More: Death Certificate on the Shroud of Turin?

I have promoted a comment from a previous posting to address the issue cazab raised. It is a valid point, one that we all need to struggle with: the value of the opinion of experts. Here is the comment:

I’d like to know what do you think of the expert opinion of Prof. Mario Capasso when he declares the inscriptions are corresponding to an handwriting made between -50 to 50.

Is this well-known papyrologist wrong and how, according to you, is it possible ?

According to you, what is the probability for this classic pareidolia to be well-made enough that it can abuse an expert in his field ?

Let’s look at a couple of examples:

The Swiss criminologist and forensic pollen specialist Max three was certainly an expert. He found pollen that strongly suggested that the Shroud of Turin had been in the environs of Jerusalem at some time. However, there were good reasons to question his conclusion.

Avinoam Danin, a botany professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Uri Baruch, a pollen specialist at the Israel Antiquities Authority, tried to overcome objections to Frei’s work. At a conference sponsored by the Missouri Botanical Society in St Louis, Missouri, Danin, speaking about the pollen evidence (and floral images that he saw on the Shroud), reported that "In the light of our findings, it is highly probable that the shroud did in fact come from this part [the Jerusalem area] of the world."

But the problem was only compounded. The subject of floral images that Danin believed he saw on the shroud was being mixed up with Frei’s pollen observations because some of the plants were the same. That would be fine but many people doubted that Danin was really seeing these images of flowers. Danin wasn’t delusional. Others saw what seemed to be the same flowers. But some of the flower shaped coincided with banding noise on the fabric. When the banding was mathematically filtered out, some of those images disappeared.

I have met Danin. I have the highest respect for him and his expertise. I’m just not prepared to accept his opinion without more evidence.

Baruch, every bit as much an expert as Frie, could only confirm what Frei had observed but at the genus level and not a species level. That wasn’t very helpful for it greatly expanded the geographic area. A flower particular to a specific area in Frei’s expert interpretation might be found elsewhere in the world according to another expert. In 1991, Danin clarified his position on the pollen evidence. It could not be used to show that the shroud had been in the Middle East.

Now consider the expert opinion of Walter McCrone. He was undoubtedly one of the world’s leading authorities in the world of microscopy. He was reknowned art forgery expert. He identified paint particles on the Shroud and declared it a fake. Is this well-known microscopist wrong?

In fact, attempts to verify McCrone’s observations showed that what he thought he saw could not be what he thought it was. This was especially true of tests conducted by one of McCrone’s own staff. Mark Anderson proved, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that McCrone was wrong. So did mass spectrometry tests conducted at the University of Nebraska. The expert was wrong.

Ray Rogers used to say over and over, “I think I see is not a scientific statement.” Any claim—coins over the eyes, flowers, pollen identification, lettering, paint particles, etc.—needs to be independently verified and peer reviewed. When enhanced photographic images are used, the enhancements must be reproducible. The enhancement work done on the Enrie photographs (five levels of contrast enhancement with orthochromatic film) is not reproducible because no two pieces of film are identical. Digital enhancement is always reproducible if the detailed work is documented. This has never happened.

Skeptics of the shroud love to claim that the expert McCrone found paint and dismiss the claims of any experts that argue that the shroud is real. Proponent of authenticity love to use the claims of experts that support their view and dismiss skeptics like McCrone. That is why independent, reproducible verification as well as peer review is essential.

I’m not saying a well-known papyrologist is wrong. I’m just saying that we need more information before we can rely on his opinion.

10 thoughts on “More: Death Certificate on the Shroud of Turin?”

  1. >Baruch, every bit as much an expert as Frie, could only confirm what Frei had observed but at the genus level and not a species level.

