Shroud of Turin: Fact or Fiction? Recent Scholarship Points to FACT.

Is the Shroud of Turin holy or a hoax? I posted a tweet with a reference to an interview on the Non sequitur channel with Frank McEvoy who believes the Shroud is holy. When I watched the video and posted the tweet, I believed the jury was out, but I decided to look into the academic research to let the evidence lead me where it would, rather than take an obstinate, close-minded stance. While Jim Majors responded to my tweet with an indication that the jury is not out, many other academics believe the Shroud is the most controversial artifact and most studied relic in history[1] and we have an impossible consensus.[2]  

“One thing is certain. The controversy regarding the Shroud of Turin is far from resolved.”[3]

“Conclusive Evidence”

On September 22, 1988, the New York Times dealt a death blow to Christians with the headline “Tests Show Shroud of Turin to Be Fraud, Scientist Hints.” The following February, Nature published research by Damon and colleagues, which declared they had “conclusive evidence” based on carbon dating that the Shroud of Turin was medieval and “not from the time of Christ.”[4] The authors dated the Shroud to between 1260 and 1390 with “at least 95 percent confidence.”

As an academic, I’ve been instructed to be very careful in making statements about my research findings, so I’d never state that I had “conclusive evidence” of anything based on population sampling techniques. The Shroud of Turin was based on a tiny sample from the bottom corner of a large 14 x 3 feet linen cloth. The tiny sample, which three global labs in Tucson, Oxford, and Zurich cut up in varying ways,[5] exhibited “egregious heterogeneity.”[6] See below for an image, courtesy of Riani and colleagues (2013).

In other words, the samples between the three labs were very different. They showed that the distance from the edge of the cloth made a difference in the radiocarbon dating estimate.[7] See below for evidence. See below for an image, courtesy of Walsh and Schwalbe (2020).

For this reason and many others, recent scholars have called the dubious methodology of the 1989 carbon dating study into question.[8] But beyond their flawed methodology, recent academic studies have found a much more important source of the problem. The dating of the tiny corner portion of the Shroud sampled for carbon dating appears medieval, but the medieval portion was sewed into the original by master craftsman after the original had been damaged in medieval times. This article will expand on this point and its sources. 

History of the Shroud

The 14th century dating in the 1989 study coincided with the presentation of the Shroud around 1356 by the family of a French knight named Geoffrey de Charny to a church in Lirey, France.[9] De Charney has quiet about where he sourced the Shroud, but his son claimed it was a gift while his granddaughter claimed it was a spoil of war.[10] Around 30 years later, the bishop of Troyes, France, reported to the Pope that an artist had forged the Shroud, so the Pope declared it to be a fake “icon”[11] rather than an authentic religious relic. Whether the bishop or Pope examined the issue properly back then is unknown – and we do not have information regarding whether anyone had biased reasons for making the assertions they made. What we do know is that to this day, the Catholic Church has not given the Shroud of Turin any Catholic support as an authentic relic of Jesus Christ.

Beliefs about the Shroud

Many Christians believe that the Shroud of Turin is the authentic burial linens that Joseph of Arimathea wrapped around Jesus when he buried Him in his tomb. The Shroud shows the image of a naked man who had been badly beaten, crucified, and pierced in his side. Only four fingers appear on each of His hands, which is consistent with a man who had been crucified. Crucifixion causes the thumbs to fold in under the hands. He had over 100 markings between shoulder and calf, which are consistent with having been whipped repeatedly.[12] The many lacerations on his head further indicated penetration by sharp objects that were also consistent with a crown of thorns.[13] Scholars have estimated the man’s size to be 5 feet 11 inches and his weight to be around 170 pounds.[14]

The linen is made of flax fibers and is woven in a herringbone pattern, which is consistent with 1st century patterns.[15] The body of the linen is also devoid of paint or other similar external applications.[16] The linens are mentioned in the Gospels both prior to and after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead:

“And when he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph. And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock. And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb.” Mark 15:45-46

“Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. John 20:6-7

Is the Shroud of Turin Authentic?

