More on the Archaeology of the Bible by James K. Hoffmeier

imageAfter reading John A. Battle’s review The Archaeology of the Bible, by James K. Hoffmeier (Oxford: Lion Hudson, 2008) that appeared in The Western Reformed Seminary Journal, I decided to check out the book myself. The review has caught my attention because Battle wrote: “Since the book is fairly recent, it includes major recent discoveries that further illumine the biblical narrative, including continuing debate on the Shroud of Turin . . .”

I was disappointed. This is all there is. And there are errors of fact:

Is this much-discussed linen cloth the one in which Jesus was wrapped for burial? Archaeology cannot answer this question. The best it can do is to determine its date, whether it fits the era typologically, and perhaps its place of origin. It should be possible to demonstrate that it is man-made, but it is virtually impossible to prove its authenticity. The first documented appearance of the shroud is in 1357 in France. In 1578 it was relocated to Turin, Italy, where for the most part it has remained ever since. The long linen shroud has the faint image in a brownish-red of the front and back of a man who appears to have been whipped and crucified—a blood stain appears on the wrist and foot. In 1898 it was photographed for the first time. When the black and white negative was examined, it was realized that it was actually a positive! This means that the image on the linen, however it was made, was transferred from the body of a three-dimensional figure. In 1978 it was again photographed under blue light, yielding a more remarkable picture of the figure on the shroud. How the image came to be on the cloth in this negative fashion remains a mystery. Those who believe it is a medieval fabrication have not been able to offer a convincing explanation for how the image was imprinted on the linen.

In recent years a number of scientific investigations have been carried out to test the age and authenticity of the shroud. Some claim the image was made by paint, hence it is a hoax, while others claim that the substance is blood. Analysis of the pollens collected point to a dry climate such as Palestine and not Europe. Another test revealed that limestone powder was in the fabric. When compared with Jerusalem limestone, it showed a remarkable match to the chemical compounds. The substance that created the image has been the subject of inquiry. Carbon14 dates of some fibres suggest a date of 600 years ago. Subsequent analysis of the tested sample suggests that it was from a thread used to repair the linen and was not from the shroud itself. Only a sample from the fabric of the shroud itself will settle this question, but centuries of exposure to the elements and handling might render obtaining an uncontaminated sample from the shroud impossible. The verdict is still out on the question of whether the shroud is an artefact of the first century or a manufactured relic of medieval Christendom. Scientific study of the linen may be able to answer this question, but it can never prove to whom it belonged if it was authentic. For the time being, it is best to be dispassionately objective and await further scientific study.

1. “When the black and white negative was examined, it was realized that it was actually a positive! This means that the image on the linen, however it was made, was transferred from the body of a three-dimensional figure.”

The first sentence is true and the second sentence makes absolutely no sense at all. Anyone who is a photographer or has dabbled around with photography in the pre-digital age knows this. Now, and Hoffmeier missed this, there is 3D information in the image content enabling one to plot a 3D elevation of the body. This, not the negativity, suggests that, “however it was made, was transferred from the body of a three-dimensional figure.”

2. “Some claim the image was made by paint, hence it is a hoax, while others claim that the substance is blood.”

No, while it is true that some argue that the image was made by paint, no one claims that “the substance [of the image] is blood.” Those that claim that the image was painted also claim that the bloodstains were painted, as well. What many claim, is that the bloodstains are real blood and the image content itself is some form of dehydrated and oxidized material, perhaps the fibers themselves or some substance on the fibers.

See The Archaeology of the Bible by James K. Hoffmeier « Shroud of Turin Blog