I hope you understand," said a current editor of Scientific American, "that [our magazine] is under new ownership now, and we certainly wouldn't have published that article today. It was nonsense."
He was referring to Scientific American's March 1937 article on the shroud of Turin, believed by many to be the very cloth which covered the body of Christ after it was taken down from the cross.
Opinions are very heated and dogmatic on the subject of the shroud. Is it a miracle? A hoax? Is it genuine? Among the religious, Protestants in general have tended to voice skepticism; modern Catholics, belief. Secular scholars, following their own dogma of demanding proof rather than mere speculation, have almost unanimously judged it a religious hoax.
But Robert Wilcox, former religion editor of the Miami News, came to the conclusion the relic is genuine. In 1977 his book Shroud stirred anew the centuries-old authenticity debate.
In the Beginning? Curiously enough, it was a Roman Catholic bishop who first branded the shroud a fraud. When, in the year 1356, the fourteen-by-three-and-a-half-foot piece of linen was exhibited at the obscure church of Lirey in central France — the first known historical record of its existence — it quickly became the subject of a lengthy memorandum to the Pope from Henry of Arcis, bishop of Troyes. Bishop Henry alleged that the Lirey canons had "falsely and deceitfully, being consumed with the passion of avarice and not from any motive of devotion but only of gain, procured for their church a certain cloth cunningly painted, upon which by clever sleight of hand was depicted the twofold image of one man, that is to say the back and the front, they falsely declaring and pretending that this was the actual shroud in which our Savior Jesus Christ was enfolded in the tomb."
The actual painter, he went on, had been discovered by one of his predecessors and, being summoned to the bishop's presence, had candidly admitted the painting to be "a work of human skill and not miraculously wrought or bestowed" (Ian Wilson,' The Turin Shroud, p. 230).
To be fair, however, it is necessary to state that modern investigators of the cloth and its image have found no trace of paint on its surface or in its fibers. The source of the color of its faint markings has therefore been sought elsewhere. The 1937 Scientific American article, for instance, stated: "It is now established also that there are particles of blood on the Shroud,
BACK AND FRONT images stand head to headso well preserved that they still show the composition of the blood. Beyond doubt, the two figures on the Shroud are the imprints of a human body... evidently that of a man who was crucified."
in the full-length Turin shroud.
Yet here, too, modern examination tells a different story. A board of scientists appointed by the diocese of Turin reported in 1976 that the coloring agent used does not appear to be blood, for there is no penetration of the fibers, no surface encrustation and no reaction to benzidine tests.
According to Wilcox (Shroud, p. 45), twenty-one popes — from Sixtus V in the 1470s to Paul VI in the 1970s — have expressed confidence in the authenticity of the shroud. Pope Paul VI called it "the most important relic in the history of Christianity" (U.S. Catholic, May 1978, p. 48). Many individual church scholars have pronounced themselves convinced. Yet even today there is "a strong antishroud contingent in the church, and the church has withheld official judgment" (ibid).
The Look of the Shroud When actually seen today, the linen of the shroud is ivory-colored, almost yellow. On it is the faint life sized double image of a human figure — as if the cloth had been draped over a man's head, allowed to contact both his front and back, and had somehow taken on the characteristics of a photographic negative. Darker-hued markings seem to be but wrinkles. The most prominent colorations are the burn and water marks suffered in 1532 when the shroud's silver reliquary partially melted in a building fire. One corner of a fold is entirely burned through.
But for all this, the cloth is very clean-looking; the outline of a man is rather obscure. It does not appear to the naked eye as the pictures show it, with their considerable contrast, a maze of light and dark reversed and strengthened by modern photography. Rather its markings are only shadows that shade imperceptibly into the background of the cloth.
"The closer one tries to examine it [the image itself] the more it melts away like mist.... Except when viewed from a distance, the image is extremely difficult to distinguish" (Wilson, p. 9).
The markings have been described as carmine, carmine-mauve, or carmine-rust. But pale brown or sepia is closer to the fact, though the alleged bloodstains are said to show a tinge of red. Some have claimed to detect faint blood marks even under the hairline — from the crown of thorns which was jammed down on Christ's head, they say — and 100 or so marks all over the body which they attribute to the flagellation He received from the Roman lictor.
In any case, what adds to the mystery of the shroud image is that its light and dark areas are actually reversed, like a photographic negative. How could any deliberate forger of the 14th century, having never seen a negative (since photographic negatives are an invention of the 19th century), have known to reverse the shades? Or how it should look when done?
