy my company on the Sabbath. But I foresaw that he would depart at the Third Meal [which is taken at the outgoing of the Sabbath], and I did not want to endure any pain on the Sabbath [and therefore I took my leave from him before the arrival of the Sabbath].”
(Kadaner, Sefer Sippurim Noraim, pp. 9a-b, 10b)
In this story the Messianic candidate is a leper. Again, contact with leprosy is a qualification for Messiahship not a disqualification. Patai refers to the Leper Messiah again on page 24:
Still later, Hasidic lore found the Messiah in unknown and hidden saints; among them is the Leper Messiah, to whom reference is made in the Talmud (see chapter 2) and whom the Ba’al Shem Tov is reported to have encountered 1500 years later.
In addition, in the Bible, there is no record of a genuine leper being healed by man. A number of lepers are healed: Moses (Ex. 4:6-7), Miriam (Nu. 12:10-15), and Naaman (2 Ki. 5:1-19), but they are all healed by the direct hand of God. Yeshua touched a leper, but it was the act of healing (Matt. 8:1-3, Mk. 1:40-42, Lk. 5:12-13) not of defilement.
Apparently He healed lepers without touch as well (Matt. 11:4-5; Lk. 17:12-19).
The implication of these healing acts, since there is no record of a leper being healed by man (2 Ki. 5:7), and since there is no Biblical record of treatment or remedy, is that Yeshua is God in a human body. There is no disqualification from the office of Messiahship here.
In his book The Rabbinic Messiah, Rev. Tom Huckel brings to light another rabbinic teaching that associates the cleansing of leprosy with the Messiah:
- Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 97a to Leviticus 13:13
It has been taught, R. Nehemiah said: In the generation of Messiah’s coming impudence will increase, esteem be perverted, the vine yield its fruit, yet shall wine be dear, and the Kingdom will be converted to heresy with none to rebuke them. This supports R. Isaac, who said: The son of David will not come until the whole world is converted to the belief of the heretics. Raba said: What verse [proves this]? It is all turned white: he is clean.
The footnote in the Talmud explains the rabbinic idea and reads:
Lev. XIII, 13. This refers to leprosy: a white swelling is a symptom of uncleanness; nevertheless, if the whole skin is so affected, is it declared clean. So here too; when all are heretics, it is a sign that the world is about to be purified by the advent of Messiah.
Once again purification from leprosy, both spiritual and physical, is associated with the coming of the Messiah.
And again in relation to Psalm 95:7:
- Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 98a to Psalm 95:7.
R. Joshua b. Levi met Elijah standing by the entrance of R. Simeon b. Yohai’s tomb. He asked him: ‘Have I a portion in the world to come?’ He replied, ‘If this Master desires it.’ R. Joshua b. Levi said, ‘I saw two, but heard the voice of a third. He then asked him. ‘When will the Messiah come?’-Go and ask him himself,’ was his reply. ‘Where is he sitting?’-‘At the entrance.’ And by what sign may I recognize him?’-‘He is sitting among the poor lepers: all of them untie [them] all at once, and rebandage them together. whereas he unties and rebandages each separately, [before treating the next], thinking, should I be wanted, [it being time for my appearance as the Messiah] I must not be delayed [through having to bandage a number of sores].’ … ‘This is what he said to thee, To-day, if ye will hear his voice.’
Here the Messiah sits among the lepers waiting for his advent to Israel.
Conclusion, association with leprosy and the healing of leprosy is a qualification for Messiahship, not a disqualification.