Mold: "tsara'at," Leviticus, and the history of a confusion

Perspect Biol Med. 2003 Fall;46(4):588-91. doi: 10.1353/pbm.2003.0085.


The noun tsara'at appears about two dozen times in the Hebrew Bible, almost exclusively in Leviticus, where it is used to describe a state of ritual defilement manifested as a scaly condition of the skin, a condition of cloth, leather, and the walls of houses. In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, negac tsara'at was translated as aphe lepras; in the Latin Vulgate, this became plega leprae. These words in Greek and Latin implied a condition that spread over the body, not a term of ritual impurity. Tsara'at has continued to be translated as "leprosy," even though this term is not appropriate, as there was no leprosy as we know it in the Middle East during the time period the Hebrew Bible was written. Others have suggested that the proper translation of tsara'at is "mold." The recent identification of a specific mold (Stachybotrys sp.) that contaminates buildings and causes respiratory distress, memory loss, and rash, and the fact that mold has been present for millennia, lend support to the translation of tsara'at as "mold."

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Ancient Lands
  • History, Ancient
  • Humans
  • Judaism / history
  • Leprosy / history*
  • Mycoses / history*
  • Stachybotrys*
  • Translating