Is the Shroud of Turin really Jesus? 1


Within a previous posting from a couple of weeks ago I wrote about the supposed reconstruction of the face of Jesus, and that was shared on Facebook. There one commenter suggested …

The only real picture of Jesus son of Mary is the one imprinted upon the linen cloth popularly known as the holy shroud kept in Vatican. The cloth bears the human blood stains and is most probably original.

I then asked what convinced him that it was indeed real. He did not reply, but instead another commenter posted a link to another article, one by Dan Porter, a Shroud believer, that did appear to suggest it was quite genuine (Dan is a Shroud guru that has blogging about it for years, but has retired from that now). Anyway, the question I’m pondering over is to wonder if there is some evidence that verifies the shroud as real, so let’s now do a quick tour.

What exactly is the Shroud of Turin?

It is a linen cloth that appears to contain the image of a man, and is believed by some to be the actual burial shroud of Jesus, so the image is supposedly of him. It is kept within the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Turin, northern Italy, hence the name. Here is a picture of it …

shroud of turin

Has it been scientifically tested?

Yes it has indeed, in 1988 a small sample was carefully selected and extracted (with full permission) and then three separate bits of this were dispatched to three different labs. One was at the University of Oxford, another was located within the University of Arizona, and the third was at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. They concluded with 95% of confidence that the shroud material dated to 1260–1390 AD, and so quite clearly it was a medieval forgery and not the actual buried shroud of Jesus.

Links:

Was this result challenged and refuted?

Yes it was indeed challenged, but no not successfully, and that is all well-documented, so here is a quick fly-by of all that.

Claim 1: The sample was part of a later repair and so the date is not the date of the shroud.

This is the primary criticism of the medieval date, basically radiocarbon dating is fine, you just got the wrong bit …

At least four articles have been published in scholarly sources contending that the samples used for the dating test may not have been representative of the whole shroud

These included a 2005 article by American chemist Raymond Rogers, who conducted chemical analysis for the Shroud of Turin Research Project and who was involved in work with the Shroud since the STURP project began in 1978. Raymond Rogers argued in a 2005 article that the chemical analysis he performed on unprovenanced threads sent to him by a clergyman who was not authorized to possess shroud material, show traces of tanning products, likely used by medieval weavers to match the colour of the original weave when performing repairs and backing the shroud for additional protection, and stated: “The radiocarbon sample contains both a gum/dye/mordant coating and cotton fibers. The main part of the shroud does not contain these materials”

but …

In 2008 former STURP member John Jackson rejected the possibility that the C14 sample may have been conducted on a medieval repair fragment, on the basis that the radiographs and transmitted light images taken by STURP in 1978 clearly show that the natural colour bandings present throughout the linen of the shroud propagate in an uninterrupted fashion through the region that would later provide the sample for radiocarbon dating. Jackson stated that this could not have been possible if the sampled area was a later addition.

… Mechthild Flury-Lemberg[51] is an expert in the restoration of textiles, who headed the restoration and conservation of the Turin Shroud in 2002. She has written that it’s possible to repair a coarsely woven fabric in such a way as to be invisible, if the damage was not too severe and the original warp threads are still present, but that it is never possible to repair a fine fabric in a way which would be truly invisible, as the repair will always be “unequivocally visible on the reverse of the fabric.” She criticized the theory that the C14 tests were done on an invisible patch as “wishful thinking”.

… In December 2010 Professor Timothy Jull, a member of the original 1988 radiocarbon-dating team and editor of the peer-reviewed journal Radiocarbon, coauthored an article in that journal with Rachel A Freer-Waters. They examined a portion of the radiocarbon sample that was left over from the section used by the University of Arizona in 1988 for the carbon dating exercise, and were assisted by the director of the Gloria F Ross Center for Tapestry Studies. They viewed the fragment using a low magnification (~30×) stereomicroscope, as well as under high magnification (320×) viewed through both transmitted light and polarized light, and then with epifluorescence microscopy. They found “only low levels of contamination by a few cotton fibers” and no evidence that the samples actually used for measurements in the C14 dating processes were dyed, treated, or otherwise manipulated. They concluded that the radiocarbon dating had been performed on a sample of the original shroud material

… According to professor Christopher Ramsey of the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit in 2011, “There are various hypotheses as to why the dates might not be correct, but none of them stack up.”

