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The Shroud of Turin:
- Ultimate Physical Evidence of Jesus?
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A Controversial SubjectCoins on the Image?
What is the Shroud? The Silent Witness
What Forms the Image? Links
Accuracy of the Details Further Reading
Completing the History
The Pollen Trail
What is the Sudarium?
Analysis of Blood Stains
Dating the Shroud
A Controversial Subject
Some readers who have been intrigued, and perhaps impressed, by the body of evidence presented on this site, may wonder why I have included a page on the Shroud of Turin. Hasn’t it been shown to be a fake? Isn’t it just a Roman Catholic superstition?
First of all, I wish to explain that while it is the business of this site to grapple with controversial evidence, nothing is presented here without a good deal of reflection, prayer and the scrutiny of one trained in science. Most importantly, I only present evidence I find compelling. The evidence for the Shroud’s genuineness has been accumulating now for 40 years. Questions raised by the skeptics have been answered. It is time for me to declare my own belief that the shroud is authentic. I invite you to consider the evidence below and judge for yourself.
What is the Shroud?
The Shroud of Turin, shown at right, is a rectangular sheet of linen that bares the image of a naked man, approximately 5’ 10” (178cm) tall. The man has obviously been crucified, with horrendous wounds to the wrists and feet. These wounds, together with others around the top of the forehead, have left blood stains on the cloth.
All four gospels mention the burial cloth of Christ. The gospel of John records it as follows:
And so Simon Peter also came, following him, and entered the tomb; and he saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the face-cloth which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself.
(John 20:6-7 NASB)
Notice that as well as the burial linen, John describes a smaller “face-cloth”. The early church knew this cloth as the Sudarium. It hasa known history, and the correspondence of certain features on it to details on the shroud image add a great deal of credibility to the latter. The Sudarium is described in detail in a later section.
The Shroud of Turin is so named because since 1578 it has been held in Turin Cathedral. It first came to the attention of western Christians in 1357, when the owner, nobleman Geoffrey de Charny, allowed it to be publicly displayed in the church of Lirey, France. Because it was previously unknown in the West, some researchers have taken pleasure it declaring it a medieval forgery. As you will see, this contention is confounded by the evidence. The image has not been painted or printed. Its formation is discussed in the next section.
As for the cloth, it does not originate in Europe, but in the Middle East. As shown in the magnified image below, its flax fibres are woven in a three-to-one herringbone twill. This weave was common in the ancient Middle East, but not found in Europe when the shroud was first displayed there.
The image on the cloth it is certainly a strange one. The cloth is essentially monochromatic. Apart from the blood stains and the scorch marks, it is a single color, described variously as yellow, yellow-brown or sepia. The image of the man is just a deeper shade of this color. The image is best viewed from a distance, and unlike a painting, almost disappears when one gets up close. When light is transmitted from behind, the image is not visible at all.
What Forms the Image?
Although the bodily proportions are realistic, and a lot of fine detail can be made out, the overall image was not until recent times considered very life-like. All this changed in 1898, when photographer Secondo Pia developed his photographic plates, and for the first time in history saw the image in all its glory. The image is in fact a negative, so when Pia produced his negative, the result was a positive image. The concept of a negative image was of course unknown in medieval times.
In 1978, a team of 25 American scientists was permitted by the church authorities to conduct an extended examination of the shroud. These scientists formed the Shroud of Turin Research Project (STURP). Using powerful microscopes, they compared image and non-image areas of the cloth to determine the mechanism of image creation. So what caused the image? Well, nothing actually. There was no trace of paint or any other liquid applied to the fibres. The only difference was that in the image areas the translucent fibres were a slightly deeper tinge of yellow. Some scientists have theorised that the fibres in the image area may be more degraded, or aged, than in the non-image areas.
Then in December 2012, a report from Italy’s National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development, or ENEA, summarized research conducted over a five-year period, from 2005 to 2010. The Italian scientists experimented with laser-generated ultraviolet light to see if they could reproduce the physical evidence observed on the linen of the Shroud. “The body of the Turin Shroud has not yet been explained by traditional science and the attempts to obtain a similar image by chemical methods failed until now,” the report noted. “We present a summary of the results of five-years experiments of laser irradiation (spectrum of the emitted light in the ultraviolet and vacuum ultraviolet) of raw linen fabrics, seeking for a coloration similar to that of the body image embedded onto the Shroud of Turin.” The Italian scientists found they could achieve a Shroud-like coloration of linen yarns in a narrow range of irradiation parameters, using ultraviolent lasers that were completely unknown in the Middle Ages.
