The shroud of Turin controversy (Mark 15)

No other artifact in the history of scholarship has been the subject of as much debate and study as the Shroud of Turin. This piece of linen cloth is said to bear the front and rear images of a man apparently crucified in Roman fashion. His injuries correspond to those suffered by Jesus. Proponents argue that this is the actual burial cloth of Christ, while opponents see it as a clever hoax.

The history of the shroud

The basic historical details, as we know them, are as follows:

  • The shroud’s first known appearance was in France in the 1350s. The original owner died in 1356 without having revealed where or how he had acquired the cloth.
  • A fire in 1532 damaged the cloth, and repair patches were added.
  • It has been housed in Turin since 1578.
  • Some  theorize that the shroud is the same as the Madylion, a sacred relic of Constantinople that was said to have borne the divine and miraculous imprint of Jesus’ face.

The Mandylion is said to have been discovered in 525 in Edessa in eastern Turkey. It found its way to the Byzantine capital in A.D. 944.

The shroud disappeared from Constantinople in 1204, when a crusade army lootered the city. The leaders of the expedition were French, which could explain the shroud’s westward journey.

Basic facts about the shroud

The shroud is a swath of linen cloth measuring 4,3 m by 1,1 m. The pigure on the cloth is naked, with hands folded across the pelvic area. He is bearded and between 1,8 m and 1,9 m in height. The cloth bears a number of extraordinary features:

  • It’s purple stains may be from blood.
  • Potsherds or coins may have covered the eyes. Some argue that the outline of a coin from the time of Pontius Pilate is present, but the fabric is so coarse and the image so unclear that substantiation is difficult.
  • The image is barely visible up close, and only a rough outline can be discerned by standing farther away. However, when photographed and viewed in negative, the shroud reveals a clear image, formed in such a way that a three-dimensional reconstruction of the man’s appearance is possible.
  • The image, on the very surface of the cloth only, is said to be no more than two fibrils (filaments or fibers) deep.
  • It was not painted on. Rather, some of the threads were themselves changed to produce the image. Adherents suggest that at the moment of the resurrection Jesus’ body radiated energy and fixed His image upon the shroud.
  • The traces of flogging on the body are said to accurately depict Roman scourging. The 100-plus lash marks evident on the image have a dumbbell shape, conceivably reflecting the use of a Roman flagrum.
  • The shoulders are said to exhibit abrasions that could have been the result of the victim’s having carried the crossbar of a cross.
  • Studies on the soil and pollen preserved in the fibers suggest that the cloth originated in or near Jerusalem.

Recent developments

Supporters of the shroud’s authenticity argue that no individual in the Middle Ages could have had the expertise to deliberately create such a piece. In 1988, however, British scientists released the result of carbon 14 testing that dated the  cloth to between 1260 and 1390. The shroud was judged to have been proven a fraud, yet subsequent researchers have argued that the sample for the carbon 14 test was taken from a part of the shroud that had been repaired and not from the original fabric.

In 2002 the shroud underwent substantial restoration, including the removal of the repair patches from 1532. Some researchers fear that this process will limit or invalidate any further testing. The enigma of the shroud continues. It remains either the most significant archaeological artifact ever found or one of the most ingenious forgeries in history.


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