    This is a distinction without a difference in the important case of Gundelia tournefortii because it is a monotypic genus, i.e. it is the only species in its genus:

    The two plant species identified as part of the Shroud, beyond any reasonable doubt, are Gundelia tournefortii and Zygophyllum dumosum. Their presence on the Shroud, with the former confirmed by its pollen grains and both identified by presumed imaging, indicate that the Shroud originated in the spring season (March-April) in the Jerusalem area. The high indicative value of Gundelia tournefortii‘s pollen grains derives from the fact that it is a monotypic genus (Feinbrun-Dothan, 1978). For the Near East, its pollen morphology is unique for the family and for the entire flora.” (Danin, A., Whanger, A.D., Baruch, U. & Whanger, M., “Flora of the Shroud of Turin,” Missouri Botanical Garden Press: St. Louis MO, 1999, p.23).

    Stephen E. Jones

  2. Stephen Jones himself, in a 200 post on his website:
    wrote that the identification of Gundelia was in doubt. I quote from his text:
    “I have been advised in a private email, which I am not at liberty to quote, that what the late Max Frei identified as Gundelia tournefortii pollen on the Shroud of Turin, had in 2001 been re-identified by a leading palynologist, Bonn University Prof. Thomas Litt, as within the different genus Carduus.”
    Jones also refers to a 2008 book in Italian by Avinoam Danin, “L’Uomo della Sindone”, where Danin quotes a sentence from a letter by Litt to CSST (the Whangers). Litt wrote:
    “The images of light microscopy (interference contrast) and by confocal laser-scanning microscopy show clearly that waxes are preserved and cover the structure and sculpture of the pollen grains. This is the reason why I cannot make a precise identification of the pollen at the genus level, even less at the species level. However, with a high level of probablility, I can exclude that the pollen I have seen from the sticky tapes belong to Gundelia.”
    The report by Litt has not been published, except for the short excerpt above as disclosed by Danin, and it would seem that it is kept secret at CSST since 2001. It is to be hoped that it will be divulged soon.
    Gian Marco Rinaldi

    1. >Stephen Jones himself, in a 200 [sic] post on his website … wrote that the identification of Gundelia was in doubt.

      Thanks for this, which I had temporarily forgotten! I did not claim that it was not Gundelia tournefortii and as far as I know, no one has supported my suggestion.

      But I did add:

      “However, this reclassification by Prof. Litt of Frei’s Gundelia tournefortii pollen to the Carduus genus may be a blessing in disguise for the authenticity of the Shroud. That is because there is a species in that genus, Carduus argentatus, which grows around Jerusalem, flowers in April-May, has a more attractive flower (see above), and is a much less thorny plant than Gundelia tournefortii.”

      It has just occurred to me that there is a second blessing in disguise if this is an error in classification by Frei, in that it would be evidence against claims by Shaffersman and others that Frei’s data was fraudulent. That is because if Frei did collect modern pollen and claim it was Gundelia tournefortii he would have collected pollen from that species as an easily identified living plant. There was also no reason for Frei to choose Gundelia tournefortii because as my quote by Wilson indicated, it is an unlikely plant to be used in a 1st century Jewish burial.


  3. When I first heard about the purported inscription I was highly skeptical and wrote it off as nonsense. However, I happen to know Dr. Mario Capasso and can only tell you that he is a well-known and internationally respected papyrologist at the University of Lecce. If he thinks the inscription is legitimate, frankly, I would be hesitant to disagree with any of his conclusions and give the matter more serious consideration than I would have otherwise.

  4. Kind Mr. Lupia,
    about Mario Capasso: probably he cannot legitimate the inscriptions on the shroud, because he has not seen them. To all the researchers consulted by Barbara Frale, it has been shown a photographic manipulation of the shroud, without saying that it was the shroud! The transcript and the translation of the inscriptions , and also the grammatical errors, are due to Barbara Frale.
    If you know Capasso, you can ask him.

    P.S. I have written some pages on this matter, in Italian

    1. grazie mille Andrea. Non ho saputo che ci era inganno.

      Giovanni Lupia di Parenti

      ed: translation: Thank you Andrea. I had heard there was deception.

