The Shroud of Turin
A Believers Presentation by Alan Reed
In June of 2015, my wife Barbara and myself were able travel to Italy and see the Shroud of Turin. It was an unforgettable experience. In viewing the shroud, I did find a moment of worship.
So what is the Shroud?
This is a cloth that measures 2 cubits by 8 cubits, which was the ancient measurement system. A cubit equals 21.7 inches, thus we would recognize this measurement as 43.4 inches by 173.6 inches, or 3′-7.4” by 14′-5”. After Jesus had been crucified, a man named Joseph of Aramathia bought this burial cloth. A thin strip was trimmed from the length of the cloth. He ordered the body of Jesus brought to his tomb, which was nearby the site of the crucifixion. Nicodemus, “who had first come to Jesus at night”(John 19:39), also joined to help Joseph.
Half of the cloth was laid flat on the floor of the tomb, with the other half rolled up. Christ was laid on the cloth with the rolled part above his head. Then a lengthy list of objects, including items from the crucifixion sequence such as the crown of thorns, a spear, a sponge on a stick, and various flowers were placed alongside of him. Even dice and two sandals were included. He also seemed to be wearing two phylacteries. When everything that was required had been placed with Him, the cloth above his head was unrolled and draped over him. The cloth was tightened close to his body and the thin strip of cloth was wrapped around over and under him and tied even more tightly. When Joseph was finished, the figure would have appeared much the same way as we picture a mummy, except, of course, that the burial shroud was a single large cloth instead of a narrow strip of cloth wound many times around the body. Joseph was a member of the Council and would have known every detail of a proper Jewish burial. In his gospel, John noted that Jesus was wrapped “according the burial custom of the Jews”(John 19:40). The entombment of Jesus was as close to perfect as possible.
When the resurrection occurred, the image of Christ and all of the objects that had been placed with him transferred to the cloth. The images run almost the entire length of the 14 foot long cloth including the face, or frontal side and the back, or dorsal side. The images of the head are close to one another in the center of the cloth, the feet are at the far ends.
The history of the shroud is well documented since the late 1300’s. However, before that, there are only “legends” that exist. In the early centuries, there was considerable persecution of Christians, then came the rise of Islam. There was often warfare between kingdoms. By necessity the shroud was almost always well hidden.
Barb and I have mentioned the Shroud of Turin to a number of people, and we receive a wide range of reactions. Some have never heard of the shroud. Others are puzzled, as they do not recognize the shroud in the Bible. Others recognize the connection to Christ. These reactions come because there has been a good deal of controversy about this cloth; the critical question is this: is this the authentic burial shroud of Christ? My answer is yes, indeed it is; in fact I would consider this proven, even scientifically proven. If you are still skeptical, he is “the man on the shroud”.
How did we become interested in the Shroud?
When I watch television, I often find that I prefer learning types of shows and sport rather than the typical entertainment programs that appear to me as, well, not very “enriching” you could say. I had seen some of the documentaries about the shroud which were always very intriguing. As these shows are manufactured for television, the information contained within them can be misleading, or even false.
My “breakthrough” came in 2012. My daughter was a senior at the University of Tennessee majoring in architecture. With this connection, we learned something that I’ll bet most people didn’t know: that UT has an extension in Krakow, Poland! Now I have always considered Poland as a “communist, behind the Iron Curtain country”, that I could never travel to, only to hear now that you can go to Krakow, wear orange, sing “Rocky Top” and people will cheer! For my daughter’s winter-spring semester she and all the other senior architecture students would study European architecture using Krakow as their home.
However, my daughter and several of her friends found another possible European home base; the University of Arkansas has an extension in Rome. Gaining a provisional acceptance to UA, they now had a choice; would you rather spend January thru April in Poland or Rome? Well, go Hawgs, that’s what I would always say!
