The Shroud of Turin

No Comments | August 2010

(Arif Khan, Editor of the Tomb of Jesus website, has had an active interest in the Shroud of Turin and has written various articles on the subject)

The Shroud of Turin is the ‘alleged’ burial cloth of Jesus Christ(as). The cloth measures 4.37m by 1.1m (approximately 14 feet across) and exhibits a faint image of what looks like a crucified man. Between 10 April and 23 May this year, approximately two million visitors flocked to the northern Italian city of Turin to observe first hand this linen cloth, as the Shroud went on display for the first time in a decade. In April 2010, Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad(aba), Khalifatul Masih V, Head of the Worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim community was given a private viewing of the Shroud of Turin (see ‘Historic Visit by Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih V(aba) to the Shroud of Turin Exhibit’ featured in this edition – Ed).

What is the Shroud, and what relevance does it have for the world today?

What is the Shroud?

The Christian world is rich in relics. The most sacred of the relics claim to be the items from the lifetime of Jesus Christ(as). It is always difficult to verify the authenticity of these items. The most famous relic available to us today is the Shroud of Turin, the alleged burial cloth of Jesus Christ(as).

The Turin Shroud resides in the Chapel of the Holy Shroud at Turin Cathedral

The Gospels in the New Testament state that after the Crucifixion, Jesus Christ(as) was wrapped in a linen cloth:

‘And he bought fine linen, and took him down, and wrapped him in the linen, and laid him in a sepulchre which was hewn out of a rock, and rolled a stone unto the door of the sepulchre.’1

And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound [weight]. Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury.’2

Some claim that the Shroud of Turin is this same burial cloth. There have been other claims made with respect to this heritage but the Shroud of Turin is accepted as the most impressive and most plausible. This status of the Shroud of Turin was confirmed when in 1898 the first photograph was taken of the Shroud by Secondo Pia.

The negative produced from this photograph revealed amazing levels of detail in the Shroud. Instead of a faint image that had been seen so far, the negative revealed a detailed image. Secondo Pia reportedly almost dropped the plate due to the shock he felt when he first viewed the photographic plate.

How old is the Turin Shroud?

The recorded history of the Shroud only dates back to the 13th / 14th century, yet recorded history of a cloth bearing the image of Jesus Christ(as) dates back almost two thousand years. There is evidence to suggest that other famous cloths, such as the Cloth of Edessa, are in fact the same cloth as the Shroud of Turin.

Secondo Pia, first photographer of the Shroud

Historian, and famous Shroud researcher, Ian Wilson, details a possible timeline for the Shroud dating back to the 1st Century3. Wilson draws on research and recorded traditions that talk about a famous cloth bearing the face or imprint of Jesus’ face. This cloth is known as the cloth of Edessa4. 3rd and 4th Century sources recount the tradition that a cloth ‘imprinted with Jesus’ likeness’5 was taken from Jerusalem to Edessa, which was instrumental in converting Edessa’s King Abgar V to Christianity. Wilson shows how the cloth appeared to have survived through the centuries. However, Wilson suggests that the resurrection resulted in a tremendous burst of energy that left an imprint on the cloth but such energy could have only come from a live body.

There is speculation in the timeline put together by Wilson, but there does appear to be a possibility that the cloth mentioned in the various accounts is indeed the same Shroud that is still the subject of much mystery today.

The Image

The most fascinating aspect of the cloth is the image formed upon the cloth. To this day the exact process by which the image was formed is not fully understood. Another remarkable aspect of the image, as mentioned earlier, is that it is actually itself a negative image.

What links the Shroud to Jesus and the Crucifixion?

There are a number of significant details on the cloth that seem to correlate fully with what Ahmadi Muslims believe happened to Jesus(as) on the cross almost 2000 years ago.

Flagrum & Whipping

Burial shroud modeled after the shroud of Turin © Tektite | Dreamstime.com

It was a common Roman practice to beat and flog the prisoner before Crucifixion. The Shroud clearly shows such marks, particularly on the back of the body. The Roman instrument used at the time was a whip with three prongs; the tips of these prongs contained bone, shaped to inflict maximum damage and to tear at the flesh. Based upon the Shroud we see scores of these marks consistent with the Roman torture instrument, the Flagrum6.

