Friday, February 01, 2013

More About The Shroud Of Turin

It's highly probable that the Shroud of Turin is one of Jesus' burial cloths. And the image on the shroud most likely was produced by Jesus' resurrection. For those who are interested, you can search the archives of this blog for past threads in which I've argued for those conclusions.

One of the best web resources on the Shroud is Dan Porter's blog. I'll give a few examples.

Here's a post from last fall featuring a video by Thomas de Wesselow. De Wesselow is a medieval art historian. Though he's an agnostic, he acknowledges that the Shroud is one of Jesus' burial cloths. In the video mentioned above, he explains how the Shroud differs from depictions of Jesus in medieval artwork and is unlikely to be the product of a medieval forger.

Here's a thread discussing the implausibility of attributing the Shroud to medieval forgery. Especially note the posts by Yannick Clement in the comments section of the thread.

Here's a thread about a recent presentation on the Shroud by Eric Jumper. He was co-director of the 1978 STURP scientific examination of the Shroud. He's currently a professor at Notre Dame, in the Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering. He rejected the authenticity of the Shroud after the 1988 carbon dating. Since then, he's become more skeptical of the carbon dating and more open to the authenticity of the Shroud.


  1. Jason,

    having also weighed a lot of evidences on the shroud there is one simple fact that leads me to not believe it is a burial cloth of or image of Christ, setting all the science and proofs aside.

    The simple fact that I just cannot get my head around God violating the second commandment.

    If we are not to make any images or percieved likenesses of God why would He and then do contrary to His own Law and violate it?

    1. Michael,

      In addition to what Paul and Peter have said, you can find discussion of the second commandment in this blog's archives. Some of those discussions took place in the context of addressing the Shroud. Other discussions occurred in some other context. But we've addressed the issue many times.

  2. the easy answer there is: better change your understanding of "violating the second commandment." other than that, this is a non-sequitur: "If we are not to make any images or percieved likenesses of God why would He and then do contrary to His own Law and violate it?" and by the way, the second commandment does say anything about God's duties or obligations (in fact, there's good arguments that God, being perfect and incapable of sin, doesn't have obligations. those make sense for people who can fail to live up to a standard.)

  3. *doesn't say anything . . .

  4. Michael,
    I lean toward the Shroud not being an image of Christ myself, but I think your belief that it would constitute a violation of the 2nd commandment would be erroneous. Jesus Himself was an image of the Father just by the bare fact of His existence: "He is the image of the invisible God" (Colossians 1:15). So was Christ being Incarnate breaking the 2nd Commandment?

  5. I believe the evidence points toward authenticity, but one problem I can't resolve is this. According to John 19:39-40, the burial cloth was bound together around Jesus' body with a "mixture of myrrh and aloes" ("spices") of roughly 100 pounds. I would assume since they have discovered plant material indigenous to Palestine in the shroud that we would expect to find traces of these "spices" as well. I have read nothing to that effect. I consulted Barry Schwortz, a member of the STURP team about this problem. He told me that he thinks the spices were perhaps put into containers of some sort and placed around the body such that they did not actually come in contact with the burial cloth. He claims this may have been the result of the hasty burial and that perhaps the women on Sunday morning were going to complete the process of spreading the spices over the body. I suppose that is possible, but I remain skeptical of that interpretation. The text says, "They took the body of Jesus and bound it in the linen wrappings [note the plural] with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews." (vs. 40). This seems to describe a normal procedure that is not deviated from. Leaving the spices in containers doesn't seem to fit the 'bounding' procedure described here, but perhaps I am being too nit-picky when no further details are given.

    1. MSC,

      I also find that passage problematic for the Shroud, but, as you've suggested, not problematic enough to neutralize or outweigh the evidence on the other side. There are tradeoffs involved in reaching any conclusion about the Shroud. There's no conclusion that easily fits all of the data. You have to choose the least problematic option from a series of options that are all problematic.

