See Also: Relics Still Potent: The Shroud of Turin
By Antonio Lombatti
Disappointing. This is, I believe, the most appropriate way to start my review of the recent CNN documentary on the Shroud of Turin. After 25 years of reading books, watching films and writing books and articles on this presumed relic of Christ, I am still surprised to listen to the very same popular quackery and pseudoscience passed off as rock solid scholarly researches. Therefore, the risk of this review is to repeat arguments I’ve been writing for too long now, and that I’ve also summed up here some years ago (Relics Still Potent: The Shroud of Turin and Remaking the Shroud--National Geographic). So, I’ll try to tackle what the CNN documentary says and, in some cases, omits.
To begin with, every single article, book, film or even a sentence on Jesus raises reactions. It’s a delicate topic, we all know it. It’s a historical controversy that has deep roots in our education, culture, faith or non-faith, and in the 2000 years of Christianity. Therefore, it’s quite obvious that every documentary on the Turin Shroud will disappoint some, make others angry, and fill the hearts with joy of some others.
However, the way CNN has cut interviews, structured short clips, advanced reconstructions of Jesus’ passion, crucifixion and resurrection, and how these were woven with some Turin Shroud images, simply strives to convey the message that the relic is the real deal. To be clearer: when the narrator talks about crucifixion, there is a short video with Jesus nailed to a cross and then the presumed marks of crucifixion on the Shroud are shown. Again, Joseph of Arimathea covers Jesus’ body with a linen cloth while we see the Turin Shroud. And this, of course, makes a deep impression on those who don’t have a precise opinion on the controversy, letting them believe it is the genuine burial shroud of Jesus.
The film begins by saying that “more than 1000 years after Jesus’ death, the cloth appeared in France”. Wouldn’t it be enough to understand that the relic is just one among the thousand forgeries of the Middle Ages? In that time, believers were not surprised to find 4 heads of John the Baptist (however, when the French monks of Amiens were told by pilgrims that they had already seen John’s head in another church, they replied they had the Baptist’s head as a child), six full bodies of Mary Magdalene and enough pieces of the True Cross to build a huge ship. The burial shrouds of Jesus number around 40. All of them were authentic, of course. The most famous shrouds were those of Aachen, Halberstadt, Hannover and Mainz (Germany), Arles, Besançon, Cadouin, Aix-en-Provence, Bayonne, Cahors, Paris, Reims, Annecy, Soissons, Carcassonne and Compiègne (France), Yohnannavank (Armenia), Constantinople, Enxobregas (Portugal), Saint John in Lateran (Rome), Einsiedeln (Switzerland).
However, most of them were destroyed during the French revolution. Others disappeared. The Turin Shroud survived only because it had been illegally sold by the excommunicated owner to the Savoy Family some centuries earlier.
Then, we see Ben Witherington III saying that we have no physical description of Jesus in the gospel. True. But after he’s finished speaking, the Shroud is shown. That’s unfair. Or better, it clearly tells us the objective of the documentary. We should have seen instead the earliest representations of Jesus, I mean those in the Roman catacombs. And they show us a very different face.
The documentary continues with a curious mix of gospel quotations. Verses are chosen to reinforce the idea that the Turin Shroud image is consistent with what was related by the evangelists. So, we see the Greek SINDON of the synoptics, but we’re shown later John’s SUDARIUM, despite the fact that John’s author wrote that Jesus was tied up in strips. Besides, we know from the over 1000 Second Temple tombs that Jews were usually buried in a plurality of cloths, with hands placed along the body and ankles blocked with ropes. The Gospel of John, in fact, is usually the most accurate as to Jewish places and practices. Last but not least, the documentary doesn’t even think to mention the only burial fragments of clothes ever found in Jerusalem, the Akeldama shroud.
Jewish literary texts say that corpses were bound in burial cloths (Mish. Sem. 8,7) and these shroud threads were left unknotted, the garment being intended to last only until the body had decayed. But the Turin Shroud has a selvage.
Moreover, there’s another question I won’t deal with here: the reliability of the Passion narratives and of Jesus’ burial. Hundreds of books and articles have been written on the matter. You can find everything and its contrary: according to John Dominic Crossan, for example, there was no Joseph of Arimathea and there was no burial, while John A.T. Robinson is convinced that Jesus was placed in Joseph’s private family tomb. I’ll take for granted that ALL the gospel accounts are historically accurate. However, just bear in mind that there are many and huge ifs.