They did quite a bit of traveling, actually twice she flew to Krakow to visit her friends, and her friends also flew to visit her in Rome. I asked her to include Turin on one of their trips and find out about the shroud. Now she did not get to see the shroud which is only very rarely displayed, but she did bring a book; a collection of scientific studies that had been completed on the shroud as of the year 2000. The scientific articles, to my mind, ranged from the best; which were very informative, others too scientific to understand, two articles written in German(which I certainly didn’t understand!), and many articles about carbon 14 dating, all out of date now. From the best articles, I found that there is much more on the shroud than what the television documentaries show or what I had known about. I began to gain a clearer picture of what Christ had experienced on the cross and what had happened in the resurrection. Since then, I have found books written by Mark Antonacci and Ian Wilson to be most helpful. Alan and Mary Whanger have written an excellent book to describe their search for images of objects on the shroud. The official web-site for the Shroud of Turin is maintained by Barrie Schwortz and contains a vast amount of information and references for books.
How did we get our trip arranged?
We were part of a group of 35 people, using a bus to travel in Italy. Our group was led by Dr. John Jackson and his wife Rebecca, from the Turin Shroud Center of Colorado in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Dr. Jackson has been the leading scientist who began to examine the shroud in 1978. If you watch one of the televised documentaries you will likely see Dr. Jackson answering the questions that are presented. Our group even discussed the shroud while we traveled on the bus and Dr. Jackson also gave presentations during the evenings.
What did we experience in Turin?
When our group arrived in Turin, we learned that the image can only be seen if you are more than 4 feet away from the shroud and less than 10 feet away from the shroud. Thus, there is a 6 foot wide viewing area that is effective. Our line of people was separated into groups of about 30 -35 people that would be allowed to stand in front of the shroud for about 5 minutes until the next group entered. Two soldiers in bright blue uniforms stood next to the shroud, one on each side.
There were several thoughts that went through my mind as we viewed the shroud. My first thought was that I was able to see the blood of Christ on the cloth. The blood marked his wounds from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet, and spread nearly the entire length of the cloth. Then I thought of Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, the 2 men who worked to wrap Christ in this cloth. Next, I realized that I am seeing the very cloth that John and Peter retrieved from the tomb. When John saw this cloth he wrote the conclusion that they “saw and believed”(John 20:8). I recalled some of the history of the shroud that I read and I considered that in spite of this cloth being in existence since the resurrection of Christ, how relatively few people have actually seen this cloth as years, and even centuries have passed with this priceless cloth mostly hidden away for safe keeping. Even in the 20th century, the shroud was publicly displayed only a few times. I was very grateful as I thought how privileged I felt. I knew that I was in the presence of many miracles.
In the book Resurrection of the Shroud by Mark Antonacci, there is a lengthy list of obstacles or miracles presented as reasons why the shroud could not have been created by forgery. Dr. Jackson told us that modern science would be unable to replicate the shroud. But a long list is not something that I can wrap my mind around. I suggest five miracles which could summarize what has been found on the shroud. Here is my “countdown” from five to one.
Miracle five: The first “photograph” in history.
The body of Christ was completely surrounded by the cloth. When the body vanished, the image was formed on the cloth. The image seems to be like a photograph. But this picture did not use a camera, instead, the power to create came from the man within the shroud. Everything is seen full size, there is no scaling. The image is seen on the side of the cloth that was in contact with the man.
Actually, the shroud cannot be defined as a photograph. The only property which the shroud truly shares with a photograph from a camera is that there are both positive and negative images on the shroud. Comparing a positive and negative image using a camera, there are two differences: a negative presents the opposite hand, right vs. left hand images, and opposite coloration, white vs. black. The shroud, however, confounds this; the image that we see is negative, and blood appears reddish as you would expect, but when the shroud is photographed, the image becomes a positive picture of the man, and the blood is white, which is negative. This reminds me of a song currently playing on Christian radio now with the lyric: “Your love ran red, my sin washed white.” There are several hymns that echo this comparison.
What is the image?
If you examined an individual thread of the cloth, you would find that each thread is constructed by many fibrils, a fibril being defined as a minute or thinner type of fiber. Each fibril is about the thickness of a hair. Twisting many fibrils together constructs a single thread. The image consists of the top most few fibrils, or even only one fibril being yellowed by a type of X-ray radiation.
