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The following list is basically a summary of the points covered in this article. They are a compilation of arguments, observations and quotes sourced from numerous books and articles examining the shroud controversy.
- There is no mention of a miraculously imaged Shroud in the New Testament or any early Christian writings. Surely, given the desire for miraculous proof of the divine nature of Jesus, such a relic would have rated a mention.
- The cloth is incompatible with New Testament accounts of Jesus’ burial. John’s gospel (19:38-42, 20:5-7) specifically states that the body was “wound” with “linen clothes”. We’re told that on reaching the empty tomb, they ‘saw the strips of linen lying there’. Still another cloth (called “the napkin”) covered his face and head. In contrast, the Shroud of Turin represents a single, draped cloth (laid under and then over the “body”).
- The clear implication of all three synoptics is that the material was bound tightly round the body, yet the Shroud of Turin shows an image made by simply lying a linen shroud on top of the front of the body, over the head and down the back.
- The shroud contradicts the Gospel of John, which describes the body being wrapped with “a hundred pound weight” of burial spices (myrrh and aloes) — not a trace of which appears on the cloth, or any biochemicals known to be produced by the body in life or in death (from STURP’s final report, 1981). There is an additional problem with the matter of spices on the body. Both the gospels of Mark and Luke state that Joseph merely wrapped the body, and that the women had prepared spices for the body and were going to apply them when they noticed the body missing. Yet John’s gospel states that Joseph not only wrapped the body, he added spices. In John’s gospel there is no mention of the women preparing spices, obviously since it had already been done. So according to John’s account the shroud should have traces of spices, but according to Mark and Luke, there should be no trace of spices. So whether spices are found or not, a passage in the Bible will support either stance. This blatant contradiction means that any argument regarding spices can not be resolved or used for support.
- John 19:40 indicates that the burial was a normal one, following the Jewish traditions. Thus, Joseph of Arimethea would have washed the body. The body shown in the Shroud of Turin was not washed.
- No examples of the shroud linen’s complex herringbone twill weave date from the first century, when burial cloths tended to be of plain weave in any case. The weave was used in Europe in the Middle Ages.
- The shroud has no known history prior to the mid-fourteenth century, when it turned up in the possession of a soldier of fortune who cannot or will not say how he acquired the most holy relic in all of Christendom.
- The shroud surfaced in France exactly at the height of the ‘holy relic’ craze, the collection of patently false relics relating to Jesus. Not one such relic has ever been proved to be genuine, and the faking of relics was rife at this time. There were between 26 and 40 “authentic” burial shrouds scattered throughout the abbeys of Europe, of which the Shroud of Turin is just one.
- The earliest written record of the shroud is a Catholic bishop’s report to Pope Clement VII, dated 1389, stating that it originated as part of a faith-healing scheme, with “pretended miracles” being staged to defraud credulous pilgrims. The bishop’s report also stated that a predecessor had “discovered the fraud and how the said cloth had been cunningly painted, the truth being attested by the artist who had painted it”.
- In 1390, Pope Clement VII declared that it was not the true shroud but could be used as a representation of it, provided the faithful be told that it was not genuine.
- As St. Augustine lamented in the fourth century, Jesus’ appearance was [and still is], completely unknown, and the shroud image follows the conventional artistic likeness. That is, the resemblance of the figure to medieval depictions of Jesus, and the image of Jesus in medieval Gothic art.
- There is a lack of wrap-around distortions that would be expected if the cloth had enclosed an actual three-dimensional object like a human body. Thus the cloth was never used to wrap a body. If the image had been formed when the cloth was around Jesus’ corpse it would have been distorted when the cloth was straightened out. The image would be wider and you would have an imprint of the sides of the body, not just the front and back. The hair hangs as for a standing, rather than reclining figure, and the imprint of a bloody foot is incompatible with the outstretched leg to which it belongs.
- There are serious anatomical problems with the image. Jesus’ face, body, arms, and fingers were unnaturally thin and elongated (like figures in Gothic art), his left forearm was longer than his right, and his right hand is too long. The man is impossibly tall, being 6ft 8in (2.03m). The head is disproportionately small for the body, the face unnaturally narrow and the forehead foreshortened, and ears lost. The front and back images, in particular of the head, do not match up precisely, and the back image is around 2 inches (5cm) longer than the front. The back of the head is wider than the front of the head. The Shroud image is, in fact, so unusually very long and narrow that one pro-Shroud pathologist suggested that Jesus must have had Marfan’s syndrome!