The documentary shows us Joseph of Arimathea placing Jesus’ hands on the genitals, just like the Turin Shroud. That’s another clue of the film’s orientation. The hands on the pelvic zone, on the contrary, were typical of medieval art.
The arms of the dead are usually put alongside the body. And the idea of Jesus being scourged naked by Roman soldiers is another theme of medieval art, inspired by the flagellants of those years.
Some minutes later, we’re told that after Joseph’s burial of Jesus, the shroud re-appeared in XIV century France. False. The first information we have on the burial cloths dates to the VI century, around Jerusalem. Before arriving in France in the Middle Ages, about 10 shrouds and sudaria with and without images had already been forged in the Holy Land.
Then, in the second part of the documentary Dr. John Jackson appears, a firm believer in the authenticity of the Shroud. John is an excellent physicist. But for the most part he talks about the gospels and Joseph of Arimathea. He and his group asked the Turin Diocese to perform some tests on the linen back in 1978. Not everyone among those officials and scientists agreed on the results. One of them, for example, who was convinced that the red marks on the linen weren’t blood but pigments, was expelled from the group. The documentary could have at least quoted his opinion and his name, Dr. Walter McCrone, when it was suggested that the red stains were found to be blood. He’s considered the “father of modern microscopy”. He was one of the leading world experts in medieval paintings and forgeries. It was he who was appointed chair overseeing many scientific panels (also by Christie’s and other renowned auctioneers) to say if a piece of art was ancient or a modern hoax. Besides, the narrator doesn’t say that real blood doesn’t flow ON the hair, as on the Turin Shroud. That’s an artistic rendering. As everyone can see it flows downwards; but wasn’t Jesus lying down when he was wrapped in the shroud?
One more relevant point: the documentary doesn’t say the frontal image is about 2 meters in height. That’s a bit too much for a Palestinian Jew who lived 2,000 years ago. As for the nail wounds, it’s not true that the Turin Shroud shows a wrist exit hole. It’s in the palm as in medieval art.
In the final segment, there’s another shroudologist, Mark Guscin, who speaks about the Oviedo Sudarium. The narrator states that the C14 test on this cloth “has not given a clear result”. This is simply absurd. The fabric has been carbon dated at least three times--as far as we know--and the results have always been crystal clear: a medieval forgery dating to the VIII century.
So, as for the Turin Shroud, C14 results agree with the historical sources we have on these two relics. And don’t forget that every single Jesus relic that has been carbon dated (Turin Shroud, Tunic of Argenteuil, Titulus, Oviedo Sudarium, Cadouin Shroud) has always given a medieval date. But shroudologists don’t resign themselves to these clear facts and straightforward evidence. They insist instead that Jesus emitted radiation and had superpowers, and consequently the C14 results are always wrong.
Another central question has been omitted in the CNN film: the type of linen of the Turin Shroud. The best expert in this field is Dr. Orit Shamir, curator of Organic Materials at the Israel Antiquities Authority. She has studied almost a thousand fabrics from the Roman Palestine. Many of them were found in tombs. In a recent congress she said:
The Turin shroud is made of linen Z-spun in a 3/1 herringbone twill pattern. All the linen textiles from the Land of Israel until the medieval period are S-spun, plain weave tabby. A few wool textiles from the Roman period are Z-spun in both warp and weft (37 out of 826 wool textiles).
The Turin shroud has 38.6 threads per cm at the warp and 25.7 threads per cm at the weft which is very high compared to linen textiles manufactured at the Land of Israel which usually have 10–15 threads per cm at the warp and 15–20 threads per cm at the weft.
The twill variations are: twill 2/2, twill 1/2 and diamond twill; one herringbone twill textile was found at Murabba’at, but it seems to be a modern-day textile. Most of the twills are Z-spun. Twill textiles can be manufactured with three heddles loom which were not in use in Israel. It means that the twills were imported. Herringbone twill textiles are known from Europe and Egypt.