Claim 2: The dating contradicts other evidence

Raymond Rogers [65] [Yes the same guy from Claim 1, the retired chemist] argued in the scientific journal Thermochimica Acta that the presence of vanillin differed markedly between the unprovenanced threads he was looking at, which contained 37% of the original vanillin, while the body of the shroud contained 0% of the original vanillin.

but …

Roger’s vanillin-dating process is untested, and the validity thereof is suspect, as the deterioration of vanillin is heavily influenced by the temperature of its environment – heat strips away vanillin rapidly, and the shroud has been subjected to temperatures high enough to melt silver and scorch the cloth

Claim 3: The sample was contaminated by bacteria

In 1993 Dr. Leoncio A. Garza-Valdes discovered the presence of polyhydroxyalkanoate (mcl-PHA)-producing bacteria Leobacillus rubrus on Shroud’s fabric and confirmed their presence on three Egyptian mummies … Bacteria and associated residue (bacteria by-products and dead bacteria) carry additional carbon-14 that would skew the radiocarbon date toward the present.

but …

STURP scientist Dr John Jackson has discounted the hypothesis that the sample was contaminated by more recent bioplastic residues from microbial action, on the basis that the samples were carefully cleaned first to eliminate this kind of contamination, and that the quantity of microbial mass required to skew the results would be significantly greater than the mass of the linen itself.[76]

Rodger Sparks, a radiocarbon expert from New Zealand, had countered that an error of thirteen centuries stemming from bacterial contamination in the Middle Ages would have required a layer approximately doubling the sample weight.

Claim 4: The sample was contaminated by smoke or reactive carbon

Others have suggested that the silver of the molten reliquiary and the water used to douse the flames may have catalysed the airborne carbon into the cloth

but …

Jull, Donahue and Damon of the NSF Arizona Accelerator Mass Spectrometer Facility at the University of Arizona attempted to replicate the Kouznetsov experiment, and could find no evidence for the gross changes in age proposed by Kouznetsov et al. They concluded that the proposed carbon-enriching heat treatments were not capable of producing the claimed changes in the measured radiocarbon age of the linen, that the attacks by Kouznetsov et al. on the 1988 radiocarbon dating of the shroud “in general are unsubstantiated and incorrect”, and that the “other aspects of the experiment are unverifiable and irreproducible.

In March 2008 Professor Ramsey reported back on the testing …. there is as yet no direct evidence to suggest the original radiocarbon dates are not accurate

Claim 5: The calculations were done incorrectly

critics claim to have identified statistical errors in the conclusions published in Nature

but …

None of these errors would however produce an altered dating supportive of a 1st Century manufacture.

So in summary, the date stands, it is a medieval forgery and is not 1st century.

What about the Article cited by the commenter?

It principally makes reference to an article within an Ahmadi publication, and so I guess that whenever Dan found a shroud article, he will have perhaps posted about it on his blog. (Dan has announced that he has now retired that blog)

Why would the commenter, a member of the Ahmadi community himself, refer to an Ahmadi article indirectly? Well basically because the Ahmadi article itself no longer appears to be available online, but perhaps the site is simply down at the moment and will pop back up in the new year.

The first part of the quoted Ahmadi article leans upon the dismissal of the radiocarbon dating on the sole basis of the 2005 article by the retired and rather elderly American chemist Raymond Rogers, who conducted his chemical analysis within his home laboratory (we already covered this above in claim 1 and also claim 2), but it also leans rather heavily upon an apparent link between the Sudarium and the Shroud, so lets tackle both of these in turn.

Has Mr Rogers Debunked the Radiocarbon dating in any meaningful sense?

No.

The problem with Mr Rogers is that he started with a conclusion, then worked backwards to try and get the data he needed to support that conclusion, and that is quite frankly the wrong way around.

