Reflections On The Shroud Of Turin
REFLECTIONS ON THE SHROUD
• The Shroud of Turin Website (Barrie Schwortz)
Reflections On The Shroud Of TurinJan 08
REFLECTIONS ON THE SHROUD
By Robert Perry
January 3, 2012
I want to write today about something that is a bit far afield from my usual topics: the Shroud of Turin. The Shroud has been a fascination of mine for over thirty years. Recently, I’ve been getting back into it, mostly in the form of watching television documentaries (on YouTube) and doing some online reading.
For all those years, my pattern has been that I spend a few years checking in on the Shroud only occasionally, and then I feel drawn back into greater contact. It’s as if a magnetic force pulls me back to it. The nature of that force is no mystery. I want contact with the historical Jesus, the real Jesus that actually lived on earth. I want to reach back, past the myths and legends, the creeds and icons, and touch the real figure, the actual man.
That, of course, is why I study New Testament scholars. And yet those scholars are using delicate and subjective intellectual tools to reach from the gospel records back to the time of Jesus some 40 to 70 years earlier, a time shrouded in mist, to make their best educated guesses about what actually took place there. It’s as if they are trying to shine a flashlight into that mist, trying to penetrate a fog that will never fully lift.
If we are talking about contact with the actual man, the Shroud is on a completely different level. If it is authentic, then we are talking about a cloth that actually wrapped Jesus’ body, that contains his blood (which turns out to be Type-AB), that has dirt from his feet and dust from the stone slab on which he was laid, and that has a one-of-a-kind image of his body and his timeless, regal face. If the Shroud is authentic, it contains a record of everything that physically happened to Jesus from Good Friday to Easter Sunday, imprinted on the cloth by his own body. If we are talking about contact with Jesus, there is nothing that comes close to the Shroud. That is why I have found myself drawn back to it again and again, since I was 18.
As you may know, the Shroud is a fourteen-foot linen cloth, that contains the eery front and back images of a naked man, a man who seems to have been crucified. It has been housed in Turin, Italy since 1578 and can be traced at least to France in 1355, but its history becomes questionable before that. A carbon-dating test in 1988 measured the cloth as originating between 1260 and 1390. And that seemed to put an end to it. The Shroud was proclaimed a fake and one of the scientists who measured its age labeled belief in it on par with being a flat-earther.
But that didn’t end it. People slowly realized that the date didn’t explain how the image got there — an image that is not composed of paint, but of some kind of chemical change to the cloth itself — and why everything else about the Shroud seemed so flawlessly realistic. The carbon-dating stood on one side while a mountain of other equally scientific evidence stood on the other. It wasn’t a case of science vs. faith, but of science vs. science.
Eventually, a plausible explanation for the carbon-dating was discovered. The carbon-14 tests had dated material from only one corner of the Shroud and that specific area has now been demonstrated to be chemically unlike the rest of the Shroud. A number of lines of evidence converge on the conclusion that that area was the site of a 16th-century reweave that was invisible to the naked eye (though not to the trained eye of a number of textile experts).
So the one test that stood against the mountain of positive evidence has effectively been invalidated, which means the only thing still standing is that mountain. Which brings us right back to the strong probability that the Shroud actually wrapped the dead body of Jesus, and provides us with something like a photograph of him, 1800 years before photography was invented, and a 3D map of his body, nearly 2000 years before the technology to recognize that existed.
While many details of the Shroud are fascinating in their medical or historical accuracy, the image itself is what is most entrancing on a human level and mysterious on a scientific level. It has been shown that the image is a change in coloration of some of the top-most fibrils that make up the linen threads. How that change in coloration occurred is still unknown. But how it functions visually is pretty clear. It seems that the closer the body was to the cloth at any particular point, the greater the density of the image at that point. Thus, where the body touched the cloth, there is a more dense image. Where the body was slightly distant from the cloth, there is a less dense image. So, for instance, the nose is darker, as it presumably was touching the cloth, while the sides of the face are lighter, since they were presumably slightly distant from the cloth.