Dr. Jackson is a physicist who has attempted to explain how the shroud could have formed using scientific principles. He has developed an idea that is called “the falling cloth” theory. In the moment that the body of Christ vanished, a vacuum suddenly was created within the shroud. The cloth on top would quickly drop a short distance, perhaps 2 inches. In a like manner, I believe that the cloth on the floor of the tomb would very quickly rise a short distance. During these sudden movements the shroud would “encode” the blood and the image data of the body as it passed through the vacated area of the body.
A powerful surge of X-ray radiation was required to encode the entire cloth. This encoding event was effective straight up and down, not to any of the sides. Then the cloth was pulled down more slowly by gravity and settled empty on the floor of the tomb.
Miracle four: The blood on the shroud is pristine.
The blood on the shroud is human blood of the type AB. Scientists were able to identify coagulated blood in the center of the scourge wounds with serum at the edges. This is exactly how wounds heal and is what is expected.
Scientists were amazed they could not find any place on the shroud where the blood was smeared, which almost always happens in cases such as removing a bandage from a cut. On the shroud the blood shows wounds that are anatomically perfect, displaying the outline of the underlying wound cleanly and clearly. Blood did soak thru the shroud at the location of the nail pierced feet. Also, a mixture of blood and water flowed from the chest wound and settled in the lower area of the back which also soaked thru the cloth. This matches the description in the gospel that witnesses were surprised by the combination of blood and water that flowed from the spear wound to the chest.
Most of the blood on the shroud did not result from contact between the body and the cloth. There are even blood stains indicating wounds where the cloth could not have possibly been in contact with the body, thus the wounds seem to have been encoded in a similar manner as the image. Also the blood was on the shroud before the image was encoded, thus preventing any image to form over the blood.
The scientists concluded that the shroud could not have been unwrapped from the corpse without any alteration of the blood stains. Instead, the corpse must have vanished from within the cloth. As I am technically minded myself, I know that scientists are not supposed to write such things, thus I was surprised when I saw how clearly this was presented.
Miracle three: The shroud reveals the crucifixion.
I mentioned before that a number of objects were placed in the cloth with the body of Christ. Whether or not these objects left images on the shroud is in question at this time. Most scientists today state there are no images of foreign objects on the shroud. The scientific team led by Alan Whanger searched the shroud for several years and was able to find images of many items, but the images are so faint or partially complete that their findings cannot be considered proven. My statement is that they are both correct; the images have faded with age and can no longer be seen, but these images were reflected onto the shroud at the moment of the resurrection. If we could turn back time to the first century, I believe we would be stunned by the appearance of Christ surrounded by a multitude of images of these objects on the shroud.
The burial of these objects with Christ was a requirement of Jewish burial customs. Jesus had died a violent and bloody death, therefore, he was “unclean”. Any object that had his blood on it must be buried with him as this was considered his “lifeblood” in Jewish law. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus would be thoroughly knowledgeable of these requirements. Apparently wrapped in the shroud with Christ were two Roman flagellum(the whips), one nail, one spear(a Roman lancea), a crown of thorns, a whisk brush, a large spoon with a tray, a sponge on a stick, two Roman coins, two phylacteries, and a variety of flowers. Placed on the chest was a medallion which was called an amulet of Tiberius Caeser, the Roman emperor at this time. I believe this was meant to indicate “certified dead” as a death certificate.
For the crown of thorns, the Romans used a thorny plant. The scientific name is gundelia tournefortti. Remarkably, this plant only grows in the southern half of Israel, and only grows in the months of March and April. If we found this plant we would simply call it a weed. Finding pollen and the image of this plant confirms the origin of the shroud to Israel and the time of the year that Passover occurs. I would consider this a “God-thing”, something that only God could have arranged.
The whisk brush, the spoon and tray would have been used to pick up drops of blood and clear anything that may have fallen on the ground.
Before Christ died on the cross, he called out that he was thirsty. Someone attending the crucifixion pushed a sponge onto a stick(named as a hyssop branch), dipped the sponge in a vinegar(or sour wine) mixture, and lifted the sponge up to his face so that he could sip some of this fluid. Therefore, His blood was on the sponge, thus this sponge on a stick had to be included in the burial. The image of a sponge on a hyssop branch is described on the shroud.
