History Done Right.

Jack Markwardt explains:

imageI originated and presented this hypothesis to an international conference convened at Ohio State University in 2008 for the simple reason that the early history of the Turin Shroud cannot be credibly linked to the ancient city of Edessa through a literal application of the Abgar legend. The preeminent historian of Edessa, J.B. Segal, after years of arduous study and investigation, concluded that the Abgar legend constitutes “one of the most successful pious frauds of antiquity”. It should not be surprising, therefore, that a number of highly-respected modern historians have summarily rejected this pious fraud as evidential of the Turin Shroud’s whereabouts during the first Christian millennium, particularly because real historical evidence provides not the slightest indication that pagan Edessa was even partially converted to Christianity prior to the late second-century reign of King Abgar the Great. The preeminent historian of Antioch, Glanville Downey, ascribed that development to a two-phase evangelization mission, one which initially resulted in the baptism of Abgar the Great and ultimately concluded with the consecration of Edessa’s first bishop, Palut, in 200 CE, by Serapion, the bishop of Antioch. Relatively recent attribution of an image of Christ to the city of Edessa during the first half-millennium of Christianity arises exclusively from a substantial permutation of the Abgar legend authored, in ca. 945, by a Byzantine Emperor who desired to bestow an apostolic provenance upon the Christ-icon which had recently been transferred to his capital from Edessa. In order to explain away, in one bold imperial stroke, the complete historical anonymity of this icon during the first five Christian centuries, Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus sponsored the publication and circulation of a tale which featured not only the cloth’s first-century concealment within a niche located above an Edessa city gate, but also its miraculous rediscovery there by a fictional Edessan bishop, Eulalius, during the Persian siege of 544 CE. It has been suggested, in lieu of this incredible miracle-discovery tale, that the icon was actually found in the wake of the great flood of 525 CE which damaged Edessa’s city walls; however, it is rather significant that such a truly notable event merited no mention whatsoever in the Edessan Chronicle, a Syriac work composed in ca. 540-544 CE, which not only described the great flood but also detailed the most commonplace of Edessan ecclesiastical matters. In my opinion, modern scholarship will continue to reject the identification of the acheiropoietos image of Christ which was brought from Edessa to Constantinople in 944 CE with the Turin Shroud unless and until the provenance of that icon, and the circumstances surrounding its arrival in Edessa, can be reasonably established on the basis of non-legendary evidence.

I was there at Ohio in 2008 and remember the presentation, Ancient Edessa and the Shroud: History Concealed by the Discipline of the Secret. It was excellent. Read it.

3 thoughts on “History Done Right.”

  1. I just want to say “Amen” to this message from M. Markwardt. And I want to add something important to one part of his message. He said : “It has been suggested, in lieu of this incredible miracle-discovery tale, that the icon was actually found in the wake of the great flood of 525 CE which damaged Edessa’s city walls; however, it is rather significant that such a truly notable event merited no mention whatsoever in the Edessan Chronicle, a Syriac work composed in ca. 540-544 CE, which not only described the great flood but also detailed the most commonplace of Edessan ecclesiastical matters.”

    Comment from me : There was 2 ancient historians, Procopius of Cesarea and Evagrius Scholasticus, who wrote historical chonicles about Edessa in the 6th century and both wrote about the flood of 525 without saying one word about the so-called discovery of the image in a wall of the city. This hypothesis is defend by Ian Wilson and, from historical sources, you can see that it got absolutely no confirmation at all. It’s a good example of a total speculation done by our friend Wilson. I think it’s pretty clear that if both historians doesn’t mention anything about an image in relation to this great flood of 525, that can only mean that there was no discovery of a miraculous image during that time. Period. Another important thing to note is the FACT that Procopius, who wrote his chronicle shorly after the Persian’s attack of Edessa in 544. He talk about this attack and he mentions only the letter of Jesus to Abgar as the only “palladium” (sacred object that has a divine power of protection) allowing the city of Edessa to avoid looting. Procopius didn’t know any miraculous image that could have played a role in the defense of the city, unlike Evagrius who, some 45 years later, wrote also a chronicle and was the first one to talk about this miraculous image that played a major role in the rescue of the city (and he don’t mention when this so-called miraculous image appeared in Edessa). But the thing to note here is the fact that Evagrius used mainly the Chronicle of Procopius to talk about the Persian attack. Since he wrote later and used his work to do his job, it’s pretty obvious that his mention of the miraculous role played by the image not made by human hands in the rescue of Edessa was a later addition that has no real historical base. After that, many other later additions like that were done to the Abgar legend with a great peak, as stated by M. Markwardt, in 945-946, with the writting of the manuscript The Narratio de Imagine Edessena under Constantine VII, just after the arrival of the image in Constantinople. All those later additions to the legend (i.e., the miraculous nature of the image who was nothing more than a painted portrait of Jesus at first, the change of location when the image was created from some days before the Passion to the agony in Gethsemane, etc.) must be considered by historians with extreme caution, since they appeared to be devoid of a real credible and solid historical basis… On the contrary, most of these additions seems to have been caused by some theological developments and even political consideration (particularly true for the Narratio written under the control of the emperor Constantine VII).

