The Shroud of Turin and how it relates to Jesus
It says in the Bible that when Jesus died He was wrapped in a burial cloth and placed in a tomb. After He was resurrected, the burial wrappings were all that was left there for Peter and John to find. Many people believe that the Shroud of Turin is this same cloth that Peter and John found in the tomb. People who believe that the shroud is authentic believe that when Jesus was resurrected His image was left behind on the cloth as He transformed through it as a resurrected person. Obviously, we have no idea how the resurrection happened. It was simply a miracle and only God knows how he did it, but however it happened, people believe that it left this image of Jesus behind on the cloth.
This cloth is 14 feet long and shows the ghostly “image” of a crucified Jewish man. Before we start to look at the scientific evidence and try to determine the authenticity of this artifact, let’s take a moment and just look at the similarities between the man who appears in the shroud and Jesus. In doing this we can prove right off the bat that if the shroud is not a fake, then it really is the burial shroud of a resurrected Jesus. Then from that point on our discussion only needs to be about whether it is a fake or not since we know that if it is real, it is definitely of Jesus.
First of all, the man in the shroud was cut by many objects around the head which caused him to bleed freely. This is exactly what we would expect to find on the body of someone who just had thorns sticking into his head. We can see that this crucified man suffered blows to the face because one eye is swollen shut and he has a cut on his upper lip. He has 120 whipping wounds that appear to have been given by a Roman flagrum. We can see that he was beaten extensively. The wounds are visible all over the body except for the face, the feet and the forearms. It also appears that the man in the shroud must have continued falling down at some point before he died because there are large contusions on both knees. It looks like before he was crucified he was forced to carry his cross because there are large rub marks on the shoulder blades which smeared the bloody wounds. Additionally, the way the man in the shroud appears to be buried is consistent with ancient Jewish burial customs in every way. Especially with the way his hands are folded over his loins. Additionally, the Dead Sea scrolls have informed us that there were men buried in shrouds the same way as this man was in an Essene cemetery during the first century.1
The man whose picture is embedded in the shroud also has all of the wounds that a crucified man would have. He has punctures in the wrists and the feet. Also, he was pierced in the right side of the chest by an object like a Roman spear. We can see where this caused a watery-bloody liquid to flow from his wound. He clearly has Jewish features. It appears to any reasonable person like he was crucified the same way that the Gospels describe Christ being crucified, with a crown of thorns and the side wound. Also, we know from archeology that most crucified victims had their legs broken, but the man in the shroud did not. This is another fact that matches up with the Gospels. Also, most crucified people were placed in mass graves. The man in the shroud was obviously buried individually. The linen cloth also matches what would have been used by a rich man like Joseph of Arimathea. In the first century this would have been considered a very expensive piece of linen.
This is why the debate over whether or not the shroud is real is so intense. Because, If this is the real burial cloth of Jesus it would verify all of the details that the Gospels give of the execution of Jesus. One conservative study estimates that if the shroud is real, the probability of the man in the shroud not being Jesus based on all of these facts is one chance in 225 billion.2 Adding to the intrigue is the fact that there is no decomposition on the shroud! It would not have taken long for a body to begin decomposing in the Middle East. This means that the body must have been taken out of the shroud in the next few days after the man was buried! But, it gets even better! The body could not have been removed from the cloth at this time! The blood clots and borders of the stains are intact. If you have trouble understanding why a normal removal of this linen after three days would have been obvious to people looking at it today, imagine pulling off a giant band-aid and think of what it would do to the band-aid if you were covered in blood. It would have been very obvious if the shroud was removed with the body in it. But if it was not removed with a body in it, and there was no body decaying in it, then what else could have happened to the body?
Therefore, already we can come to the following conclusion before we get into the scientific evidence. The shroud is one of two things. It is either the real burial cloth of Jesus, or it is an amazing piece of art made to look like the burial cloth of Jesus. It cannot be something natural because it is impossible for a natural phenomenon to do what I just described. If it is a real burial cloth at all, it has to be the burial cloth of Jesus! There is no other choice based on all of those facts. It cannot be the burial cloth of just another random person. This is where skeptics will even agree. It has to be one or the other. They will say it is a fake, but it has to be one or the other. The similarities to the Gospel are just to striking. Therefore, the question is which one is it, a forgery, or the real thing? Let’s investigate it!
