The Shroud of Turin -- Was Jesus Actually Buried in It?
Bigfoot, (supposedly the big furry ape-man on the left), the Loch Ness monster, UFO's, and the Shroud of Turin... many people believe in these, but which of these have been actually handled and examined by real scientists? Only the Shroud. Unlike Bigfoot and the Loch Ness whatever it is, people saw the Shroud this year, 2010, at a public showing in April at a Roman Catholic church in Turin, Italy. What is it and why do people think it's important? It is believed to be a burial cloth, a shroud, that Jesus was wrapped in after His death on the cross some 2,000 years ago. It shows the image of the body of a bearded dead man (about six feet, two inches high) who's been whipped, beaten up, stabbed in his side, and who bears scars in his hands and feet, as if he'd been cut or pierced. Hmmm, sounds like the account of Jesus' crucifixion in the New Testament.
OK, now if this cloth is really that, then this means it offers a reason to believe in the Bible story of Jesus. If not, then many are believing in a phony artifact. So what's the evidence for and against it?
First, the historical record. If the Shroud is real then it should have a history of having been around a long time. And it has. We first hear of something like it in 544 a.d., when a church leader named Gregory Referendarius of Constantinople (modern Istanbul, Turkey) said a burial cloth with an image believed to be that of Jesus was found in the city of Edessa, now known as the city called Urfa in modern Turkey. Now there was an earlier legend of it existing in the first century a.d. but the details are scarce and I'll just credit the 544 a.d. story as legit. In 944 the Shroud, then called the Image of Edessa, was taken from that city to Constantinople, and it was described as a sacred relic showing the buried Christ by a churchman in that area named Gregory that year (see shroundofturin4journalists.com/history).
Other church leaders described it in 1201 and 1207. Sometime after the 1200's it made its way to France. We should note that the pre-France stories don't prove what we call the Shroud today are one and the same thing, but eyewitness accounts, including a 2002 translation of a 944 a.d. sermon talking about it of what it looked like, agree on many points. In the 1300's it traveled around Europe quite a bit as it was passed back and forth between churchmen and various rulers and finally, in 1578 it wound up in Turin, Italy where it has been almost ever since. In 1972 an unknown man broke into the church where it was stored and tried to burn it, and in 1973 it was shown on television for the first time. Periodically in its travels and history it was put on public exhibition and seen by many thousands. Shroud.com has many more details of its older and modern history.
Following a public display in 1898 it was photographed for the first time that year, by an amateur photographer named Secondo Pia. The shroud is 14 feet long and three feet, seven inches wide.
Beginning in 1902, modern science got its first crack at the relic when French scientists studied it, and the long going debate about its authenticity began.
Scientic research on the Shroud picked up after WWI. In 1978 a groups of scientists calling themselves the Shroud of Turin Research Project (STRUP) began their investigation and made some intriguing discoveries. They first found that a 3-D image could be seen on the cloth using new equipment. The relic was photographed, thermographed, vacuumed, and subjected to infrared, ultra-violet, and x-rays. Here are their main findings: 1. It's not a painting and could not have been the work of a medieval artist. It wasn't made by draping a cloth over a human body or statue. 2. It wasn't a scorch on a cloth. 3. The wounds seen on the cloth very closely matched those of Jesus as told in the Bible. 4. The man's legs weren't broken. (This agrees with John 19:33, where it says the Roman soldiers didn't break His legs.) 5. There are over 100 scourge marks on the back. 6. There is a large chest wound. 7. Shoulder injuries show evidence of scraping against a heavy rough object. 8. Foot wounds show piercing. 9. Actual human blood is in the shroud. Aha! Now we can clone Jesus! Nope. Can't be done here. 1997 DNA tests, while confirming the blood was from a male, showed it had deteriorated very badly, way too little for any wild cloning experiment. But, it's interesting to note that the blood type was revealed to be AB.2.
OK, STRUP's study tells us it's not man made. That I've seen, that finding hasn't been seriously disputed. But for the case to be made that it's really Jesus's burial cloth, the biggest question to be answered is, how old is it? Reseach from about 1989-1998 said it was no more than a medieval fraud, saying it was made in the 1300's. Then research in the 2000's said no, because .... but we'll consider their findings later.
Nature magazine heated things up by saying in 1989 that carbon dating proved the Shroud to be a hoax. But in January, 2005, in the peer-reviewed journal Thermochimica Acta, Raymond Rogers, a published chemist and Fellow of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, said that carbon 14 dating was invalid because the test fabric sample taken from the Shroud was taken from a mended area containing significant amounts of newer material likely put there to repair the Shroud from fire damage in 1532. While apparently most researchers have agreed that the earlier carbon 14 dating was flawed, no one, including Rogers, has been able to prove yet that the Shroud is actuall some 2,000 years old, but that possibility is still real.
So far, then the score: 1. Enough history of the cloth says it could be the real thing. 2. It's neither a painting nor man made, or at least by any means known by forgers of the past. 3. It still could be 2,000 years old. (Oh, about the paint on cloth possibility ... tests done by the Science Foundation Mass Spectrometry Center of Excellence at the University of Nebraska proved it's not a painting.)
BTW, recent Shroud research since 2003 has been peer-reviewed. This peer review stuff is pretty important. It means that before something gets published in a serious scientific journal, research findings are put before, say, fellow chemists or engineers who read, analyze, question, and debate the study. Only if they fail to disprove your points does your study then finally get published. Oh, note this hasn't been done in so-called globaly warming research very often, if at all, but then you can read more about such shoddy science in my Climate Gate article elsewhere on this site.
Other less technical but still important questions remain if we're to button up the question of Shroud authenticity. Ray Rogers, writing in the shroudstory.com, questions the motive of any past forger in making the shroud ..."... How would he know he had done it correctly without technology to test the results? A more profound question is why? In an age so undemanding as the medieval, when any sliver of wood could pass as a piece of the 'true cross' and any bramble as a piece of the 'crown of thorns', why bother?" Nobody has really gotten rich from the Shroud. But it just might be the most important ancient relic in history.
Other points against a medieval forgery theory come from guest_skinny's 12/27/blog comments on the physorg.com website: "(referring to a forger) Such a clever artist must have left an abundance of works. Where are they? The guy had to be on a level higher than even Leonardo DaVinci. He not only understood how to transfer a 3-D image to cloth, but he also had a keen understanding of human anatomy, forensics, basic physics, ancient (even then ancient) Jewish customs, crucifixion, mideast botany, and chemistry! Wow! What a genius! ... How did he avoid making even one mistake in the detail of the work? Not one smudge, not one overly heavy application, not one droplet out of place. Wow!..."
Bottom line: the consensus of science is that it could be the real cloth Jesus was buried in but we'll never know for sure. It could be old enough, pollen samples place it as from Israel, it has a fairly consistent history back at least 1,400 years, and if it was an ancient forgery then nobody today has been able to figure out just how the cloth's image was made. Plus, anatomical details match the crucifixion accounts. Matthew 27:59 tells us Jesus's body was wrapped "...in a clean linen cloth."
Christianity isn't ritual but a relationship. It doesn't require a certain monument, temple, or sacred place you must visit. It's personally knowing a special Someone. Jesus said in John 20:29, "Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed." Knowing Jesus begins with faith. Find out more by reading the article "Where Is America Headed?"
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