The onus is therefore on those who claim the shroud is a fake to explain what process, available to an ancient forger, was used to create the image. The Italian research above suggests it was a burst of energy from the body itself, something Christians would understand to be the supernatural power that raised Jesus from the dead. Those who witnessed its first appearance on the cloth would certainly have regarded it a miracle. Likewise many christians today, regardless of any scientific processes that may be shown to play a part, would regard the formation and preservation of the image to be a timeless witness to Jesus' suffering for our sins, and his resurrection to bring us new life.
Accuracy of the Details
The anotomical accuracy of the body, its wounds, and their blood flows is astonishing. The wounds correspond perfectly with the description in the gospels of Jesus' suffering. There are over 30 small puncture wounds on the scalp, spike wounds on the feet and wrists, and a large oval shaped wound in the right side. Interestingly, medieval paintings of Christ always show spikes through the palms of his hands. Unfamiliar with cruxifixion as a punishment in their day, these artists are anotomicaly incorrect. Spikes through the palms will not support the weight of the body, but spikes through the bones of the wrist will support it. We now know that the Romans penetrated the wrist, just as the blood flow on the shroud indicates.
The largest number of wounds (over 100) appear in the shape of tiny knots or dumbbells. They occur in groups of twos and threes over the entire body, with most on the back, as can be seen from the shroud's back image at right. A magnified image of one of the dumbell shapes is also shown at right. From the size and shape of these marks, the instument used for the flogging can be identified as a Roman Flagrum, pictured below.
The first scientific examination of the shroud was conducted in Paris, following the release of Secondo's negatives, by Yves Delage, a professor of anatomy at Sorbonne University. Delage was an agnostic, but he had no doubt that he was looking at a real image of a crucified man. He wrote:
The man of the Shroud of Christ .... if instead of Chirst, ther was a question of some person such as a Sargon, an Achilles or one of the Pharoahs, no one would have thought of making an objection".
Completing the History
Those who have protested that the Shroud of Turin has no known history before 1357, have not understood, or have perhaps ignored, the known history of an earlier cloth that also bore the image of Jesus. This cloth is known as the Cloth of Edessa, named after the ancient royal capital of Syria, where it was held from shortly after the time of Christ until the year 944. The crucial insight, that the Cloth of Edessa and the Shroud of Turin are one and the same, was made only recently by writer Ian Wilson, who published his investigation in “The Blood and the Shroud” in 1998. His book includes a detailed chronology, and many of the facts below originate from his work.
Eusebius, the respected historian of the early church, gives us an account of the early history of the Cloth of Edessa in his work “Ecclesiastical History”, written around 325. He tells how the king of Edessa, Abgar V, heard of Jesus ministry in Jerusalem, and sent a letter to him asking Jesus to come and heal him. Eusebius found this letter in the Record Office at Edessa, and he quotes from it verbatim. He also relates Jesus response, which was that he could not come because he had to complete all that he had been sent to do. Jesus however assured the king that after his death, a disciple would be sent to the king and would bring about his healing. According to Eusebius, the public records at Edessa identified that disciple as Thaddeus, one of the Seventy, who “began in the power of God to cure every disease and weakness, to the astonishment of everyone”. Eusebius does not mention a cloth bearing the image of Christ, but other early traditions recount how such a cloth was brought to the king of Edessa to heal him. Grant Jeffrey, in “Jesus: The Great Debate”, notes that “History reveals that this city became a stronghold of the early Christian church in the centuries following Agbar. There are numerous ancient church paintings and even images on coins that depict the face of Jesus on a cloth being displayed in ancient Edessa.”
The Cloth of Edessa, when publicly displayed, only ever showed the face of Jesus. Wilson observes that the Shroud of Turin has strong permanent crease marks showing it had been folded vertically into four sections for many centuries. When folded into four, only the face of Christ is visible on the top section, and Wilson reasons that this was how the Edessa Cloth / Turin Shroud was presented.