This is but one of several pieces of evidence which have led many investigators to conclude the shroud image could only have been produced by some kind of close contact with a human body, probably of one who had been crucified. But how? And whose body? And where and when? These questions all remain a mystery — and subjects of continuing controversy.
How Was the Image Produced? Other cloths have been found from Egyptian tombs, and some shrouds "of known martyrs" (Wilson, p. 210), which have shown faint impressions of the high spots of the face or back of a corpse with which they had been buried. But not one has anything like a clear image. They also show decomposition stains from the decay of flesh rather than exhibiting "photography," according to Wilcox (pp. 54, 117). Were other "holy shrouds," such as were exhibited in the church of Cadouin in Perigord and in Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, exceptionally good examples of this kind, with the shroud of Turin eclipsing them all?
Attempts to duplicate the postulated imprinting from the face of a corpse by the use of powdered red chalk and a cloth resulted in failure. A "negative" was produced, but "the eyes, cheeks and mouth were too low; the nose was flattened. It was at best a caricature, and nothing at all like the precise, well proportioned face on the linen surface of the shroud" (Wilcox, p. 64).
Perhaps a chemical reaction involving burial spices and ammonia from the body (especially if the body was buried unwashed) could have produced such an image?
Paul Vignon, in the Scientific American article of 1937 (translated from the French by Edward Wuenschel), wrote: "I was able to determine what kind of vapors had acted on the cloth-humid ammoniac vapors, resulting from the fermentation of urea, which is exceptionally abundant in the sweat produced by physical torture and by fever. We also determined that the vapors had reacted with aloes, which were spread on the cloth and sensitized it to the action of the vapors. The detail photographs show that the aloes were in powder form." But other scientists failed to verify such dogmatically reported results.
A more recent experiment, in which a hand was placed in a glove with aloes and oil and ammonia, did indeed
induce shadings on the inside of the glove (Wilcox, pp. 16, 66, 95). But all this could prove is that brown stains could be produced on cloth by this method, though not a perfect image, even in such a closely fitting covering as a glove.
The Early Church and Images
The early Christians had no pictures of Christ. They were Jews, and Jews allowed themselves no images, particularly if they were in any way involved in religion. Use of an image of any kind in worship was forbidden by the second commandment "You shall not make a carved image for yourself nor the likeness of anything in the heavens above, or on the earth below, or in the waters under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them: for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous god" (Ex. 20:4-5, The New English Bible).
Just before Israel entered the promised land, God instructed: "You will soon be crossing the Jordan to enter Canaan. You must... destroy all their carved figures and their images of cast metal, and lay their hill-shrines in ruins" (Num. 33:51-52). And that is what, in the main, the Israelites did.
They needed no pictures, no paintings, to remind them of the true, invisible God. But most Jews by the first century A.D. went even beyond that and allowed no images for any purposes.
The milieu in which they lived strengthened first-century Jews as well as Christians in their abhorrence of images. Says the Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th ed., "Iconoclast": "There can be no doubt that the early Christians were unanimous in condemning heathen image-worship and the various customs, some immoral, with which it was associated. A form of iconolatry especially deprecated in the New Testament was the then prevalent adoration of the images of the reigning emperors (see Rev. xv.2). It is also tolerably certain that, if for no other reason besides the Judaism, obscurity, and poverty of the early converts to Christianity, the works of art seen in their meeting-houses cannot at first have been numerous."
Such, basically, was the Christian view for 300 years. And any art containing images that crept in must he attributed solely to the conversion of Gentiles to the Christian ranks.
"It was a common accusation brought against Jews and Christians that they had `no altars, no temples, no known images'... that "they set up no image or form of any god'… and this charge was never denied; on the contrary Origen gloried in it..." (ibid).
Eusebius, even in the fourth century, "in reply to a request of Constantia, sister of Constantine, for a picture of Christ, wrote that it was unlawful to possess images pretending to represent the Savior either in his divine or in his human nature, and added that to avoid the reproach of idolatry he had actually taken away from a lady friend the pictures of Paul and of Christ which she had" (ibid).
Wrote Eusebius to Constantia: "And since you have written about some supposed likeness or other of Christ, what and what kind of likeness of Christ is there?... Such images are forbidden by the second commandment. They are not to be found in churches, and are forbidden among Christians alone."
This was the original teaching of the Catholic Church. But Christianity was soon well on the way toward corruption of its original doctrines.
