Paper Chase: Danusha Goska’s Untitled Essay

Sciencebod, by way of a comment, writes:

imageOne of the major questions that sceptics need to ask themselves is this: why is there only one Shroud of Turin? If it were – or had been – a fake, produced by some ingenious imprinting process that mimicked at least some of the properties of modern photography, indeed, computer-aided imaging technology – then why was the "trick" not repeated subsequently again and again, in a range of applications, as finally to elicit a huge groan or yawn on each reappearance?

OK, so I am repeating the obvious – namely that the Shroud is unique – making it not just an object of devotion for the faithful, but equally well an object of intense interest and speculation, at least to those of us possessed (or afflicted) with an open and enquiring mind…

At the risk of stealing Sciencebod’s thunder, those two excellent paragraphs above that are chockfull of common sense, I must, nonetheless, draw everyone’s attention to the following, written by Danusha Goska in 2000, then a Ph.D. candidate at Indiana University. It was one of the earliest essays that I read that made so much sense. Sciencebod reminded me of it:

The shroud has been subjected to imaging analysis by NASA scientists, to carbon dating, and to analysis, performed by criminologists and botanists, of the pollen particles found on its surface. Forensic pathologists have analyzed the death depicted on the shroud. At least since Descartes, the West has come to regard religion and hard science as polar opposite disciplines. It is this very intersection of religion and hard science that intrigues, delights, and perhaps even threatens many, and attracts many to the Shroud story.

In truth, though, and perhaps counterintuitively, the hard sciences are limited in their ability to crack the mystery of the shroud. This sounds contrary-science has come to be understood as the source of definitive truth. In this case, though, hard science has failed to provide an answer that satisfies the demands of Ockham’s razor.

William of Ockham (1285-1347/49), positied that, "Pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate;" that is, "Plurality should not be posited without necessity." In other words, Ockham’s razor demands that, of two competing theories, the simplest explanation is preferred.

The shroud compels exactly because there is no simple or easy explanation. None of science’s tests, including carbon dating, has changed that. None have produced a simple explanation that meets the demands of Ockham’s razor.

One might argue, based on carbon dating, that the shroud is a simple forgery, dating from the middle ages. That theory is not best tested exclusively by hard science. Rather, insights from the social sciences and the humanities are necessary in cracking this mystery.

I am not a hard scientist. I am a Ph.D. candidate in the Folklore Institute at Indiana University. Folklore, like its fellow social sciences, has demonstrated that human expressive culture follows rules, just as surely as carbon decay follows rules. One does not need to be a social scientist to understand this.

Suppose an archaeologist were to discover, in an Egyptian tomb, a work of art that followed the aesthetic prescriptions of Andy Warhol’s 20th century American portrait of Marilyn Monroe. Certainly, hard science would argue that ancient Egyptians possessed all the technology necessary to produce such items of expressive culture. Ancient Egyptians had pigments; they had surfaces on which to draw. Hard scientists might see no mystery in a pharaonic Warhol Marilyn.

A non-scientist would have every reason to find such a blase’ attitude bizarre. Of course the ancient Egyptians could produce Warhol-like art. The fact is, though, that they simply never did. Ancient Egyptians, like all artists everywhere, followed the artistic mandates of their time and place.

True, art does change, but it changes organically, slowly, and after leaving vast bodies of evidence of change in intermediary forms. For example, as different as it is, art from Greece’s Golden Age can be seen to have grown from Egyptian art, in intermediary forms like Kouroi figures.

The shroud is as much an object of wonder and worthy investigation, in spite of carbon dating, as would be an isolated pharaonic Warhol, or a rock song that had been composed during the period of Gregorian Chant, or a Hopi vase that someone somehow came to made during the high point of peasant embroidery in Czechoslovakia. Yes, in each case, technology was available to create these anomalous forms; however, as any layman might well point out, humans did not choose to use available technology in order to create anomalous forms.

There are two consistently unaddressed flaws in the arguments of those who contend that the shroud must be of medieval origin, created by contemporaneously available technology. The first flaw is that even if technology had been available to create an image with all the remarkable features of the shroud, there is no way to explain why an artist would have done so.

This question must be explored not via carbon dating, NASA imaging, or pollen tests, but, rather, by comparison with other relics from the medieval era. I have not seen research by experts in medieval relics that attempts to compare and contrast the shroud with comparable artifacts from the medieval era. Does the shroud look like other relics, or does it not? If, as I suspect is true, it does not look like other relics from that era, then it behooves anyone who argues for a medieval date to explain exactly why. Those who argue this position must tell us why the equivalent of a Warhol portrait has been found among Egyptian artwork where the laws of human expressive culture dictate that it plainly does not belong.

In the writings of church reformers like Erasmus and Martin Luther, one can read descriptions of medieval relics. In fact, many relics once popular in the medieval era can be visited even today. Reformers like Erasmus and Luther expressed open contempt at the gullibility of the Christian masses. Bones that were obviously animal in origin were treated as if the bones of some dead saint. Random chips of wood were marketed as pieces of the true cross; random swatches of fabric were saints’ attire.

Why, in such a lucrative and undemanding marketplace, would any forger resort to anything as detailed and complex as the shroud? Why would a forger resort to an image that would so weirdly mimic photography, a technology that did not exist in the Middle Ages?