      Having said that, Schwortz's explanation seems reasonable to me. The gospels portray the women as coming on Sunday morning with spices. The implication is that they didn't think the task was done yet. And the burial is described as being done quickly. So, a scenario like Schwortz's makes good sense of those two elements of the gospel accounts. John's gospel is referring to a quick, partial application of spices. The women intended to complete the process, but found an empty tomb instead. The "as is the burial custom of the Jews" in John 19:40 would refer to the application of spices in general, without reference to the degree of application. The women were at least partially aware of what Joseph was doing (Matthew 27:61, Mark 15:47, Luke 23:55), yet they're referred to as purchasing and preparing spices (Mark 16:1, Luke 23:56). Maybe what they bought was meant to supplement what they knew had been provided by Joseph and his associates. Whatever Joseph did during the burial process, the women didn't consider it adequate. All four gospels agree that a group of women visited the tomb, though only some of them specify that spices were involved. Given that John's gospel seems to have been written decades later than Mark's, how widely Mark and Luke were accepted early on, how positive a view of the other gospels John is reported to have held, etc., it's doubtful that John was ignorant of or intended to contradict Mark and Luke and their sources. As I've argued elsewhere, Papias attributes his high view of Mark's gospel, which involves an assertion that Mark made no mistakes, to a man he identifies as "the elder", most likely the apostle John. We have many reasons to conclude that John accepted Mark as a historically reliable document. (I realize that you accept the gospels as inerrant scripture, but I'm presenting an argument here for the benefit of other readers.) Most likely, the women came to the tomb to complete a process they knew had been started by Joseph. And there could be a variety of reasons why they wanted to supplement what Joseph had done. They may have wanted to apply different types of spices than he had, apply the spices in a different way, didn't want to have to handle the spice containers Joseph had left there (as in Schwortz's scenario) due to the weight of the containers or some other factor, etc. If the women considered what Joseph had done inadequate (as two gospels tell us and the other two allow, given that the women were going to the tomb for some reason), then we shouldn't view John 19:39-40 as some sort of suggestion that everything was completed. Even if we limit ourselves to John's account, why do the women come to the tomb (John 20:1-2)? They may have come for some other purpose, but coming to supplement what Joseph had done is a reasonable possibility.

      Shroud research is an immense field involving many disciplines. There are disagreements on a lot of points. There's much that I'm unfamiliar with. I've seen the claim made that there are traces of spices on the Shroud, but it's a disputed point, and I haven't studied it much.

  6. Jason, Peter,


    I don't for a minute doubt my position could be erroneous and that I err on the interpretation of the 2nd Commandment. God doesn't save perfect sinless creatures.

    I just have no peace with this theory that the Shroud could miraculously be the very image of Christ the Lord because of the word "likeness" in the 2nd Commandment. Just like I don't believe in an old earth theory because Christ came into the world and history shows He lived under the same "timing", keeping the Commandments, the Sabbaths and the 3 main Festivals each year year after year His entire earthly life as all Jews were commanded through Moses to keep and as these Jews were to follow the Law of Righteousness explicitly by keeping every one them and those dates as I said laid out by the Written Word so as not to violate one of them so when He died it was a sinless death and the crimes committed where committed against Him the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world.

    Why the Second Commandment then? Why make that distinction then that there is to be no likeness of God made? The Shroud is just that. It was made. I see the point though just that I need help overcoming that bock in my soul about the word likeness and the shroud being a "likeness" of God in the flesh made.

    I bought the book the Shroud of Turin when it first came out if I recall. In any event I have that book in my library. I have over time maybe almost now 40 years pondered the Word and for the life of me the science does not convince me even the latest coming out these days. Of course I need to qualify that I haven't given it but a cursory consideration as my focus has been in another more evangelistic mode, 1 Chronicles 16 and inspiring people to pray as King David had sung in that song and more specifically these Words from it in light of Peter's admonition (2 Peter 3) that we should hasten the day of the Lord's return. Here's that portion of what David had sung: 1Ch 16:31-33

    Peter when you write above Jesus Himself was an image of the Father just by the bare fact of His existence: "He is the image of the invisible God" (Colossians 1:15). So was Christ being Incarnate breaking the 2nd Commandment? that gives me pause to consider that I just might be taking an erroneous position. I am not adamant about it but I have to be a bit honest about getting over the hurdle of the meaning that we should not make any likeness of God knowing full well Jesus Christ is God incarnate and is One of Three Who are One Eternal God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit invisible now to the human eye. That the idea that the Faith once delivered to the Saints that I too have been given can be strengthened somewhat by this knowledge that the Shroud of Turin captured the likeness of God so I can see it and feel it and imagine this is Christ seems odd to me in light of what I believe the intent is for the 2nd Commandment.