- The alleged blood stains are unnaturally picture-like. Real blood spreads in cloth and mats on hair, and does not form perfect rivulets and spiral flows. Also, dried “blood” (as on the arms) has been implausibly transferred to the cloth. It is absolutely certain that in the hour or so that passed before the removal from the cross, any blood which remained on the head, the back and the forehead, dried up and was congealed, because this is the natural behaviour of blood which leaves the body and is exposed to air. The alleged blood remains bright red, unlike genuine blood that blackens with age. All the wounds, made at different times according to the Gospel accounts, appear as if still bleeding, even though blood does not generally flow after death. A corpse does not bleed, however it can leak blood through an open wound due to gravity. This could explain some blood but not all the bleeding wounds or the the problem in explaining how the blood flows transferred to the cloth while retaining their perfect detail.
- There is no blood on the Shroud: all the forensic tests specific for blood have failed (although some investigators unrigorously concluded that blood was present after conducting numerous forensic tests for iron, protein, albumin, etc., which came up positive because these materials are indeed on the Shroud in the form of tempera paint).
- “Blind” microscopic analyses show significant traces of paint pigment on image areas, thus proving the pigment red ocher was a component of the image. The “blood” was actually tempera paint. Real blood does not contain red ochre, vermilion, and alizarin red pigments.
- Subsequently, the distinguished microanalyst Walter McCrone identified the “blood” as red ocher and vermilion tempera paint and concluded that the entire image had been painted.
- The “bloodstains” are redder than other parts of the image. Bloodstains do not remain red over time. They turn black or dark brown. These “bloodstains” also have a chemical composition matching paint which was used in medieval times.
- It is true that there are higher concentrations of iron and protein, as are found in blood, in the areas of the “bloodstains”. But iron and proteins are also found in pigments. Iron oxide is often used as a red colouring. Iron oxide fades to yellow when dehydrated so much of the iron oxide has now faded to yellow.
- There is also significant amounts of mercuric sulphide, which is a well-known pigment called vermilion — a red pigment.
- There is no trace of sodium, chlorine or potassium, which blood contains in high amounts and which would have been present if the stains were truly blood.
- Porphyrins are present in the area of the “bloodstains”. These are found in blood, but they are also found in other animal and plant products, such as those used to make artists’ pigments.
- Claims that the blood in the “bloodstains” is type AB “are nonsense”, according to Ray Rogers, a retired research chemist and member of STURP (Rogers 2004).
- Evidence of human DNA in a shroud “blood” sample is meaningless. The scientist at the DNA lab, Victor Tryon, told Time magazine that he could not say how old the DNA was or that it came from blood. As he explained, “Everyone who has ever touched the shroud or cried over the shroud has left a potential DNA signal there.” Tryon resigned from the new shroud project due to what he disparaged as “zealotry in science”. Even the Archbishop of Turin and the Vatican refused to authenticate the samples or accept any research carried out on them.
- The theory that the image was caused by contact with oils and spices can be discounted since these were not found on the shroud, also a cloth wrapped around the body would produce an expanded image of the body when flattened out. The image would also be blurred as the oils soaked into the cloth.
- The theory that the image was caused by the projection of body vapours can also be rejected since vapours don’t travel in straight lines, but disperse, so once again the image would be blurred, which it isn’t.
- The most popular theory by the pro-shroud groups is that the image was caused by a short burst of radiation caused by the resurrection, which also altered the C14 ratio, causing an erroneous carbon dating result. This too has been discredited because the fibres in the image areas show no additional degradation than the non image areas. Radiation would cause visible damage to the fibres (when viewed microscopically) and this is not evident. Radiation would also cause the image to penetrate the cloth, unlike the superficial shroud image that is observed. Also to receive the exact amount of radiation required to alter the date of the cloth to the medieval date of its first documented appearance would be a remarkable coincidence.
- The Shroud image is NOT a true photographic negative but only an apparent one — a faux-photographic negative. As with a true negative, light features such as skin are dark on it and light on the positive and shadows are light on it and dark on the positive. Unlike a true photographic negative however, dark features like the beard, moustache, hair, and blood are dark on it and light on the positive. The “positive” image shows a figure with white hair and beard, the opposite of what would be expected for a Palestinian Jew in his thirties.