Well, one might argue, the forger created the highly detailed, anomalous shroud in order to thoroughly trick his audience. This argument does not withstand analysis. The relic market is profoundly undemanding. It was profoundly undemanding in the Middle Ages; it is barely more demanding today.

The Ka’bah of Islam, the millions of Shiva lingams found throughout the Hindu world, the venerated sites of Buddha’s footfall or Buddha’s tooth, the packages of "Mary’s Milk" on sale to Christian pilgrims in Bethlehem, are all contemporary relics that attest to the willingness of believers to believe in items that might look, to others, like simple rocks or standard, store bought powdered milk.

The faith in relics is not limited to the large, world religions; New Age is similarly flush with relics of a provenance, that, to non-believers, may seem comical at best. For example, a speech well beloved by New Agers, titled "Chief Seattle’s speech," has long been known to have been written by a white Christian man living in Texas. This knowledge has not stopped many New Agers from believing that the speech issued, miraculously, from Chief Seattle.

The shroud does more than not follow the simple rules of relic hawkers. The shroud not only does not follow the laws of the expressive culture of medieval relics, it defies them. For example, blood is shown flowing from the man’s wrist, not his hands. It is standard in Christian iconography to depict Jesus’ hands as having been pierced by nails. This was true not only of the medieval era, but also today. What reason would a forging artist have for defying the hegemonic iconography of the crucified Jesus? Anyone who wishes to prove a medieval origin for the shroud must answer that question, and others, for example:

Items of expressive culture are not found in isolation. They are not found without evidence of practice. If one excavates an ancient site and finds one pot, one finds other pots like it, and the remains of failed or broken pots in middens.

If the shroud is a forgery, where are its precedents? Where are the other forged shrouds like it? Where is there evidence of practice shrouds of this type? If the technology to create the shroud was available in medieval Europe, where are other products of this technology? Humankind is an exhaustively exploitative species. We make full use of any technology we discover, and leave ample evidence of that use. Given the lucrative nature of the forgery market, why didn’t the forger create a similar Shroud of Mary, Shroud of St. Peter, Shroud of St. Paul, etc.? And why didn’t followers do the same?

I’m not attempting here to prove the shroud to be genuine. I am insisting that hard science alone cannot tell us the full truth about the shroud, and that ignoring the obvious questions posed by the humanities and the social sciences leaves us as much in the dark about the shroud as ever.

It may be found at Barrie site, here.

4 thoughts on “Paper Chase: Danusha Goska’s Untitled Essay”

  1. I’m pretty certain Dan that I had not seen that eloquent piece of writing until today – honest – but feel humbly grateful to have at least echoed some of the insights expressed…

    Who was it the other day who, on this site,suggested that the human brain works by some mysterious quantum mechanical process totally unfathomable to present day science, and quantum mechanics, let’s recall, is totally indifferent to Cartesian tiime and space (now that’s what I call a powerful idea!)…

  2. Only the other day I found a reader’s review by Goska of Ian Wilson’s, “The Blood and the Shroud” (1998):

    Author’s Style Makes This Book a Favorite, April 25, 2004
    By Danusha Goska (Bloomington, IN) …

    Though the Shroud of Turin is infinitely fascinating, the research available on it is finite: the pollen; the negativity of its image; the bloodstains; the theorized Mandylion connection; its accurate depiction of the anatomy of a man who died by crucifixion; the evidence of Roman-style execution, down to the images of the weights on the ends of the whip used to beat the victim; evidence of first century Jewish burial practices, etc.

    All of this evidence adds up to two conclusions, neither of which can ever sit comfortably in the mind of an intelligent person. One conclusion is that the Shroud is a diabolical, intricate fake. It was designed by some Medieval forger who could predict how scholars, in a variety of fields, centuries hence, would seek authenticity, using features no Medieval audience would require or even accept – for example, Jesus’ nudity and nail marks through the wrists, rather than the hands.

    The other conclusion is that the Shroud is the burial cloth of Jesus Christ. *That* conclusion is so stunning, so truly terrifying in its implications, that the intelligent person, while intrigued and delighted by the Shroud’s mysterious features, struggles to find conclusive evidence that the Shroud cannot possibly be what it very much appears to be.

    In any case, the evidence to support either conclusion is finite. If you read this book, or Mark Antonacci’s book, or any number of other publications on the Shroud, you will be going over similar intellectual terrain. You will read of neutron flux, the sacking of Constantinople, the Knights Templar, and the peculiarities of Jerusalem’s flora. As an artist, Wilson pays more attention to artist Isabel Piczek’s theories than other authors have — and that is a very good thing — but, otherwise, Shroud fans will have read about much of this material before.

    What set Ian Wilson’s book apart for me was the author’s style. Amidst the hard evidence, Wilson was willing to give us his own subjective response to seeing the Shroud for the first time. Wilson was willing to quote others’ astounded reactions as well. Wilson wrote of scholars whose theories he does not accept with wit and graciousness. He was also willing to share with those of us outside Shroud politics the ins and outs of the Shroud world’s gossip and infighting.

    For these reasons of style, humanity, humility, and humor, Wilson’s is my favorite Shroud book so far. I like it that he doesn’t allow the pressure to prove the Shroud’s value via hard science to silence his humanity. Wilson strikes me as a wonderful chap; reading his book, I wished I could be discussing the Shroud with him in person in a pub somewhere in the soggy English countryside.

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