    Besides that there is all this attention that is being drawn to this Shroud and the debates and speculations and inquires about it seems to me to be counter productive when the First Commandment is the focus that should be utmost in our heart as Citizens of Heaven. With that being a bit of a distraction these verses also seem to me to take back seat at times when this should equally be our focus in True Worship, don't you suppose?

    Php 3:20-21

    Or these, too: 1Co 15:41-47

    In some sense the Shroud of Turin keeps my focus on the "man of dust" at times when it in no way helps my struggles to stay focused on Him, Christ, Who is the Resurrecion and the Life.

    Anyway, any help or things that you think will assist me in dislodging that doubt would be greatly appreciated!

    1. Thanks for your reply, Michael, and I appreciate your thoughts. I would only say that if the Shroud is genuine (which, as I stated earlier, is something I do not believe) then the image that was made would have been made by God, not by man. Likewise, Christ's physical body was made by God and not man.

      Now if the Shroud is fake and someone made it to represent Christ, I can definitely see it possible to argue it is barred by the 2nd Commandment. Even then, however, I think that one can depict Christ's human nature without trying to depict His divine attributes, and that would not break the 2nd Commandment (although perhaps you may argue it still breaks the spirit of the law, and I would have to carefully weigh such arguments).

      Either way, we know that there was SOME level of representation of God even within the Scriptures (consider the pillar of fire and cloud that guided Israel). But again, those are images God created. If and how images break the 2nd Commandment, to me, appear to be more closely aligned to the question of whether the image leads to idolatry.

      Anyway, it was nice to talk with you, and I respect your views and why you hold them.

    2. Michael,

      If Jesus couldn't leave an imprint on a burial shroud, then would you conclude that he also couldn't leave fingerprints on objects he touched, footprints on the ground, etc.? What about the mental images of Jesus in the minds of those who saw him? Were they sinning if they formed mental images of Jesus based on memories of what they saw? If a reader of Revelation 1 forms a mental image of Jesus based on John's description of Jesus' appearance, is that reader sinning?

  7. Jason,

    all you questions have good answers to them. I think about what Jesus said to Thomas though in His response that we are more blessed who believe and have not see.

    Joh 20:28 Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!"
    Joh 20:29 Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."

    1. Michael,

      Telling us that there are good answers to my questions isn't the same as demonstrating it. And citing John 20:28-29 doesn't answer my questions.

      Thomas did see Jesus, and he believed as a result. How does it follow that Jesus wouldn't give us anything like the Shroud of Turin to see or that we shouldn't believe or be strengthened in our faith as a result of such things? Thomas was given something to see. That wasn't the problem. Nor was Thomas' desire for evidence. Rather, the problem was his irrational rejection of the evidence he already had, which was more than sufficient (fulfilled prophecy, Jesus' other miracles, his prediction of his resurrection, etc.). John 20 isn't opposing a desire for evidence. It's not opposing Jesus' visibility in the world, whether through the body Thomas saw or something like the Shroud. Rather, John 20 is opposing the sort of irrationality that mishandles evidence that's already been provided. Thomas' problem wasn't that he was too rational or too concerned about evidence. His problem was that he was irrational and mishandling the evidence he already had.

      The people John was writing to wouldn't see the risen Jesus the way Thomas did. But they would have a lot of evidence, such as the document John was writing to them. That's why John is so careful to cite evidence along the way, such as prophecies Jesus fulfilled and the eyewitness nature of his (John's) testimony. John incorporates some of the historiographical standards of his day in his gospel - he writes in the genre of Greco-Roman biography, he appeals to eyewitness testimony, he appeals to witnesses who were present "from the beginning" (a significant phrase in ancient historiography), etc. - because he was concerned about evidence and wanted his readers to be.

  8. What? I still don't get it.
    Are we talking about the same shroud of Turin?

    Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie, And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself.
    John 20:6,7

    The real shroud was in two pieces.

    Thank you.

    1. RPV,

      Proponents of the Shroud don't deny that there were multiple cloths involved. We've discussed that issue in previous threads. It's been addressed in the Shroud literature for a long time.