It has become a common interpretive assumption that the people with leprosy whom Jesus encounters in the gospels would have been shunned by Second Temple Jewish society, which makes Jesus’s interactions with them all the more remarkable. In this article, I examine the underpinnings of this assumption by attending carefully to what is said about leprosy in the Hebrew Bible as well as in Second Temple and rabbinic sources. I argue that the evidence for the exclusion of the leprous from first-century Jewish society is much less certain than is generally realized. Without this assumption, the gospel texts themselves do not convey the message that lepers were excluded. Indeed, there is evidence in the gospels that lepers had relatively unhindered social access. Interpretations that see the overcoming of social stigma in Jesus’s healings of leprosy stem not so much from consideration of the textual evidence as from a latent tendency to construe Judaism negatively in order to make Jesus appear in a more positive light.

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