Continuing in the Britannica: "Similarly Epiphanius [fifth century] in a letter to John, bishop of Jerusalem, tells how in a church at Anabiatha near Bethel he had found a curtain painted with the image `of Christ or of some other saint,' which he had torn down and ordered to be used for the burial of a pauper."
By the end of the sixth century the early Christian battle against images and icons was lost.
Only one other theory remained: the idea of "a sudden radiance of our Lord's body at the moment of the resurrection" (ibid., p. 119). This is the "scorch theory" which invites comparison to the images left in Hiroshima, Japan, by the first atomic bomb which, even while it was vaporizing the bodies of its victims, simultaneously cast their shadows and permanently etched them into concrete pavements. But of course this theory is the very essence of circular reasoning; it assumes the conclusion yet to be proven true and then uses the theory as part of the proof. Moreover, there exists no proof a radiation burst could any better produce detailed images of wounds, blood flows, hair and beard, or a precise image of a three-dimensional body on a flat cloth than any other suggested methods.
In Search of a Past "I am convinced that this is the shroud that covered Jesus Christ after His crucifixion." So declared Dr. Max Frei of the University of Zurich after painstakingly testing for pollen grains in the linen of the shroud and analyzing them.
"My analysis of pollen grains has been confirmed under the electron microscope beyond any reasonable doubt.... I isolated from the shroud more than a dozen pollen grains from plants growing in Jerusalem and surrounding deserts. They grow only in the Near East," he said.
"The pollen most found on the shroud is identical to the most common pollen in the sediment of Lake Tiberias, in Israel" (National Enquirer, Nov. 29, 1977).
But even if we accept that the pollen proves the shroud once resided in Palestine, it would not necessarily connect it with Christ, for Dr. Frei also found in its fibers pollen from the area of southeastern Turkey! This finding would, perhaps, support Ian Wilson's theory that the shroud itself is none other than the famous Mandylion (meaning "napkin" or "handkerchief' in Arabic) which had been brought to Constantinople from Edessa in eastern Turkey. From there he postulates the Knights Templars took the shroud to the Holy Land before bringing it to France.
The Byzantine Connection Fifty years before the shroud enters history in the possession of Geoffrey deCharnay and the Lirey church, there was another Geoffrey deCharnay. This other Geoffrey is not provably related, but shroudists suspect that he was. This man was a famous knight of the Templar organization, which King Philip the Fair of France charged with secret "idol" worship of a disembodied head — the image on the shroud, says Wilson and Geoffrey was martyred, all the while denying there was any idol.
The Templars had sacked Constantinople (Byzantium) in 1204, which, as capital of the Byzantine Empire and center of its religion, had become glutted with relics and icons innumerable. Among the relics, according to extant records, was something called a burial cloth of Christ, which apparently bore a full length image, and also the famous Edessa image, the Mandylion, which had been taken by force from the Moslem rulers of its city in A.D. 944. These both disappeared in the looting — possibly taken to the Templars' Palestine headquarters.
Ian Wilson speculates that both cloths were one and the same. He explains the double listing as possibly referring to copies of the original. A flourishing industry existed in Byzantium of making cloth and other images of "Christ." Many of these were, like the Mandylion itself, regarded as miraculously produced.
The problem for Wilson's theory is that the Edessa image is specifically described as a face only, appearing on a towel, a veronica napkin, while on the Turin shroud is undeniably a double full length figure. Wilson suggests the reason was that the shroud had always been kept folded in such a way that only the face was showing.
In any event, the image on the shroud has a long, sad face and long hair. A writer for the London Tablet was moved to observe: "The first thought likely to occur is: But how very strongly the figure resembles the Christ of any number of old masters [painters of the fifth century on]"' (quoted from Wilcox, p. 26).
What the Earlier Paintings Looked Like There is more to that statement than meets the eye.
The oldest pictures of Christ are paintings on the walls of the catacombs of Rome. Most date from the second and third centuries. It was against the teachings of the church to have such pictures (see box: The Early Church and Images). Nevertheless, those who sketched them only about 100 years after the apostles — were undoubtedly acquainted with individuals who were familiar with the general appearance of Christ that came by word of mouth from His own generation.
"... There is a painting of the Resurrection of Lazarus in which Christ is shown — youthful and beardless, with short hair and large eyes.... Although it is now only barely recognizable, this picture is of great interest since it is the oldest representation of Jesus that is preserved anywhere" (Roderic Dunkerley, Beyond the Gospels, p. 57).
