Episode 8: The Shroud of Turin Introduction
Today’s episode is a beginning. It does not YET represent rigorous research, but only a skimming. My opinion at the beginning of this journey is a middle opinion. Call me a Shroud agnostic, at least for now. There are Shroud atheists out there that quickly and completely dismiss the Shroud. They may be right, but I’m not sure they’ve thoroughly researched their conclusions. Likewise, many faithful Shroud believers seemingly assume its real and don’t really interact with some legitimate reasons for debunking. The fact is that there is pretty solid evidence on both sides, which probably explains why The Shroud still has its believers and detractors. This is not a religious issue for me – I am firmly convinced that Jesus rose from the dead with or without The Shroud, and even wrote a book about the resurrection of Jesus. (Easter: Fact or Fiction.)
Why should I – a Baptist preacher who doesn’t believe at all in the Roman Catholic concept of relics or icons, do a long series on the Shroud of Turin? Protestants have taken two positions on the Shroud over the years. I can neatly frame those two positions by quoting from two of my heroes, Charles Spurgeon and C.S. Lewis:
On the negative, anti-Shroud side, we have Charles Spurgeon:
Spurgeon on the Shroud: Do you not think, too, that some seekers miss comfort because they forget that Jesus Christ is alive? The Christ of the Church of Rome is always seen in one of two positions—either as a babe in his mother’s arms, or else as dead. That is Rome’s Christ, but our Christ is alive. Jesus who rose has “left the dead no more to die.” I was requested in Turin to join with others in asking to see the shroud in which the Saviour was buried. I must confess that I had not faith enough to believe in the shroud, nor had I curiosity enough to wish to look at the fictitious linen. I would not care a penny for the article, even if I knew it to be genuine. Our Lord has left his shroud and sepulchre, and lives in heaven. To-night he so lives that a sigh of yours will reach him, a tear will find him, a desire in your heart will bring him to you. Only seek him as a loving, living Saviour, and put your trust in him as risen from the dead no more to die, and comfort will, I trust, come into your spirit.
C. H. Spurgeon, “A Gospel Sermon to Outsiders,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 23 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1877), 701–702.
On the more open side and curious side, we have C.S. Lewis:
Dear Sister Penelope
I am ashamed of having grumbled. And your act was not that of a brute—in operation it was more like that of an angel, for (as I said) you started me on a quite new realisation of what is meant by being ‘in Christ’, and immediately after that ‘the power which erring men call chance’ put into my hands Mascall’s two books in the Signpost series which continued the process.102 So I lived for a week end (at Aberystwyth) in one of those delightful vernal periods when doctrines that have hitherto been only buried seeds begin actually to come up—like snowdrops or crocuses. I won’t deny they’ve met a touch of frost since (if only things would last, or rather if only we would!) but I’m still very much, and gladly, in your debt. The only real evil of having read your scripts when I was tired is that it was hardly fair to them and not v. useful to you.
I enclose the MS. of Screwtape. If it is not a trouble I shd. like you to keep it safe until the book is printed (in case the one the publisher has got blitzed)—after that it can be made into spills or used to stuff dolls or anything.
Thank you very much for the photo of the Shroud. It raises a whole question on which I shall have to straighten out my thought one of these days.
C. S. Lewis, The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, ed. Walter Hooper, vol. 2 (New York: HarperCollins e-books; HarperSanFrancisco, 2004–2007), 493–494.
I note here that Lewis had the picture of the head of the Shroud of Turin framed, and it hung on the wall of his bedroom for the rest of his life.
On this particular issue, count me with C.S. Lewis – at least for now. While I believe Spurgeon is correct in condemning Shroudish idolatry, or the worship of The Shroud, I think he was too hasty in his conclusion that The Shroud was an absolute fake. It certainly may be, but it would appear that Spurgeon’s theological prejudice against the Roman Catholic church led him to dismiss the Shroud’s genuineness as a possibility, rather than some scientific, theological or historical reason.
