Get Thee Upset! Or Not: Thomas de Wesselow’s New Book on the Shroud

imageHere is a perspective on Thomas de Wesselow’s new book, The Sign, from Arminta Wallace in the Irish Times:

On the respectable sceptic’s list of extremely dodgy propositions, it’s right up there alongside UFOs and Elvis sightings. But that may be about to change. A book published today argues that the shroud really is the burial cloth of Jesus Christ – and that it turns everything we think we know about the Easter origins of Christian faith, quite literally, on its head.

This now is going to upset some people:

In the book, however, he goes on to make an even more astonishing claim. Having concluded that the shroud really was the burial shroud of Jesus, he found himself wondering why it wasn’t mentioned in the Bible’s Easter narratives. Then he had a eureka moment. “I’m very visual,” he says. “I see problems visually. So I’m thinking about this, and why don’t they mention it in the gospel texts, and then I think, ‘Hang on a minute. The figure of the angel; the details about one, or sometimes two, men being present in Jesus’s tomb. Oh, my God’ . . .”

He believes that the figures – described in the gospels as dressed in white, and luminous – were not supernatural apparitions but, in fact, the shroud itself, as seen through the eyes of first-century Palestinians.

And this is going to really upset some people, even more:

In the quiet of Jesus’s tomb, his friends and followers interpreted the marks on his burial cloth as a sign that he had been, not bodily resurrected – his body was still there – but reborn in another spiritual form. De Wesselow points out that one of the few characteristics all the “resurrection” stories have in common is that everyone finds it difficult to recognise The Risen Jesus – which would have been the case with the shroud, since it’s a negative image, and famously nebulous to boot.

Actually, the attempt to explain the post-resurrection experiences and encounters works just as well if the body isn’t there. Actually, it may work better.

imageWe seem, as the pressers are telling it, De Wesselow had a eureka moment. We also have him telling us of his careful research. Certainly, in his research, he encountered a 2001 paper by Fr. Kim Dreisbach, “Thomas and the Cenacle Reconsidered,” at (The above adaptation of Caravaggio’s The Incredulity of Saint Thomas tells it all.)

The paper by Dreisbach (pictured here} should be read. I remember having great discussions with him about it.

Certainly – it had to be – this quote from Gregory Riley’s Resurrection Reconsidered, as quoted by Dreisbach, was discovered by De Wesselow:

Finally, the picture of the Doubting Thomas in John is shown to correspond well with the Thomas literature as a whole. All three of the major Thomas documents preserved, the Gospel of Thomas, the Book of Thomas and the Acts of Thomas are consistent in their denigration of the body, and their denial of physical resurrection… The Gospel of Thomas declares that no one will be able to raise his body. The Book of Thomas pronounces woe upon, and assigns to eternal punishment, those who hold future hope for the body. The Acts of Thomas, while containing many "orthodox" interpolations and revisions, nevertheless presents a like picture, and closes with a similar scene similar to that in the Gospel Easter stories; yet in the scene in the Acts the body of the twin brother of Jesus remains in the grave, while his soul ascends to heaven. This is supported, among  other passages, by one of the most famous poems in Gnostic Christian literature, the Hymn of the Pearl, which describes the archetypical journey of the soul for the
Thomas disciple: the soul descends into a body, and abandons it upon return to the heavenly realms.

So should the article in the Irish Times be read which includes two interesting sub-sections:

  • ‘Oh dear’: The religious affairs correspondent’s view by Patsy McGarry
  • ‘Thorough, well-researched, fair-minded’: the art critic’s view by Aidan Dunne
  • There is a morning’s worth of reading and thinking here.

Source: Exhibit A in a 2,000-year-old mystery – The Irish Times – Mon, Mar 26, 2012

8 thoughts on “Get Thee Upset! Or Not: Thomas de Wesselow’s New Book on the Shroud”

  1. Can I get my $14 dollars back? I pre-ordered the Kindle edition from Amazon.

    Actually I’m kidding. I think the good professor’s principal theory is absurd. What I suspect is that his book may also have a great deal of value in in combating the fallacious carbon dating by Oxford that has served as an excuse to ignore the Shroud for more than two decades.

    I am reminded of readings I have done about the Kennedy Assassination. There are many books written about what “really” happened. They include several that contain first-person confessions by people claiming to have been a part of a conspiracy.

    When reading these books it is my practice to disregard the authors principal thesis and weigh the facts presented in where credible add them to the memory bank of the information I have acquired.

    On second thought I don’t want my money back. What we are apparently going to get is another demolition of spurious from an agnostic art expert. That is no small thing. Frankly, that may very well be worth the $14.

  2. I do understand his “Eureka Moment” … it doesn’t really matter what a person says about the Shroud: if you write it, it will sell.

    So, his take is that the Shroud is real but the Resurrection isn’t? Yes, that will go over very well with the anti-Shroudies. The Shroud becomes the mechanism that confused all those poor dumb disciples into thinking they saw a ghost. There’s definitely something laughable about that.