The Turin Shroud was probably not manufactured in the Land of Israel neither in the Roman nor in the Medieval period. It may not have been imported in none of these periods because not one textile with the above weaving technique was found in the Land of Israel. (original paper: http://www.shs-conferences.org/articles/shsconf/pdf/2015/02/shsconf_ats…)
In fact, the only surviving parallel with the Turin Shroud is a 3:1 herringbone twill weave linen kept in the Victoria & Albert Museum, in London, and it’s medieval.
In short, not a single (professional) physicist who performs C14 has ever doubted the medieval date of the Turin Shroud. Not a single (professional) Biblical Archaeologist, who has dug Second Temple tombs in Israel, is convinced that the Turin Shroud is a Jewish funerary cloth from the time of Jesus. Such scholars didn’t, unfortunately, find a place in the CNN documentary.
The memorandum written by the local bishop to the pope, where he said that his predecessor had spotted the forger.
Last but not least, the authors didn’t even mention the French bishop who nabbed the artist who forged the Shroud around 1350. Priests, bishops and even the pope of that time thought it was a mere representation of Jesus’ shroud. They clearly wrote that opinion in their ecclesiastical documents. Even the owners of the Shroud defined it a representation.
Isn’t this relevant? I think this is the core of the controversy. Where the story began--in the French village of Lirey around 1355--it ended some years later because of a “careful investigation” of the local bishop. But the documentary authors of CNN forgot about that (or perhaps more likely, they never even knew it).
what are your thoughts about the botanical evidence that has been collected?
#1 - John Daniel Thieme - 03/11/2015 - 21:05
Thanks for your comment, because you give me the opportunity to talk about "pollens". I didn't mention them since the matter wasn't mentioned in the CNN film. However, the so called "botanical evidence" is not evidence at all. A careful scholarly investigation has shown (beyond any doubt) that it's a FRAUD. The paper can be read here: http://sindone.weebly.com/pollini1.html
#2 - Antonio Lombatti - 03/11/2015 - 21:20
Many thanks for your article, Antonio. Thanks too for sharing it with me in advance of publication. As you know, I too am a sceptic and I think you lay out the evidence here helpfully and effectively. My comments (most of which you have seen before):
(1) The drama in the programme is there in large part to illustrate what appears on the shroud, so it is not there as independent corroboration of what is on the shroud. The same phenomenon appears in other episodes, where the drama is illustrating the artifact, and in some cases even illustrating particular interpretations of the artifact.
(2) "Some minutes later, we’re told that after Joseph’s burial of Jesus, the shroud re-appeared in XIV century France. False.”: I think you are over-reading this. The point in the documentary is actually to stress the lack of evidence for *this* shroud in the thirteen centuries that separate Joseph of Arimathea from the first appearance of the Turin Shroud, a point that you rightly stress yourself.
(3) I love your wrist / palm graphic, and I linked to it in my CNN Q&A about the episode. After staring at it a little more, though, I’m wondering if the wound is too near the knuckles in your reconstruction? I’m not sure if you’ve quite mapped the two right. Of course the more that one stares at the Turin Shroud hands, the more one notices the extraordinarily elongated fingers that make it so clear a forgery, but I’m not yet 100% convinced that it is depicting a palm wound.
(4) Anyone reading your essay who had not seen the episode would not realize that the carbon dating of the shroud *does* play a major part in the episode, including original footage of a news anchor from 1988. In other words, the documentary is much more skeptical than you give credit for.
#3 - Mark Goodacre - 03/12/2015 - 01:40
I agree with your points, Mark. But I deeply disagree with your sentence "the documentary is much more skeptical than you give credit for" for the reasons stated here above.
#4 - Antonio Lombatti - 03/12/2015 - 12:57
Regarding the botanical evidence, (question 1 above). Having years of experience on the shroud question, tombs, and living here in Israel, I asked one of those academics involved, why he would become involved in such a thing in which every archaeologist knows it's medieval. His reply 'why not, its a free trip to the US'.
What we are seeing here is indicative of biblical archaeology today, in that high profile individuals mainly non-archaeologists, have placed their persona before the profession in that they will say off camera, blogs, etc ' well I really don't believe its authentic' which begs the question, as to why did you participate in the film, giving credibility to the agenda of the film makers in the first place. Was it fame, was it fortune, both and why do you blog it so that viewers can 'catch your act'? Do you not have any responsibility to the profession or is your screen time more important ? One colleague perhaps best summed it up by saying 'some American universities today are more concerned today with how many times faculty appear on the screen, than their publication record.
