The shroud is covered with gesso, which was used as a ground for painting.
If it was the miraculous imprint of Jesus on a burial shroud,
there would be no reason for the gesso.
- Jerry Coyne Once Again
- Jerry Coyne Pounces on the Earthquake Hypothesis
- Noah’s Ark, the Shroud of Turin and the Grand Canyon
- Notice how the Shroud of Turin is popping up everywhere
Now he has climbed aboard with our friend Charles Freeman and posted Pope Francis endorses the fake Shroud of Turin in his blog. Get this:
The image has degenerated substantially over the centuries. We know this because there are a fair number of paintings from centuries ago showing what it looked like. The degradation is due to its repeated unfurling and exhibition, which would crack and flake the paint, in addition to the fact (revealed in the article I’ll cite in a second) that in past times it was customary for supplicants to hurl their rosaries at the shroud and then recover them.
But we know the Shroud is a fake for several reasons. Carbon dating of the linen cloth (in three separate labs) has placed its manufacture between 1260 and 1390, which (if you know dating) is the time at which the flax plants furnishing the cloth would have been harvested, no longer absorbing carbon from the atmosphere. Further, an Italian scientist managed to reproduce the Shroud by using materials that would have been available during the Middle Ages.
The other reasons for fakery (not fraudulence, as it apparently wasn’t designed to deceive people) are given in a very nice article by the historian Charles Freeman that just appeared in History Today, “The origins of the shroud of Turin.” (It’s free online.) I recommend that you read it, as it’s a fascinating summary of what we know about the shroud.
The other reasons for fakery are these:
- The shroud is covered with gesso (calcium carbonate; ground-up chalk), which was used as a ground for painting. If it was the miraculous imprint of Jesus on a burial shroud, there would be no reason for the gesso.
- [ . . . ]
- Finally, the image changed over the year. In 1355 to at least 1559, Jesus was naked, with his hands covering his genitals. But in 1578, as Freeman notes, reproductions show it with a loincloth over Jesus’s groin and butt. Clearly there were some prudes, possibly the Bishop of Milan, who were distressed at the exposure of the Saviour’s bum. The loincloth later disappeared, though there’s still a white patch on the Shroud showing where it was.
- Coyne summarizes the criticism of the carbon dating based on a single article,
Other scientists, however, believe those results could be off by centuries, pointing to the possibility of bacterial contamination of the cloth. They note, for instance, that burial shrouds for Egyptian pharaohs sometimes test to centuries later than their known age for precisely that reason
Then Coyne lets loose:
In view of the multifarious evidence, the Church really should say that it was a medieval painting that could not have been Jesus’s burial shroud. But they won’t do that; it would turn off the supplicants who think it’s real . . . .
[ . . . ]
Now why would the Popes keep making pilgrimages to something that’s just a painting?
Catholics must have their miracles, even in the face of counterevidence. Just once I’d like to hear the Church declare unequivocally that the Shroud is simply a painting from the 14th century or so. And I’d also like to hear them say that Adam and Eve weren’t the historical ancestors of all humanity. (Genetic studies have disproven a two-person ancestry.) But it will be a cold day in July (in Chicago) when that happens!
I don’t have a problem with Coyne when it comes to evolutionary biology or his criticism of ID. Coyne and I don’t share the same beliefs about the existence of God, but that’s okay. He is one of the New Atheism crowd like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris and I can accept that and disagree amicably. But, Coyle as a scientist – come on now, Jerry, are you sure that the shroud is a painting? You know this how?
Gesso? Are you sure? Who said so?