Crown of Thorns

One distinctive feature of Jesus’ Crucifixion is that he was mocked for claiming to be the King of the Jews. In the Gospel account by Matthew, Mark and John we find mention of a ‘crown of thorns’.

‘And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put [it] upon his head, and a reed in his right hand: and they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews!’ 7

And they clothed him with purple, and platted a crown of thorns, and put it about his [head]8

And the soldiers platted a crown of thorns, and put [it] on his head, and they put on him a purple robe9

The Shroud of Turin shows unusual blood flows around the top of the head and traces of blood in the hair and especially the back of the head. All these are consistent with what we would have expected if a crown of thorns was worn.10

Nail Wounds

Jesus(as) would have most likely been nailed to the cross with nails driven through the wrists and feet. Again, the Shroud depicts just this, with large noticeable blood flows present in both these areas of the cloth11. The nails in the hands are even more interesting, as traditional depictions suggest the nails went through the palms. Modern research has shown this would not be possible, and to support the weight of the body the nails would have to have been through the wrists12. This is consistent with what the Shroud shows.

Full length negatives of the Shroud of Turin

Blood Flows

As mentioned already there is blood to be found on the cloth. In 1978 scientists were quickly able to prove this was real blood from a human, and not paint, pigment or animal blood. Also, the blood flows are anatomically correct. Each of the flows traces the correct lines based upon human anatomy and the arrangement of vessels and arteries13.

What scientific tests have been conducted on the Shroud?

Full length image of Shroud before 2002 restoration

In 1978 the STURP team conducted a series of non-destructive tests on the Shroud. The tests included14:

• Conventional black and white and colour photography

• Various scientific photographic methods

• X-rays

• UV photography

• High magnification photography using a portable photomicroscope

• Sampling the actual cloth using special sticky tape

• Analysis of threads with blood and extraction of DNA

The main focus of their experiments was to ascertain how the image was formed. Despite an intensive period of testing this question remains unanswered even today.

There are certain features of the image on the Shroud that make it difficult to suggest a mechanism that would account for all of these features. Any theory about how the image formed must account for all the following characteristics:

1. The image is extremely faint, appearing only on the very upper fibres of the cloth.

2. There is no pigment or dyes contained in the image areas.

3. The further the body is from the cloth the more faint the image – this leads to what is known as the ‘3D’ quality of the Shroud.

4. The image is a negative.

Did Carbon 14 dating of the cloth not prove it a fake in 1988?

The Shroud made international headlines in 1988 when carbon dating tests carried out by four independent laboratories dated the Shroud to 1260 – 1360 CE. This seemed to settle the issue whether the cloth was a fake or not. It also fitted the known history of the Shroud, as no confirmed record existed of this Shroud before this period.

The scientists were particularly dismissive of the Shroud and heralded this as some sort of triumph of science over religion. The following account is taken from the obituary of Professor Edward Hall and summarises the views of others on the Shroud when the carbon dating results were announced:

“There was a multi-million-pound business in making forgeries during the 14th century,” he bluntly told a British Museum press conference. “Someone just got a bit of linen, faked it up and flogged it.” And again, “Some people may continue to fight for the authenticity of the shroud, like the Flat Earth Society, but this settles it all as far as we are concerned.”15

The Carbon Dating Result: More Questions than Answers

For scholars and experts, however, the carbon dating result leads to more questions than answers. If this had been ‘faked’ how was the image produced? How was a ‘negative’ image created deliberately before the science of photography was understood? How were the anatomically correct blood flows marked when there was incomplete knowledge of anatomy at the time the cloth was supposed to have been created?

Scholars looked for things that could point to an inaccuracy in the carbon dating results. Reputable scholars put out theories about the error in carbon dating, talked of a ‘bioplastic’ coating, and also speculation about how fire damage could have affected the result. There were also conspiracy theories, talking of scientists and Vatican officials conspiring to skew the dating results.