The Evidence for the Shroud of Turin
The shroud of Turin is the most controversial and most studied artifact ever discovered by humans. Many books have been written simply on this one artifact. My aim is to provide some basic information to those who do not want to buy books to study this subject. First of all, let me say that it is important for us not to put our faith entirely on this one artifact like some people seem to do. I will admit up front, that I truly think it is real, but if somehow, someway, it is proven in the future to be a forgery, it does not refute Christianity. Christianity does not rely on this shroud. There is plenty of evidence for the resurrection of Jesus without the shroud. I say this because if the shroud is ever proven to be fake once and for all, it will be a major news story and atheists and news media outlets will make it sound like it is disproving Christianity, while really all it is doing is disproving a cloth! We put our faith in Jesus, not a cloth. Having said all of that, there is so much evidence that the shroud is real that it is hard not to get excited about it and many people who have studied it have a hard time containing their excitement.
What makes the shroud so remarkable is not just the fact that there is an image on it, but the fact that the image is a negative. Before the first pictures were taken of the shroud scholars just looked at it as a nice little work of art that the church had preserved as a relic. When the first photographs of the shroud were taken people were stunned to find out that the image on the cloth was a negative. People who had previously dismissed the shroud came running back for another look. In the pictures the features of the crucified man were more easily observed. In the photographic negatives, the lights and the shadows were natural, in the linen or the print, they were inverted. The reason that this caused such a stir is obvious. It seemed impossible for anyone, especially someone living in medieval times, to paint this negative on a cloth!
The argument against the Shroud being authentic
Let me go ahead and give you the argument against the cloth really being the burial cloth of Jesus. After getting that out in the open we will look at the positive evidence. First, the big one is this, in 1988, carbon testing was done on a small piece from the corner of the shroud and the tests revealed a date between 1260 and 1390. This test was a crippling blow to people who thought that the shroud was authentic. Leading up to this test many people were convinced that it was real. The carbon dating was like a nuclear bomb going off around many of these people who were convinced that the shroud was legit. It was devastating. Many people dropped their interest in the shroud and moved on. We will talk more about this carbon testing later.
The other piece of negative evidence is we know that in 1389, a bishop gave a possible reference to the shroud. The shroud was apparently on display and being called the real burial shroud of Jesus Christ. The bishop of Troyes thought that it was a fake and wanted the Canons of Lirey to stop making it out to be the real burial cloth of Jesus. The pope decided that the cloth could still be viewed as a symbol of Christ’s suffering, but a priest should proclaim in a loud voice that it was not the real shroud of Christ. Critics will argue that this was the beginning of the history of the shroud.
The alternate history of the Shroud
A strong tradition formed that might explain where the shroud came from. This legend formed before there was a shroud debate to influence it. The legend says that Abgar V, a first century ruler of Edessa sent a letter to Jesus requesting healing from leprosy. Later, after Jesus was resurrected, a disciple came to Edessa with a cloth imprinted with the Savior’s image. When Abgar saw the cloth he was cured and Christianity found a home in his city.3 This legend is first found recorded in the fourth century by early church father Eusebius so it is not that far removed from the original events.4 Even if you do not buy the story it still means that people were mentioning a cloth imprinted with the image of Christ. That is not disputable at all.
There are verifiable, historical facts in this story. We know that Abgar V was really the ruler of Edessa. There is also a link between evangelization of the city to a shroud. In the year 525 the story gets even more interesting. The Mandylion, (what some say was an early name for the shroud) was discovered hidden in the walls of this same town, Edessa! Imagine that as a coincidence! It was most likely hidden in the wall when Christians were being persecuted. The fact that it was hidden in a wall so dramatically shows that it was very important. Now, the Mandylion was described as a smaller cloth with an image of the face of Jesus! One theory is that the burial shroud was folded into a fourth of its size, and framed with the face in the middle. This is what they called the Mandylion. Once again, this was found in the same city where the legend of Abgar comes from!
