On Genetic Codes and the Shroud of Turin

imageAndy Weiss writes:

I was thinking about the Shroud and wanted to share this with you in case an expert or two might be able to address. My thoughts were these:

If the Shroud is the burial cloth of Jesus, he was conceived and born of a virgin apart from union with a man. Presuming only one human genetic code/biological material, what would be expected physical evidence found on the Shroud, if any, by an expert in Biology, Genetics, Blood Chemistry or any other specialties that might bring something of substance to bear on this line of thought?

I do realize that there could be two genetic codes, only one provided by the human Mother. Once one considers a virgin birth, one has to admit a possibility of two genetic codes is not far fetched."

14 thoughts on “On Genetic Codes and the Shroud of Turin”

  1. And it’s much more likely that there is 2 genetic codes : One provide by Mary and the other from Joseph… HOOOOOOO THE SCANDAL!!!! ;-) Virginal birth or not, Jesus is Jesus anyway.

    1. Based on this evidence, I don’t think so, Yannick.

      Mt 1:24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had borne a son; and he called his name Jesus.

  2. Or a Roman soldier called Panthera. Although that could be a sort of malapropism for Parthena, it is quite an old (if possibly malicious and unfounded) rumour.

  3. Extract a bucket of water from the ocean and you will have tens and probably hundreds of organisms providing DNA segments. How do you sort out these segments? This is metagenomics (something we are planning to work on in our research group, see work on metagenomics http://tinyurl.com/5t8nlm8). On the Shroud you will have DNA segments of individuals (homo sapiens), animals, fungus, bacteria, and so on, in the hundreds. You can imagine identifying which organisms some of the DNA segments come from, but individuals? Reconstruct the entire DNA of one individual? The DNA material would have to be in very good shape and recent. And you would have to identify DNA sequences coming from mitochondria and other organelles and there will be no certain way to attach these different sequences to specific individuals. In any case, there appears to be no way to infer that one individual was missing some genomics material. The supposition that there is probably only one “genetic code” or that “there could be two genetic codes” is, I am afraid, very far from what you will find.

  4. Quick, what’s the code?

    Here’s a combined response to both the original question and the comments that followed. For anyone that wants to cut to the chase regarding the original question, go to 4. There are also some related comments & discussion in a previous posting: Cloning the Man on the Shroud of Turin.

    1. DNA from other organisms versus human DNA: It is not so difficult to sort out human DNA from that of other species. One can use tailor made probes to target specific gene sequences that are unique to higher organisms/humans. Regarding the Shroud, Garza-Valdes reported this for three genes: betaglobin (a hemoglobin subunit), amelogenin X, and amelogenin Y; the latter two are located on the X and Y chromosomes, respectively.

    2. DNA from specific individuals: As Mario points out, this is much more difficult. Most genes expressed in humans are the same from one individual to another. Unless a person has a specific variation (mutation) in the gene, there is no way of discerning whom it came from or if it is actually a mixture of DNA from various individuals. There are a certain genes within the body that are polymorphic (poly = many and morphic = shape or form), that is, they show significant variation among unrelated individuals. Any such analysis would have to begin here.

    The most polymorphic genes in humans are the class I and class II HLA genes; when a person is typed in organ transplantation for a suitable match, it is HLA expression that is being examined. There are also noncoding DNA segments (that exist in between genes) which are polymorphic, termed microsatellite regions or short tandem repeat (STR) regions. For freshly isolated, intact DNA, such regions are routinely used in DNA fingerprinting analysis. In the case of the Shroud, contamination as well as degradation might preclude an effective (full) analysis, although some information might be obtainable.

    In addition to nuclear (chromosomal) DNA, mitochondrial DNA could also be evaluated. Unlike nuclear DNA, mitochondrial DNA is inherited from the mother, only individuals with the same mother (or grandmother, great grandmother) would express similar mitochondrial DNA profiles. This narrows things down somewhat, but the same problem with multiple contributions (contamination) would apply here also.

    3.DNA from a specific individual (Jesus): The main problem here is there is no DNA profile of Jesus on file to compare any results to. Ditto with Mary. Certain markers that are more predominant within the Jewish population could be evaluated, for example, patterns of inheritance of certain HLA markers, but this would by no means approach a slam dunk.

    DNA tests are comparison tests. To even begin to consider the question of kinship or identity (could this be Jesus?), there needs to be an existing DNA profile for comparison: a master of the Master.

    In total agreement with Mario regarding the reconstruction of a full genetic profile of an individual from aged bloodstained samples. Such scenarios are more appropriate for comic books and science fiction novels.

    4. The Virgin Birth and Chromosome Number: Very briefly, normal, healthy individuals contain 23 pairs of chromosomes, for a total of 46. 22 of these pairs are autosomes (non-sex chromosomes), the remaining pair (sex chromosomes) is either XX or XY.

