A Mere Mention of the Shroud of Turin

There is an excellent and interesting posting at the St. Athanasius Bible Institute blog. It is not about the Shroud of Turin but the mere mention of the Shroud brought me over and I am glad of it. Read the posting at St. Athanasius Bible Institute. Here is the mention of the Shroud:

If the burial Shroud of Turin is to be regarded as authentic, we have on that Shroud an image of the incarnate God left to human posterity by Jesus Christ himself on rising from the dead. . . .

Let us never take for granted Jesus Christ. He is the Second Divine Person of the most holy Trinity. He is the only-begotten Son of the Father. He became man for us and our salvation, truly and fully man — and much more so, in a sense, than are we. That is to say, his humanity was full and complete. It was perfect, whereas ours is marred, wounded, crippled and wounded by sin. In this sense he was not only fully God, but fully and perfectly man. Let us be like Thomas before the risen Jesus, and bow down before him with the words, “My Lord and my God!”

A side benefit of interest in the Shroud of Turin is discovering good article and a good blog that have a mere mention of it.

The Shroud of Turin, the Shroud of Scholarly Disputes

John Thavis has written an excellent story for Catholic News Service. There is a great deal of useful perspective on the Shroud.

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The Shroud of Turin, which many Christians believe to be the burial cloth of Jesus, goes on public display this spring, at a time when experts are debating new claims about the 14-foot-long piece of linen.

Pope Benedict XVI has already made plans to view the shroud during a one-day trip to the northern Italian city of Turin in early May. Many observers are wondering how the pope will refer to the cloth: as a sign, an icon or — as Pope John Paul II once characterized it — a relic.

The shroud’s last showing was 10 years ago, when more than a million people lined up to see it in the cathedral of Turin in northern Italy. Officials are predicting similar crowds for the exposition April 10-May 23, and visitors are being urged to book their visits online at http://www.sindone.org.

The pilgrims come to witness with their own eyes what they may have read about or glimpsed on TV. Most go away impressed with what they see: a faint image of a bearded man who appears to have been whipped, crowned with thorns and crucified.

Carbon-14 tests in 1988 dated the cloth to the Middle Ages, and seemed to confirm the theory that the shroud was a pious fraud. But since then, some experts have faulted the methodology of the testing, and said the tiny samples used may have been taken from areas of the cloth that were mended in medieval times.

The shroud has also been chemically analyzed, electronically enhanced and computer-imaged. So far, no one has been able to fully explain how the image was transferred to the linen cloth, although experts have put forward theories ranging from enzyme reaction to solar imaging.

The shroud has been studied from virtually every scientific angle in recent years. Its weave has been examined, pollen grains embedded in the cloth have been inspected, and red stains have been analyzed for hemoglobin properties. One particular sub-category of debate focuses on enhanced images that, in the opinion of some scientists, reveal the impression of 1st-century Palestinian coins placed on the eyes of the shroud’s figure.

The "jury" on the shroud includes hundreds of experts, some of them self-appointed. They do not split neatly into believers and skeptics, however. The latest controversy, in fact, involves a Vatican archivist who claims to have found evidence of writing on the shroud — a hypothesis that has drawn sharp criticism from other Catholic scholars.

The archivist, Barbara Frale, said in a new book that older photographs of the shroud reveal indications of what was essentially a written death notice for a "Jesus Nazarene." The text, she said, employs three languages used in 1st-century Jerusalem.
The book immediately prompted a Web site war in Italy. Several sites dedicated to the shroud ridiculed Frale’s hypothesis, saying it bordered on Dan Brown-style fantasy. Vatican Radio, however, featured an interview with Frale about her "important discovery." No doubt the world will hear more about this scholarly spat when the shroud goes on display.

It will be the first public showing of the shroud since it underwent a restoration in 2002, which removed repair patches and a large piece of linen of a later date. To prepare for the exhibit, the Archdiocese of Turin has taken the unusual step of closing the cathedral for three months. It will take that long to set up the viewing area and the informational exhibit for visitors as they wait in line.