This Sunday viewers will have an opportunity to see the James ossuary, will any nay Sayers appear on the screen? I doubt it. Are there any experienced archaeologists out there believing in the totality of the inscription appearing? I doubt not but there will always be someone from UNC, Conn., Neb working for/with the James ossuary 'it's real'crowd (a handful) appearing.
Lastly, having viewed the Shroud of Turin replicas, casts, spent time in their labs in NC, in which over the years I met with 'shroudies, published, spoken to, appearing on films damming it ,I would best describe the CNN report by borrowing a phrase from the LATimes literary critic last Sunday on, The Lost Gospel, in which he said 'it was the worst book, (here- film) that he had ever read'.
On the other hand, in my opinion, there is a big difference here over the pro shroud community which I can respect and high profile US academics (invariably biblical scholars and not archaeologists) appearing on screen giving it credibility in that the the shroud 'crowd' from my experience, believe deep down inside, that its truly 2,000 years old. Our job is to enlighten them, not to sell out the profession which we are seeing more and more of by a small group of biblical scholars often posing as biblical archaeologists. We don't do theology, therefore its time they stop posing as experts on archaeology. AS the film was an insult not only to biblical archaeology, but to Jewish burial practices as well.
The article above by Antonio is a place to start.
#5 - Joe Zias - 03/12/2015 - 14:37
As a colleague of mine once wrote "not only is this a forgery, but it's a bad forgery". Clearly, the medieval fraudster was unaware of Second Temple burial practices.
#6 - Antonio Lombatti - 03/12/2015 - 17:09
Thank you, Antonio, for your salient remarks. And you too, Joe, for your further important details.
My hope, as the CNN series commenced, was that they would examine basic misinformation (about John the Baptist, The Shroud, The Judas Gospel, etc.) and then our friends in academia would explain why these popular misconceptions were wrong.
The first two episodes haven't exactly done that. Instead, they have seemed, to me, to offer a middle of the road approach which could lead uninformed viewers (and what other kind do Cable broadcasters have in terms of biblical subjects) to the conclusion that these issues are 50/50 possibilities. 50 percent think the Shroud is the real deal and 50 percent don't.
As we all realize, however, it is only a tiny minority which accepts the supposed historicity of the Shroud so, in those terms, I have to agree with Antonio that the series, so far (and it's still early) is not being as forthright as I had hoped.
#7 - Jim West - 03/12/2015 - 22:33
I haven't followed this too closely recently:
Is there a convincing explanation how the forger did it? AFAIK no paint has been found. The image appears to be "burnt-in" or something.
#8 - Wieland Willker - 03/13/2015 - 11:04
Despite the thousands of hours of apparent research, no one has come up with any convincing evidence that the Shroud dates from before the medieval period. In the diverse world of medieval liturgies and relic cults there are many contexts within which the Shroud may have been made.
Personally, I don't believe that it would have been deliberately forged because no one would have been taken in by a grave cloth with Images on it. The de Charney's failed miserably in their attempts to have it accepted as authentic and it was only the power and prestige of the Savoys that eventually achieved this.
Yet the Church in 1390 did accept that the Shroud was,despite not being authentic, worthy of veneration. Something, a vision , a miracle, must have been associated with it to make this likely.
I think there is enough evidence to take seriously the possibility that this was originally a painted cloth whose pigments have deteriorated leaving the shadows we see now. After all we know from documentary evidence and depictions of expositions that the images could once be seen from a distance. Lots more specialist input from linen conservationists who work with painted linens is needed here.
I would look for the origin of the Shroud in a liturgy, ,the most likely being the Quem Querits ceremony at Easter when a linen cloth representing the original shroud was held up. In some cases these had images
All very speculative but we do need a conference' the Shroud,: Finding the medieval context'' to shift research in the Shroud in new directions. These hopelessly inadequate documentaries simply sustain the myth that there is something way beyond the natural about the Shroud.