    In typical human reproduction, half of the genetic material is received from the father, half from the mother. In normal circumstances, the father determines the sex of the child by either contributing an X or a Y chromosome, to combine with the X chromosome of the mother, creating a female or male, respectively.

    “If the Shroud is the burial cloth of Jesus, he was conceived and born of a virgin apart from union with a man. Presuming only one human genetic code/biological material, what would be expected physical evidence found on the Shroud”

    Basically, there are two scenarios that have been suggested:

    Some have proposed variations on the theme that Jesus was haploid, containing half the amount of normal chromosomes from Mary, plus a Y chromosome (or bits of a Y) thrown in: 23 plus a Y. (see previous post on Cloning the Man on the Shroud of Turin for additional discussion)

    Under normal circumstances, such an organism would not survive and be arrested early in development. It is hard to imagine how this would proceed. Chromosomal expression is tightly regulated; even a slight variation typically results in the failure to survive or developmental abnormalities. Apart from the scientific red flags, which are flapping heavily here, from a theological standpoint, one might wonder why God would incarnate His Son as a mutant? I vote tinfoil hat territory on this one.

    Most logical, in my opinion, is that Jesus was a physiologically normal, healthy male. For most Christians, this is implied by the faith statements, “fully human and fully divine”, “true God and true man”. The sticking point for many, particularly in relation to a virgin birth, is where did the Y (or bits of a Y) come from?

    “Apart from union with a man” and barring any type of artificial insemination involving a man, it comes down to a miraculous event, that resulted in generation/creation of the complementary genetic material necessary for normal development. One’s own belief & faith must decide which way they want to go on this one.

    To sum up, some might suggest the physical evidence would be 23 chromosomes + a Y (or a bit of a Y). The majority would propose 46, including an X and a Y, derived either through natural or divine means. Realistically, the chances of actually being able to perform a chromosome count, called karyotyping, from the bloodstains on the Shroud is astronomically remote. In aged bloodstains, such tests are not practical as cells become dehydrated and rupture within hours of drying. Any DNA remaining hundreds/thousands of years later is expected to be in a fragmented condition.

    Interesting questions, Andy, that juxtapose theology & science. Safe to say, in any playbook, that Jesus’ mitochondrial DNA would have originated from Mary. Now, about the issue of a belly button…

    1. Thanks Kelly. I appreciate your expertise and time to answer. I think I understand what you have written. I will be going to Barrie’s site to get the papers you have written that can be found there. If I have questions, I will be sure to ask, if that’s okay.

  5. M. Kearse, I have a good question for you : Do you think there would be more chances to really get the DNA coming from the Shroud man and in better « shape » if a blood sampling could be taken from the reverse side of the Shroud, where it is covered and « protected » by a backing cloth since 1534? In my mind, if a sample of blood should be taken one day for a proper DNA analysis, it would be much better to take it from the reverse side, where many bloodstains are also present, since the blood material has been able to soak through the entire cloth in many places. I would like to get your thoughts on that. Thanks!

    And here’s a little reflection of mine on the subject that was brought here by Andy: If we could find a complete DNA profile of Jesus, I would bet my house that, virginal birth or natural birth, his DNA would be as normal as the DNA of me or you! The Incarnation was not a joke and Jesus was a completely human like you and me (except that he had also a divine nature inside of him, which was not visible with the eyes of the flesh). The way the man of the Shroud suffered and died like any other crucified man is a very good sign that what I just said is true. Also, we can find a very good sign of this in the Gospel and particularly in St John’s Gospel when it is clear that one of the most important accusation of the Jews against Jesus that eventually send him on the cross was that he claimed to be the Son of God or, in other words, equal to God. For the ancient Jews, God was one! That’s why it was totally unconceivable for a pious Jew of the first century to believe that Jesus could be the Son of God and that’s the main reason why the vast majority of the Jews never turned Christian after the Resurrection. In sum, the Incarnation of God in Jesus was the main problematic thing for them to become Christians and most of them stayed in Judaism instead of becoming Christians. From all these very good clues that we can found in the study of the Gospels and in the study of the Shroud, we have a very good sense that Jesus, as a material human being, was like anyone of us. No different for anyone’s eyes. Because of that, I truly believe that his DNA must have been as completely normal as your DNA or mine, no matter if he was born of a virgin or not.

  6. Yannick,

    Yes, I think the chances of getting DNA from the Shroud man would be enhanced by going below the surface and/or the reverse side. In better shape, perhaps, but I don’t know if there would be that much of a difference in terms of degradation & fragmentation, maybe slightly better but still pretty much in bits & pieces-though the pieces may be longer

    I’m on the side of Jesus’ DNA being normal as well-for me it makes the most sense from numerous contexts: I think I’ll bet my house, too.

