The Shroud of Turin

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The Shroud of Turin – An Image of Jesus Christ?
The Shroud of Turin is a cloth approximately 14 feet long by 3.5 feet wide, and bears a “photographically negative” image of a man who seemed to have suffered the exact violence that was done to Jesus Christ at His crucifixion. The Catholic Church zealously guards the Shroud, and has not allowed a great deal of direct analysis of it. The most intense scientific investigation of the Shroud was undertaken by the Shroud of Turin Research Project (STURP) in 1978, when a team of forensic scientists were granted the rare opportunity to examine the Shroud in detail over several days. These investigators determined that the Shroud is unlike any artifact the world has ever seen.

The image on the Shroud of Turin is “pixilated,” meaning that it’s made up of thousands of tiny dots. Each dot only penetrates partway into the topmost fibrils of the outer threads, each of which is about 1/10 the width of a human hair. According to the STURP report, “No pigments, paints, dyes or stains have been found on the fibrils. X-ray, fluorescence and microchemistry on the fibrils preclude the possibility of paint being used as a method for creating the image.” The dots appear to be the result of “oxidation, dehydration and conjugation,” which suggests that they were produced by radiation.

The Shroud of Turin – The Analysis
In 1988, a sample from the Shroud of Turin was carbon-dated to between 1260 and 1390 AD. For many, this was enough to write off the Shroud as a forgery, but new information that has arisen since those tests has cast substantial doubt on their veracity. In particular, a type of “bioplastic coating” (a kind of living varnish made of microorganisms) that can radically alter carbon-dating results was found on the Shroud by C-14 expert Dr. Leoncio Garza-Valdes. Additionally, according to a report by a team of scientists in 2005, the section of cloth that was subjected to Carbon 14 dating was a later repair that was not part of the original cloth. Hopefully, the Catholic Church will allow it to be tested again with better techniques, but especially in light of the discovery of this bioplastic coating, the dating should be categorized as inconclusive until such time as new tests can be performed.

There are dozens of pieces of art and coins from the first millennium after Jesus Christ that appear to be copied from the Shroud of Turin image. Renowned Swiss criminologist Max Frei determined that particular types of limestone dust and pollen grains removed from the Shroud could only have come from in or around Jerusalem. There is another artifact called “The Sudarium of Oviedo” located in Spain, which appears to be the head cloth of Jesus referenced in the gospels, and which is provenanced (traced via historical references) back to at least the 7th century AD. This artifact has bloodstains, also of type AB, which match those of the Shroud precisely when they are overlaid with one another.

When viewed with a complex device known as the VP-8 Image Analyzer, the image on the Shroud of Turin appears topographically 3-dimensional, strongly suggesting that the image was projected by a body while the cloth was draped over it. There is no known forgery that has this feature, which would be amazing for a forger to even imagine, much less engineer. In addition, the blood stains have been positively identified as human blood exudates (type AB), and the flow patterns exactly match what would be expected in a crucifixion. There are pierce wounds in both feet and wrists, a large puncture wound to the torso, puncture wounds around the head, approximately 120 dumbbell-shaped contusions (matching the Roman “flagrum,” which was a type of whip) and many other injuries.

The Shroud of Turin – The Skeptics
Much has been made of certain skeptical speculations on the Shroud of Turin made by a gentleman named Walter McCrone in the late 1970’s. McCrone claimed that he had found paint particles on the Shroud, and that the image was therefore a painting. Many skeptics followed suit with similar claims, but the fact is that close analysis of the threads show that there is no correlation between the image and any paint particles. Moreover, there are 52 historically documented cases of artists “sanctifying” their paintings over the years by placing them face-to-face with the Shroud, which could plausibly explain the existence of paint particles on it.

As I noted previously, the image “pixels” only penetrate partway into the topmost fibrils of various threads, each of which is about 1/10th the width of a human hair. If the image was induced by anything liquid, there would be evidence of “wicking” (the soaking of the liquid into underlying material), but in this case there is none; the subtlety of whatever mechanism instigated the image is mind-boggling. The closest similarity to this type of image is the radiation “shadows’ created by the atomic bomb blasts in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In order to reproduce an image with this level of subtlety and precision, it would require a computer-driven atomic laser, a technology that does not yet exist.

The Shroud of Turin – The Case is Still Open
Is the Shroud of Turin a subtle image left by the energy produced when Jesus Christ’s body was resurrected? As of this writing, other suggested theories for the formation of the image seem much less compelling.

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Compliments of Steve J. Williams. Rendered with permission from the book, The Skeptics’ Guide to Eternal Bliss (2nd ed), Steve J. Williams, Lulu Press, 2009. All rights reserved in the original.


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