Christ had a problem: he was going to leave his photograph for us, but, as he would be dead, his eyes would be closed and his mouth would be open as his lower jaw would have relaxed at his death on the cross. Here is the solution: an ancient burial custom was to place coins on the eyelids of the deceased. Also, a chin strap would be used to hold the mouth closed. I would think that both of these were done to give the deceased a more life-like pose. At the point of resurrection the coins would give the appearance of being awake and alive. Scientists looking closely at photographic image of the coins have been able to identify these coins as from the Roman Empire. A date of origin of 29-30 A.D. can be assigned when the lettering on the coins is translated. I would say that Christ got two for the price of one; his photograph shows him awake and alive, with the date included on his picture!
The images of 28 various flowers and plants are found on the shroud. Apparently, these were hastily added to the burial by his disciples. Dr. Alan Whanger verified his findings with the leading botanist from Israel in an attempt to positively identify each type of plant. Finding pollen left on the shroud also confirms the identity of these plants. The combination of plants identified places the origin of the shroud in Jerusalem in March or April, and excluding any other possible location.
Besides pollen, another solid evidence is finding tiny particles of limestone in the threads of the shroud. Analysis of these particles proved to match the unique chemistry of limestone found in Jerusalem, thus providing another clue pointing to Christ.
In Turin I was unable to see any of these images, either objects or flowers. There are a number of paintings and coins that were created centuries ago where the artists have included some of these objects and flowers alongside Christ. The impression is that these artists were studying the shroud while they were working. It is evident that these images of objects and flowers were much more easily seen then than now. The conclusion must be that the images of the shroud are deteriorating. Even within the last century, photographs seem to indicate some slight loss of image quality.
I had mentioned before that I believed that the shroud is scientifically proven to be the authentic burial shroud of Christ. The basis of this claim starts with analyzing the probability, or the odds for or against finding ways to identity the man of the shroud. We start with the man, who has been scourged, beaten, crucified, and, after his death, speared. Each of these is a separate and unlikely event which could be represented by long odds against finding a man who has suffered such a death. We can see miracles on this cloth, when we know that Christ was a man who performed miracles. But there are even more clues that come from the Bible account: a crown of thorns from a plant that is only found in Israel, and a sponge on a stick of hyssop. How many men that have lived on our planet have had this thorny plant jammed into their scalp? What are the odds of finding such a man? We ask the same question for the sponge on a stick. What are the odds of finding a man wrapped in a cloth with such a strange object?
Consider the items that are not mentioned in the Bible. Coins placed on the eyelids that are dated to 29-30 A.D.? An amulet of Tiberius Caeser? A whisk broom, a tray and a spoon? There are 28 types of plants and pollen on the shroud, which confirms the place of origin as Jerusalem. What are the odds of finding this group of plants together? Each one of these examples carries the equivalent odds of winning a lottery. Some lotteries will have greater odds than others. However, in the study of probability, these odds are not added together; instead these odds are to be multiplied to one another. I believe that our probability calculation would attain any gigantic astronomical number that we would care to reach. We would look at this number two ways: the odds that this is Christ, or the odds that this another man who “just happened” to match every single one of these conditions, including the creation of a burial shroud that displays miracles. Pollen, limestone and these images are clues that Christ has left behind so that we will look at this cloth and identify Him.
Miracle two: The shroud has the properties of a hologram.
I looked at several definitions of hologram. This is the most easily understood description: “Holography is a photographic technique that records the light scattered from an object, and then presents it in a way(a hologram) that appears three-dimensional.” Scientifically, the shroud is not considered to be a photograph, thus it cannot be considered a true hologram. However, it was easy to see that the image on the shroud acts like a hologram.
In Turin, when I first saw the shroud as we entered, I could see the image begin to appear. At first, the area of the eyebrows was darker, but then lightened. I found one place to stand and seemed to be able to see the image well. I recall thinking that hand and fingers seemed almost transparent to the point that I questioned: Am I seeing bones of the fingers? I tried moving two steps to my right, but this caused me to lose sight of some of the image. I moved another two steps to the right and my sight of the image returned more clearly. When our viewing time was over, we moved to the right to leave the viewing area and, once again, my sight of the image varied until I was out of the viewing area.