Ray Rogers – Turning the Carbon Dating Result on its Head

In 2005 this mystery appeared to have been solved by Raymond Rogers, an expert in thermodynamics and one of the original members of the STURP team.

The research by Rogers centred around a theory proposed by a husband and wife team, Sue Benford and Joseph Marino. It should be understood that Benford and Marino are not scientists, and their theory was based upon analysis of existing images of the Shroud from 1978. What the couple observed was that the section of the cloth from which the radio carbon sample was taken looked to have been rewoven. Barrie Schwortz talked about this in a recent documentary on the Shroud:

“They had taken photographs that were available of the samples used for the carbon dating and they had submitted these to several textiles experts who did not know they were looking at photos of the Shroud. Each of these textiles experts, independent of each other said, ‘You know, this looks rewoven.’”16

Benford and Marino believed that the section was repaired using 16th century cotton. The original cloth and the 16th century cotton cloth would be mixed and interwoven. Benford and Marino argued that this mixture of the original 1st century cloth, along with 16th century cotton would lead to a carbon dating result in between the two dates.

They published this in a paper entitled “Evidence for the Skewing of the C-14 Dating of the Shroud of Turin Due to Repairs”. It was this paper that got the attention of Ray Rogers. Rogers stated in an interview his motivations for the work:

“I had given up on the Shroud and this is about the same time that the lunatic fringe were coming up with an infinite number of ways in which the date could be wrong, and this [paper by Benford and Marino] was just the last straw.”17

Barrie Schwortz explains how he got a call from Ray Rogers about the paper:

“I got a call from Ray and he’s like ‘what the hell is this? This is nonsense, I can prove these people wrong in 5 minutes; I said ‘Well, Ray, go for it’.”18

Ray was in a unique position to investigate this theory as he had in his possession samples from both the radiocarbon section of the Shroud as well as a sample from an adjacent section to the radiocarbon sample area. Barrie Schwortz explains how hours after setting out to prove this theory wrong Rogers called him again:

“He calls me a couple of hours later and he says ‘Boy, you know, they were right. There is cotton here! There is no cotton in the rest of the Shroud. There is cotton interwoven here; they must be right.”19

He concluded that the theory was right in stating that the section of the cloth used for the carbon dating was actually a rewoven section.

Sadly, Raymond Rogers lost his battle with cancer shortly after completing this work. His entire testimony on this research was documented by Shroud expert and colleague, Barrie Schwortz, and then published as a DVD. Just weeks before Ray passed away, a detailed article containing his findings was published in the peer reviewed Chemistry journal “Thermochimica Acta”.20

This was revolutionary for the research. Now the carbon dating result was declared invalid and the biggest objection to the Shroud’s possible authenticity removed.

Does the Shroud prove Jesus(as) survived the Crucifixion?

For Ahmadi Muslims who believe in Jesus Christ(as) having survived the Crucifixion, the Shroud of Turin is a powerful piece of evidence in support of this view because the Shroud does point to Jesus(as) having survived the Crucifixion.

There is absence of any sign of decomposition of the body, the even nature of the image, the large amounts of blood on the cloth and the fact an image formed at all.21

Other researchers who have argued that the cloth proves the opposite, that the man covered by the Turin Shroud was most certainly dead, and they have cited suggestions of rigor mortis and the separation of blood and plasma as evidence for this.22

It is a highly controversial area and it is not helped by sensationalised approaches to discussions on the theory that the Shroud shows Jesus(as) survived. Conspiracy theories, such as that outlined by Holger Kersten in his book, The Jesus Conspiracy, have made it easier for researchers to dismiss the thesis that the Shroud proves Jesus(as) survived the Crucifixion. On the other side, the biggest proponent of the view that it proves Jesus(as) died, is Dr Frederick Zugibe who is a committed Christian. More research is required and more questions need answering. Currently it seems the evidence available is inconclusive. People have argued for both outcomes using the same empirical evidence.

