The Shroud of Turin.
Julio Gonzalez, M.D., J.D.
In 1899, a photographer named Secondo Pia stood before a long strip of linen cloth in Turin. It was the first time anyone had been allowed to take a photograph of what tradition held was the Shroud in which Jesus was buried. Both the family and the Church were rightfully protective of the cloth. It had a continuous history dating back to 1353 when it appeared in Liery, France. Since then, the cloth had been through some challenges, having survived a fire in 1532 and being bartered.
Now, at the cusps of the arrival of the twentieth century, Pia was about to cover his head in his own dark cloth, stand behind a wooden box, and squeeze a trigger.
The Shroud's Long and Incompletely Resolved History
The moment was no less significant for the Shroud, for it would forever change the way it was perceived. Moreover, the arrival of advanced scientific techniques would send it into a new level of interaction with human culture.
The year 1898 happened to also be the 400th anniversary of the Turin Cathedral. In celebration, King Umberto I of Italy arranged for the public viewing of the House of Savoy's mysterious shroud. Pia was not only an amateur photographer, but he was also a lawyer and a member of Turin's city council. On May 25, 1898, he snapped the first picture in one of the first occasions when an electric light bulb was used in taking a photograph. He even returned three days later to take more.
But it wasn't until he worked on developing the plates that everything changed. The image on the Shroud was actually a negative!! As it turns out when the film was developed, the negative turned out to be a positive image of a bearded man, with a harrowing number of penetrating injuries. The understanding and perception of our Lord Jesus Christ and what he went through, while dying, instantly morphed while the forces of cynicism and doubt rallied to destroy what was now, for the first time, being recognized.
The documentation of the Shroud dates back to the Gospels of Luke and John who describe its presence in Jesus's abandoned tomb on Easter Sunday. All the gospels agree that the Shroud was obtained by Joseph of Arimathea, the Jewish city councilman and secret follower of Jesus, who convinced Pontius Pilate to allow him to take possession of Jesus's body after he died on the cross. All four Gospels also agree that Joseph took the body to the tomb and wrapped it in a linen cloth. According to Mark, the linen cloth was one that Joseph himself had purchased. The synoptic gospels tell that Jesus's body was never properly prepared with oils and spices as was the Jewish burial custom due to the absence of time. Instead, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome went home on Friday afternoon to prepare the oils for application on Sunday since Saturday was a day of rest.
John's version differs in two significant details. First, in John's Gospel, Joseph takes Jesus's body to the tomb with the Centurion Nicodemus where they actually apply the oils and spices in accordance with Jewish traditions. Also, although John does not specifically say that Joseph applied a cloth to cover the head, his is the only gospel that reports the presence of the cloth that covered the head "rolled up in a separate place." Jn. 20:7.
As we have touched upon previously, shortly after Jesus's death and resurrection, the Jews suffered a colossal torment at the hands of the Romans when they rebelled against the Roman Empire. The Christian population, having been forewarned by Jesus himself, fled Jerusalem, sparing the young faith. The Christians took with them many of the early relics. It is likely the Shroud was amongst these.
The Shroud's next possible appearance is in Edessa where it may have been taken by Thaddeus to Abgar, the king, to treat his leprosy. According to the accounts by Eusebius, Abgar (also "Apgarus") was overwhelmed by a vision of a face. The language used by Eusebius and in the Acts of Thaddeus is less than definitive, but it should be noted that the Eastern tradition maintains that Apgar used the likeness of Jesus to wipe himself and be cured.
It appears that the Shroud was displayed in Edessa (500 A.D.) and Constantinople in 1092 A.D. before being venerated by King Louis VII in Constantinople in 1147.
The Shroud next appears in Lirey, France, brought there by the French knight, Geoffroi de Charny. There is no information on how he got it or from where he got it, but by 1357, we have the first public exposition of the Shroud, likely at the Cathedral of Lirey.
In 1453, Sir Charny's granddaughter, Margaret de Charny, sold the Shroud to the royal House of Savoy for two castles. She was excommunicated for her act. The House of Savoy placed the shroud in the Sainte-Chapelle in Chambéry in 1502 where thirty years later a fire broke out such that it melted the silver reliquary where the Shroud was kept. The Shroud still keeps its watermarks from the efforts at putting out the fire and the patches that were subsequently installed by a group of nuns. In 1578, it was moved to St. John the Baptist Church in Turin where it has remained ever since and where it rested at the Church’s 400 year anniversary in 1898 when it was first photographed by Pia.
The world's curiosity was instantly piqued. Was this the actual image of Jesus Christ, post-crucifixion? The VP-8 images are what stirred up the Shroud of Turin Research Project (STURP) in 1977 from which samples were obtained and further examinations performed.