After the 1989 study was published, many Christians (myself included) ignored the Shroud of Turin, believing the “conclusive evidence” offered in 1989 and heralded by the media. Other Christians were very uncomfortable with the 1989 study, so they began looking into solutions, such as the fire of 1532 that damaged the Shroud modified its carbon content or that human hands or oils had contaminated it. These hypotheses haven’t always been well-received.

And that’s when God stepped in and used His humble servants to shed some light on the truth. The solution was simpler than the proposals of fire effects or contamination. Two non-scientists, Sue Benford and Joe Marino,[17] found images on the Shroud.com website that indicated the weave of the radiocarbon-dated sample was different from the weave in the central parts and image on the Shroud. They hypothesized that master weavers may have added patches on the edges of the Shroud following the 16th century fire. They also provided evidence of the existence of master weavers during the period.

Ray Rogers is a chemist who was one of the original members of the group of 33 Shroud investigators who had access to the Shroud in the 1970s and who had been permitted to retain small portions of its linen. He heard about Benford and Marino’s research and realized that he was in a unique position to debunk it. So he analyzed a sample of the linen that had been saved, which had been located in the middle of the labs’ radiocarbon sample. He found that it contained cotton and had been dyed to match the color of the main interior Shroud linen, which was not made of cotton and contained no paint or dyes.

“The dye found on the radiocarbon sample was not used in Europe before about A.D. 1291 and was not common until more than 100 years later. The combined evidence from chemical kinetics, analytical chemistry, cotton content, and pyrolysis proves that the material from the radiocarbon area of the shroud is significantly different from that of the main cloth. The radiocarbon sample was thus not part of the original cloth and is invalid for determining the age of the shroud. Because the storage conditions through the centuries are unknown, a more accurate age determination will require new radiocarbon analyses with several fully characterized and carefully prepared samples.”[18]

Other studies have lamented the quality of research in the 1989 study and the fact that the authors did not follow protocol by gathering samples from more than one location on the Shroud.[19]

That’s Not All

At this point, we don’t have carbon dating of the original Shroud, but we do have other evidence of early ancient dating.

Vanillin

Ray Rogers analyzed the levels of vanillin in the Shroud. Vanillin is produced from lignin, which is a component of plant cell wall. Vanillin breaks down over time and the breakdown levels vary as a function of the temperature in which the vanillin was stored. By analyzing levels of vanillin, one can assess an approximate age of a material. Rogers analyzed lignin in various Shroud samples, such as the Raes sample from 1973. Rogers also noted that the Raes/C14 corner was covered with a unique gum dye coating, which isn’t on the main portion of the Shroud.   

“If the shroud had been produced between A.D. 1260 and 1390, as indicated by the radiocarbon analyses, lignin should be easy to detect. A linen produced in A.D. 1260 would have retained about 37% of its vanillin in 1978. The Raes threads, the Holland cloth, and all other medieval linens gave the test for vanillin wherever lignin could be observed on growth nodes. The disappearance of all traces of vanillin from the lignin in the shroud indicates a much older age than the radiocarbon laboratories reported.”[20]

Pollen

A botanist from Hebrew University called Avinoam Danin analyzed pollen that was taken from the Shroud, finding the presence of a unique combination of flower species that were present in Jerusalem in April and May.[21] Another study by Alan and May Whanger entitled “Flora of the Shroud of Turin” further supported the presence of pollen local to Israel on the Shroud.[22]

Sudarium of Oviedo

The Sudarium is a face cloth (or sweat cloth) that many believe was on Jesus’ face during and after His crucifixion. Like the Shroud of Turin, the cloth contains much blood, which is colored red. The red color of the blood may surprise those who expect blood to darken with time, but the presence of significant bilirubin (due to the beatings He received) resulted in the retention of a red color.[23] The blood type in both is also AB, the rarest blood type. Only a tiny percent of people has the blood type AB.  

Before and After Shroud Image

Prior to 1898, the image on the Shroud appeared fuzzy and one could sort of see the image of a man. But in 1898, the first person took a photograph of the Shroud, an amateur photographer named Secondo Pia. When he developed the image, he was shocked to find that the reverse in the image was much more detailed.