More evidence was found for this by Gino Zaninotto, who found a codex from the 900’s which contains an 8th century account saying that an imprint of Christ’s whole body was left on a canvas kept in a church in Edessa. Once again, we see Edessa mentioned. It quotes a man named Smera, in Constantinople saying, “King Abgar received a cloth on which one can see not only a face, but the whole body.”5 It shows up again a few years later in Constantinople, but was lost when the city was sacked in 1204. We then see the shroud displayed in France in 1357, as noted a couple of paragraphs ago with the Pope questioning it in 1389. Suggestions have been made that from 1204 to 1357 the shroud may have been kept by the Knights Templars. Following this history a case can be made that the shroud showed up much earlier than the 1300’s and was an important, revered artifact during earlier times!6
Another interesting historical fact is after the rediscovery of the shroud, paintings of Jesus’ face were plainly based on it, even down to the exact position of numerous bruises. Also, the hair of Jesus is depicted the same way as what we find on the shroud. When this rediscovery happens in Edessa paintings depict Jesus with an upside down V hairstyle, just like what is seen on the shroud. It is an interesting coincidence that these paintings suddenly started looking like the shroud right when the shroud was supposedly rediscovered centuries before the carbon dating! Could it be that people back then discovered what Jesus looked like based on this shroud and adjusted their art accordingly?
If this is not enough historical evidence that the shroud existed before the 1300s, more was found in the Budapest National Library when the Pray manuscript was discovered. The Pray manuscript is the oldest surviving New Testament text in the Hungarian language. It was written between 1192 and 1195, which is before the carbon testing date. One of its illustrations shows preparations for the burial of Christ. The picture includes a burial cloth with the same herringbone weave as the shroud, plus four holes near one of the edges that form an L shape!7 This odd pattern of holes is found on the shroud of Turin in the same location on the cloth. How do you explain that if the shroud was not “painted” until the 1300’s? That is too much of a coincidence for my taste. Why would someone just randomly put the same four holes in the same place on an illustration? Skeptics like to say that the shroud history begins with the Pope’s comments about it being a fraud, but as you can see, there is a lot of evidence for the shroud before this time, and these comments from the Pope could have easily come as a result of competing shrouds or his ignorance of where the shroud even came from. Church history is plagued by corruption and who knows what the motivation of the Pope was.
In addition to this historical evidence what other kinds of evidence is there that the shroud is real? The answer is a lot. The preceding historical evidence is really just a rebuttal to the skeptical theory that the first reference to the shroud was in the 1300’s. It is not even close to as powerful as the rest of the evidence. First of all, the image on the shroud has holes in the wrists where the nails were driven through the crucified man. At first glance this might not seem like a big deal, but it really is. Only recently have archaeologist’s uncovered evidence that the nails of crucifixion victims were placed through the wrists of crucified men. Every painting of Christ being crucified during medieval times has the nails going through the hands. This is what people thought happened before the evidence recently showed us otherwise. Even today, a lot of Christians still assume that the nails were placed through the hands because of all the old artwork in cathedrals. So why would a forger from this time period “paint” the holes in the wrists when everyone thought the holes were in Christ’s hands? This would have caused confusion and even outrage to the people who saw his painting. In fact, this “painting” was done just like it would have been done today knowing everything we know about how crucified men were killed, and buried. This artist of the 1300’s somehow knew everything that we would one day discover about how Jesus was crucified! There is really no way to explain this. The forger must have been ahead of his time!
Another line of evidence has formed for the shroud based on a careful study of pollen grains taken from the shroud. Research by the late, Swiss, botanist Max Frei, located pollen on the shroud from both Turkey and Palestine (two of the places from our shroud history.) Six species of pollen were found on this linen cloth which were limited almost exclusively to Israel. This seems to verify the historical route from Jerusalem to France. Two Israeli scientists, Hebrew University botanist Avinoam Danin and Israel Antiquities Authority pollenologist Uri Baruch, confirmed Frei’s pollen evidence. Danin also claimed to have found images of flowers, unique to Israel, on the shroud. Why is this important evidence? If some medieval genius somehow painted this shroud would he have also gone to the trouble of traveling to Israel to get some pollen for it, knowing that 21st century scientists would one day be looking into this evidence? I do not think so!