It turns out that others have reviewed the work done by Rogers and find that not only did he have a very specific agenda, but that he cobbled up his “scientific” results within his home laboratory in a very subjective manner and did not employ proper scientific controls at all, so anything he published is indeed highly dubious.

Interestingly enough, a couple of other points to note are as follows …

Other evidence of medieval fakery includes the shroud’s lack of historical record prior to the mid-fourteenth century—when a bishop reported the artist’s confession—as well as serious anatomical problems, the lack of wraparound distortions, the resemblance of the figure to medieval depictions of Jesus, and suspiciously bright red and picturelike “blood” stains which failed a battery of sophisticated tests by forensic serologists, among many other indicators. These facts argue against Rogers’ assertions that the shroud is neither a forgery nor a miracle—that “the blood is real blood”3 and the image was produced by “a rotting body” (Rogers 2004).

Is there an established relationship between the Sudarium and the Shroud?

No.

A relationship was proposed by Mark Guscin in 1999, and was based upon pollen grains in the Sudarium matching those of the shroud …

http://www.shroud.com/guscin.htm

… but that has already been dismissed for some rather good reasons …

His sample of pollen grains originated with Max Frei, who tape-lifted pollen grain samples from the shroud. Frei’s pollen grains have been controversial from the beginning. Frei, who once pronounced the forged “Hitler Diaries” to be genuine, probably introduced the pollen grains himself or was duped and innocently picked up pollen grains another pious fraud had introduced (Nickell).

Oh and one more thought, at the top do also have this quote …

If the Shroud is a fake, then the Sudarium must also be so.

… and guess what, yes the Sudarium has also been radiocarbon dated, and it also is indeed a forgery and is not 1st century either.

Dan’s notes, to the right of the article, he will not exactly love me for this … but …

As for the shroud, well we have these claims from Dan …

The carbon dating, once seemingly proving it was a medieval fake, is now widely thought of as suspect and meaningless.

Only by the religious.

Even the famous Atheist Richard Dawkins admits it is controversial.

The actual reference for that comes from his book in which he briefly discusses the shroud, and has been quote-mined out of context. At no point does Prof Dawkins cast any doubt upon the process or the conclusion itself.

Christopher Ramsey, the director of the Oxford Radiocarbon Laboratory, thinks more testing is needed.

He is also quoted as saying .. “There are various hypotheses as to why the dates might not be correct, but none of them stack up.“, so clearly he does not think it is 1st century, nor does he doubt the results.

So do many other scientists and archeologists.

… yet strangely enough, not one is named, perhaps there is some other article that goes into more detail on that. It is understandable that this show will indeed run and run and that some will not find anything to be conclusive until there is a result that matches their belief.

This is because there are significant scientific and non-religious reasons to doubt the validity of the tests.

.. except as we have discovered above, this is not exactly the current position. OK, Dan believes, I get that, but I’m simply not finding sufficient evidence to understand why and so suspect it may be a bit of an emotional attachment for him, which is perhaps understandable.

And one further observation from Dan’s article …

The other part of  the Ahmadi article that Dan makes reference to is that observation that it is inspired by an Ahmadi wish to use it to promote their belief that Jesus survived the cruxifixction, and so they have a very specific religious agenda (as do many when attempting to come to terms with the shroud), and as a result cherry pick the bits that fit, and so Dan suggests that many might indeed choke on that – I suspect he is quite correct, many will.

In summary

You have folks who have a specific religious agenda and so will never accept that it is what it actually is (a medieval forgery), and will often not only promote criticism of the radiocarbon dating without pointing out that such criticism itself does not withstand any critical analysis.

There is a great deal more, I’ve only scratched the surface, so if curious, then the Wikipedia page covers rather a lot more.

The TL;DR; version is that there is no robust evidence that the Shroud of Turin is 1st century, but instead there is an un-refuted clear decisive radiocarbon dating that nails it as medieval.


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One thought on “Is the Shroud of Turin really Jesus?

  • Scott Allred

    The best and most plausible explanation for the Shroud is found in The Hiram Key and The Second Messiah both books by Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas. All of the controversies are put to rest scientifically and succinctly for anyone with even a cursory understanding of forensic science.