Top Ten Facts about the Shroud of Turin:
1 Coins in eyes. Perhaps the most compelling ‘fact’ about The Shroud is not a fact in everybody’s eyes. I’ve erased and retyped that sentence now twice, because it was a legit, “no pun intended.” line. Be that as it may, researchers have apparently discovered what may be coins in the place of the eye-sockets on the image of the man in The Shroud. (Because the image is so small, there is heavy debate about this ‘discovery.’) We are going to possibly spend an entire episode on this one issue, so I’m not going to go too deeply into it now, but the supposed coins at least appear to be first century coins – and there is some evidence – scant, but some – that Jewish people of the first two centuries were buried with coins in their eyes.
2. You’ve probably heard that The Shroud was carbon 14 dated and found conclusively to be a medieval hoax. That conclusion was highly debated in the 1980s, and has been ever since. More recently, data has surfaced that has cast more doubt on the original conclusion. Researcher Tristan Casabianca and his team were able to gain access to the raw data of the original 1989 dating, and found some significant issues. In a recent interview with the French “New Man” magazine, Casabianca says:
“In 1989, the results of the shroud dating were published in the prestigious journal Nature: between 1260 and 1390 with 95% certainty. But for thirty years, researchers have asked the laboratories for raw data. These have always refused to provide them. In 2017, I submitted a legal request to the British Museum, which supervised the laboratories. Thus, I had access to hundreds of unpublished pages, which include these raw data. With my team, we conducted their analysis. Our statistical analysis shows that the 1988 carbon 14 dating was unreliable: the tested samples are obviously heterogeneous, [showing many different dates], and there is no guarantee that all these samples, taken from one end of the sheet, are representative of the whole fabric. It is therefore impossible to conclude that the shroud of Turin dates from the Middle Ages.”
As I mentioned at the beginning – I’m a Shroud agnostic at this point. I’ve heard various reasons to debunk the 1989 dating of the Shroud for years, and I’ve heard people confidently quote that dating as if that completely and utterly convinced them. I remain unpersuaded either way…at this point.
3.. The blood stains on The Shroud appear to be human blood. From Historycollection.co:
Many skeptics regarding the Shroud of Turin’s authenticity have long claimed that the image seen on the linen cloth is nothing more than a figure that an artist painted. In 1978, scholar John Jackson got permission from the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist to carry out tests to determine what kind of paint may have been used. What he found when he tested pieces of the cloth is that no binding or mixing agents were used in the color, meaning that it did not correspond with the known painting practices of the fourteenth century. In fact, what was used to create the image on the shroud wasn’t paint at all. It was blood. Jackson’s truly astounding find, though, was that it was human blood on the shroud. The blood type has been identified as type AB. Furthermore, there are two distinctive types of blood found on the cover: pre-mortem blood, the kind before a person dies, and post-mortem, which has undergone changes following death.
4. The Shroud has withstood the rigors of time, and multiple disasters. This, of course, doesn’t guarantee its authenticity, but it is curious. In 1503, the Shroud was displayed at Bourg-en-Bresse for Archduke Philip the Handsome, who was the grandmaster of Flanders. A contemporary account by a courtier that was present named Antoine de Lalaing writes about the 1503 display of the Shroud: “The day of the great and holy Friday, the Passion was preached in Monsignor’s chapel by his confessor, the duke and duchess attending. Then they went with great devotion to the market halls of the town, where a great number of people heard the Passion preached by a Cordeilier. After that three bishops showed to the public the Holy Shroud of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and after the service it was shown in Monsignor’s chapel.” Of more interest to us here, Lalaing also mentions that the authenticity of The Shroud is seemingly proved by its having been tried by fire, boiled in oil, laundered many times ‘but it was not possible to efface or remove the imprint and image.’ 29 years after Lalaing wrote this, the entire chapel that held The Shroud burned, and its protective case melted. The Shroud itself suffered little damage beyond some scorching and one small hole that was brought about by melted silver dripping through.