In all of these early portrayals, "He is almost invariably boyish.... His hair is short" (Frederic William Farrar, The Life of Christ as Represented in Art, 1894, p. 43). Short hair was the predominant style among men in the Hellenized areas of the eastern Mediterranean (including Palestine) in Christ's time.
Edessa not Hellenized The Hellenized areas around the eastern Mediterranean included Palestine. They were lands where men had short hair. The apostle Paul appealed to this fact when he wrote to the Greeks (Hellenes) of Corinth: "Does not nature itself teach you that for a man to wear long hair is degrading to him"? (I Cor. 11:14) But Edessa was beyond the Euphrates River — in the realm of the ancient Assyrians where long hair on men was considered noble. Long after the Persians had taken over the Assyrian kingdom, and into Christian times, it was still true that "the population of Edessa was predominantly Semitic and had closer affinities with its Iranian than with its more Hellenized western neighbors" (Oxford Classical Dictionary, 2nd ed., "Edessa").
Other pictorial evidence found near Palestine corresponds to the evidence from Rome. "Reference may be made to another portrayal of Christ, dating from early in the third century. It was found on the wall of a house — chapel at Dura-Europos in the Syrian Desert in 1931-2 during excavations of Yale University and the French Academy of Inscriptions and Letters.... Here, too, He is young and without a beard and wearing the ordinary costume of the time.... It is not until the fourth century that the familiar bearded face appears" (Dunkerley, p. 58).
"During the first four hundred years there is probably no representation of Christ as bearded, or as a worn and weary sufferer" (Farrar, p. 52).
It took almost 400 years to evolve the "Christ" we have been brought up to envision! It is a false Christ portrayed on the shroud, not the Christ of the Bible. (See the box: Could Jesus Have Worn Long Hair?)
Let's consider the Edessa image further.
The Abgar Legends The original Edessa image was a portrait on cloth, allegedly discovered at the city now called Urfa in or slightly before A.D. 544, and recognized to be the same as an earlier image of Christ of the Abgar legends.
The original Abgar legend centered around, not a shroud, but a totally different yet equally fantastic and unique artifact relating to Christ. It was a letter allegedly written by the Savior Himself. Eusebius, the fourth-century church historian, tells the story in his Ecclesiastical History, book I, chapter XIII: "Agbartis [a common alternate spelling of Abgar], therefore, who reigned over the nations beyond the Euphrates with great glory, and who had been wasted away with a disease, both dreadful and incurable by human means, when he heard the name of Jesus frequently mentioned, and his miracles unanimously attested by all, sent a suppliant message to him, by a letter-carrier, entreating a deliverance from his disease. But, though he [Jesus] did not yield to his call at that time, he nevertheless
condescended to write him a private letter...
Could Jesus Have Worn Long Hair?
The image on the shroud shows a figure with long flowing hair and a beard. While acknowledging that the Romans were clean-shaven — in the normal fashion of the first century — and that beard and long hair were not characteristically Jewish during New Testament times — some, such as Ian Wilson in The Turin Shroud, have attempted to make a point for authenticity of the relic by claiming that
"most Jews had worn beards and long hair since the time of Moses." And further, referring to a feature of the shroud's posterior image, "the victim's most Jewish feature was a long streak of hair visible at the back of the head, falling almost to the shoulder blades.... the unmistakable impression of an unbound pigtail. One study has shown that this was one of the commonest fashions for the Jewish men in antiquity" (New York Daily News, March 24, 1978).
What are the facts about long hair and first-century Jews?
The facts are that no Jewish religious leader who honored the Word which had come from God would have worn long hair. This Word included "the law and the prophets" which the Jew Jesus said He had "not come to abolish... but to fulfill" (Matt. 5:17). Specifically, note' Ezekiel 44:20: "They [priests] shall not shave their heads or let their locks grow long." In Roman times the Talmud (Ta'anith l7a) specified a priest's hair was to be cut every 30 days, and (Sanh. 22h) that its style was to be the "Julian." that is, the short hairstyle worn by Julius Caesar (see photo).
Any Jew might have worn a beard. The Word nowhere condemns beards, and in certain eras, at least, a beard was considered an important sign of manhood (11 Sam. 10:5).
The rebel, David's son Absalom, is presented as an example of long-haired men (11 Sam. 14:26: 18:9). Long hair was pagan: the pagan gods were so imagined. The ancient Assyrian kings were long-haired. Israel was to be separate from this way of the world.
