Radiation Sickness

The upheaval of the days of the Exodus caused by interplanetary perturbations and discharges, was of an intensity of many thousands of hydrogen bombs. Some of the many consequences were transmutation of elements, nuclear fission, and radiation sickness. A permanent bombardment or the Earth by cosmic rays is going on, resulting in fission of atoms, especially those of nitrogen. But the comparative rarity of cosmic rays makes the results, though spectacular in every case or collision of a ray-particle with an atom or a gene, lacking, in an overall picture, the dramatic element of massive change or transformation. In the abnormal conditions of interplanetary stress and discharges, the elements could go through transformations on a grand scale, the living organisms through the process of somatic changes, and their reproductive cells through mutations that would impress themselves on the formation of the generations to follow.

In the travelogue of the fugitives from Egypt which was ruined in the catastrophe, we read the strange story of the people’s asking for meat, their request having been answered, yet the wrath of the Lord causing them to die as a consequence of eating the flesh of the quail, a large flock of which was flung towards their camp (Numbers 11:31-33). It could have been the consequence of eating meat contaminated by fallout; the flesh of the flock of wild geese could have been so contaminated, and the description of what happened to those who feasted on them in the desert supports such an interpretation.1

Since antiquity a story was spread that the refugees were people sick with leprosy. Manetho, an author of the third pre-Christian century, equated them with the lepers that were expelled from Egypt with the high priest Osarsiph—yet this story does not refer to the time of the Exodus but, as I will show elsewhere, belongs into the period of Libyan domination over Egypt. It is based on the story of Osorkon,2 whose expulsion in the late eighth century took place in the midst of another series of catastrophes, during which portions of the Earth’s ozone layer were stripped away, resulting in the penetration of dangerous amounts of radiation from space, and widespread radiation disease.

We must be impressed with the many regulations concerning the diagnosis, the isolation, the quarantine, and the symptoms of zaraath found in Leviticus, and related by the text of that book to the time of the wandering in the desert. It appears from the importance given to the regulations concerning those stricken with zaraath that it was a widespread disease in the days of the wandering in the desert. Actually, this disease occupied the minds of the priests to the extent that the code of hygiene for the purpose of preventing disease deals chiefly with zaraath.

A recently published report on the contamination of a group of physicists at a research laboratory tells that one of the physicists who was exposed to a larger dose of irradiation contaminated his apartment, his family, and the rugs and furniture; that the rugs and the furniture were burned, yet the neighbors continued to evade the members of the family; and though the physicist after several months was again able to work, the fear of his co-workers was so great that he was coerced to look for a place of work far away from his community, and at the time of the publication of the report was still without a job and could not find a buyer for his house.

Similarly in the Book of Leviticus (Ch. 13) we read of the fear of the community with respect to those affected with zaraath and of their banishment from the camp. The fear of the ancients of radiation sickness was not smaller.

Zaraath being understood in later times as leprosy, the fear of radiation disease of those times was transferred to those sick with leprosy. Today we read the reports of medical men who work with the leprous, and we find that this disease is one of the less contagious; yet through the ages the lepers were the outcasts, kept outside the camps or any other human settlements, urban or rural. It seems as if the ancient fear of radiation disease was manifesting itself in the later fear of leprosy.

Leprosy does not break out in sudden symptoms. Yet the description we have of zaraath in the Scriptures ascribes to this disease a sudden outbreak.3

A famous case of zaraath is narrated in II Chronicles, ch. 26. It affected the king Uzziah.4 In Worlds in Collision I narrated in short the episode that preceded the outbreak of the affliction. It was during the planetary upheavals of the eighth century, namely in -747.

According to the Midrashim and Talmud, on the west side of Jerusalem a mountain was split and one of its halves was hurled to the east.5 Flaming seraphim leaped in the air.6 The population fled from Jerusalem in advance of the catastrophe; Uzziah burned incense in the Temple and addressed himself to the Lord in the name of the nation. This was interpreted by the priests as an appropriation of their priestly duties. The punishment that followed was ascribed to Uzziah’s having committed a sin by burning incense in the Temple. The Temple itself was badly damaged by a great breach that rent its wall. This shows that Uzziah was appearing before the Lord in the very moment of great danger. Flaming seraphim, or tongues of fire leaped in the air. The king was stricken with zaraath. According to the Book of Chronicles, the signs of zaraath “shone on the king’s forehead”7 in these very circumstances when the king was in the Temple usurping the duties of the official intermediary between men and God. It would appear more probable that the sickness which we would be inclined to recognize as radiation sickness, showed itself soon thereafter. The sudden outbreak of the symptoms of leprosy would be even less likely than a sudden outbreak of a sickness which we would think not entirely unexpected under the circumstances.

In Assyria, and in the entire ancient world, a new era was counted from the year -747; in Assyria it was the “era of Nabonassar,” still used many centuries later in astronomical computations. In the Scriptures, too, we find that the time was counted from the days when “the people escaped from before the raash (commotion) of the days of Uzziah.”8

The fact that the king who prayed for his people and realm was struck by a disease was regarded as a sign of the Lord’s displeasure. Uzziah was placed in seclusion; and still today on the slopes of the Mount of Olives, close to the bottom of the Valley of Jeshoshaphat, or of the Lord’s Judgment, in Jerusalem, tourists are shown the artificial grotto that looks like an enclosed balcony with supporting columns where, according to the tradition, king Uzziah spent the rest of his reign, within sight of Jerusalem and the Temple’s hill Moriah yet barred from entering.

Zaraath covered also the term for leprosy, at least in later times. And it took three thousand years to separate leprosy from the fear of contamination it carried among all peoples.


  1. Cf. the following item in Newsweek, November 26, 1956, p. 64: “Historians of the atomic age may one day make a prominent place in their chronicles for some oddly assorted pioneers of progress: the radioactive ducks . . . The ducks once severely upset the stomachs of some Canadian hunters who ate them. A few weeks before, the fowl, on their way north, had fed at an extremely radioactive pond at Oak Ridge, Tennessee.”

  2. See R. Caminos, The Chronicle of Prince Osorkon, in Analecta Orientalia (1956).

  3. [E.g., Miriam became “leprous” all of a sudden after she and Aaron approached the pillar of cloud (Numbers 12:5, 10), and recovered seven days later. This course of the disease is quite unlike leprosy.]

  4. Cf. Julian Morgenstern, “The Sin of Uzziah,” Hebrew Union College Annual, Vol. XII (Cincinnati, 1937).

  5. L. Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews IV, 262.

  6. Ibid., VI, 358.

  7. II Chronicles 26: 19. The King James version renders this: “He was leprous in his forehead,” but the Hebrew text has: “ha-zaraath zarkha”, meaning “the zaraath shone.”

  8. Amos 1:1; Zechariah 14:5.