Below are some experts from proponents of the view that the Shroud covered a living body that was in a state of near-death:

Rodney Hoare – The Turin Shroud is Genuine – 1994

Hoare talks about taking images from the Shroud to a group of forensic scientists belonging to the FBI. He talks about the discussions they had based upon the cloth and their arriving at the following conclusion:

“The forensic scientists argued that the body in the Shroud was absolutely dead by pre-seventeenth century standards but in a deep coma by present-day ones.”23

He explains the reasoning for this:

“Any chemical staining reaction…would almost certainly have depended on temperature: the higher the temperature the darker the stain…so the temperature of the cloth must also have been approximately uniform. This could only happen if the blood were still circulating, the heart just beating….The body must have been in a coma, therefore, and not clinically dead by twentieth-century standards.”24

In the same book Hoare also makes the comment:

“…they (STURP team) did report that they managed to obtain stains most nearly like the body marks on the cloth by baking some linen which had a coating of perspiration, myrrh and aloes!”25

Hoare presents his evidence from the Shroud along with details about the Crucifixion from the New Testament to argue that Jesus survived the Crucifixion.

Kurt Berna – Jesus Nicht am Kreuz Gestorben (Jesus Did Not Perish on the Cross) – 1975, Zurich

Kurt Berna was of the opinion that the evidence of the Shroud and the New Testament pointed to Jesus(as) having survived the Crucifixion.

In the text cited here Berna draws mainly from the observations and research of Dr. Theodor Hirt, a professor of a German University.

“Once death has ensued, blood circulation in the human body follows the same law. At one moment a person’s skin may still be a reddish flesh-color because the blood penetrates to the capillaries, the hair-thin vessels just below the surface of the skin. But when the heart stops pumping, by the same law of nature that applies to the test with the glass tube, the veins draw the blood back. As a result, the capillaries are the first vessels to be emptied of blood

because they are at the extreme end of the circulatory system. As the blood retracts, the skin of the deceased turns white.”

“This is what happens to a corpse some eight to ten hours after the heart has ceased to beat not only does no blood flow from open wounds because there is no pressure, but the blood retracts a little in the veins.”

“But what happens [at the removal of the crown of thorns] if there is blood pressure – that is, if the heart is still beating? The little wounds fill with blood; the blood flows from the head into the hair; and because it keeps flowing, it trickles through the hair onto the Shroud as we can see on the Shroud of Jesus. That is why it cannot have been a corpse that was in the Shroud the body was not dead. We can all see the evidence on the Shroud, as revealed by a camera nineteen hundred years later and the camera does not lie. It is so obvious and easy to understand that I am certain you have followed my reasoning.”26

Holger Kersten & Elmar Gruber – The Jesus Conspiracy – 1992

The central premise of The Jesus Conspiracy, by Kersten and Gruber, is that Jesus(as) survived the Crucifixion. One of the later sections of their text is entitled ‘The Image of a Living Person’ and starts as follows:

“After all that we have described there can be no doubt: the Turin cloth is the cloth in which Jesus was placed for healing after being taken down from the Cross. If this is so and Jesus really was still alive when he was placed in the tomb, we should be able to find evidence of the fact on the Turin cloth.”27

The authors of the The Jesus Conspiracy draw our attention to the blood marks in particular when arguing their case.

“We can be grateful that Joseph of Arimathea and his helpers did not wash the body of Jesus for medical reasons, because this allowed the traces of coagulated blood to be imprinted on the cloth. Two different types of bleeding can be clearly distinguished. Firstly there is the dried blood which came from the whipping, the crowning with thorns, the side wound and from the nails fixing the body on the Cross. Secondly there is fresh blood which flowed when Jesus was already lying horizontally in the cloth. The fabric quickly became saturated with the resinous aloe, and was thoroughly impregnated with it. This meant that most of the blood was not absorbed into the cloth, but just spread out over the surface. This would explain the surprising fact, observed by modern researchers, that most of the blood marks cannot be seen on the reverse side even though the material is quite thin. The careful treatment with the herbal solution also had the effect of re-softening the coagulated areas of the blood, so that they too were transferred on to the cloth.”28

The blood marks around the back area also highlighted by Kersten and Gruber:

“Blood has collected in the cavity between the back and the buttocks. This shows clearly that the blood must have flowed only after the body was laid horizontally”29

The Second Messiah – Christopher Knight & Robert Lomas – London, 1997

Although this text supports a very different thesis about the nature of the Shroud of Turin the actual observations of the Shroud and some of the conclusions support the view that the man wrapped in the Shroud was alive. Their observations of the Shroud suggested that the man in the Shroud was not lying out on a hard rock surface, but on a cushioned soft surface:

“Dead bodies are not laid out on soft absorbent beds, so it seems extremely likely that the image is not that of a corpse but of a living subject who had been horribly tortured.”30

The conclusion of these authors also is that the Shroud wrapped a living body.