5. Whether you believe the Shroud is the true burial cloth of Jesus or not, all agree that the Shroud is very old and very fragile. Most cloth from hundreds of years ago has long since disintegrated, so to protect the Shroud from damage, it is kept inside a hermetically sealed box that is filled with 99.5 percent argon and .5 percent oxygen. Why argon? Well, if you remember your high school chemistry, then you might remember that Argon is a noble gas, and noble gases are largely inert, meaning that they don’t react with many other elements. This means that decay and breakdown are much less likely
6. The burial cloth of Jesus is indeed mentioned in the Bible.
Luke 23: 50 There was a good and righteous man named Joseph, a member of the Sanhedrin, 51 who had not agreed with their plan and action. He was from Arimathea, a Judean town, and was looking forward to the kingdom of God. 52 He approached Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. 53 Taking it down, he wrapped it in fine linen and placed it in a tomb cut into the rock, where no one had ever been placed.
Luke 24: 9 Returning from the tomb, they reported all these things to the Eleven and to all the rest. 10 Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them were telling the apostles these things. 11 But these words seemed like nonsense to them, and they did not believe the women. 12 Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. When he stooped to look in, he saw only the linen cloths. So he went home, amazed at what had happened.
John 19: 40 Then they took Jesus’ body and wrapped it in linen cloths with the aromatic spices, according to the burial custom of the Jews. 41 There was a garden in the place where He was crucified. A new tomb was in the garden; no one had yet been placed in it. 42 They placed Jesus there because of the Jewish preparation and since the tomb was nearby.
John 20: 3 At that, Peter and the other disciple went out, heading for the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and got to the tomb first. 5 Stooping down, he saw the linen cloths lying there, yet he did not go in. 6 Then, following him, Simon Peter came also. He entered the tomb and saw the linen cloths lying there. 7 The wrapping that had been on His head was not lying with the linen cloths but was folded up in a separate place by itself.
It is quite significant that both Luke AND John mention the burial cloth of Jesus. Luke is part of what is called the synoptic gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke. They are considered highly related and all three contain very similar wording and material in places, which have caused some to speculate that there was an earlier oral (or written) source that all three accounts drew from, sometimes that source is called ‘Q,’ which stands for the French word Quelle (which means ‘what’ in French, but can also mean ‘source.’ John, however, is not usually considered to be derived from the Q source, so it is an additional layer of attestation that Jesus was buried in a linen cloth.
7. It is also mentioned multiple times by Early Church Fathers. For instance:
ORIGEN (184-253 AD): “He wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and put it in a new tomb” where no one was buried, thus preserving the body of Jesus for its glorious resurrection. But I think that this shroud was much cleaner from the time it was used to cover Christ’s body than it ever had been before. For the body of Jesus retained its own integrity, even in death, so that it cleansed everything it touched and renewed even the new tomb which had been cut from rock.
Manlio Simonetti, ed., Matthew 14-28, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 300.
HILARY OF POITIERS (310-367): Joseph of Arimathea, having asked Pilate to return Jesus’ body, wrapped it in a shroud, placed it in a new tomb carved out from a rock and rolled a stone in front of the entrance to the tomb. Although this may indeed be the order of events and although it was necessary to bury him who would rise from the dead, these deeds are nevertheless recounted individually because each of them is not without some importance. Joseph is called a disciple of the Lord because he was an image of the apostles, even though he was not numbered among the twelve apostles. It was he who wrapped the Lord’s body in a clean linen shroud; in this same linen we find all kinds of animals descending to Peter from heaven.7 It is perhaps not too extravagant to understand from this parallel that the church is buried with Christ under the name of the linen shroud.8 Just as in the linen, so also in the confession of the church are gathered the full diversity of living beings, both pure and impure. The body of the Lord, therefore, through the teaching of the apostles, is laid to rest in the empty tomb newly cut from a rock. In other words, their teaching introduced Christ into the hardness of the Gentile heart, which was uncut, empty and previously impervious to the fear of God. And because he is the only one who should penetrate our hearts, a stone was rolled over the entrance to the tomb, so that just as no one previous to him had been introduced as the author of divine knowledge, neither would anyone be brought in after him. From Hilary’s commentary on Matthew.