Pope Benedict’s arrival is a big event for organizers of this year’s shroud exposition. Many Catholics look to Rome for direction on how to evaluate the shroud, as Pope John Paul II discovered en route to Africa in 1989, when he called the shroud a "relic." When excited reporters asked whether this meant it was the authentic burial cloth of Christ, the Polish pope conferred with an aide before answering more cautiously: "The church has never pronounced itself in this sense. It has always left the question open to all those who want to seek its authenticity. I think it is a relic."

Clearly, Pope John Paul was personally convinced, although when he went to see the shroud in 1998 he carefully avoided using the term "relic."

Pope Benedict has long been cautious about the value of private signs, apparitions and revelations. But he seems to consider the Shroud of Turin in a different category.

In his book, "The Spirit of the Liturgy," then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote that the shroud was "a truly mysterious image, which no human artistry was capable of producing."

In his meditations on the Good Friday Way of the Cross in Rome shortly before his election as pope in 2005, he wrote regarding the 11th station, "Jesus Is Nailed to the Cross": "The Shroud of Turin allows us to have an idea of the incredible cruelty of this procedure."

The pope then offered a kind of prayer inspired by the figure of the shroud: "Let us halt before this image of pain, before the suffering Son of God. Let us look upon him at times of presumptuousness and pleasure, in order to learn to respect limits and to see the superficiality of all merely material goods. Let us look upon him at times of trial and tribulation, and realize that it is then that we are closest to God."

CNS STORY: Shroud of Turin: Image provokes prayer, curiosity, scholarly disputes

The Gibson Study Really Says Nothing About the Shroud of Turin

Heather Pringle, writing in Beyond Stone and Bone, the weekly blog of Archaeology Magazine, asks by way of her posting title, "Who Made the Shroud of Turin?" It is a fair question, one that invites us to do some thinking. The question is prompted by a claim that new archeological evidence argues against the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin. It doesn’t, as we will see. Let’s look first at what Pringle wrote in the blog:

In December [2009],  Shimon Gibson, an archaeologist and senior research fellow at the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jersualem (sic), announced tantalizing results from a new study that he and Boaz Zissu,  an archaeologist at Bar Ilan University, just completed on a 1st century B.C.  shrouded burial they excavated in a tomb in Jerusalem.  Gibson and several colleagues published the first part of the study in a paper in PLoS One on December 16th.Gibson and his colleagues radiocarbon-dated the tattered vestiges of the excavated shroud to 95 B.C.E .  And their careful examination revealed that the mourners in question employed two very different pieces of cloth to wrap the unknown dead male. They wrapped the individual’s head in linen cloth,  and his body in wool cloth–a practice that Gibson says was part of traditional Jewish burial practices at the time.   Moreover,  this practice fits with the biblical description of the two pieces of cloth that Jesus cast off after he rose from the dead.  The Shroud of Turin,  by comparison, consists of just one large piece of cloth said to have covered both the head and body of Jesus.

And Gibson and his team found another critical difference.  The tattered cloths they excavated were woven very simply,  with a two-way weave.   The  Shroud of Turin, however,  exhibits a more sophisticated weaving pattern,  known as a twill weave.

Two arguments are tendered. Both hinge on a single supposition: what has been found defines what is customary or typical relative to geography, time, culture and religion. Gibson tells us that the use of two pieces of cloth "was part of traditional Jewish burial practices" at the time and that it is consistent with scripture. That is one part of his argument. The other is that the weave was a simple "two-way" weave and not the twill pattern of the Shroud. Is it reasonable to think that two cloths used in the manner Gibson proposes is typical. And is a simple weave typical?

Moreover, we need to ask if Gibson is right in his understanding of traditional Jewish burial practices and his interpretation of scripture? He might be, serendipitously. The fact of the matter is that we really know far too little about the burial practices in the late-Second Temple era in and about Jerusalem to make such assumptions. Pringle goes on to say:

No one will be able to draw any definitive conclusions about the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin based on this new study.  The comparative sample size is miniscule, and archaeologists need to see much more in the way of Jewish burial shrouds from the period in order to establish what the customs really were. . . .

I remember, somewhat vaguely, sitting in a high school history class as the teacher explained how archaeologists determined new levels of an excavation by noting the changes in pottery style. Most of us were quite happy with the explanation and made notes in our notebooks, knowing full well that we had an answer for a question that would inevitably be on a mid-term exam. But one student wasn’t happy with the simplicity of the explanation.