But Nazarites — those who had a special vow of consecration to God — had long hair. Could Jesus, like Samson, have been a lifelong Nazarite? If Jesus had been a Nazarite, He would have appeared quite different from the average Jew. He would have stood out in a crowd (hut see Luke 4:30: John 8:59: 10:39).' There would have been no need for Him to have to be identified (Matt. 26:48: Mark 14:44).
Jesus characterized Himself as one who drank wine (in great moderation, of course). But in the chapter of Nazarite regulations, any use of wine or any other product of the grape is prohibited (Num. 6:3). So Jesus was not a — Nazarite. (Do not be confused by His title of "Nazarene," which designated a man who grew up in the city of Nazareth)
"For a man to wear long hair," wrote Paul, "is degrading to him" (I Cor. 11:14). And Paul had "seen Jesus" (I Cor. 9:1: 15:8). Can we imagine Paul regarded his Lord as shameful or degraded? Of course not!
"Of this, also, we have the evidence, in a written answer, taken from the public records of the city of Edessa, then under the government of the king..."
Could such a story possibly be true? Eusebius apparently believed the alleged archival documents he copied were genuine. But few scholars believe it today. Nor does the New Testament give any such hint.
Furthermore, "F.C. Burkitt in his Early Eastern Christianity (1904) showed an anachronism in The Doctrine of Addai which makes it likely that Christianity reached Edessa only after 150... " (The [BBC] Listener, May 11, 1978, p. 617).
One must thus conclude that not only the story of a letter from Jesus, but also the story of the origin of an image of Christ, are mere manufactured tales coined long after the beginning of Christianity.
And whatever the date of Edessa's first Christianity, the quality of its religion is dubious. At Abgar IX's court in A.D. 180 was a teacher called Bardesanes, a convert later regarded as a heretic because he taught an astrological fatalism rather than the gospel.
And there were other heretics. Says Eusebius: "Under the same reign, Bardesanes lived, who dwelt in the land between the rivers, where heresies abounded... " (book IV, chapter XXX).
How Was Christ's Body Really Wrapped? The shroud theory demands that Christ's body was covered differently than was the custom in Jewish burial. The usual fashion was for the body to be wrapped cocoon-wise in strips of linen cloth which were bound at hands and feet. All representations of Christ's burial in the first four centuries assumed this Egyptian-like style. "The [Jewish] corpse was wrapped in a shroud, and bandages soaked with resin were wound around the hands and feet: a cloth, the sudarium, was placed over the face (John 11:44). Finally the tomb was shut" (Bo Reicke, The New Testament Era, p. 187).
The account of the raising of Lazarus illustrates the method. "The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with bandages, and his face wrapped with a cloth." It would appear that he was so enclosed and tied as to be scarcely able to walk until "Jesus said to them, `Unbind him, and let him go"' (John 11:44). Shroud of Turin theorists postulate that Joseph of Arimathea, not having time to bury Christ's body properly, simply covered it, leaving the body lying amidst the rolls of cloth he had brought for the usual wrapping, perhaps intending to return and use them after the Sabbath. They suppose this may have been what Peter saw when he came into the tomb after the resurrection and saw "linen cloths lying, and the napkin, which had been on his head... rolled up in a place by itself (John 20:6-7).
But Matthew tells us that "Joseph took the body, and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud" (Matt. 27:59). This shroud was obviously not merely a long flat cloth like the Turin shroud, laid out under the body, then folded over it from the head.
The Gospel of John plainly tells us that Joseph and his company actually "bound it [the body — not merely covered it] in linen cloths [plural] with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews" (John 19:40). This was done even before they carried the body to the tomb (verse 42).
Is It of God or of Men? It is said that Luther's protector, Frederick the Wise, possessed 19,013 relics which earned the beholder 1,902,202 years' remission of purgatory! Physical-man's desire for material objects for use in worship leads to such absurdity.
Can we believe that God Himself, knowing the inevitable misuse and the decline of true religion it would produce, would have given mankind for an icon, a relic, the very shroud in which Jesus was buried? The same God who hid the body of Moses and hid the exact location of his grave, lest the Israelites should worship the body of Moses, and lose sight of the worship of God?
U.S. Catholic thus concluded its discussion of the shroud: "... Forgers do forge, and people have a great ability to rationalize and theorize their way toward what they would like to believe.
"Ultimately, it's about as difficult to prove scientifically the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin as it is to document or explain the Resurrection itself. But the latter is an essential question, and the former is not."