Manlio Simonetti, ed., Matthew 14-28, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 300.
BEDE: The vanity of the rich, who even in their graves cannot do without their riches, receives its condemnation from the simple and unassuming interment of the Lord. Hence indeed the custom of the church was derived, that the sacrifice of the altar should not be commemorated by wrapping the elements in silk, or any colored cloth, but in linen; as the body of the Lord was buried in clean fine linen
Thomas C. Oden and Christopher A. Hall, eds., Mark (Revised), Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998), 227.
8. Sadly, devotion to the Shroud (which might be idolatry…more on this later) has actually led to deaths. For example, in May of 1647 at a public showing of the Shroud, some members of the large crowd die of suffocation. What a terrifying way to go!
9. In September of 1939 at the dawn of World War 2, the Shroud is secretly taken to the Benedictine Abbey of Montevergine approximately 588 miles away. During the journey, the Shroud passes through Naples and Rome. The Shroud was returned to Turin in 1946, post war. In explaining the decision to move the Shroud, Father Andrea Cardin (the library curator at Montevergine) wrote, “”The Holy Shroud was moved in secret to the sanctuary in the Campania region on the precise orders of the House of Savoy and the Vatican.
“Officially this was to protect it from possible bombing (in Turin). In reality, it was moved to hide it from Hitler who was apparently obsessed by it. When he visited Italy in 1938, top-ranking Nazi aides asked unusual and insistent questions about the Shroud.” It should be remembered here that Italy was allied with Germany during WW2, but the Italians still sought to protect their most precious artifact from Hitler. Interestingly, Father Cardin notes that the Nazis almost located The Shroud, “In 1943 when German troops searched the Montevergine church, the monks there pretended to be in deep prayer before the altar, inside which the relic was hidden. This was the only reason it wasn’t discovered.”
10. In 1898, Secondo Pia, an Italian photographer, takes the first ever photograph of The Shroud. Just four years afterwards, in 1902, an agnostic professor of anatomy named Yves Delage wrote and presented a scientific paper (to the Academy of Sciences in Paris) that made a strong case for the Shroud not being a forgery, but a genuine medical artifact. Dr. Delage concluded that the image therein was likely the body of Christ.
With that, I’ll close this episode with a word from Shroud critic, and personal hero Charles Spurgeon:
Next to this, our faith most earnestly and intensely fixes itself upon the Christ of God. We trust in Jesus; we believe all that inspired history saith of him; not making a myth of him, or his life, but taking it as a matter of fact that God dwelt in very deed among men in human flesh, and that an atonement was really and truly offered by the incarnate God upon the cross of Calvary. Yet the Lord Jesus Christ to us is not alone a Saviour of the past. We believe that he has “ascended up on high, leading captivity captive,” and that he “ever liveth to make intercession for us.” I saw in the cathedral at Turin a very remarkable sight, namely, the pretended graveclothes of the Lord Jesus Christ, which are devoutly worshipped by crowds of Romanists. I could not help observing as I gazed upon these relics, that the ensigns of the death of Christ were all of him that the Romish church possessed. They may well show the true cross, for they crucify him afresh; they may well pray in his sepulchre, for he is not there, or in their church: and they may well claim his graveclothes, for they know only a dead Christ. But, beloved brethren, our Christ is not dead, neither has he fallen asleep, he still walks among the golden candlesticks, and holds the stars in his right hand. AMEN.
C. H. Spurgeon, The Sword and Trowel: 1872 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1872), 150.