- The shroud of turin was widely dismissed as a medieval
forgery after radiocarbon tests in 1988 dated it to the 13th or 14th century.
Now a growing body of evidence is calling for reassessment of the shroud,
which is kept in Turin, Italy.
- The latest item comes from the London-based Journal of
Optics, published by the Institute of Physics. Two scientists from the
University of Padua, Giulio Fanti and Roberto Maggiolo, report in the journal's
April edition the discovery of a heretofore-undetected reverse image on
the shroud. They say the smaller, fainter image on the back of the cloth
depicts just the face and hands. And it's a superficial image, adhering
only to the outermost fibers, just like the image on the front. "It
is extremely difficult to make a fake with these features," Fanti
- The fact that their study was published in a peer-reviewed
scientific journal is significant and "a step in the right direction",
says Barrie Schwortz, editor of Shroud.com. This is one of the most comprehensive
of the many websites devoted to the phenomenon.
- Schwortz, who is Jewish, was a shroud skeptic until he
served as a photographer for the 1978 Shroud of Turin Research Project
(STURP). The five-day project was the most intensive investigation in the
history of the image. Besides providing the first public viewing of the
media age, the project reinforced the shroud's cachet as a truly unique
- But then, 10 years later, came the much-heralded carbon-14
tests, confirmed by three laboratories, dating the cloth to the Middle
Ages. "It was like dropping an h-bomb, and seeing how long it takes
life to come back," says Gary Habermas, chair of the department of
philosophy and theology at Liberty University, who has coauthored two books
on the shroud.
- Science vs. Science While most people concluded the shroud
had been discredited, some significant questions have been raised. One
of the main questions was whether the samples chosen came from an area
of the shroud that was repaired.
- "What if we can prove that the carbon dating didn't
sample the original shroud but a rewoven area?" Schwortz asks.
- He is awaiting word from another scientific journal,
which is currently reviewing a paper on a chemical analysis by a sturp
colleague. That colleague, Raymond Rogers, a retired fellow of the Los
Alamos National Laboratory, claims the carbon-14 tests were done on a dyed
piece of medieval-era linen and cotton. He theorizes the cloth came from
an undocumented repair of the shroud. On April 9, 2004, National Geographic
suggested that the test samples came from a patch repaired during the Middle
- "It's a case of science vs. science, not faith vs.
science," Habermas says. But until they're officially discredited,
he says the carbon-14 tests are still the most powerful objection to the
validity of the shroud.
- Paul Maier, a professor of ancient history at Western
Michigan University and an expert on early Christianity, says, "The
paper trail doesn't go back far enough." The specific history of the
shroud goes back only to the 14th century. "I tend to think something
as important as this would've had more attestation [because] the early
church was interested in hard objects [connected to the faith]."
- Habermas still has doubts about the shroud. But he counters
that there are a half-dozen images of Jesus on coins and paintings dating
to around the sixth century that bear a remarkable congruency to the face
on the shroud.
- Some researchers have linked the shroud with reports
of an image of Christ discovered hidden in the city walls of the Turkish
city of Edessa in the sixth century. The image reportedly was later taken
to Constantinople, where it disappeared in 1204.
- Pollen from plants native to Turkey and Israel turned
up on pieces of sticky tape that the late Swiss criminologist Max Frei
had pressed onto the shroud. In recent years two Israeli scientists, Hebrew
University botanist Avinoam Danin and Israel Antiquities Authority pollenologist
Uri Baruch, said they confirmed Frei's pollen evidence. Danin also claimed
to have found images of flowers, unique to Israel, in the shroud.
- Quality Material
- Since sturp, the closest examination of the shroud occurred
in 2002. A Swiss textile expert, Mechthild Flury-Lemberg, remounted the
shroud. She replaced a backing dating from 1534.
- Flury-Lemberg said she discovered a stitching pattern
on the shroud similar to the hem of a cloth found in first-century Jewish
tombs at Masada. She said the weave's three-to-one herringbone pattern
was authentic for a first-century cloth of unusually fine quality.
- Two Israeli archaeologists announced in 1997 that they
believed the shroud could not be 2,000 years old because a garment could
not last intact for 20 centuries (ct, Oct. 27, 1997, p. 100). About three
years later, however, archaeologist Shimon Gibson discovered shroud-wrapped
remains in a tomb in Jerusalem's Hinnom Valley. Although this shroud was
in tatters, it was submitted to one of the same laboratories that handled
the Turin shroud. Scientists dated Gibson's shroud to the first half of
the first century, making the tomb occupant a contemporary of Jesus.
- Gibson's discovery was largely unheralded. But late last
year Gibson released the results of the tests, which showed the tomb occupant
had died of Hansen's disease. The shroud had covered the oldest confirmed
remains of a leprosy victim.
- Like Mel Gibson's movie, The Passion of the Christ, the
shroud opens a window into the hearts of those who view it. "There
is only one person it could've wrapped, even though science could never
prove who it wrapped," Schwortz says. "The biggest irony of my
life is that I spend most of my time trying to convince Christians that
the shroud is authentic. God does have a great sense of humor."
- - Gordon Govier is the host and executive producer of
The Book & the Spade, a weekly radio program focusing on biblical archaeology.
- Copyright © 2004 Christianity Today.