  5. Dear m. Nicolotti,

    I’ve read your article. Unfortunately, I wasn’t convinced. I can explain it with two exemples :
    1) ad hominem versus André Marion who, by the way, was agnostic and not a fan of UFOs (many experts studied the “vague belge”…);
    2) false quote : “L’autrice vorrebbe farci credere che le sue scritte, databili al I secolo, hanno sopportato benissimo il trascorrere di 1300 anni, e che nel XIV secolo i Templari potevano leggerle tranquillamente (lo afferma nel suo libro[12]);” here is the exact quote : “Se qualcuno dei frati si accorse che sul telo c’erano delle scrite in ebraico, come pure e possibile, capiremmo ancora meglio perché le gerarchie del Tempio vollere mantenere sulla reliquia il puo assoluto segreto.”
    It’s clear it’s just a possibility, not a certitude for Barbara Frale. And after that, you mention that ” per un inspiegabile fenomeno, sono improvvisamente sparite in soli due secoli. Nel 1598 l’arcivescovo di Bologna Alfonso Paleotti ha scritto un trattato sulla sindone: le sue minuziose descrizioni del sacro lino scandagliano ogni immagine della reliquia, ma non parlano assolutamente di scritte”. You don’t take into account the possible consequences of the fire in Chambéry on the handwritings (1532).

    Concerning Capasso, Frale said she showed him the handwritings “discovered” by Marion and Courage in a single-blind experiment. Is it a lie ?

  6. Before I answer to the two objections:
    1) Ad hominem. I have not spoken about Marion to create an argumentum ad hominem, but because Frale introduces Marion as person totally neutral, impartial and disinterested. Before introducing his work, she reconsidered the credibility of Marastoni and Orecchia because they are Catholic; then she created a situation of expectation in the reader, introducing Marion as a super partes scholar. But Marion was a person very interested to the defence of the shroud. The fact that has written some books on the relics, certainly cannot mark him out as an “independent” scientist. Was he agnostic? Strange. He wrote a book on the shroud not limiting himself to speaking of his studies on the handwritings, but making the history of the shroud and concluding with the hypothesis of the resurrection of Christ. If Frale suggests an argumentum pro homine, I use an argumentum ad hominem.

    2) “It’s clear it’s just a possibility, not a certitude for Barbara Frale”, you say. In reality the continuous use of “possibilist” sentences is the style of the entire book, where the repeated use the “if” and the “perhaps” in insistent way, is aimed at creating the impression of strong possibility in the reader. The large majority of the possibilities, in the following pages will be turned into reality. If we try to eliminate all the sentences with a “perhaps”, we will cancel the 90% of the Frale’s books. Just against this system (creating an historical reconstruction using undemonstrated hypotheses) prof. Vallerani has written a very incisive review.
    The main point is that Frale holds possible that handwriting of the I century can be legible in XIII and then disappear forever. Nobody has ever spoken of them, nobody has ever described them, nobody has ever seen them. The consequences of the fire in Chambery? Someone should explain us *how* the writings did form, and as *why* they disappear. Marion and Frale say that the handwriting possesses the same nature of the body’s image. If the fire has modified the handwritings, has modified also the image of the body. But why? How?

    About Capasso: Frale “showed him the handwritings “discovered” by Marion and Courage in a single-blind experiment”? The palaeography is not similar to the medicine. The original is important. Frale has not presented to Capasso the shroud or photos of the shroud, but photographic manipulations of the shroud. The handwritings that are reproduced in the Frale’s book, was prepared by Marion, going over the lines again; if one looks only at the “original” photos, he doesn’t read anything.
    Moreover: some of the researchers quoted in the book that I have contacted, are completely against the Frale’s thesis, and in some case spoke with me in terms of “dishonesty”.
    The other objections remain: the handwritings do not exist, it is not explained how they formed, the handwritings are integrated in a completely arbitrary way, they are full of errors, the Frale doesn’t know the Hebrew language, the external side of the shroud is completely white, nobody sees the handwritings on the high quality pictures, it is known that the images of Enrie are defective, etc. etc.

    I have analyzed some of the modern high quality pictures, looking for the handwritings. The most greater part of the presumed signs are clearly fold marks of the shroud or some protuberant threads that, illuminated by the light used by Enrie, appear clearer and therefore dark on the negative image. It is not necessary to ask a palaeographer to see it.

    PS Forgive my English!

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