Approximate
Year (CE)
Key Event
30 Crucifixion of Jesus(as) and his burial in a tomb wrapped in a sindon (burial shroud). According to the Bible, 36 hours later, the shroud is found and the tomb lays abandoned.
c.40-50 A cloth reportedly with Jesus’ imprint on it is taken to the first Christian King, Abgar V
(13-50) in Edessa (modern Urfa in eastern Turkey) and is instrumental in his conversion.
216 Edessa falls under Roman control.
375 Doctrine of Addai – an account of the conversion of Edessa to Christianity refers to a ‘portrait’ of Jesus(as).
525 Edessa is flooded, and during the repairs, a cloth imprinted with Jesus’ likeness is discovered above the city gates and described as ‘not the work of human hands’.
723 During a cull on man-made images of Jesus(as) across the Byzantine and Muslim empires, the cloth of Edessa survives.
943 A Byzantine army negotiates the transfer of the Shroud to Emperor Romanus in Constantinople (modern Istanbul) where it arrives amidst celebrations on 15 August 944.
1130 Reports in Western Europe of the ‘supernatural’ Shroud in Constantinople.
1192 The ‘Pray Manuscript’ in Hungary created by an artist shows Jesus(as) in the same position as the Shroud with his hands crossed, and other features of the Shroud such as the ‘poker holes’ are also reproduced.
1203-04 French Crusader Robert de Clari reports seeing the Shroud in Constantinople’s Church of St. Mary at Blachernae. A year later, the French sack Constantinople and the Shroud goes missing.
1355 The Shroud is now owned by Geoffrey I de Charney, and is displayed in a public exposition at a tiny church in Lirey, near Troyes in France.
1418 Due to a conflict with England, the Shroud is moved from Lirey to the French castle of Montfort near Switzerland.
1453 The Shroud is handed over to the Savoy family who will be the keepers for the next five centuries.
1502 Inauguration of the new home of the Shroud at the Sainte Chapelle in Chambery.
1506 Pope Julius II assigns May 4 as the feats day of the Shroud.
1509 The Shroud is installed in a specially made silver casket.
1532 A fire at the Sainte Chapelle damages the Shroud, with molten silver scarring the Shroud, but leaving the main image intact.
1535 Invasion by French troops results in transfer of the Shroud between Turin, Milan, Vercelli and Nice (southern Italy and France).
1578 The Shroud is moved to Turin Cathedral.
1868 Public exposition of the Shroud in Turin Cathedral.
1898 After another public exposition, the Shroud is photographed by local councillor Secondo Pia revealing the amazing negative image for the first time.
1902 Yves Delage, a French Anatomy Professor argues that the Shroud image is too medically convincing and must have wrapped a genuine human crucified body.
1978-79 STURP team analyse samples from the Shroud cloth and conclude that it is not mad-made.
1988 Carbon dating of a sample from the top-left of the cloth suggests that the Shroud is much newer that historical records had suggested.
1997 A major fire breaks out in the Turin Chapel. Despite extensive damage inflicted to the chapel, the Shroud escapes unharmed.
2000 Shroud is displayed on public exhibition for Golden Jubilee.
2002 Holy See has Shroud restored, backing of cloth and thirty patches removed.
2010 Shroud on public exhibition for the first time in ten years.
2025 Next scheduled public exhibition of the Shroud.

Conclusion

It is very difficult to have objective research carried out on the Shroud of Turin as almost all those interested in the cloth and involved in the research have pre-existing biases and beliefs.