The cloth remained at Edessa until 944, when the Emperor Romanus of Byzantium sent an army to capture it. The emir of the city was forced to surrender the cloth, and it was brought to Constantinople, the Byzantine capital. On August 16, 944 the cloth was carried around the walls of the city. Remarkably, the Greek Orthodox church still celebrates August 16 as the “Feast of the Holy Face”.
The cloth was last seen in Constantinople in 1203 by Robert de Clari, one of the knights of the fourth crusade. His testimony confirms the cloth was (believed to be) ”the shroud in which our Lord had been wrapped”, and that “one could see the figure of our Lord on it”. His testimony also suggests that it was unfolded every Friday, which would fit with Wilson’s explanation above. Just months later, in 1204, crusaders looted the city and returned to Europe with its bounty. De Clari, who took part in the sacking of the city, recounts that “no-one, either Greek or French, ever knew what became of this shroud when the city was taken”.
This brings us back to Geoffrey de Charny, who we know displayed the shroud in France in 1357. Wilson has researched the family tree of de Charny, and has identified the patriarch Hugh de Lille Charpigny, who took part in the sacking of Constantinople in 1204. And so the history of the shroud is now complete, the circle is unbroken, and the skeptics have plenty of food for thought.
The Pollen Trail
During some preliminary scientific investigation in 1973, Swiss forensic scientist Dr Max Frei applied adhesive tapes to the shroud to lift from it any loose microscopic particles. Examining these samples under the microscope, he was able to identify pollen grains from many plant species. The pollen grains of each species have a unique shape and surface texture. They are to plants what fingerprints are to us. The publication of Frei's analysis was of profound importance, because the geographical distribution of these plants he identified matches the journey of the shroud as described above. Of the 58 species Frei identified, 13 are found only in southern Israel. These include at least 6 species found only in the vicinity of Jerusalem. He identified a further 20 species found in the region around Edessa, as well as other species found in France and Italy.
The species represented by the greatest number of pollen grains in Frei's research was Goundelia tournefortii, commonly known as thorny thistle tumbleweed. Grant Jeffrey comments that "Scholars believe that this plant contained the type of thistle that was used by the Roman soldiers to make a crown of thorns that produced the scalp wounds on Jesus' head that are visible on the burial cloth."
Frei's findings have been confirmed by a review of the pollen evidence in 1999 by Professor Uri Baruch, a pollen expert with the Isreali Antiquities Authority.
What is the Sudarium?
Most educated people in the West have heard of the Shroud of Turin, but the Sudarium, or face-cloth of Jesus is almost unknown exept in academic circles. The cloth, measuring 84cm x 53cm, was believed in ancient christian tradition to have been used to cover and clean the face of Jesus. Skeptics may be tempted to dismiss this us just a blood-soaked rag. If you do not want to join them in ignorance, I recommend you take a little time to learn the history of this remarkable artifact. The information that follows has been researched by Mark Guscin, whose full article can be viewed at www.shroud.com/guscin.htm.
It resided in Palestine until shortly before 614, when Jerusalem was conquered by the Persians. To avoid destruction, it was taken by the presbyter Philip to Alexandria in Egypt, and then on to North Africa as Alexandria fell in 616. It entered Spain at Cartagena, along with refugees from the Persians, and was surrendered to the bishop of Seville. St Isidore later took it to Toledo. Then, as the Muslims advanced up the Iberian peninsula in the 8th century, it was taken to Oviedo. The Sudarium has been kept in the cathedral of Oviedo, Spain, since 1113.
The pollen trail confirms the above history. Dr Max Frei analysed pollen samples taken from the cloth, and identified species typical of Jerusalem, North Africa, Toledo (Spain) and Oviedo (Spain).
As explained earlier, the gospel of John mentions not one, but two cloths seen in Jesus' tomb. The Sudarium has no image on it, but it does have a pattern of blood stains, indicating it was folded in four. Dr. Alan Whanger of Duke University has overlaid the blood stains in polarized images of the Sudarium and the Shroud of Turin, and found 70 points of coincidence. The lack of an image of Christ is not a problem. The gospel of John indicates that the face-cloth was neatly rolled up, but the linen sheet was not. This makes sense if, as tradition holds, the face cloth was used to cover Christ's face before his burial. It therefore would seem to have been rolled up by the person who buried Christ, and was not in contact with his body at the moment of resurrection.
