Saturday, April 07, 2012

Correction Concerning The Shroud Of Turin

TurretinFan recently wrote a post about the Shroud of Turin. In that post, he cites a comment I made about an interview with Gary Habermas on the subject. I had said that Habermas addresses whether the Shroud is consistent with John 20:7. However, TurretinFan notes that Habermas doesn't discuss John 20:7 during that interview.

It looks to me like I was confusing Habermas' interview with Greg Koukl and an interview Habermas did with somebody else. I don't remember where the other interview occurred, but I have a strong memory of hearing an interview in which Habermas commented on John 20:7 and the Shroud. It appears that I wrongly attributed his comments to the Koukl interview, even though it was actually a different one. I apologize for the mistake, and I'm going to go back to my original post, which TurretinFan linked, and make note of his correction.

Habermas has addressed John 20 in writing as well. For example:

"But careful investigation into the NT and other early Jewish literature clearly reveals that this napkin was folded up and tied around the head in order to keep the jaw closed during the onslaught of rigor mortis. This practice is reported in both the Mishna (b. Sabb. 23.5) and the Code of Jewish Law in a section entitled 'Laws of Mourning,' which is a record of early Jewish burial practices. More important for the evangelical is that the gospels affirm the same. In John 11:44 the napkin is said to have been placed 'around' the head (perideo)....This is a good example of a rejection made apart from the facts, for scientific testing indicates that the man buried in the shroud was, in fact, buried in at least four strips of linen. In addition to the major cloth known as the shroud, he was also wrapped around the head with a napkin as well as having his wrists and ankles tied together. Lazarus was also bound around his head, wrists and ankles (John 11:44)." (source)

And elsewhere:

"But you're right that it does nothing to disprove the shroud of Turin, since the man in the shroud also appears to have a face cloth wrapped around his head....In my opinion, I don't think John 20:7 disproves the shroud of Turin at all. In our books on the shroud, Ken Stevenson and I argued that there was indeed a face cloth around the head of the man buried in the shroud. There appears to be a gap caused by something between the man's face and hair, keeping the hair from resting on the face. If this is the face cloth, it appears to be what is what is described in John. John 11:43-44 (Lazarus) and 20:7 (Jesus) are the only places in the New Testament where a face cloth is mentioned and in both places, it is described as being placed around the head or face. Further, as we describe in our book, the Jewish Mishnah commands that the jaw be bound up after death. On the shroud, it appears that this is exactly what happened. For example, the beard under the chin is also pulled back against the throat by the same invisible object that appears to be wrapped around the face of the man." (source)

We know that multiple cloths were used in Jesus' burial, but we don't know the total number of cloths or many other details. What we're doing is making a probability judgment based on the totality of the evidence.

I think the Shroud is likely to be one of the burial cloths of Jesus and, therefore, evidence for Jesus' resurrection and some of the other details about the events surrounding Jesus' death recorded in the gospels and other ancient sources. TurretinFan's objections are outweighed by the contrary evidence, like what Habermas discusses in the Koukl interview. I would point people to that interview as a good overview of the topic, but I shouldn't have cited it regarding John 20:7 in particular. I don't see how TurretinFan concludes that the Shroud "cannot possibly be real", that "we can be sure that the shroud is a hoax", and that "The jury's not out" based on the considerations he mentions.


  1. I posted this comment at TurrentinFan's website:

    I have done a fair amount of reading on the Shroud and had a 2 hour conversation with Barrie Schwortz, who runs the website. This was one of the passages [John 20:7]that seemed irreconcilable with the shroud in my mind. Schwortz and others believe this is explained by the other RCC relic, the Sudarium of Ovieto which is believed to be the "napkin/ face cloth" mentioned in John. His explanation is that when Christ was removed from the cross, the face cloth was placed over his face until he was placed in the tomb. The face was covered as a means of showing honor for the dead. Once he was placed in the tomb he was wrapped with the shroud and the face cloth was removed at this time and set aside. Everything was done quickly to avoid defiling the Sabbath. The passage does not necessarily imply that the face cloth remained on his face as part of the burial clothes. I am not necessarily in agreement with this scenario but it does provide an alternative explanation that does not necessarily conflict with John.

    My other problem of reconciling the gospel account is from John 19:39-40 that indicates the mixture of myrhh and aloes used in the burial process. If these "spices" were used one would think some remnants would have been discovered in the shroud. I have read of no such discovery. Schwortz argues that the spices were perhaps in bags placed alongside of the body and did not actually make contact with the shroud/ body. He argues they had little time to fully prepare the body before the Sabbath came on. The purpose of the women was to bring further spices and complete the burial procedure Sunday morning. I am less convinced of this scenario, but I admit it has slight plausibility. It seems to me the natural reading of John 19:40 is that the spices were in fact placed directly on the body with burial clothes wrapped around. In either case, the argument that the women came to complete what was only started in haste makes sense. They did bring spices with them Sunday morning (Mark 16:1; Luke 24:1).