This makes for an image that looks odd, not particularly life-like at all. But when you take a photographic negative, everything changes. Now the nose is lightest, while the sides of the face are slightly darker — much like a real face would appear. This explains why a negative of the Shroud looks like a photograph, and it also explains the 3D information contained in the image, since lightness or darkness are functions of cloth-body distance.
What really puzzles me, though, is this: What I’ve just described really only works if whatever traveled from the body to the cloth (whether that be heat, chemicals, or some form of radiation) traveled only either straight up (from the front of the body to the cloth above) or straight down (from the back of the body to the cloth below). If, instead, what caused the image radiated out in all directions, you’d get a blurry image, rather than the crisp one we see on the Shroud.
Further, the cloth must have been close to absolutely flat — flat underneath the body and flat on top of the body. If the cloth had wrapped the body, followed the contours of the body, then the cloth-body distance would have been much the same all over. There would have been gaps between cloth and body at certain points — for instance, where the cloth left the nose to join the top of the cheekbone — but except at those points, the cloth would have followed the body’s contours. This means that the sides of the face, or the sides of the torso, or the sides of the legs, would have just as much image as the tops of those features. And that would mean the image would actually lose its photographic quality (and the 3D information as well). To understand why, think of a photo of a person’s body in which every part of the body is just as light as every other part. There would be no shadows, and as a result, no sense of contour. All you’d get is a white shape.
If the cloth hadn’t been flat, you’d also get other problems with the image. The image would be too wide, for one thing. Imagine putting paint on your face, wrapping a tea towel around your face, and then opening the tea towel up. The image of your face would be too wide. Also, a cloth that was wrapped around the body would be wrinkled, creating cloth-body distance that had nothing to do with the body’s shape but was simply a result of the folds that occur when a two-dimensional cloth is draped over a three-dimensional body.
I realize that this is probably hard to follow. Ideally, it would be a much longer explanation, and complete with diagrams. Even then, it’s easy to misunderstand. For a more visual explanation, see the third video down on this page.
My main point is, I don’t understand how the image could have been formed. How do you get some kind of image-formation mechanism that only travels straight up or down — from a dead body, no less? And how do you get the cloth completely flat? By the way, the cloth at one point had wrapped around the body, as a blood stain from the tip of one of the elbows shows. So it seems to have gone from being wrapped around the body to being stretched flat above and below the body.
It’s very hard to talk about all this without thinking of the resurrection. I need to say that there are credible theories of how the image could have been formed by natural processes. For myself, though, I don’t see how normal chemical processes could have resulted in this image, with its crispness and its 3D information. I have difficulty not seeing this one-of-a-kind image being the result of a one-of-a-kind event. And that, quite naturally, makes me feel that in the Shroud I am touching more than the man himself, that I am in contact with the crowning event of his life, the event that literally changed the world.
If you want to learn more about the Shroud, I highly recommend www.shroud.com, which is really the main Shroud website. I also highly recommend www.shroudstory.com, which presents high-quality information on the Shroud from one man’s point of view. I’ve also just discovered his blog, which he typically posts to a few times a day. If you are interested in the Shroud, it’s an incredibly valuable service that will keep you up to date on the latest news.
In terms of documentaries, here is one of the all-time best Shroud documentaries, a terrific telling of the story that many believe thoroughly discredited the 1988 carbon-dating:
Here’s a great one on an attempt to reproduce on computer the face on the Shroud (though, to be honest, I prefer the face as it appears on the Shroud — somehow the cheekbones, along with the whole regal feel of the face, got lost in translation):
Here is a relatively recent BBC one I had never seen before:
And here is perhaps my favorite one,which I almost know by heart. It has some problems (I wish it hadn’t included the flower images), but I just love the mood it creates:
• The Shroud of Turin Website (Barrie Schwortz)
• Shroud Story
• Shroud of Turin Blog (Dan Porter)
• Wikipedia on the Shroud of Turin
• Official Site Of The Custodians Of The Shroud In Turin