Analysis of Blood Stains
The blood on the Sudarium has been identified as human, and as type AB. There is very little blood actually remaining on the shroud. It is degraded, and most of it has been replaced by bacteria and fungi. However, Dr Baima Ballone has analysed samples taken from the cloth with adhesive tape, and reported that the blood on the shroud is also type AB. Interestingly, type AB is quite rare in Europe and most of the world, at of the 3.2% of population. However it is quite common (18%) among Jews from Northern Palestine. If these stains are Jesus' blood, does that indicate that Jesus had a biological father? Well, not if you believe in the miracle of the virgin birth as presented in the gospels. Apart from the Y sex chromosome, all of Jesus' genetic material would have come from his mother Mary. The gene for blood type is not on the Y chromosome, and therefore came from Mary, who also would have blood type AB.For those who doubt that blood residue this old could yield the information above, consider the evidence of Dr. Gaza-Valdes of the University of Texas. In 1995 he released the results of a DNA analysis of shroud blood samples in his book "The DNA of God?" (see Further Reading). The PCR laboratory at his university tested for and identified three key genes. The betaglobin gene on chromosome 11 yielded a sequence of 268 base pairs. The first 80 of these are:
AGCCAAGGAC AGGT-CCAAT GTCATCACTT TCCTAAGCCA GTGCCA AGACCTCACC CTGTGGAGCC ACACCCTAGG GTTGGCCAAT CTACTCCCAG
Apart from the short underlined string above, all 268 base pairs matched the control (HUMHBB221) used for testing for this gene. Of course, there are always small differences when comparing DNA of different individuals. That is the whole basis of DNA identification. It would be interesting, wouldn't it, if further testing identified sequences unique to, or prevelant among, Jewish populations?
Dating the Shroud
“What about the dating? What about the carbon 14 dating?”, I hear you say. Indeed, the carbon 14 testing done on the Shroud of Turin in 1988 gave a date range of 1260 to 1390, and that was the end of the matter as far as many scientists were concerned. When these dates were announced, I was intrigued, but not particularly concerned. Although the basic principle of carbon 14 dating (and all other radiometric dating) is sound, it is not uncommon for dates to be out by a factor of two or more due to contamination of the sample.
Since the 1988 tests, two sources of contamination have been identified. The first of these was discovered by Dr. Garza-Valdes. Using an electron microscope, he found that the fibers were completely covered by live bacteria and fungi, and by a “bioplastic” coating, a natural polymer created by these organisms that gives the fabric a sheen. In the magnified image of one of the fibers at right, the original linen strand is dyed purple, and is surrounded by the relatively transparent bioplastic coating. The same contaminant has since been found on Egyptian mummies and on ancient Mayan artifacts. In the case of the shroud, Garza-Valdes found that it formed more than 60% of the cross-sectional area of each fiber. He then duplicated the process of preparation used in the 1988 carbon 14 testing, and demonstrated that those tests did not remove the organisms or the coating. As this living coating had been accumulating on the fibers right up to the present day, the age of the coating was obviously less than the age of the fabric. These contaminants therefore skewed the 1988 carbon 14 results towards a younger date range.
A second source of contamination was later publicised by chemist Ray Rogers of the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory. Rogers was a member of the 1978 Shroud of Turin Research Project, and was an outspoken leading voice among critics charging the shroud was a medieval forgery. He had a change of heart, and in 2005 published a scientific paper arguing the samples taken from the shroud in 1988 for the radiocarbon dating were contaminated by medieval reweaving. He explained that after a fire in 1532 nearly destroyed the shroud, French Poor Clare nuns repaired the shroud by adding 16 burn patches and stitching to the back of the shroud a reinforcing cloth that is known as the Holland cloth. The nuns were able to repair the edges of the shroud by expertly reweaving with cotton much of the damage the fire did to the shroud’s original linen cloth. Rogers was able to detect under a microscope the reweaving because the cotton had been dyed to match the linen, and the fibers could be distinguished in the reweaving at the edges of the shroud because linen is resistant to dye, while cotton is not. The reason the Vatican had instructed scientists to take samples from the edge was keep the image intact. Inadvertantly, this restriction led to the samples being contaminated with fibers not original to the cloth. If the mixture of 16th century cotton with ancient flax (linen) caused the 1988 tests to give false medieval dates, then the flax fibers are much older.