Here is how the before-mentioned, Dr. Avinoam Danin, a Professor of Botany at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem who studied the plants on the shroud puts it, “The authenticity of the Near East as the source of the Shroud of Turin is completely verified to me as a botanist through the images and pollen grains of Gundelia tournefortii and the images of Zygophyllum dumosum leaves. Other important botanical findings, such as the images of some 200 fruits of two-three species of Pistacia and the reed Arundo donax, will be described and illustrated by photographs. Using my data base of more than 90,000 sites of plant distribution, the place that best fits the assemblage of the plant species whose images and often pollen grains have been identified on the Shroud is 10-20 km east and west of Jerusalem. The common blooming time of most of these species is spring = March and April.”8
A thorn tumbleweed has been found around the head of the image on the shroud which many have speculated could have been from the crown of thorns. The pollen left over on the rest of the shroud probably came from flowers buried in the shroud with Jesus. It has been speculated that they could have been picked in the fields of Jerusalem, right next to the tomb, and been placed in the shroud with Jesus. This is why they still show up on the shroud as images and why they left plenty of pollen behind for us to discover.
Researchers have also found real blood on the shroud, not painted blood, on all of the places where you would expect to find blood from a man who was hastily placed in a tomb, and had been bleeding at the time of his death. This has been proven to be human blood that is type AB and very rare. So the artist put some real blood on there, no big deal, right? Well, here is the kicker. Researchers have shown that the blood was on the shroud before the image was! This eliminates the idea that somebody could have painted the image and then put the blood on as part of the painting. He would have had to put the blood on the strategic parts and then painted around the blood. This would be a weird way to paint, but we should not expect anything less from this apparent 13th century genius!
Another interesting fact is that the shroud is very similar to the Sudarium of Oviedo which has long been claimed to have been the cloth that the head of Jesus was wrapped in. The Bible also mentions a face scarf that was included in the burial. Both cloths show traces of the same type AB blood that was described above. This type of blood is only found in 3.2 percent of the world’s population and is mostly found in the Middle East with the highest percentage being in northern Palestine! This proves that the same type of blood was used on both cloths. Blood chemists have found a high concentration of pigment bilirubin, consistent with someone dying under great stress or trauma. This makes the color more red than normal ancient blood would look. The cloths also contain the same pollens described in the preceding paragraphs. These coincidences seem to keep adding up.
Modern studies by the Spanish Centre of Sindonology have used infra-red and ultraviolet photography and electron microscopy to determine that this cloth and the Shroud of Turin both touched the same face. However, the Sudarium does not have an image. It is thought to have covered the face of Jesus before the shroud covered him. This was done out of respect for the dead. They would have put the facial cloth on the face while the body was transported, then taken it off when the shroud was wrapped around the body. Then the Sudarium, which was more of a handkerchief, was probably placed on the outside of the shroud over the face. The biggest question that arises from this is if the shroud is a medieval forgery how can the blood and the pollen match the Sudarium which has an established history from the Holy Land?
In addition to pollen, other foreign things were found on the shroud by scientists. Calcium carbonate which is limestone dust was found by archaeologist Dr. Eugenia Nitowski. This is consistent with what you would expect to find on something that was in an Israeli cave for a couple of days. Professor Giovanni Riggi has noted the existence of burial mites. Dr. Valdes has discovered microscopic splinters in the blood from the back of the head. And believe it or not, traces of aloe and myrrh have also been identified on the cloth which are consistent with the Gospel stories and Jewish burial customs of the first century.
Next, let’s look at what the shroud might be if it is not a real burial shroud. Does anyone reading this have any ideas? How could this image have been forged? The images look like they have been scorched, yet they were not created by heat, or they would have burned more into the cloth. This image is purely a surface phenomenon limited to the crowns of the top fibers. Heat would not have done that. There are no signs of penetration from a paint brush. There is no outline or binders that might have held paint. Most importantly, there are no brush marks. If you look at any painting under a microscope you can clearly detect brush strokes. There are none on the shroud. If paint was applied it would have had to have been applied without strokes. Plus, no paint pigment has been found around the image. Some have claimed to have found paint pigment on parts of the cloth, but not the images themselves. Let me ask again, how was this forged? Any other ideas? The images show perfect photo-negativity and three-deminsiality. Those are hard to achieve in a painting. The greatest artists of today’s world cannot paint the shroud like this. If it cannot be done today, how was it done in the thirteenth century?