    Yes, the Eureka Moment could very well become a Bestseller, most likely. After all, it’s written by a Cambridge professor who did his “research.”

    Research… The Gnostics? They were discredited long ago. In fact, the mainstream Christian church had to clarify many doctrines in order to combat the heresy. Obviously the Eureka Moment is not aimed at mainstream Christians.

    Acts of Thomas? I can see why he likes Thomas, the doubting apostle. But I read an article recently on the National Geographic website (of all places) that explained Thomas’ ministry. Thomas was a very diligent and powerful Evangelist after the Ascension of Christ. Thomas did not suffer from any more doubts, in fact he is known for miraculous signs and wonders. They believe Thomas traveled more and farther than Paul did. Thomas likely had nothing to do with the Book of Thomas, he traveled way way off to India and died there as a martyr.

  3. Cyril Mango, a giant among Byzantine historians and one of University of Oxford’s greatest living assets, has turned down many a doctoral research proposal with a single line of explanation: ‘I am sorry, but there is no evidence for that.’
    I have always had mixed feelings about that line, often thinking to myself: ‘If history couldn’t deal with anything that wasn’t, at the present moment, corroborated by hard and bountiful evidence, it would be a pretty bleak affair.’
    But when I see what de Wesselow has wasted eight years of his life on, I see that I was wrong. I just feel so sorry that there was no Cyril Mango in his life to remind him what differentiates true historical research from unbridled, unruly, and unscientific speculation.
    All other points aside (and pretending for a while to accept the possibility that pious Jews went to most horrifying deaths because of an image of a dead man), if Jesus’ body just stayed inside the Shroud, how on earth are we to explain that those bloodstains do not show any smears or crusts breaking? How did the disciples get the body out, or the Shroud off, without smearing a single bloodstain?

    This book will not attract much interest on the account of its combating fallacious carbon dating. That is nothing but a piece of old news on an experiment that was never anything but a waste of time and money. But it WILL attract interest because it dissuades people from believing in the bodily Resurrection of Our Lord. THAT will sell, because that’s what people seem to want today.
    And when does this book hit the stores? In Lent. On the Feast of the Annunciation.
    I will fervently pray that not a single believing soul is taken in by this piece of disorderly speculation. I will pray that guardian angels take a cue from Cyril Mango this Lent, and, advocating scientific argumentation, whisper into the ears of the faithful: ‘There is no evidence for this nonsense.’

  4. I’m right there with AnnieCee. I recall reading the “Gospel of Thomas” back in the 1980’s as part of a Religious Studies major. It seems to have been first published in 1959 following its discovery in Upper Egypt in 1945, and because of this excited some interest at the time. It’s just another far-fetched Coptic Gnostic writing, merely attributed to yet another apostle to assert its specious apostolic source. There’s probably not a single apostle that some Gnostic didn’t claim to be the author of some specious work or other. There may be some validity in the apocryphal “Acts of Thomas” (Syriac) which describes his martyrdom in Madras.
    I recently published an article by a local Indian lady parishioner, and it’s evident that St Thomas is widely revered throughout the Christian community in India, and his activities there seem to have borne fruit on the Malabar coast, St Francis Xavier discovered established Christian communities there during his missionary activities in the 16th(?) c.
    There may be something in the theory that “the men in white” at the tomb were the first arrivals’ impression of the Shroud image. However we have the Emmaus story, where the resurrected Christ walked, talked, ate and drank with two apostles, and the appearance of Christ to the apostles with and without Thomas occurs in the “upper room”. All of them were convinced that Jesus had risen from the dead. This doesn’t sound like a static image at all.

    1. “There may be something in the theory that “the men in white” at the tomb were the first arrivals’ impression of the Shroud image” …I’d like to refer people to a paper written by Rev Dreisbach; “Lazarus & Jesus” 2005, it can be found at Maybe Dan can place a link to it here? The reason I mention this paper is because of a revelation I had when I first read it several years ago, but more precisely it brought forth a ‘eureka moment one may say’, to thoughts I had as a child studying the scriptures of John 20, which I could not place till reading this paper.


  5. I followed up Ron’s clues about Dreisbach. There were some postings on this site around Sept 2011. Most of the other Google searches I did weren’t all that successful, despite searching on “Shroud, Dreisbach, Lazarus”. I went to Barrie’s site and searched on Dreisbach and Lazarus but only came up with a PDF by Dreisbach:
    Albert R. Dreisbach, Jr.”. This is at: .
    I quickly scanned through it, and obtained an impression that the paper may have been wanting to associate the Shroud with the Veronica, when it is known that they are in fact two distinct objects (check Veil of Manopello). In this paper, Dreisbach cites several apocryphal works, in order to make what case he is aiming at. Someone may want to check it out and come up with more specific comments about it. It seems Dreisbach an Episcopalian minister, was widely respected among the Shroud world, but he died some years ago.

  6. Hey Dave, your right the paper is no longer found on, I guess I should have checked it first lol. If Dan is not able to get a link to this paper, I will attempt to email it to him and he can then post it.

    You can also try Googling; Rev. Dreisbach Lazarus and Jesus.



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