Current scholarly opinion is still divided on the Shroud. Many lost interest after the initial carbon dating result appeared to show it was a fake and a middle age forgery; many are still unaware of Ray Roger’s work and findings. Even as recently as October 2009 there have been researchers claiming to have reproduced the image exposing it as a fake.31

Some Shroud researchers and enthusiasts want another Carbon-14 dating test to be performed on the Shroud of Turin, but access to the cloth is closely controlled and obtaining permission for more tests has historically proven extremely difficult.

In the last decade it has been noticed that the faint image had started to fade and disappear. The Shroud was moved to a specifically designed container to help preserve it and avoid the image being lost. As part of this process it was treated with Thymol and experts have said this could badly affect any future attempts to date the cloth using C-14.

During the Friday Sermon of April 30th 2010 Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad(aba) mentioned some experiments carried out under the supervision of Mir Mahmood Ahmad in Rabwah. Holger Kersten also performed similar tests using aloes, myrrh and a radiator to help achieve the perspiration. Kersten’s image shared some of the characteristics with the Shroud, but not all.

For the scientists and academics the Shroud poses a wonderful puzzle to which a solution is still elusive. For believers in Jesus(as) it provides a visual representation of the ordeal of the Crucifixion and the suffering he would have gone through. For those who support the idea that Jesus(as) survived the Crucifixion, it could yet prove to be one of the strongest pieces of evidence available to prove this thesis.

For now, however, there is much debate about all areas of the Shroud. Time will tell if a consensus can ever be reached on the cloth.

One final thought; the STURP team were able to extract DNA from the blood on the Shroud prompting the 1999 book by Leoncio Garza-Valdes The DNA of God? This leads to the question of whether or not there could be another DNA sample from a different source relating to Jesus that could be used to cross-reference the Shroud DNA, if so that could solve the Shroud mystery once and for all.

References:

  1. Mark 15:46 – King James Bible
  2. John 19:39-40
  3. The Turin Shroud: The Illustrated Evidence, Ian Wilson & Barrie Schwortz, 2000 – pp.151-155
  4. Ibid – pp. 151-152
  5. Ibid – pp.152
  6. Ibid – p.57
  7. Matthew 27:29
  8. Mark 15:17
  9. John 19:2
  10. The Turin Shroud: The Illustrated Evidence, Ian Wilson & Barrie Schwortz, 2000 – pp 57-58
  11. Ibid – pp.58-59
  12. Ibid – p.60
  13. Ibid – p.58
  14. Ibid – pp.67-81
  15. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/professor-edward-hall-729330.html
  16. Turin Shroud: The New Evidence – Discovery HD, April 2009
  17. Ibid
  18. Ibid
  19. Ibid
  20. Studies on the radiocarbon sample from the Shroud of Turin, Thermochimica Acta, Volume 425, Issues 1-2, pp.189-194
  21. The Turin Shroud is Genuine, Rodney Hoare, 1994 – pp 69-73
  22. The Turin Shroud: The Illustrated Evidence, Ian Wilson & Barrie Schwortz, 2000 – pp. 67-81
  23. The Turin Shroud is Genuine, Rodney Hoare, 1994 – pp.68-69
  24. Ibid
  25. Ibid pp.73
  26. Jesus did not Perish on the Cross (Jesus Nicht am Kreuz gestorben) – Kurt Berna. Zurich, Switzerland, 1975 – Extracts from account of Dr. Theodor Hirt – pp.46-69
  27. The Jesus Conspiracy, Holger Kersten & Elmar Gruber – 1992 – pp.281
  28. Ibid, pp.286
  29. Ibid, pp.290
  30. The Second Messiah, Christopher Knight & Robert Lomas, pp.200
  31. Italian researcher Professsor Luigi Garlaschelli claimed to have reproduced the Shroud image using medieval techniques on October 6th 2009. Experts quickly pointed out the theory put forward by the Professor had already been examined previously and ruled out on several accounts. See ‘Science by Press Release? An Editorial Response by Barrie Schwortz’: http://www.shroud.com/pdfs/schwortzedit01.pdf
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