Then, in 1988, scientific disaster struck. A small fragment of the cloth was sent to the University of Oxford, the University of Zurich and the University Arizona at Tucson where scientists at each facility carbon dated some of the fibers taken from one of the corners of the Shroud. Each institution used some of the material for carbon dating and kept the excess. Each center arrived at a similar conclusion. The Shroud of Turin, in their estimation, was a medieval forgery, as they dated the Shroud at 691 ± 31 years, correlating to an origination date span of 1273 - 1288 AD with 68% confidence, or 1262-1384 A.D. with 95% confidence.
The announcement was a devastating blow not only to the belief in the authenticity of the Shroud, but also to the momentum that had been gained in advancing its studies.
Despite the setback a pair of non-scientists, Joe Marino, a librarian, and Sue Benson demonstrated that the area used for the carbon-14 dating was actually one where a repair had been performed using a method known as invisible reweaving in the 1500s. Ray Rogers, one of the original members of STURP was in an excellent position to demonstrate whether the Marino's and Benson's findings were correct as he was in possession of threads from a nearby section of the Shroud. Amazingly, he found that the sample he had was composed of both linen fibers (the original) and cotton (medieval repair material). He immediately called the laboratory in Tucson where he found that their fibers also were composed of intermingled material that had also been dyed to match the color of the original cloth. According to Rogers, the fibers were taken "from the worst possible place you could had sampled." The carbon dating was wrong because it measured material from the first century A.D. along with material from the sixteenth century! The result was an answer that incorrectly placed the Shroud as a medieval product, when in fact it was not.
Since then other age analysis tests have been performed. FT-IR/ATR Raman spectroscopy place the shroud at 300 B.C. +/- 400 years with a 60% confidence and 200 B.C. +/- 500 years with a confidence level of 95%. Further, mechanical analysis based on calibrations with similar samples of known ages places the Shroud at 400 A.D. +/- 400 years. Additionally, mass spectrometry proves that the carbon dating sample was not part of the main shroud. Further, tests performed by Ray Rogers relying on the slow conversion of vanillin from lignin place it at 1300 to 3000 years of age. More specifically, if the Shroud had been manufactured in the Middle Ages, there would have been vanillin in the samples, but in this shroud, there was none. The Shroud had to be older than the Middle Ages in contradiction to the carbon 14 findings.
Thus far, we have only reviewed the material and historical characteristics of the Shroud. However, to link its substantive, forensic findings to the events surrounding Jesus's death and resurrection, we must first take into account what we know about the manner in which Christ died and the injuries he sustained. For this, we must look to the Bible.
According to the Gospels, in around 33 A.D., during Passover, Jesus Christ, the Nazarene, was taken prisoner by the Jewish high priest, Caiaphas. All four Gospels agree that Jesus was treated harshly and violently. At one point, while still before Caiaphas, Jesus was struck in the face. Jesus is then taken to the Sanhedrin, which decides that he should be taken to Pontius Pilate for execution, since the Jews did not have the authority to kill a Jew.
Pontius Pilate, who was not a Jew but a Roman Governor, tried Jesus, and despite his hesitation at executing the young man, capitulated and released him to be crucified. Interestingly the charge was changed before Pilate from the original one of blasphemy, which would not have merited crucifixion, to claiming to be king, which would. Also, as he appeared before Pilate, Jesus was forced to kneel and mocked. Matt 27:29. It was here that he was also struck repeatedly on the head with a reed. Matt 27:30.
As was the standard procedure, Pilate had Jesus scourged prior to being crucified. Matt 27:26. The scourging was done not to kill him, but to weaken him. Under Roman custom, Jesus would have been scourged 40 times with two whips handled by two men. Each whip had three balls with spikes, thus creating three wounds per whipping for a total of 120 marks.
After being scourged, the Roman soldiers placed a crown of thorns upon Jesus's head that they had weaved. It is likely that the bush they used was Gundelia tournefortii. Moreover, this is the only example in history where a person of the time was crowned with thorns.
Jesus was then forced to carry his cross, at least part of the way to the place he was to be crucified, Golgotha, The Place of the Skulls. At the time, the vertical beams for the crucifixes were permanent fixtures on the ground. It was the crossbeam, weighing between 50 and 100 pounds, that the victim would have to carry to his death. The beam was tied to the person's hands, and if more than one person was being led to Golgotha, their ankles were secured to each other so that they could not get away. Jesus likely was thus attached to the two criminals that died with him that day.
When the crucified person was nailed to the cross, the upper extremity nails did not go through the palm. They went through the space between the radius and the ulna, severing the median nerve and forcing the thumb into flexion. The Bible does indeed state that Jesus was crucified through the hand, but in reality, the word at the time for hand was not as specific as the term we use today and would have included the hand, wrist, and distal forearm.