Consistency with Ancient Images of Jesus

Notice that some of the earliest images of Jesus are consistent with the image in the Shroud. The first image above is from the 4th century in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The second image from the 6th or 7th century one above entitled “Christ the Pantocrator” from St. Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai, Egypt. Pantocrator is from Greek words meaning all mighty. The third image is the Hungarian Pray Codex, which has been commonly dated to 1192-1195.[24]

Three-Dimensional Image

Unlike all other photos we have today, the image in the Shroud of Turin is three-dimensional, which is confirmed by modern scientific methods of holography.[25]

“It is astounding to see a three-dimensional Man emerge from the two-dimensional image on the Shroud. But that is not what is most astounding. Rather, it is the fact that the Man is seen, in relation to the Shroud, as floating between the top and bottom sections. He is not resting on the stone slab of the tomb, and thus there is no distortion of the body’s image. The buttocks and back are free of distortion by gravity pulling the Man’s flesh into a somewhat flattened condition. The body appears to have been levitating at the moment the image was formed on the Shroud.”[26]

See the image below, which is a recreation by Giulio Fanti.[27]

Radiation and Light

“Shroud researcher Ray Rogers, a physical chemist at Los Alamos Laboratory, said, ‘I am forced to conclude that the image was formed by a burst of radiant energy — light if you like.’ In other words, the image is recorded on the cloth as if by a photoflash of brilliant light radiating from the body of the Man in the Shroud.”[28]

Scientists haven’t figured out how the image transferred from the man to the cloth. They have failed in any attempts to recreate it. But they do believe that a burst of high intensity energy and radiation occurred, which they estimated would be similar to the burst from the atomic bomb at Hiroshima, which “printed” images of victims on building walls.[29]

Conclusion

The devil won a victory in 1988 with the herald from the New York Times that cast doubts on the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin. For decades, many Christians, self-included, have paid no attention to Shroud research. But the research in the past twenty years has kicked the findings of the carbon-dating study to the curb. Not only have researchers identified major flaws in the 1989 study, but researchers have identified flaws in the original sampling. The tiny piece of the Shroud of Turin that was sampled for radiocarbon dating was a medieval addition, as confirmed by an academic study by the chemist and Shroud investigator, Ray Rogers. Christians do not need the Shroud of Turin to confirm our Christianity, but it’s certainly a bonus.

Furthermore, we have physical evidence in the absence of paint and vanillin and the presence of blood, anointing oils, bilirubin, pollen, the Sudarium of Oviedo, reverse photo imaging, and holographic 3D imaging which a medieval fraudster could not have possibly conjured up. The Shroud of Turin is the best physical evidence we have of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. With the Shroud, we can see the person of Jesus Christ who laid His life down for ours and suffered a brutal beating and crucifixion.

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13

If you would like to watch a video of this, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1d6bGL4DK4Q


[1] Caja, V.L. and Boi, M. (2018). The evidence of crucifixion on the Shroud of Turin through the anatomical traits of the lower limbs and feet. Archaeometry, 60(6), 1377-1390.

[2] Casabianca, T. (2021). The ongoing historical debate about the Shroud of Turin: The case of the Pray Codex. The Heythrop Journal, 789-802.

[3] Bryant, V.M., Jr. (2000). Does pollen prove the Shroud of Turin? Biblical Archaeology Review, 26(6), 36-46.

[4] Damon, P.E. and Donahue, D.J, Gore, B.H., Hatheway, A.L.,  Jull, A.J.T., Linick, T.W., Sercel, P.J., Toolin, L.J., Bronk, C.R., Hall, E.T., Hedges, R.E.M., Housley, R., Law, L.A., Perry, C., Bonani, G., Trumbore , S.,Woelfli, W.,  Ambers, J.C.,  Bowman, S.G.E., Leese M.N., and Tite, M.S. (1989). Radiocarbon dating the Shroud of Turin. Nature, 337, 611-615.

[5] Riani, M., Atkinson, A.C., Fanti, G., and Crosilla, F. (2013). Regression analysis with partially labelled regressors: Carbon dating of the Shroud of Turin. Statistical Computing, 23, 551-561.

[6] Ibid, p. 553.

[7] Walsh, B. and Schwalbe, L. (2020). An instructive inter-laboratory comparison: The 1988 radiocarbon dating of the Shroud of Turin. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, 29.