  2. In 1543 John Calvin, in his Treatise on Relics, wrote of the shroud, which was then at Nice (it was moved to Turin in 1578), "How is it possible that those sacred historians, who carefully related all the miracles that took place at Christ's death, should have omitted to mention one so remarkable as the likeness of the body of our Lord remaining on its wrapping sheet?"

    Seems pretty remarkable to me too. Especially when it is considered that John made such a fuss over the rolled up face cloth (possibly kerchief of 1 Cor 11- but unlikely).

    Pretty remarkable too to think that Joseph and Nicodemus in their haste to respect the Sabbath would have neglected to wrap Jesus head. I would think that would have been the first thing that they wrapped. The first thing that they would have tried to preserve with their 'heavy mixture'. Just as Morticians are primarily concerned about the face. About preserving the most readily identifiable image. About preserving the most visible likeness of God.

    But what was the point about the rolled up cloth? What was John trying to show here? Surely not that the cloth was neglected. But possibly as assurance that the body had certainly not been stolen as thought.
    Yet I wonder if there wasn't some deeper meaning intended for us in this sign. I wonder if this cloth wasn't rolled up as a scroll. Telling us to unroll the scroll. As Jesus had unrolled the scroll in the temple. And to marvel at the fulfillment of this prophecy.

    Just wondering...

  3. Two words:

    Carbon Dating.

  4. Proponents of the Shroud discuss carbon dating.

  5. Ron Van Brenk,

    The gospel authors don't "carefully relate all the miracles that took place at Christ's death". Different gospels mention different events, and some highly significant events they surely knew about aren't mentioned by any of them (e.g., Jesus' appearance to James). The gospel authors, like all authors, would have assumed some background knowledge on the part of their readers and would have been selective in what they chose to discuss. The high level of clarity that we associate with the Shroud image today and its scientific and evidential significance are modern developments. In other words, the Shroud's significance would have been much lower for people who didn't have the scientific tools we have today and who possessed so many other evidences and artifacts associated with early Christianity (as the earliest Christians did) or who mistakenly thought they possessed more than they did (as later Christians did).

    You refer to how John "made such a fuss over the rolled up face cloth". He briefly mentions it in one verse. And if we're going to reject something because it isn't mentioned in John, despite being somewhat related to other things he reports, then should we also reject the darkness at the crucifixion, the guard at the tomb, the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27, the appearance to James, the appearance to more than five hundred at once, etc.? After all, we can say that John "made such a fuss" over other miracles that are somewhat related to the ones he didn't mention. So, does his not mentioning those other ones make the other ones dubious?

    One of the problems I have with much of the opposition to the Shroud of Turin is that it relies on the same sort of approach toward that issue that skeptics frequently take toward the resurrection in general. The objections you've raised to the Shroud, such as suggesting that the gospel authors surely would have mentioned it, is reminiscent of what skeptics unreasonably argue regarding something like the lack of material on Jesus in non-Christian sources, the absence of the resurrection of the saints of Matthew 27 in other sources, or the absence of the appearance to more than five hundred in the gospels. Many events in history, including ones highly significant at that time or highly significant to later generations, aren't recorded in any extant contemporary source or are recorded in one or more of the sources while not being recorded in others. That's common not only in the Bible, but also among historical sources, religious and non-religious, in general.

    We have to explain the totality of the evidence for the Shroud. Singling out one element or a few that we find problematic, without addressing the other elements, isn't enough. Just as an atheist or Muslim can't justify a rejection of Jesus' resurrection based on raising such selective and misleading objections to the gospels and other sources distinct from the Shroud, we can't approach the Shroud that way either. The absence of any discussion of the Shroud image in any of the early sources is a significant problem for those who think the Shroud is one of the burial cloths of Jesus. But that problem is accompanied by evidence in support of the Shroud that's even more problematic for the skeptic. There are tradeoffs. You have to decide which position makes more sense overall.

  6. David,

    I could give you some two-word responses, but I don't want my response to be as shallow as yours. As Steve mentioned, those who accept the authenticity of the Shroud have addressed the carbon dating. You aren't interacting with any of their arguments. And since they raise scientific arguments in support of the Shroud, would you consider it convincing if they were to post two-word responses to you citing that scientific testing?

  7. I believe that Barrie also addressed the issue of why the shroud image was mentioned much in scripture as well as Christian History for the first 300 years.

    One is taking the shroud out of that tomb was a violation of Jewish burial law of taking a burial cloth out of the tomb that had blood on it. This was punishable by death. The second during the first few hundred years of Christianity the romans were periodically trying to destroy any traces of Christianity, including any relics that would have been deemed important by the apostles.

    The facts are the majority of evidences are in favor with the authenticity of the shroud.

    Most Calvinists are against the shroud because they have a hidden bias against anything Catholic, but one of the best Shroud blogs online is and is Run By Stephen Jones who is also a Calvinist. He has some of the best researched articles on the shroud of anyone online.