When the results of the Carbon 14 dating of the Shroud of Turin were released in 1989, it shocked the world. Three separate, reputable labs yielded dates between 1260 and 1390. Scientists were puzzled and many believers shocked and disappointed.
Fr. Robert Spitzer, president of Magis Center, admits to being in the latter category.
This one negative piece of data should have put an end to interest in and research related to the Shroud.
But it did not.
Out of the mildest sense of curiosity, we should ask why.
The simplest answer is that this one piece of data just did not fit with other acknowledged historical, archeological, and scientific facts.
In order to apply the tests from another post of ours (“The Truth. How do we know it when we see it?”), we need to know what these other facts are and why they continue to intrigue investigators of diverse religious backgrounds.
The facts and nothing but the facts
The facts relate to the nature of the cloth itself; the visible blood stains and the “invisible” plasma stains around them; the anatomical correctness of stains to the anatomy of the image both front and back; and multiple peculiar facts about the image itself.
The facts about the cloth point to first century origins:
- Composition of the threads are consistent with known first century plants.
- 3:1 herringbone weave is documented in other first century textiles.
- “Faults” found in the weave are consistent with first century techniques (for an extensive analysis, go here).
- Dimensions of the cloth match the cubit measurement used by Jewish law and custom for a burial cloth. (This is mentioned in the BBC documentary on the Shroud.)
The blood stains are real:
- Rare AB type (same type as found on the Sudarium—see below)
- UV light reveals blood plasma around the blood stains. (How can a medieval forger forge that?)
- The blood stains match the wounds of Christ described in the Gospels.
- The wounds match documented methods of Roman crucifixion.
- Blood particles obtained from the Shroud reveal a high bilirubin content, which is significant for two reasons:
- It’s consistent with bodily response to extreme trauma. (This also negates the theory that a medieval forger tortured and crucified a dead body to create the image! But more on that below.)
- Blood with high bilirubin content stays red over time and does not turn dark brown (consistent with stains on the Shroud).
There is additional external evidence that needs to be accounted for:
- Pollen grains collected from the Shroud include grains specific to Palestine, Edessa, Turkey, and the region around Constantinople. These locations can be corroborated by historical documents referring to a relic known as the Mandylion.
- Coins over the eyes in the image reveal a correspondence with a unique and rare coin minted by Pontius Pilate in 29 A.D.
- Correspondence with features of another relic with a provenance at least from the sixth century—the Sudarium of Oviedo or Face Cloth of Jesus:
- Both have the same, somewhat rare, AB blood type found on the Shroud
- There’s a correspondence of 124 blood stains on both cloths (see Section IV)
What the image shows
In a very moving account written in 1534, the Poor Clare nuns described what they saw while repairing the Shroud after the fire of Chambery in 1532:
In that image we saw suffering so great that it would be impossible even to imagine. A beaten and tortured face, the head punctured by great thorns, trickles of blood running down the forehead, the cheeks swollen and disfigured, cruelly beaten. The left hand marked and crossed over the right covering the wound there. The nape of the neck pierced by the long thick thorns of the crown made for the head. Thick blood clots on the hair. The shoulders torn to pieces by the lashes of a whip.
(For an interactive look at the Shroud, click here.)
The Basic Facts
The peculiar and unique qualities of the image have been at the heart of many scientific investigations, but these are the basic facts:
- The 1898 photographs revealed the image is actually a photographic negative.
- After intense examination, STURP researchers concluded in 1978 that it was not a forgery by a painter—they could find no inks, dyes, or brush marks.
- The front and back images are perfectly congruent, verifying that a 3-dimensional body was wrapped in the cloth, but this fact alone cannot explain the 3D qualities of the image.
- The image penetrates only the most superficial fibrils of the cloth (note that fibrils make up fibers, making this fact even more startling).
- The image was formed after the blood stains and is not found under the blood stains.
- Images of teeth and bones can be discerned in the face, as well as indications of finger bones and a hidden thumb.
- Many hypotheses have been tested to explain its formation but none satisfactorily reproduce the clarity and quality of the image, especially its 3D characteristics (for more on this, see this post). The only tested possibility is the output of vacuum UV light equivalent to fourteen thousand excimer lasers.
Time to weigh the evidence
Even supposing the Carbon 14 dates are accurate, Dr. Robert Schneider, who has studied the Shroud extensively, examines the requirements of a medieval “super forger:”
- Against all Christian art tradition, the super forger created an image with a helmet of thorns as opposed to a circlet, nails through the wrists, and a myriad of scourge marks matching a Roman instrument unused for almost a thousand years.
- This super forger put serum rings around the blood stains using real blood.
- The super forger added rare limestone from Jerusalem on the nose, knee, and heel.
- This super forger stitched a side strip onto the cloth with a sewing technique from the first century.
- The super forger added discolorations to the cloth, representing a device used to display the Shroud over a hundred years before in Constantinople (as described by a chronicler of the fourth crusade just before the sack of Constantinople).
In addition, this super forger developed a technique for creating an image that cannot be reproduced using all the technology available in the twenty-first century.
The conclusion? The existence of such a super forger is highly unlikely.
Knowing the facts and the updated research concerning the age of the Shroud make it very likely that it is in fact the burial cloth of Jesus. It is, as Russ Breault puts it, a proof of purchase, a receipt of the price Jesus paid for our salvation. It is also a message: Jesus is truly risen!
This article first appeared on Magis Center’s blog. Ascension’s blog has republished it with permission.
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About Maggie Ciskanik
With a bachelor of arts in philosophy, a minor in science, and a trio of graduate science classes, Ciskanik landed in a graduate nursing program. With the support of her enthusiastic husband, an interesting career unfolded while the family grew: a seven year stint mostly as a neurology nurse, fifteen years as a homeschooling mom of six, and a six year sojourn as curriculum developer and high school science teacher (which included teaching students with cognitive differences). These experiences added fuel to her lifelong interest in all things related to God’s creation and the flourishing of the human spirit—which has found a new home on the Magis Center blog.