After I had returned home I was walking through a toy display in a large store when I saw a place mat hologram that had images of Peanuts characters. The image changed when I walked past, so noticing this, I stopped, picked it up and began moving it side to side watching the picture change. I was immediately reminded of my experience with the shroud.
When Dr. Jackson began examining the shroud, he discovered a technique of overlaying both the positive and negative images together, then shifting the images slightly. This effect of creating a hologram did indeed show some of the bones in the fingers, left hand, and left wrist(the left hand covers the right hand) to be seen. Bones in the feet and some skeletal features of the back can also be seen. When applied to the face, the effect is even more stunning; the eye sockets, the nasal bone, nasal passages are seen, and 24 teeth can be counted. These are the features that have been reported, however photographs that I have seen are very difficult to assess.
When I first read about these results, my thought was that this was the miracle of X-rays. I can see now that this effect of shifting the images is revealing a hologram. These features would be encoded by the “falling cloth” at a relatively short distance below the surface of the skin, thus do not provide a view of the complete skeleton such as would be the result of an X-ray scan. This makes the miracle even more amazing.
Miracle one: The shroud provides a computer graphic image.
The resurrection created a data field of points on the shroud. When the data field is analyzed by computer graphics, the face of the man of the shroud, Christ is revealed, and can be reconstructed in width, height and depth. This miracle was created without the use of a computer or a scanner. The facial development is easily the miracle that people can relate to best. It is also the miracle that is unseen and can only be known by advanced science, therefore, I consider this as the number one miracle of the shroud.
The first photograph of the shroud was taken in 1898. This was the first time the face was seen in a positive image, and was a startling revelation at this time. In 1902 several scientists looked at the photographs and theorized that the photographic image suggested depth. The image varied from lighter where the body would have been closer to the cloth, to darker, where the body would have been further from the cloth. But this could not be proven until 1976 when Dr. Jackson was able to use a computer. Since then, there has been extensive refinement of the features of the face. In the documentaries seen on television, this development is prominently featured. The actual appearance of Christ can now be portrayed by computer graphics more accurately than ever before.
What was the most important thing that you learned?
Our image of Christ comes from the Shroud of Turin. Through the first 500 years after the resurrection there were various artworks of Christ completed – some looked like the image we know, but most were obviously guesswork and not what we think of when we envision Christ. However, in the early 500’s, the city where the shroud had been hidden was now able to place the cloth on display in their church. Since the middle of the 500’s the image of Christ has been completely focused on the man that we see on the Shroud.
In early childhood, many people learn the image of Jesus before they learn to read. This learned image is how we learn to accept and trust Christ. The image of Jesus Christ is the most recognized figure in the world.
Without the image of Jesus, Christianity would be reduced to the systems that men have created, with images of God that men have made with their hands. Christ knew that men will fail completely when challenged to create an image of God. Men have created images of God that include golden calves, the sun, the moon, stars, images of animals and men put together, men and women with exaggerated strength, and there are many more. Christ left us a picture, history’s first photograph, so that we can relate to him. He is naked and exposed. Nothing is hidden. He wants us to know him. Other religious systems have no images like Christ. If we had no image of Christ, we would soon have many images of Him. Or we could insist that there can be no image of Christ; charging blasphemy against or threatening anyone who would create an image.
What happened to the radio active carbon 14 dating test that placed the date of the creation of the shroud to between 1260 to 1390?
Carbon is an element that normally has 6 protons and 6 neutrons. When carbon is reproduced organically such as by a plant, it will process most raw material into carbon 12, or 6 protons and 6 neutrons. However, the process will also result in producing very minute quantities of carbon 13 and carbon 14 containing one or two extra neutrons. These are both unstable and, therefore, are radio active, eventually turning into carbon 12. Scientists have been able to determine the half life of carbon 14 such that if a sample of an organic material can be analyzed to determine the amount of carbon 14 present, it should be possible to determine the age of the sample. As the fibers of the shroud come from flax plants which contain carbon, a carbon14 dating test should provide an accurate result.