We also know that in Jesus's case, the executioners wanted the crucified men dead by sundown since it was Passover. In order to accomplish this, a request was made to break the men's legs. Breaking the legs would make it impossible for the victim to push up to prevent from suffocating, and he would die faster. This indeed happened in the cases of the two criminals that were crucified along with Jesus. However, when the soldiers came to break Jesus's legs, they found that he was already dead. Consequently, Jesus's legs were not broken. Jn. 19:32-33. Instead, in order to make sure that he was dead, one soldier thrust his lance into Jesus's side from which spilled water and blood. Jn. 19:34.
The Findings in the Shroud
The forensic evaluation is remarkably consistent with the historical and biblical understanding of the events. First, the shroud is 14 x 3.5 feet in size, dimensions that are multiples of cubits, the units that would have been used in selling the linen in Jerusalem. The weave is a herringbone pattern typical of that employed in Jerusalem at the time, with a Z-twist. If the Shroud had been made in the middle ages, the weaving would have been done on a wheel producing a different pattern. Additionally, there is no paint, dye, or powder that produce the images. In fact, there is nothing that penetrates the fabric like one would see with a dye or paint. In contrast, the blood on the Shroud has soaked the fibers as would have been expected with a dye or paint.
The colorations on the Shroud are best described as scorch marks so superficial and delicate that the taint does not even cross the portions of the threads that pass behind the more superficial threads. The color resides on each thread's surface to a thickness of about 0.2 mm. Significantly, the scorch marks are not present where there is a blood mark, meaning that the image had to have been created after the bloodstains.
On the cloth, there are 24 samples of pollen from Jerusalem, Jordan, and the Sinai desert, the most of any region. There is a high density of the pollen from Gundelia tournefortii, which are the thorn bushes from which the crown of thorns is thought to be made. The thorns in the crown of thorns are three to four inches long, and shaped more like a cap. Amazingly, the same pollen is found in the Sudarium at Oviedo, the facial linen of Jesus. The shroud also has pollen from European and Turkish flora; areas where the Shroud is thought to have been. Also, like in the Sudarium, the blood on the Shroud has been found to be AB positive, XY chromosome, human blood.
Also of interests, and somewhat more controversial, there appear to be coins in the eyes of the man. This is in keeping with the custom practiced by the Jews of placing coins in the eyelids of the dead in order to keep them closed. The coins appear to be Roman from around 29 and 30 A.D.
In addition to the 120 whip marks correlating with 40 lashes Jesus would have received, there are large bloodstains on the feet with the left foot placed over the right, correlating to the manner in which the Romans would have nailed the person to the cross. As depicted in the Bible, Jesus's legs are not broken, but there is a large wound on the right side correlating with the point of penetration by the soldier's lance between the fourth and fifth rib.
There are also abrasions at the ankles consistent with having been tied to other prisoners, and there are large abrasions at the knee consistent with a fall. Additionally, the face is swollen, and the nose appears to be broken, consistent with the blows Jesus received to his face and perhaps to injuries sustained during one of his falls.
As predicted, Jesus's thumbs are adducted and disappear under the palm.
And a couple more points. There are no smudge marks in the Shroud, as would be expected if someone handled the Shroud as the image was being formed, and there is no evidence of biological decay indicating the body was fresh while it was in the Shroud .
How Was The Image Made?
The mystery of the image of the Shroud includes not its historical whereabouts, but the manner in which it was made. Indeed, there is no man-made process, medieval or modern, by which the image in the Shroud could have been made. About the only reasonable explanation that could be espoused is that the image was the result of a radiation emission similar to those used in nuclear medicine scans and that the shroud was the equivalent of a radiation-imaging/detection device. Moreover, the three-dimensionality of the image could only have been produced if the Shroud were perfectly straight at the moment of the imaging and if it had actually gone through the energy source. Adding to this concept is the fact that there is no compression on the tissues in the back of the person, as if the image had been taken when the body was floating, or hovering, above a surface.
The reality is that such an intricate image could not have possibly been made by any artisan, modern or medieval. The Shroud's image was likely the footprint of a sudden, intense, energy outburst. Nevertheless, to this day, the Church has neither acknowledged nor dismissed the authenticity of the Shroud's image.
The fact is that neither Christianity nor a belief in Jesus Christ is dependent on the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin. If it truly is the product of Christ's resurrection, then it is a wonderful addition to a beautiful faith and an object that perhaps like no other, brings one closer to the humiliation and pain voluntarily suffered by God to save us from our sins and to gift to us the opportunity for our salvation. For the scientist, it will continue to serve as a scaffold from which to understand the physics and history behind the greatest miracle in history.
More importantly, if the Shroud is an authentic imprint of Jesus's resurrection, then it is obviously a palpable reminder sent to us by God as a gift that would transcend time to silently remind us of the days when the word became flesh and dwelt among us simply so that we may be saved.
Please support our ability to cover the events most important to you. Click here to join The Founding Fathers Club or donate to The Federalist Pages.
Click here to visit The Federalist Pages News.