- The claims of pollen from Palestine supposedly found on the Shroud have been discredited as “fraud” and “junk science.” The person who originally claimed to have found the pollen on the Shroud was Max Frei, a Swiss criminologist. However the pollens were very suspicious, as pollen experts quickly pointed out — first of all, they were missing the most obvious pollen you would expect, which would be olive. There’s not any! 32 of the 57 pollens allegedly found by Frei are from insect-pollinated plants and could not have been wind-blown onto the exposed shroud in Palestine. Similar samples taken by the Shroud of Turin Research Project in 1978 had comparatively few pollens. Cloth was often brought to medieval Europe from Palestine, so there is no strong support from the pollen anyway.
- It is likely that the Shroud was constructed using a rubbing technique on a bas-relief model. Joe Nickell demonstrated this using a bas-relief and the pigments and tools available in the Middle Ages (image on right). “After experimenting with various techniques, the Shroud artist prepared a suitable mixture of pigments and tempera binder, moulded a wet linen sheet over the bas-relief he had constructed, and used a dauber (also termed a pounce or tamper) to apply the mixture to the surface of the linen. Methods for creating similar images are known and these methods were widely known in the Middle Ages.” The statement that we cannot make such an image is simply false propaganda. Faux-negative images are automatically produced by an artistic rubbing technique. The July 2005 issue of Science & Vie (Science and Life) magazine documents the making of a shroud by these medieval techniques. Also as noted above scientist Luigi Garlaschelli made a very convincing reproduction of the shroud in 2009.
- The claim that the image contains unique 3D information producing a perfect 3D image has been disputed by other mathematical modellers. However, since the image was probably produced from a 3D object, such as a bas-relief, 3D coding is completely natural and this claim adds nothing to the authenticity debate.
- The shroud cloth was radiocarbon dated in 1988 to circa 1260-1390 CE by three separate laboratories. This date is consistent with the earliest documentary evidence of the shroud’s existence. It is also consistent with a fourteenth-century bishop’s report to Pope Clement VII that an earlier bishop had discovered the forger and that he had confessed.
- The suggestions that modern biological contaminants were sufficient to modernise the date are also ridiculous. A weight of 20th century carbon equalling nearly two times the weight of the Shroud carbon itself would be required to change a 1st century date to the 14th century. Besides this, the linen cloth samples were very carefully cleaned before analysis at each of the carbon-dating laboratories.
- The expression is strangely composed for someone tortured to death, and the hands are neatly folded across the genitals. A real body lying limp could not have this posture. Your arms are not long enough to cross your hands over your pelvis while keeping your shoulders on the floor. To achieve this the body can not lie flat, yet Jewish burial tradition did not dictate that a body must be hunched up so as to cover the genitals before wrapping in the shroud. The claim that rigor mortis had set in and thus caused the legs not to be straight is ridiculous, since the arms should also be contracted, plus the timing is all wrong for rigor mortis. The most obvious answer is that the artist knew the image would be displayed, and didn’t want to offend his audience or have to guess what the genitals of Jesus would look like. It is also suspicious that Jesus is depicted assuming a pose that medievalists refer to as the venus pudica pose. This pose is associated with nudity and loss of innocence.
- The Shroud is a 14th-century forgery and is one of many such deliberately created Jesus related relics produced in the same period, all designed to attract pilgrims to specific shrines to enhance and increase the status and financial income of the local church. There were countless crucifixion nails, crowns of thorns, and lances. And there were burial shrouds. There were between 26 and 40 ‘authentic’ burial shrouds scattered throughout the abbeys of Europe, of which the Shroud of Turin is just one. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries, fragments supposedly cut from the True Cross were available in almost every church in Europe. A church in St. Omer claimed to have bits of the True Cross, of the Lance that pierced Christ, of his Cradle, and the original stone tablets upon which the Ten Commandments had been traced by the very finger of God! Three churches in France each professed to have a complete corpse of Mary Magdalene. Jesus’ foreskin was preserved in at least six churches. Vials of Jesus’ tears, vials of Jesus’ mother’s milk. One catalogue from that time includes the following: “A fragment of St. Stephen’s rib; Rusted remains of the gridiron on which St. Lawrence died; A Lock of Mary’s hair; A small piece of her robe; A piece of the Manger; Part of one of Our Lord’s Sandals; A piece of the sponge that had been filled with vinegar and handed up to Him; A fragment of bread He had shared with His disciples; A tuft of St. Peter’s beard; Drops of St. John the Baptist’s Blood.” Many churches vied to become known for the number and importance of their relics. As early as 1071 the cathedral at Eichstatt possessed 683 relics, while by the 1520s the Schlosskirche at Wittenburg had 19,013 and the Schlosskirche at Halle boasted more than 21,000 such objects. “About 1200, Constantinople was so crammed with relics that one may speak of a veritable industry with its own factories”. Blinzler (a Catholic New Testament scholar) lists, as examples: “letters in Jesus’ own hand, the gold brought to the baby Jesus by the wise men, the twelve baskets of bread collected after the miraculous feeding of the 5000, the throne of David, the trumpets of Jericho, the axe with which Noah made the Ark, and so on…” During the Middle Ages particularly, relic-mongering was rampant; and of course, there were no scientific means to test things, so all manner of things were sold as authentic. Including shrouds of Jesus.
