Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Antonio Lombatti's Claims About The Shroud Of Turin

Antonio Lombatti has written an article reviewing CNN's recent program on the Shroud. Even though the article has a lot of problems, Jim West is promoting it and claiming that Lombatti is "the Turin Shroud expert". Good to know that Lombatti outranks all of the scientists, archeologists, and other scholars who have studied the Shroud firsthand, served as Vatican consultants on the Shroud, etc.

Let's take a look at some of Lombatti's claims. I responded to his assertions about a Shroud nail wound in another post. And you can find responses to other claims he's made by running some searches here and here. If you run a search on the weave of the cloth at Dan Porter's blog, for example, you come across this thread and many others. Read the comments sections of the threads as well, since some of the most significant information is found there. Now, here's Lombatti:

The film begins by saying that “more than 1000 years after Jesus’ death, the cloth appeared in France”. Wouldn’t it be enough to understand that the relic is just one among the thousand forgeries of the Middle Ages?

The lack of early references to the Shroud is a good argument against its authenticity. But is the argument as significant as Lombatti suggests? No, as William Meacham explains:

"The looting of Edessa (Urfa, Turkey) by 12th century Turkish Moslems, for example, yielded 'many treasures hidden in secret places, foundations, roofs from the earliest times of the fathers and elders…of which the citizens knew nothing' (Segal 1970:253). Similarly, it was not uncommon for manuscripts, works of art, and relics kept in monasteries gradually to drift out of the collective memory; the most notable example is the Codex Sinaiticus, which reposed in a Sanai monastery for over 1,000 years, its importance totally unknown to its keepers….Being confronted with genuinely ancient objects of unknown provenance is a common experience for the museum curator" (The Rape Of The Turin Shroud [Lulu, 2005], 9, 48)

The way in which the Shroud first explicitly enters the historical record seems inconsistent with a work of art or forgery. Given the high, and in some cases even unprecedented, quality of the Shroud, it's doubtful that so brilliant an artist or forger would introduce his work to the world by putting it into the hands of somebody like Geoffrey de Charny in such an uneventful manner. Far better options would have been available, and a genius artist or forger probably would have taken advantage of one of those better options. The way in which the Shroud first explicitly enters the historical record seems to be explained better by a scenario like what Meacham outlines above.

Lombatti writes:

In that time, believers were not surprised to find 4 heads of John the Baptist (however, when the French monks of Amiens were told by pilgrims that they had already seen John’s head in another church, they replied they had the Baptist’s head as a child), six full bodies of Mary Magdalene and enough pieces of the True Cross to build a huge ship. The burial shrouds of Jesus number around 40. All of them were authentic, of course.

Given the lack of discernment among so many medieval sources and the inability of any medieval source to notice some of the details of the Shroud (details that require something like a microscope to see, etc.), wouldn't the Shroud be gross overkill in a medieval context, if it was intended as art or a forgery? Yes, an artist or forger might go to so much trouble. But it's not likely.

And how many of those "around 40" shrouds have even a tenth of the credentials that have led so many scientists, historians, archeologists, and other scholars to take the Turin Shroud seriously over the years? Those who have taken the Shroud seriously include some non-Christians and Christians who had formerly been more skeptical.

Yes, there were many forgeries and works of art in the medieval era. There are many today as well, as there have been in other eras of history outside of medieval times. That doesn't prevent us from distinguishing between the authentic and the inauthentic. Saying that there were a lot of fakes in the medieval era doesn't prove much. There are a lot of fakes in every era, and the Shroud seems different than them.

Lombatti continues:

Then, we see Ben Witherington III saying that we have no physical description of Jesus in the gospel. True. But after he’s finished speaking, the Shroud is shown. That’s unfair. Or better, it clearly tells us the objective of the documentary. We should have seen instead the earliest representations of Jesus, I mean those in the Roman catacombs. And they show us a very different face.

As if Lombatti thinks those "earliest representations" are accurate. Why doesn't he name them, date them, explain how historically accurate he thinks they are, and explain how all of that supposedly is a significant problem for the Shroud? He should also compare those "earliest representations" to, say, the earliest interpretations of Isaiah 50:6. If we have early literary references to Jesus with a beard, yet we also have early artwork showing him without a beard, doesn't that suggest that multiple conceptions of Jesus' appearance were circulating? Singling out the earliest artwork, without noting such literary references, is misleading.

I wonder how many ancient or medieval images of Jesus Lombatti knows of that show Jesus completely nude and uncovered in a close-up of his back side, in a form like a photographic negative, etc. Doesn't seem like the kind of depiction any artist or forger, ancient or medieval, would be likely to make up. Possible? Yes. Probable? No.

Lombatti goes on:

Not everyone among those officials and scientists agreed on the results. One of them, for example, who was convinced that the red marks on the linen weren’t blood but pigments, was expelled from the group. The documentary could have at least quoted his opinion and his name, Dr. Walter McCrone, when it was suggested that the red stains were found to be blood. He’s considered the “father of modern microscopy”. He was one the leading world experts in medieval paintings and forgeries. It was he who was appointed chair overseeing many scientific panels (also by Christie’s and other renowned auctioneers) to say if a piece of art was ancient or a modern hoax.