  7. Thank you M. Kearse. And between you and me, as we both are believers in Jesus Christ, does that really makes a big difference if Jesus conception would have been done through a sexual act between Mary and Joseph? Seriously, I don’t think so.

    I have already said on this blog that, for numerous reasons related as much as the Jews religious conceptions as the Pagan legendary culture, it was easier for Luke and Matthew to persuade people (both Jews and Pagans) to believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, if this real human being was born of a virgin. The vast majority of historians and bible scholars agree with my point of view. The religious and cultural context in which these 2 Gospels were written is most probably the reason why both came up with this story of a virginal conception of Jesus. Most historians also agree that the narrative style of the stories of the nativity of Jesus that we found in these 2 Gospels are truly legendary and could well have originated from the popular Christian legends of the second half of the first century. It’s the very same thing with a portion of Matthew’s story of the Passion and death of Christ (the part that speaks of the Resurrection of the Saints and the darkness and all this stuff). Clearly, here again, Matthew add some popular Christian legends to his story. Note that it’s truly possible that both Matthew and Luke believed these legends were true and they reported them honestly, but in the end, that doesn’t change a thing versus the fact that these stories are most probably non-historical in reality.

    And we have to understand one important point versus this virginal question: If Mary conceived Jesus through a natural way, THAT WOULDN’T REMOVED ANYTHING ABOUT THE FACT THAT SHE WAS MOST PROBABLY ONE IF NOT THE ONLY HUMAN BEING TO HAVE REALLY UNDERSTAND JESUS MISSION (i.e. to reveal the TRUE face of God which is Love and Mercy for all mankind) BEFORE HIS DEATH and that’s truly in his honor.

  8. Yannick, between you and me, I think I’m going to leave Joseph out of it-literally-but everyone is entitled to their own belief. For me, the narrative style of the stories are a bit of a grabber…

  9. It’s clear that Yannick doesn’t understand what the gospel accounts are about at all – it is way too reductionist, and his counter-reaction to his endemic Quebecois Jansenism is showing. So-called legends have.very little to do with it.

    The evangelists were not concerned about writing history – they were concerned with proclaiming Jesus as Christ and Jesus as Son of God, each in his own particular way, and to suit the congregations they were directed at. The evangelists were not crude fairy story inventors. They were extremely shrewd, they understood their material well, had an exceedingly comprehensive understanding and knowledge of Septuagint scriptures, a knowledge and understanding of scripture which is rarely seen among Christians today, even among many so-called scriptural scholars!

    They certainly used what they knew of history, but they went much further than this. Instead of being so self-satisfied with his own reductionist approach, he would do much better as a first step to study Pope Benedict’s “Jesus of Nazareth” a work of considerable scholarship, but still simple enough even for him to comprehend and appreciate. He’s so fond of quoting to us his comprehensive knowledge of Shroud scientific literature, that he would do well to take this first step in understanding the gospels. He may then be able to consider whether he’s able to pontificate on them and give us his opinion then!

    1. It’s clear that Yannick agrees with most bible scholars and historians… Oh, by the way… I’m not a Marian, I’m a Christian ! It’s Jesus that I follow.

    2. I just want to add that I agree with you Dave on the fact that the Evangelists “certainly used what they knew of history, but they went much further than this.” And that’s exactly why they add some popular Christian legends related to the virginal birth in Bethleem (by the way, historically, it is probable that Jesus was born in Nazareth and never went in Egypt) or to the massive resurrection right after Jesus death and things like that. They add these legendary stories (pretty much of the same kind that we found in many apocryphal gospels by the way) because it was a way for them to “proclaim Jesus as Christ and Jesus as Son of God” much more easily in the cultural and religious context they were in. My interpretation of the Gospels is this : Most of it is probably based on real historical events and were written in a very Middle Eastern writting style that used a lot of images, but some little parts (like the birth stories in Luke and Matthew’s gospels and part of Matthew’s account of the Passion) were most likely popular Christian legends that were added in their Gospels and that have no historical base whatsoever. MOST HISTORIANS AND BIBLE SCHOLARS (like the great Raymond E. Brown) agree with this conclusion. As I say, it’s truly possible that these authors were convinced that the legends they added to their gospel were historic, but the reality is that they are most probably not. In the end, THAT DOESN’T CHANGE ONE BIT OF THE HEART OF JESUS STORY AND MESSAGE ! That’s the most important thing to note.

  10. I agree. When I read Pope Benedict’s book (all three volumes now) I was astonished and delighted by his succinctness, his scholarship, but above all his reasoning. I feel certain that if he hadn’t become a priest, he would have made a brilliant theoretical physicist!

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