- The church conducts secret tests and suppresses unfavourable results: In 1969 the Archbishop of Turin appointed a secret commission to examine the shroud. That fact was leaked, then denied, but “At last the Turin authorities were forced to admit what they previously denied.” The man who had exposed the secrecy accused the clerics of acting “like thieves in the night.” More detailed studies — again clandestine — began in 1973. The commission included internationally known forensic serologists who made heroic efforts to validate the “blood,” but all of the microscopical, chemical, biological, and instrumental tests were negative. The commission’s report was withheld until 1976 and then was largely suppressed, while a rebuttal report was freely made available. Thus began an approach that would be repeated over and over: distinguished experts would be asked to examine the cloth, then would be attacked when they obtained other than desired results.
- The group most famous for claiming the authenticity of the shroud is STURP (Shroud of Turin Research Project), now disbanded. ‘Unfortunately, almost all of these were religious believers, most of them were Roman Catholics’, and the scientists were all selected by the Holy Shroud Guild; in fact, the leaders of the group, John Jackson and Eric Jumper, ‘served on the Executive Council of the Holy Shroud Guild, a Catholic organisation that advocated the “cause” of the supposed relic. So having this group investigate the Shroud was a little bit like having the Flat Earth Society investigate the curvature of the Earth’. STURP was comprised of 40 US scientists, made up of 39 devout believers and 1 agnostic. Knowing that the proportion of believers to agnostics is much different in scientific circles than it is in the general population, it has been calculated (Debunked! by Georges Charpak and Henri Broch) that the odds of selecting a group of 40 scientists at random and achieving this high ratio of believers is 7 chances in 1,000,000,000,000,000. In other words, the formation of this group is stacked and very biased towards authenticating the shroud, and therefore you must take their claims with an extremely large grain of salt.
- From an historical perspective, many scholars have shown that there is no evidence that Jesus of Nazareth ever existed. Other than the New Testament of the Bible, there exists no other written document that mentions Jesus as an historical figure. The writings of Josephus and Tacitus that mention Jesus have been shown to be clear forgeries by the early church. At the end of an article by Frank R. Zindler — Did Jesus Exist? — he lists 38 other Jewish and pagan historians and writers who lived during the time, or within a century after the time that Jesus is supposed to have lived. If Jesus really did do all these miraculous things that the Bible attributed to him, it’s surprising that none mentioned him. You can’t crucify a man that doesn’t exist, so even if the shroud did contain a crucified man, it wasn’t Jesus. Recommended reading on an historical Jesus:
‘The Jesus Mysteries: Was The Original Jesus A Pagan God?’ by Timothy Freke & Peter Gandy
‘The Jesus Puzzle: Did Christianity Begin with a Mythical Christ? Challenging the Existence of an Historical Jesus’ by Earl Doherty
‘The Pagan Christ: Is blind faith killing Christianity?’ by Tom Harpur
‘Did Jesus Exist?’ by G A Wells
‘Christ: A Crisis in the Life of God’ by Jack Miles
‘The Jesus Dynasty: Stunning New Evidence about the Hidden History of Jesus’ by James D. Tabor
‘Putting Away Childish Things: The Myths Behind the Church’s Key Doctrines’ by Uta Ranke-Heinemann
‘The Masks of Christ: Behind the Lies and Cover-Ups About the Man Believed to be God’ by Lynn Picknett & Clive Prince
‘Origins of the Christian Faith: An In-depth Critical Study’ by Steve Cooper
- The church has never claimed the shroud as an authentic relic, however it has not discouraged the myth. Father Mike Mahler from ‘Cornell United Religious Works’ states:
“The Vatican has never made a statement about the authenticity of any relic, including the shroud. It is also highly unlikely that it will ever do so. Further information is found in the New Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume 13, and Volume 18, page 476. The latter article raises many good points which create serious doubts about the authenticity of the shroud as Jesus’ burial cloth, even if the shroud originated in the first century.”