McCrone is considered a lot of things other than "the father of modern microscopy", and many of them are unflattering. Take a look at how he's depicted in Harry Gove's Relic, Icon Or Hoax? (Bristol and Philadelphia: Institute of Physics Publishing, 1996), for example. Gove was a critic of the Shroud's authenticity, and his book is highly negative on the subject, but he also has a lot of negative things to say about McCrone. John Heller's Report On The Shroud Of Turin (Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1984) is also revealing. McCrone has been responded to at length, many times, by advocates of the Shroud's authenticity. Run some searches on the two web sites I linked at the beginning of this post, for example.

Lombatti comments:

Besides, the narrator doesn’t say that real blood doesn’t flow ON the hair, as on the Turin Shroud.

And when we run a search at Dan Porter's blog, we find that Lombatti is raising another objection that's been addressed many times. See, for example, the comments sections of the threads here and here.

Lombatti writes:

So, as for the Turin Shroud, C14 results agree with the historical sources we have on these two relics. And don’t forget that every single Jesus relic that has been carbon dated (Turin Shroud, Tunic of Argenteuil, Titulus, Oviedo Sudarium, Cadouin Shroud) has always given a medieval date.

No, the 1982 carbon dating, though much inferior to the 1988 test, produced mixed results. And Lombatti's article says nothing of Ray Rogers' dating argument based on vanillin and the dating tests conducted by Giulio Fanti and his colleagues. Even if you think the cumulative weight of those other tests is less than that of the 1988 test, the situation isn't as simple as Lombatti suggests. He complains about the problems with CNN's program, yet he repeats CNN's simplistic focus on the 1988 test, to the exclusion of other dating efforts.

Lombatti goes on:

But shroudologists don’t resign themselves to these clear facts and straightforward evidence. They insist instead that Jesus emitted radiation and had superpowers, and consequently the C14 results are always wrong.

Only some Shroud advocates think "emitted radiation" explains the 1988 carbon dating results. The "superpowers" comment is meant to be derogatory and to poison the well, but I'd like to see Lombatti interact with, say, Craig Keener's documentation of the historicity of Jesus' miracles and modern miracles done in Jesus' name. I've personally witnessed miracles, including some of a specifically Christian nature. Maybe I was hallucinating. Every time. Uh-huh.

Given the uniqueness of the Shroud image, the inability of science to explain it so far, how consistent the state of the body in the Shroud image seems to be with the timing of Jesus' resurrection, and some other factors, it makes sense to think the image was caused by the resurrection. (See my comments on the subject in the thread here.) Since the resurrection was a unique event (keep in mind the distinction between a resurrection and a resuscitation), how would we know what effect it would have on the dating of a cloth? That doesn't prove that a resurrection would distort carbon dating efforts. But our ignorance of how the image was formed differentiates the Shroud from other cloths. There's a potential source of contamination that other cloths don't have. That's true whether the image was formed supernaturally or naturally. I don't think that's the best explanation for the 1988 test results, given our current state of knowledge, but it's not as unreasonable an explanation as Lombatti suggests.


  1. In the comments section of Lombatti's thread, Mark Goodacre, one of the scholars on the CNN program and a skeptic of the Shroud, has posted comments about Lombatti's nail wound argument. Goodacre makes the same observations I've made:

    "I love your wrist / palm graphic, and I linked to it in my CNN Q&A about the episode. After staring at it a little more, though, I’m wondering if the wound is too near the knuckles in your reconstruction? I’m not sure if you’ve quite mapped the two right."

  2. Lombatti has replied to Goodacre by saying:

    "I agree with your points, Mark. But I deeply disagree with your sentence 'the documentary is much more skeptical than you give credit for' for the reasons stated here above."

    Presumably, then, he's agreeing with Goodacre about the inaccuracy of his (Lombatti's) nail wound depiction. Yet, later in the thread, Lombatti writes:

    "As a colleague of mine once wrote 'not only is this a forgery, but it's a bad forgery'. Clearly, the medieval fraudster was unaware of Second Temple burial practices."

    If the alleged medieval forger is a bad forger because he was "unaware of Second Temple burial practices", then what should we conclude about Lombatti's failure to accurately depict the Shroud's nail wound, apparently even by his own admission? It would be much harder for a medieval forger to duplicate Second Temple burial practices than for Lombatti to produce an accurate drawing of the Shroud's nail wound. Yet, Lombatti got the nail wound wrong and has been promoting the error for years.

  3. John Loftus has linked the Lombatti article, along with some other sources. Looks like neither Loftus nor his fellow skeptics who have posted so far know much about the Shroud. Take, for example, the ignorant comments of lapona:

    "The fact that the Vatican doesn't want to give the rag to be studied in a lab doesn't mean that there is no explanation as to how the image on the rag has been made. A portion of the rag has been studied and carbon dated around 1300, but the Catholics said that that portion of rag was 'contaminated' by the frame in which the rag lays. All stupid reasons not give the whole rag to be studied and found out that it is just bullshit, just to keep an 'enigma' around it and 'conclude' that a divine Jesus peed on it."

    How many errors can you fit into a small paragraph? That may be a record. Unsurprisingly, two other skeptics gave lapona's post an up vote.