Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Turin Shroud: Real or Fake? Answer: Likely a Fake

shroud of turin photo: shroud of turin shroud-neg.jpgOnce more controversy has erupted regarding a religious artifact, in this case the Shroud Of Turin. Six months ago readers may recall a similar furore over a 4th century Coptic manuscript fragment in which Jesus explicitly refers to a wife, see e.g.

Four words, evidently originally in Greek, and translated into "Jesus said to them, my wife" appeared to provide evidence that Yeshua had been married. This, despite the fact that orthodox Christian tradition has long held Yeshua to be unmarried (‘Saviors’ can’t have marital sex!) No sooner had the news been released than the Vatican’s fossils erupted in indignation. They insisted it was “blasphemy” to even make such an insinuation and over weeks the kerfuffle died down.

The latest news of a re-dating of the Turin Shroud, and the claim it’s likely genuine, has again re-ignited controversy and debate between skeptics and believers. The new test, by scientists at the University of Padua in northern Italy, used the same fibers from the 1988 radiocarbon dating tests but disputes the findings. Their claim – somewhat incredible – is that the 1988 scientists actually tested more recent fragments that came from a section repaired during the Middle Ages. Meanwhile, they insist their fragments came distinctly from the original Shroud. (The latest findings are contained in a new Italian-language book: Il Mistero Della Sindone or The Mystery of the Shroud, by Giulio Fanti, a professor of mechanical and thermal measurement at Padua University, and Saverio Gaeta, a journalist)

The new examination dates the shroud to between 300 BC and 400 AD, which would put it in the era of Christ. The 1988 tests dated the cloth to between 1260 and 1390, but noted that this does not necessarily mean the image itself also dated to 1390. The date only proved that is the earliest the shroud cloth was woven. Readers who wish to learn more on the basics of radiocarbon dating can refer to my earlier basic physics blogs:


Meanwhile, the original dating experts have stood by a 1988 carbon-14 dating of scraps of the cloth carried out by labs in Oxford, Zurich and Arizona, which, rules out its use during the time of Christ. Interestingly too – given how the Vatican screamed after the Coptic fragment incident – they’ve tiptoed carefully, never claiming that the 14-foot linen cloth was used to cover Christ after he was taken from the cross 2,000 years ago.

Indeed, Pope Francis, reflecting that careful Vatican position, yesterday referred to the cloth, which is kept in a climate-controlled case, as an "icon" -- not a relic. In other words, unlike assorted Vatican ‘Saint’ relics, the Shroud’s validity cannot be confirmed or accepted. It is instead an “icon” of faith – an echo or image to recall the Master, but not necessarily an actual cloth in which he was wrapped.

How should one then proceed? Cautiously! One would be advised to use the probability rubric created by the great cosmologist E.A. Milne. He created the concept of a bead sliding on a string, with its ends defined as 1 and 0, as shown below:

0 )-------------------------------o------------------------( 1

Milne argued that this was a useful device by which to gauge one’s acceptance of assorted claims, from unicorns, to Martians to God. The 1 end thus defined absolute certainty, or a probability of 1, meaning there could be no doubt at all. The 0 end meant absolute impossibility or an associated probability of zero of occurrence. For example, for me to suddenly grow to the size of a galaxy in 1 second would easily fit at the 0 end. It is impossible.

Meanwhile, a race of extraterrestrials with green hair, seven feet in height and bearing skin marked by large red spots, might well be possible. People may not readily conceive such, but Milne warned that in any plausible or even semi-plausible context it was never wise to allocate one’s bead to either extreme. Don’t let your bead go to 1 (absolute certainty) or to 0 (absolute impossibility). In the case of the aforementioned alien then, perhaps a bead position midway between 0 and 1 is reasonable, given the billions of galaxies out there, and the likely presence of as many planets.

In line with this, I will let my 'bead' sit very close to '0' on the legitimacy of the Shroud. Here are some reasons why:

1) The weave of the Shroud material: No examples of complex herringbone weave are known from the time of Jesus when, in any case, burial cloths tended to be of plain weave. In addition, Jewish burial practice utilized—and the Gospel of John specifically describes for Jesus—multiple burial wrappings with a separate cloth over the face, e.g. John 20:6, King James version:

"Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie, And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself...."

2) Aberration in the wrap dimensions: For a shroud that was supposedly wrapped around the body of Christ, the lack of wraparound distortions across the torso, thighs, and legs is striking - the figure does not satisfy the geometric conditions of contact formation.

3) Legacy of fake shrouds in the Middle Ages: The practice of faking 'holy relics' was widespread during the Middle Ages. It would be incomprehensible if multiple fake Shroud attempts were also not made.

4) Disparity in ages from fragments: The current researchers insist their samples are from the correct period, and the 1988 researchers somehow mistakenly selected samples not part of the original shroud but repairs following fire damage in 1532. This claim holds no water- since the original workers were always well aware of what parts of the cloth were repaired and which were older!

5) Erratic or conflicting history: At the very least any real relic ought to have a trackable history! However, little reliable information is known of the shroud before the 15th century, beyond it being present in France in the 14th century. In 1453 Margaret de Charny deeded it to the House of Savoy, and in 1578 the then-Duke transferred it to Turin. The description of the Turin cloth at this point differs from that of the original cloth first presented in the 14th century

6) Blood stains would render it more icon than relic: There are claims of "bloodstains" on the cloth, but Hebrew law dictated cleansing of the corpse before wrapping and bodies don't bleed after death. Chemist Walter McCrone identified the substance as a "combination of red ochre and vermilion tempera paint." However only fibrils lifted from the shroud on sticky tape were tested for blood

7) Image proportions are wrong: As for the image on the Shroud, some basic elements: the image is muscular and 1.70 to 1.88 meters, or about 5'7" to 6'2", tall, with wound points as though they could have been caused by the process of crucifixion, but there is no generally accepted theory to explain how the image was impressed onto the cloth. However, it is accepted that the image is not anatomically correct — the head is 5% too large for its body, the nose is disproportionate, and the arms are too long. In many ways then, it bears similarity or at least image analogy to the fake Oswald photos (holding a rifle) reproduced in LIFE magazine, which were later shown to be fake since while Oswald's head was the same scale in each photo, the bodies were almost always  larger. And by about 5-10%.

Another little known aspect is the height of the Shroud Man (from the image)  appears way too large for a Jew living at the time 100 B.C. E. - 100 C.E. At that period, the tallest Jewish males were roughly 5'4" and perhaps 5'5" at most. To therefore have a person as much as 6'2" would be absurd. The 5'7" is more in the spectrum of probable heights but still out by at least two Gaussian standard deviations.

Given all this, one would be sensible to withhold investing belief in a real Shroud, at least until a confirmation is forthcoming from an independent team.

Meanwhile, there are other theories, such as postulated by the German authors of The Jesus Conspiracy. Their (convoluted) claim is that the Shroud is indeed real (dated from before 330 C.E.) but that it shows Christ was spirited from the tomb by disciples to try to fake the appearance of a resurrection. To make it appear so. Hence, the Church - knowing this - was complicit in the radio-carbon tests done in 1988, to ensure the dating disclosed a Middle Ages forgery effort - nothing more.

My own take is the Shroud is most probably a Middle Ages fake. But if Pope Francis is to be believed it doesn't matter one way or the other. The faithful can still use it to mobilize their faith!

1 comment:

Κανένας said...

Could be a fake. Could be not.