Here 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.
We 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 shroud.com. (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.