In the case of the shroud, we know that in 1532 there was a fire that burned the very noticeable series of holes through the cloth. Soon after this there was an attempt to repair the damage, mostly by sewing a backing cloth on the back side covering the burn marks. Other parts of the shroud were repaired by re-weaving new threads into the original cloth. The outer edge of the shroud was one place where this re-weaving was done. The sample used for the carbon dating test was cut from one of these edges. But the skillful re-weaving work went unnoticed until after the test had been completed. It has now been proven that the majority of the threads used in the testing were actually the repair threads that had been added about 1535. These threads also had a different chemistry as contrasted to the actual shroud fibers. Therefore, the 1988 test result is invalid.
I searched the internet for articles about carbon 14 dating. I easily found that archeologists and scientists routinely dismiss the results of carbon 14 tests, because the results are obviously incorrect. Therefore, carbon 14 dating tests are not definitive. Finding samples that do not have contamination, or have contamination that can be identified and cleaned away before the test begins is a baffling obstacle to obtaining an accurate result.
In the case of the shroud, any carbon 14 dating test would encounter two additional significant problems: fire and radiation. Fire and smoke will change and add to the carbon content of many things it contacts. The shroud has twice been on fire itself. The 1532 fire damage was extensive. Displaying the shroud through past centuries would likely have also have included candles, torches and oil burning lamps all surrounding the cloth. It would be stored in buildings using fireplaces for warmth. The potential for carbon contamination is huge.
There was an X-ray type of radiation involved to create the image. In the chemistry of the threads, the carbon has been changed. This effect obviously changes the areas where the image exists, but it is unknown as to what extent this occurred in areas where an image is not clearly seen. I doubt that it would be possible to determine the extent to which the chemistry of the cloth been altered. These chemical changes could even vary at different locations on the cloth. Considering the likelihood that fire and radiation have altered the chemistry of the shroud, I’m very doubtful that any carbon 14 test would ever provide a meaningful result.
What most surprised you?
I had previously heard that the amount of blood that is seen surprises people, but I still was amazed to see blood stretched almost the full length of the shroud. In the crucifixion sequence, I think that we tend to overlook the process of being scourged. The Romans used a short whip, about 3 feet long, and tied two sharp pieces of metal to the end of the cord. The stroke usually left a nearly identical pair of wounds close together where the flesh had been torn away. There are many of these wounds on the back, but I also saw these wounds on the chest, the shoulders and the front and back of both legs. This would indicate that Christ would have been suspended with his arms stretched straight above his head; his wrists tied with ropes to an overhead structure. The Roman’s had devised a brutal beating.
What color is the Shroud?
The shroud even defies us to answer a seemingly simple question. After returning from Turin, we were discussing our experience when it became apparent that we had not even seen the shroud in quite the same way. At a fabric store we selected sample cloths; one was off-white, the other gold with a variegated pattern. Barrie Schwortz, who has photographed the shroud since 1978, describes the cloth as straw yellow. Others who have spoken to him describe the color as sepia or light brown. Barrie used film photography in 1978; now digital photography, lighting and filters used can also cause color to vary.
A caution about information
There is a vast amount of information that can accessed on the Shroud of Turin web-site, including a list of books about the shroud. However, whether the internet, or books, the information is not necessarily accurate, and is almost always shaped by the opinion of the author, so an evaluation must be careful. Disagreements between scientists are easily found. Without a doubt, this discourages many people from even trying to understand the shroud. Whether scientists or laymen, everyone finds something distinct to them when discussing the shroud.
A believers presentation?
It would be my dream to give a believers presentation of the shroud. The presentation needs to be primarily visual and would include video, photographs, artwork and models of the items that are found in the crucifixion account. This presentation would be much different than giving a sermon or teaching a class. Whenever I see documentaries, movies, or what I hear taught in church, I find that what I have learned from the shroud has given me a new and deeper understanding of the crucifixion and resurrection. I will continue to try to gather information that I believe will fit.
Thoughts of Long Ago
When I was a child my aunt brought me to a Sunday School class at a small church very close to our house. However, after attending only a few classes, I quit. I would be 21 years old before attending church and finding faith. I recall that I had a thought that an “old story” was contained within each religion. Instead, what if I had I known of a burial shroud that places Christ far above any old story? I wonder, would my life have been different?