#9 - Charles Freeman - 03/13/2015 - 21:04
Hi Wieland. Yes, there is paint on the shroud. Walter McCrone has been pointing this out for many years. See, for example here:
There is a good summary of some of the issues here:
#10 - Mark Goodacre - 03/13/2015 - 21:36
Just noticed that you were asking about the image itself, Wieland. McCrone found paint in the blood images. When it comes to the image, he argues that it is "a result of a very dilute vermillion and red ochre tempera" (see previous URL). The CNN documentary argued that the image could be the result of a kind of camera obscura process in the 14th century.
#11 - Mark Goodacre - 03/13/2015 - 21:45
The problem is partly that we have been locked into the idea, which is extraordinary if you have dealt with ancient objects especially those which are subject to decay such as textiles, that the images are now as they have always been. Perhaps this problem arose because not a single member of the STURP team appears ever to have handled or dealt with any ancient object, certainly not a textile. However, it is beyond belief that none of them were aware that objects decay and disintegrate over time. They were incapable of considering that what the images they were dealing with may not have been the originals.
It is, of course,not easy to reconstruct the Shroud images as they once were- my favoured option at the moment is that the original pigments distintegrated leaving the shadows we have now - there are other examples of this -but we desperately need experts in medieval textile conservation to help us out here.
I was reminded today when seeing the wonderful medieval embroidered cope they have in the Medieval museum in Bologna that if you really want to make a fine image you embroidered it onto the linen( the Bayeux Tapestry is another example). Painting, however sophisticated, was always second best because of the big risk of disintegration, which is precisely why we have so few painted linens left.
I was also reminded of the face of the Shroud when seeing the extraordinary terracotta Lamentation by Niccolo dell'Arca (c. 1464) in the church of Santa Maria della Vita in Bologna, where a life size Christ lies after the deposition, in a similar pose to that of the Shroud, with the arms crossed. Niccolo realised,however, that a lying man with the long hair with which Christ has conventionally been shown since about AD 300, would have had it fallen back. Looking at this remarkable set of sculptures brought it home to me just how far the artist of the Shroud had failed in imagining how a lying man with long hair would actually look when lying down when his work is compared to the great artists of the period. ( It also makes the point, of course, that the Shroud image could not be possibly be modelled from or the creation of a real dead body of a man with long hair.)
#12 - Charles Freeman - 03/15/2015 - 19:36
When we talk of the Shroud as a forgery, we need to distinguish between an object deliberately created to deceive and an ancient object adopted as a relic. The Crusaders brought back to Europe numerous objects that they picked up in the Holy Land that they believed were the real thing. A good example is the Cadouin Shroud, which still exists, and which in the Middle Ages was much more popular than the Turin Shroud. Many believed it was genuine but we now know that it is a typical piece of fine Islamic cloth. It was never made to deceive but adopted as a relic.
Often these adoptions took place because there was a story of miracles or visions being associated with an object. It seems likely that the Turin Shroud was adopted in this way rather than being originally created as a forgery. It may well originally have been a grave cloth held up before the congregation on Easter morning in the Quem Queritis ceremony as many of these are recorded in what were re-enactments of the Easter story. If it is the only survivor of these ceremonies it would be enormously important as a relic of medieval drama! So it certainly deserves veneration!
The transition from the Quem Queritis ceremony to the first claims by the de Charny family in their chapel at Lirey that it was authentic is unknown. However, the anti- pope ( I.e. heis not accepted within the legitimate line of popes) Clement VII made it quite clear in 1390 that the Shroud could be exhibited and venerated but only on condition that it was publicly announced that it was not authentic. This is a clue that miracles had been associated with it as they often were with other spiritual objects, e.g. icons, that were not original relics.
The 1390 condition that it be publicly announced that it was not the real thing is unlikely to be enforced in the forthcoming exposition in Turin in April. Yet not a single piece of scientific evidence to date the Shroud earlier than the medieval period has yet been found.
#13 - Charles Freeman - 03/16/2015 - 06:26
The import of relics by Crusaders who thought they were the real thing makes it more, not less likely, that people of the time would be rather too ready to believe that the real shroud was now in France. If Clement VII insisted on the inauthenticity of the shrould he must have been swimming against a strong tide. If the shroud had ever been generally understood and openly affirmed to be simply a work of art it is hard to see how the later claims for its genuineness could have got so strongly started and how we could be in the situation where we now find ourselves. If there is good evidence of Quem Quaeritis ceremonies in which shrouds, clearly admitted to be works of art and not relics, were produced, I'd be interested to know.
