Dear Jason Gardner, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Seagoville, Texas. You asked in your blog:
[W]hat book that you’ve actually purchased with actual money are you most embarrassed to have bought?
And then you tell us your answer. It was Jesus: The Great Debate by Grant R. Jeffrey (1999, available in paperback and Kindle). You went on:
Nothing personal against Mr. Jefferey, but I can’t take seriously these days any book that argues for the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin.
I’ve never read the book so I can’t comment on it. But what struck me as peculiar about your posting was that you would find it embarrassing to have purchased a book. I can’t recall ever in my life being embarrassed for having purchased a book. I might not agree with the author. I might not like a book. I may find it ludicrous or distasteful. I might know it is a wacky book before buying it, But why should I be embarrassed. Honestly, I may not want to brag about buying some particular book. But should I be embarrassed?
What struck me as particularly interesting was that you “can’t take seriously these days any book that argues for the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin.”
I get it. I once felt that way about the Shroud. Could it be real? How ridiculous. How could anyone think it is real: the actual burial shroud of Jesus? The fact that the Shroud of Turin has an image on it, believed to be a picture of Christ, made it seem beyond preposterous.
On a flight from New York to Miami, I was reading Desire of the Everlasting Hills, Thomas Cahill’s book about the apostolic era. Having enjoyed Cahill’s previous best seller, The Gifts of the Jews, I thought I would enjoy his newest book. And indeed I was. Suddenly, with no logical reason that I could see, Cahill introduced the Shroud of Turin. It might have been a treasure of the early church, he thought. I laughed out loud. I laughed so loudly that people on the plane were turning around to see who was creating such a foolish scene.
I remember, at the time, being surprised that I knew so little about the Shroud. Then in my mid-fifties, I had always been an avid reader of history, particularly early church history. I could not recall ever reading anything about the Shroud of Turin. It was so far from being something I cared about that I never paid it any attention. Thus, when in 1979, Walter McCrone, a world renowned forensic microscopist, claimed that he found paint on a few Shroud fibers, I didn’t notice the story. McCrone, having noted that the shroud had suddenly appeared in 1356 in the hands of a French knight who would not say where it came from and that a local bishop soon thereafter claimed that an artist “cunningly painted” it, declared it fake. Had I noticed the story in 1979, I would have certainly accepted his conclusion. It would have made sense.
A decade later, when three radiocarbon dating laboratories, using carbon 14 dating, supposedly proved the Shroud of Turin was medieval, I didn’t notice. Had I, I would have certainly accepted the conclusion. I trust science. I did then and, more than ever, I do now.
Moreover, I am naturally skeptical about any relic with a historical footprint in medieval Europe. The year 1356 was a time of unbridled superstition in demons, witches, magic, and miracle-working relics.
Well, I’ve come around. I think the Shroud is genuine. My bookshelves are filled with books that argue both sides of the controversy. I’ve read them all. Some I’ve read many times. I am not embarrassed by any of them. Truly, though, I may be disappointed that I spent the money on some of them.
Might I not have taken Cahill seriously – it was a wonderful book – simply because he argued for the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin? That would have been tragic. Can I not take Gary Habermas seriously because he argued for the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin? I’m thinking, in particular, about his wonderful book, The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ. What a great book that has been for me.
My question to you sir is why are you so convinced that the Shroud is not real? Why are you so convinced that it would cause you embarrassment to read a book by an author who thinks it might be real? What if the book was otherwise a great book?
Why do you think the Shroud is not real?