Then on Good Friday 2013, news stories exploded around the world, reporting that the shroud has undergone a high-tech analysis by Italian researchers. Led by Giulio Fanti, a professor of mechanical and thermal measurement at Padua University, scientists used three different tests on fibers first removed in 1988. The first two tests used infrared light and spectroscopy, while the third measured mechanical properties of the fibers. Together, the results of these tests place the shroud’s origin between 300 B.C. and A.D. 400, a period that encompasses the life and death of Jesus. Fanti and Saverio Gaeta, a journalist, have published the findings in a book entitled “Il Mistero della Sindone” (“The Mystery of the Shroud”), released yesterday by the Italian publisher Rizzoli. I eagerly look forward to the English translation, and to confirmation of Fanti's findings by other researchers. If researchers can see their way past the “stumbling block” of those initial carbon 14 tests, their eyes will open to the early history of the shroud as traced by Ian Wilson above.
To summarise the dating evidence, we have two very plausible explanations for how the samples were contaminated with organic material from a later time, meaning the shroud is older than the scientific community has believed. Furthermore we now have the results of other tests on individual flax fibers which have calculated the age of the cloth by other means. They re-date the shroud to between the 3rd century B.C. and the 4th century A.D. Jesus death around 33 A.D. is almost exactly in the middle of this period!
Jesus told us “seek and you will find”. Those who press on in faith are rewarded with the truth. On reflection, it is no surprise to me that God has allowed, until now, room for many to doubt not just the shroud, but to doubt Jesus himself. God provides sufficient evidence for those who love him to trust him, and sufficient room for doubt for those who choose to ignore him and justify their stance. However, the time for doubting may be rapidly coming to a close. What times are we living in now that the evidence that Jesus is real is right before our eyes, and verified by our scientific instruments? Don't believe Dawkins. It is athiests who are in denial.
Coins on the Image?
The evidence I have presented so far is more than enough for me to have no reservation in declaring my own belief in the shroud's authenticity. You may be familiar with claims that the shroud shows images of coins placed over Jesus' eyes. I leave you to form your own judgement on that, but I recommend you click here to view enhanced images of these coins on another site. I think you will be blown away! Both coin images show the curve of the curve of a Roman simpulum, a kind of ladle used to make libations during sacrifices. The images also show sequences of letters that, together with the simpulum, match leptons minted by Pontius Pilate, under the authority of Tiberius Caesar, in Jeruslaem in 30 and 31 AD. At left is an example of one of these coins. The foremost reference for biblical coins is the "Guide to Biblical Coins" by David Hendin(see Further Reading).
The Silent Witness
I remember seeing in 1978 a powerful documentary on the Shroud of Turin with the title "The Silent Witness". I was a relatively young christian and I can still recall what an impression it made on me. For me the many details such as the medical evidence, the pollen evidence, etc reinforced each other until I was left with a quiet but sure sense of its authenticity. The additional evidence, in particular the historical details, that has come to light in the past decade only confirms my view. The scripture says:
Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses."
(2 Corinthians 13:1, Deuteronomy 19:15)
So examine the evidence above carefully and thoughtfully. Don't dismiss any of it unless you have a better explanation. The shroud is not an object of veneration in itself, but is a timeless reminder, a silent witness, of all that Jesus suffered for you and me. Many times in its history it has come close to being detroyed or lost forever. In the fire of 1532, the siver casket in which it was held melted in the intense heat, causing the scorch marks we now see on the cloth. As recently as 1997, at a time when so much material on the shroud was being published, a fire broke out in Turin's Royal Chapel. There were signs of arson, and the walls of the chapel were badly damaged, but the shroud was not affected. It seems to me that not only does the formation of this image have the "fingerprints of God" on it, but so does the cloth's extraordinary preservation.
So take time to wonder!
Dr. Grant R. Jeffrey. Jesus: The Great Debate. Toronto: Frontier Research Publications, 1999. (Available from Amazon.com)
(Also released by above publisher as a 60 minute video)
Ian Wilson. The Blood and the Shroud. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1998. (Available from Amazon.com)
(Also an NTSC-format VHS video, The Silent Witness, based on Ian Wilson's earlier book, The Shroud of Turin, is available from Amazon.com)
Dr. Leoncio A. Garza-Valdes. The DNA of God? New York: Doubleday, 1995. (Available form Amazon.com)
David Hendlin. Guide to Biblical Coins. New York: Amphora, 1996. (Available from One Shop)
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