How did the archaeologists know that at any one level they had not come across the home of a rich family and at another level the home of a poor family, he had wanted to know. That might have been the reason why the style of pottery was different. How did they know that there weren’t other reasons? Maybe one of the clay pots was from a trade caravan bringing goods from distant cities. Might there be other reasons, as well, including religious practices or personal preferences? So how did an archaeologist know that any given pottery fragment was typical?

I don’t recall if he used the word, "typical." But that was the gist of his questions. My history teacher was well prepared to answer. It required, he told us, many samples from several places in a dig before they could say a style of pottery was typical for a given level. Exceptions, indeed, were often found; and yes, possibly for the very reason the student had suggested. Archaeologists should never draw sweeping conclusions based on a single sample.

For the very same reason, we must be leery of claims that a single fragment, dated to approximately a century before the burial of Jesus, is typical. Palestine, including Jerusalem, at the time of Jesus, had a complex multifaceted society. We know of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. They had very different ideas about such things as an afterlife and we might suppose, therefore, there might have been some differences in burial practices. In fact, there is evidence that that was so. There were different family groups, as well; major families such as Hasmoneans and the Herodians and other family groupings as well. The tombs carved in the limestone outcroppings around Jerusalem is a testament to this. They were family tombs. There were also claims of ancient tribal and monarchial patrilineal descent; the Levites for example and in the case of Jesus, at least according to scripture, the House of David. There were in Jerusalem Hellenized Jews who lived a different lifestyle that was criticized by many religious Jews. There were detested Jews who were Roman citizens. Paul was one. There were political factions, such as the Zealots who wished to see Rome expelled from Judea. We must not overlook the fact that Jerusalem, because it was a significant city, was populated with Jews from other parts of the Judea. Typically, if we dare to use that word, families and lineages, people from different geographies and people of different economic and social status, develop different traditions. We don’t have direct evidence from ancient sources such as the Mishna, Talmud or Semahot to suggest that a shroud or manner of shrouding was typical. But the content of these texts does suggest that there were differences in burial practices and even debate.

Tombs varied greatly. There were large complex tombs and very simple tombs, some with burial niches and some without. Ossuaries (bone boxes) used for ossilegium (second burial) varied greatly. Some were ornately decorated and some were simple. Inscriptions varied. In fact they were sometimes in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek and in one case Latin. Ossilegium, though common, was not apparently universal. There also seems to be archaeological evidence that the burial practices evolved during the brief period that Jerusalem’s carved out tombs were used.

Given all this, it is hard to believe that a single type of burial shroud or a single method of shrouding existed that could be called typical. Indeed we might suspect that simple weave cloth as well as very fine linen cloth was used if such a variety of cloth was available.

One consequence of the Roman conquest of Judea, incidentally between the time period determined for what we might call the Gibson shroud and the burial of Jesus, was the expansion of trade. The Romans built new roads and improved existing roads. Jerusalem was along the overland trade route between Egypt in the south and Syria to the north. Nearby Caesarea, formerly the Hasmonean Jewish city of Straton’s Tower, became a major Roman port city. Alexandria in Egypt and Damascus in Syria were major textile centers producing linen for clothing, temple vestments, curtains, sailcloth and burial shrouds. Fine and expensive as well as simple linen cloth would certainly have been available in Jerusalem’s marketplace.

Would this have included twill weave linen, specifically herringbone twill? Although we have no geographic specific examples from the time of Christ, it is reasonable to presume that the answer is yes. Fragments of herringbone twill have been found in the ancient Hallstatt salt mines near present-day Vienna among the mummified remains of a Celtic people dating back about four centuries before Christ. Herringbone twill cloth, made from horsehair, has been found in Ireland dating from possibly as early as the arrival of Celtic people on the island around 600 B.C. Other complicated twill patterns going back to at least 200 B.C. and probably earlier have been found with mummies discovered in the Tarim Basin in present-day Xinjiang, China. Probably, the oldest examples are from Northern Italy where a six foot long piece of twill linen cloth was found with lozenge patterns that may date to the third millennium B.C.