Yet the Vatican has no problem verifying miracles. In 2002 the Vatican recognised the 1998 after-death-miracle on Monica Besra which has been attributed to Mother Teresa. This has been very controversial, with the doctor who first diagnosed Besra saying the church should not push Besra’s case because it was medication, not a miracle that cured her. Her husband also supports the doctor’s version of events. Doctors that are on record saying that it is a miracle did so anonymously and can not be traced. Besra’s medical records containing sonograms, prescriptions and physicians’ notes have been seized by the church. Besra is a 30-year-old tribal woman from Dulidnapur village. She is illiterate and speaks her tribal mother tongue only. Until recently she has not been a Christian, yet her statement is written in fluent English and shows familiarity with details of Catholic belief. It is obvious that the text has not been written or dictated by her. But Besra cannot be questioned, she has vanished. It is very damming that the Vatican will authenticate such a controversial case, contrary to medical advice, yet won’t pass the same authority on the Shroud of Turin.
- Even if the linen was produced in the 1st century CE, or if it did contain human blood and pollen from Palestine, and even if it had wrapped a crucified man, this in itself proves nothing about it being the burial cloth of Jesus. Everyone agrees that linen was common in 1st century CE Palestine, as was blood, pollen and crucified men. Claiming more than this is as silly as that claim from apologists that a 1st century CE boat has been excavated near the Sea of Galilee, reasoned that Jesus would have ridden in a boat like this, therefore this was “evidence” that Jesus existed! The most pro-shroud advocates could ever do is show that it was an authentic 1st century CE burial shroud of a crucified man. However, as shown above, Biblical details would still indicate that it didn’t belong to Jesus. Unless of course, the Bible is wrong.
- Possibly the most powerful argument, more than any single piece of evidence, is the consensus of expert opinion. Biblical ‘evidence’, historical evidence and scientific evidence all converge on the clear conclusion that the shroud is a fake.
In this essay I have shown that claims made by Father Laisney regarding the dating of the Shroud of Turin are irrefutably false. Whether they were made deliberately to deceive or through ignorance was not determined. I have also listed numerous reasons why the Shroud of Turin can not be, or is extremely unlikely to be, the burial cloth of Jesus Christ. For believers it’s not just a matter of demolishing 2 or 3, or even 20 or 30 of these reasons, they must be able to clearly show that they are all flawed arguments. Since some use quotes from the Bible itself, for them to be false would mean that the Bible is in error also. Proving the Shroud authentic by proving the Bible wrong would be a backward step for the Church. If you can’t have complete confidence in the Bible, you can’t have complete confidence that Jesus even existed at all. I am of the opinion that the Shroud of Turin is nothing more than a religious gimmick used by the Church to bolster the shaky faith of their gullible and insecure flock. I believe it is unlikely that Jesus the man even existed, let alone was crucified around 30 CE. Thus no evidence of Jesus has ever existed and this explains why the manufacture of fake relics has been necessary and rampant for the last 2000 years. That these relics could fool ignorant, superstitious, medieval peasants is understandable, but that modern educated people with libraries of knowledge and scientific and forensic tools at their disposal still believe in this forgery is both amazing and disappointing. For some it is a testament to the human mind’s ability to delude itself. For others it is an example of the lengths they will go to in their attempt to deceive their followers. Accepting the cloth as the burial shroud of Jesus Christ will remain the domain of faith, not science. I will end with a quote from Joe Nickell, author of Inquest on the Shroud of Turin:
“We should again recall the words of Canon Ulysse Chevalier, the Carbolic scholar who brought to light the documentary evidence of the shroud’s medieval origin. As he lamented, “The history of the shroud constitutes a protracted violation of the two virtues so often commended by our holy books: justice and truth.”
Please note that much of the information contained in this essay is obviously not my original work, and has been sourced from numerous books and articles examining the controversy surrounding the Shroud of Turin.
I especially recommend The Skeptics Guide to the Paranormal by Lynne Kelly, and not just for her chapter on the shroud. The entire book is enlightening and well worth reading.