“No artist, no craftsman, no faker of relics, could possibly paint a negative of a human face. To do so is like trying to write your signature upside down and backwards. Our minds are programmed for the way we see things in the world; a world where black is black and white is white. It is relatively easy, with talent and training, to paint a picture of what we see in the world. And an artist, if he is imaginative, like Picasso, can alter that perception in stylistic ways. But the one thing he cannot easily do is to perfectly reverse black and white and all the darker and lighter shades of grey while painting a face. But imagine, for just a moment, that he could. How would he know he had done it correctly without the technology to test his 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?”9
Now you are probably wondering after reading all of this evidence, how could the carbon dating have dated this thing to the middle ages? There is no way that even the smartest man on the planet could have made this then! The carbon dating is really the only evidence against the shroud and you have all of this other evidence for its legitimacy. There have been numerous theories to explain the carbon dating since the 1988 tests, however, in 2005 a theory came out that has been generally accepted by scientists. I am going to go through this quickly since this post has become pretty long, but there is a lot to this. It started out being called the re-weaving theory. The shroud was made with no cotton in its weaving, but this theory says that the small corner of the shroud that was tested was rewoven with cotton by nuns who mended it during the Middle Ages. This theory started gaining more and more momentum until it finally reached the desk of Raymond Rogers.
Raymond Rogers was part of the original team who first studied the shroud in-depth scientifically. He defended the 1988 carbon dating against numerous theories after the tests were done. He was a scientist who believed the carbon dating proved that the shroud was a medieval forgery. Every time a theory came out saying how the carbon testing was wrong he defended the testing and refuted the theory. He was told on the phone about this new reweaving theory and he claimed that it would only take him five minutes to prove that this theory was wrong since he still had all of the data stored there at his lab. He told the person on the other end of the phone that he would call him back in five minutes to explain why it was wrong. A couple of hours later he called the person back and said that they were actually right. He could not deny it. There was no cotton in the rest of the shroud, but there was cotton in the sample taken to be carbon tested!
Rogers actually examined the left over samples of the material that was carbon dated. The labs kept a small part of the sample that was not destroyed in the testing. Analyzing this left over material he found the reweaved carbon. He called the location on the shroud where the sample was taken the worst possible place they could have gotten a sample. He published his work in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, Termochimica Acta, in 2005. He says, “Pyrolysis-mass-spectrometry results from the sample area coupled with microscopic and microchemical observations prove that the radiocarbon sample was not part of the original cloth of the shroud of Turin. The radiocarbon date was thus not valid for determining the true age of the shroud.”10
The evidence for the Shroud of Turin is amazing. The brief overview of it that I have given in this post really does not do it justice. To me, it really comes down to this: Nobody can explain how anyone could produce this shroud. There is a history of the shroud dating back to the first century, there are no signs of artwork on it, there are pollens from Israel on it, the man is depicted the way a scholar would depict Jesus today knowing what we know now, there is real blood on it, and so on, and so on, and so on. The only evidence against the legitimacy of the shroud is a bad carbon testing. As Gary Habermas puts it, “The evidence from the shroud is strong enough that if Jesus was not buried in this garment, then we might have a problem, for it would seem that someone else would have appeared to have risen from the dead.”11 I think Dr. Habermas sums it up beautifully!
1) Wilson, The Scrolls from the Dead Sea (London: Fontana, 1955) 50-51
2) V. J. Donovan, “The Shroud and the Laws of Probability,” The Catholic Digest (April 1980) 51.
3) Dr. Kenneth E. Stevenson, Image of the Risen Christ (Toronto, Ontario: Frontier Research Publications, Inc., 1999). 34
4) Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiae 1.12.5 and 22.
5) Codex Vossianus Latinus, Q69, and Vatican Library, Codex 5696, fol.35, which was published in Pietro Savio, Ricerche storiche sulla Santa Sindone Turin 1957.
6) Dr. Kenneth E. Stevenson, Image of the Risen Christ (Toronto, Ontario: Frontier Research Publications, Inc., 1999). 34
7) Bercovits, I Illuminated Manuscripts in Hungary (Dublin: Irish University Press, 1969).
8) Dr. Avinoam Danin, The Origin of the Shroud of Turin from the Near East as Evidenced by Plant Images and by Pollen Grains 1998. Article accessed from http://www.shroud.com/danin2.htm, where it was used with permission by Dr. Danin.
9) Taken from front page of the website : http://www.shroudstory.com/index.htm and was used to introduce the Shroud of Turin
10) Raymond N. Rogers. 20 January 2005. Studies on the radiocarbon sample from the shroud of Turin. Thermochimica Acta, Vol. 425, Issue 1-2, Pages 189-194.
11) Gary Habermas, “The Shroud of Turin and its Significance for Biblical Studies.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 24:1 (1981): Page 54