It should be understood that twill weaving is not a technological innovation over simple weaving. In simple weaving the weft yarn is passed over one warp thread then under one warp thread, over one, under one, and so forth. In twill weaving the weft is passed over two, three or four warps and under one, and so forth. (The Shroud of Turin is a three hop twill). This gives the cloth a diagonal wale. A good example of twill is the fabric of an ordinary pair of blue jeans. A herringbone pattern is sometimes introduced into a twill weave by, every now and then, reversing the hop so that the diagonal wale is reversed.  The resulting appearance resembles the backbone pattern of a herring, hence the name herringbone. It is an artistic technique and other artistic patterns can be created by a talented weaver.

The other argument by Gibson, as Pringle explains it, is that two cloths were used, a linen cloth over the head and a woolen shroud for the rest of the body. Pringle goes on to say:

Moreover, this practice fits with the biblical description of the two pieces of cloth that Jesus cast off after he rose from the dead. The Shroud of Turin, by comparison, consists of just one large piece of cloth said to have covered both the head and body of Jesus.

But is that what scripture really says? John’s Gospel is our source for considering this:

[The beloved disciple] bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. (John 20:5-7, NRSV)

Scholars do not agree on what this means. The late, great Anglican biblical scholar, John A. T. Robinson, thought the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head might have been a chin band used to tie his mouth closed. Other scholars think it might have been a sudarium, a dishcloth sized cloth that had been used to cover the face of the deceased prior to burial and then removed before the body was enshrouded. If the Sudarium of Oviedo (in Spain) is authentic, as many believe because blood patterns appear to match bloodstains on the Shroud of Turin, then that would explain the second cloth. Frankly, we don’t have a definitive answer on how to interpret this passage of scripture. Nothing, however, in scripture rules out a single shroud. It is simply a matter of interpretation and there is no good foundation for it. Pringle is right when she writes:

No one will be able to draw any definitive conclusions about the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin based on this new study [by Gibson].  The comparative sample size is miniscule, and archaeologists  need to see much more in the way of Jewish burial shrouds from the period in order to establish what the customs really were. 

Indeed. In fact, if we are going to argue non-authenticity from a fragment of a burial shroud we must consider other evidence and other experts as well. This quotation from a PBS interview with Mechthild Flury-Lemberg, a textile expert who has been studying the Shroud since 1980 is very telling:

She first noticed that the entire cloth was crafted with a weave known as a three-to-one herringbone pattern. "This kind of weave was special in antiquity because it denoted an extraordinary quality," she says. . . . Flury-Lemberg also discovered a peculiar stitching pattern in the seam of one long side of the Shroud, where a three-inch wide strip of the same original fabric was sewn onto a larger segment. The stitching pattern, which she says was the work of a professional, is surprisingly similar to the hem of a cloth found in the tombs of the Jewish fortress of Masada. The Masada cloth dates to between 40 B.C. and 73 A.D. The evidence, says Flury-Lemberg, is clear: "The linen cloth of the Shroud of Turin does not display any weaving or sewing techniques which would speak against its origin as a high quality product of the textile workers of the first century."

So might Jesus’ burial shroud have been a high quality, perhaps not-so-typical, linen fabric? Jesus’ burial, itself, was not typical. Crucifixion victims were not buried in the sort of tombs found in the Jerusalem outcroppings, though a single exception has been found. Nor were peasants. And Jesus was both. Crucifixion victims were usually left on their crosses until their bodies rotted or were eaten by wild dogs and vultures. The remains were thrown in charnel pits. We are told in the biblical narrative that a member of the Sanhedrin, clearly someone of means and status, asked Pilate for Jesus’ body and offered a tomb for the burial. Mark’s Gospel tells us that Joseph of Arimathea bought a linen cloth and wrapped Jesus’ body in it. Might this man of means have purchased an expensive three hop herringbone linen shroud. It is perfectly plausible.

One sentence Pringle wrote warrants repeating: "No one will be able to draw any definitive conclusions about the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin based on this new study." 

While Gibson’s study is intriguing and informative, it offers no evidence one way or the other about the Shroud of Turin. In fact, it is silly to even suggest any archaeological connection.