[8] Riani, M., Atkinson, A.C., Fanti, G., and Crosilla, F. (2013). Regression analysis with partially labelled regressors: Carbon dating of the Shroud of Turin. Statistical Computing, 23, 551-561. Walsh, B. and Schwalbe, L. (2020). An instructive inter-laboratory comparison: The 1988 radiocarbon dating of the Shroud of Turin. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, 29. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352409X19301865?via%3Dihub

[9] Bortin, V. (1980). Science and the Shroud of Turin. The Biblical Archaeologist. 43(2), 109-117.

[10] Bortin, V. (1980). Science and the Shroud of Turin. The Biblical Archaeologist. 43(2), 109-117.

[11] Perrin, P. (2021). The Shroud of Turin: 7 Intriguing Facts. https://www.history.com/news/shroud-turin-facts

[12] Original source: Dr. Robert Bucklin, an American pathologist and county coroner in Amarican Medical News, 13. Bortin, V. (1980). Science and the Shroud of Turin. The Biblical Archaeologist. 43(2), 109-117.

[13] Original source: Dr. Robert Bucklin, an American pathologist and county coroner in Amarican Medical News, 13. Bortin, V. (1980). Science and the Shroud of Turin. The Biblical Archaeologist. 43(2), 109-117

[14] White, J. (2010). Is the Shroud of Turin authentic? The New American. May 10

[15] Mader, C. and Campbell, M. The weave of the Shroud of Turin. https://www.shroud.com/pdfs/stlmader2.pdf

[16] Rogers, R.N. (2005). Studies on the radiocarbon sample from the Shroud of Turin. Thermochimica Acta 425, 189–194.

[17] Benford, M.S. and Marino, J.G. (2002). Historical support for a 16th century restoration in the Shroud C-14 sample area.

[18] Rogers, R.N. (2005). Studies on the radiocarbon sample from the Shroud of Turin. Thermochimica Acta 425, 189–194.

[19] Walsh, B. and Schwalbe, L. (2020). An instructive inter-laboratory comparison: The 1988 radiocarbon dating of the Shroud of Turin. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, 29.

Riani, M., Atkinson, A.C., Fanti, G., and Crosilla, F. (2013). Regression analysis with partially labelled regressors: Carbon dating of the Shroud of Turin. Statistical Computing, 23, 551-561. Walsh, B. and Schwalbe, L. (2020). An instructive inter-laboratory comparison: The 1988 radiocarbon dating of the Shroud of Turin. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, 29. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352409X19301865?via%3Dihub

[20] Rogers, R.N. (2005). Studies on the radiocarbon sample from the Shroud of Turin. Thermochimica Acta 425, 189–194.

[21] Anonymous. (1999). Briefs. The Science Teacher, 66(7), 10, 12, 15, 17-19.

[22] Whanger, A.D. and Whanger, M. (1999). Flora of the Shroud of Turin. Missouri Botanical Garden Press.

[23] Schwortz, B. (2013). The Shroud and the Jew: Barrie Schwortz at TEDx ViadellaConciliazione. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4G4sj8hUVaY

[24] Casablanca, T. (2021). The ongoing historical debate about the Shroud of Turin: The case of the Pray Codex. The Heythrop Journal, 789-802

[25] White, J. (2010). Is the Shroud of Turin authentic? The New American. May 10.

[26] White, J. (2010). Is the Shroud of Turin authentic? The New American. May 10.

[27] Gill, J. (2018). Professor used Shroud of Turin to create precise 3D carbon copy of Jesus. https://dailycaller.com/2018/03/28/university-of-padua-shroud-of-turin-jesus-christ/

[28] Tribbe, F.C. (2006). Portrait of Jesus? The Shroud of Turin in Science and History. Second Edition. Omega Books.

[29] White, J. (2010). Is the Shroud of Turin authentic? The New American. May 10.

4 Replies to “Shroud of Turin: Fact or Fiction? Recent Scholarship Points to FACT.”

    1. Thank you Jason! I didn’t expect to think the Shroud wasn’t a fraud when I started looking into this. I’ve been thinking it was a fraud for decades.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Excellent article! I added your link to my list of resources for “Shroud of Turin” under “S” on my “Christian Resources” page. I have a number of additional links that you might be interested in! Blessings!

    Liked by 1 person

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