  2. I have admired Jack Markwardt’s paper presented at Ohio in 2008, since first coming across it as recently as last March. There are several aspects which one could comment on, but I’ll contain myself to only a few observations.

    His suggestion that storage in the Gates of the Cherubim at Antioch, is very likely the basis of the story that the cloth was found in the Gates at Edessa has the ring of truth. We can only speculate what Bishop Abraham may have been told by the Edessans, it was no doubt second or third hand and very likely whatever was said became subject to the usual “Chinese whispers” variations; Add some court embroidery and the Byzantine story requires some skilful penetration to discover what truth one might find.

    I note that Mr Markwardt draws on the Syriac poem, Hymn of the Pearl, compiled at or near Edessa ~200 – 224 AD, and it seems fairly conclusive that the particular verses in question can only refer to the complete Shroud image! Clearly the full image must have been known at least to a select few in Antioch or even Edessa as early as 224 AD.

    Prior to the destruction of Antioch ~540, the cloth was taken from Antioch to Edessa, in whatever form it had at that time. In the Byzantine story, we are told that the Edessans attempted to pass off two false cloths (a copy made for the “Persian affair” and another worshipped in the Nestorian church). THESE WERE GIVEN BACK, ONLY THE ONE WHICH WAS THE TRUE ARTICLE WAS RETAINED.

    I suppose it is possible that there may have been a few other ancillary cloths in Abraham’s package, possibly including even the Sudarium of Oviedo. However we have the situation where the Shroud is housed at Edessa, a city which is subsequently destroyed, but that Bishop Abraham is now satisfied that he has the true cloth. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the cloth in Abraham’s possession is in fact the Shroud, in whatever form it had at the time. The only other possible conclusion is that the Antiochenes took the Shroud to some other city, for it to emerge in Constantinople at some later date, and that Abraham had some other cloth in his possession, which all in all seems a fairly unlikely proposition. There seems to be more to Ian Wilson’s hypothesis that the Mandylion and Shroud were one and the same object, than Yannick Clement seems prepared to concede.

    The “Discipline of the Secret” is also an intriguing topic, which is also raised in Rev Dreisbach’s Atlanta 2005 paper, “Lazarus and Jesus” dealing with the Shroud during apostolic times, but which of course needs to rely on more speculation and less historical substantiation than Mr Markwardt has been able to bring to his own paper. We also see something of this discipline in apocalyptic works such as John’s Revelations.

    Regardless of any particular lack in detailed accuracy of Ian Wilson’s work, I believe Wilson has done more than anyone else to bring awareness of the Shroud into the public domain, possibly with only one or two exceptions; he had to work within the limits of material available to him, and I think it discourteous at best for his work to be denigrated in the way that it has been on this site on occasion.

    All in all, I believe we are getting closer and closer to a detailed knowledge of the early history of this wonderful artifact, the Love Letter of Jesus to Humanity in our milllenium.

    1. In 1999, I first presented my Antioch hypothesis at an international Shroud conference held in Richmond. My paper suggested an alternative to Ian Wilson’s then twenty year old Edessa hypothesis. No one was more receptive to my presentation and encouraging of my research than Ian who was also a presenter at that symposium. While maintaning his own views, Ian graciously published my paper in the British Society for the Turin Shroud newsletter which he was then editing. Those who truly care about the Shroud owe an unrepayable debt to Ian Wilson for having pioneered the historical research which made it possible for others like me to supplement and build upon his work. Thirty-four years of endlessly-new information requires revisions to almost any hypothesis, notwithstanding its original brilliance, and I am quite certain that Ian will accept, respect, and appreciate any comment upon, or critique of, his own views and opinions so long as they are proffered in a reasoned and respectful manner.

Comments are closed.