I am not inclined to venerate an object which I think was clearly intended, from the moment when we see it enter the historical record, to make money for aristocrats and prelates out of credulity and superstition. (That this sort of thing cannot be said in mainstream contexts tells us a lot about our own society.) I can admire its continued ability to generate handsome cash flows, now for the likes of CNN.
#14 - Martin Hughes - 03/20/2015 - 17:06
Just to add that the context of Clement's rescript (in itself creditable enough!)seems to make it clear that Geoffrey de Charnay,the first known owner, was exhibiting the shroud as genuine. If it is agreed that the shroud is of mediaeval origin something like one of the following propositions must be true - G (or a previous, unknown owner) was deceived by the artist, a forger in the strictest sense, who may have repented later and confessed to the Bishop; or else G or a predecessor lied to the public in a rather spectacular way, starting a long train of error.
#15 - Martin Hughes - 03/21/2015 - 20:00
My surprise concerning your comments is that I was disappointed at what I thought was clearly communicated that the Shroud of Turin was indeed a fraud. As a disciple of Christ, I do not need scientific evidence that Jesus resurrected from the dead. What rings true in my life as a believer is the evidence within and throughout my spiritual experience. I would love for the world to have evidentiary proof that Christ is risen and alive to be experienced in relationship in your life and the lives of all people. Since there is yet to be scientific proof to validate the resurrection, I suppose the evidence will continue through the compelling testimony of those having experienced the compassion and generosity of a loving Savior, promoting faith in someone not seen by the human eye. Hebrews 11:1 suggests that faith is the substance of that hoped for and the evidence of things unseen.
I cannot prove the existence of a supreme sovereign God either. But I don't have to. The burden of proof is on science to legitimize something smaller than a speck of dust always existing or coming from nothing and having within it all of the matter and DNA of every living and non-living thing for all time; and that at some point was sparked somehow to advance into something more. In the meantime, I will continue to be the unwitting fool that believes that God redeemed me through the merciful sacrifice of his son.
If I am wrong, what did I lose. If you're wrong, what do you have to lose? For me, anyway, that is the question that requires a response.
For the atheist who dies and ceases to exist, why so much passionate care to discredit the person of faith knowingly foolish enough to believe in something and someone through an authentically spiritual experience... at least it is as real to him or her as the one sitting down and reading your article.
#16 - Steven Gledhill - 03/22/2015 - 06:20
As someone who has spent a good deal of time researching the Shroud and has now published a book on the topic, I find the childlike faith skeptics place in the opinion of the late Walter McCrone somewhat amusing but nonetheless wrong-headed.
McCrone's opinions about how the Shroud was "painted" under went several revisions. They wee discussed by the late Dr. John Heller in his memoir of the Shroud of Turin Research Project (STURP) entitled "Report on the Shroud of Turin." Dr. Heller and his colleague Alan Adler used micropsectrophotometer which revealed the composition of the claimed bloodstains to be bloodstains.
Heller and Adler were well qualified and the result of their study was published in a peer reviewed journal. In Chapter 9 of my book "The Coming of the Quantum Christ: The Shroud of Turin and the Apocalypse of Selfishness," I discuss the work of the STURP team in three years evaluation of their 120 hour examination of the Shroud in detail including the blood work. I would send any one who desires it, a PDF of Chapter 9 without charge if requested by E-Mail.
Anyone with an open mind would at least be impressed by Dr. Heller's credentials. As a student at Yale, he was selected in a special program to be advised by Albert Einstein. There was one humorous lesson he learned from Einstein that is actually one of the principal tools of modern science.
As far as the carbon dating is concerned, I was upset with the failure of Finding Jesus to cover debunking of the carbon dating and the failure of the program to deal with the evidence of the Shroud's existence before its Lirey exposition. I discuss that at length in an article published on shroud.com entitled "CNN's Finding Jesus Loses Him." It is available at https://www.shroud.com/pdfs/klotzcnn.pdf No charge to view or download.
#17 - John Klotz - 04/06/2015 - 03:23