Art Scholars on Scientific Evidence

imageArt critic Jonathan Jones weighs in over at The Guardian:

If only the great arguments between religion and doubt could be settled by scientific evidence. A story this week has it that solid evidence has emerged about the historical Jesus: the “tomb of Jesus” reportedly contains proof that Jesus was married, had a son – and was never resurrected.

So that’s settled then. Or at least it would be if the scholarly world unanimously accepted these claims (which seems unlikely) or if religious belief were grounded in evidence. If that were the case, all religious belief would have disappeared when Charles Lyell uncovered the nature of geological processes and intimated the true age of Earth in the 1830s – the first clear evidence of a godless natural world.

Religion sees only the evidence it wishes to see. This is very apparent in western art. Christian paintings are full of supposed evidence for the divinity of Christ. His real face is purportedly recorded in paintings that faithfully copy his uncannily preserved image.


Few relics have withstood scientific scrutiny, but the modern age produced its own peculiar piece of Christian “evidence”. The ghostly face revealed by a photographic negative of the Turin shroud in 1898 made this relic suddenly convincing to many eyes – a genuinely inexplicable image. Radiocarbon dating has revealed that it is in fact a medieval fake (as relics tend to be) but the “photographic” quality of the shroud still seduces some.

Christianity, then, does care about evidence – as long as it suits pre-existing beliefs. The mountains of evidence for a universe that works just fine without any divine intervention are easily ignored by anyone who wants to believe in God. Lots of people would rather believe in the veil of Saint Veronica than in a historical Jesus who got married and had a kid.

32 thoughts on “Art Scholars on Scientific Evidence”

  1. This is silly. Everybody knows that Mary Magdalene after the crucifixion fled to France with her son who founded the Mergovian dynasty of French Kings. It’s all right there in “Holy Blood, Holy Grail.”

    Seriously though, we have an another “art historian” swallowing whole the carbon dating results. There are three different academic disciplines that must be integrated into any study of the Shroud: Science, History and Religion (Theology). Once you accept that fact that the Shroud is not a painting which as been scientifically demonstrated, art historians have a limited contribution to make to the discussion. The influence (or non-influence if you will) of the Shroud on art is one. See Thomas de Wesselow, “The Sign.”

    For a skeptical analysis of the claims involved see Holy DNA?!

    I am reminded of Watergate: Follow the money. [and await the promised peer reviewed article]

    Note to Dan: What is the link to the Observer article.

      1. There is a lot of money behind agendas, be they hidden or partially hidden. The NYT news item just serves to demonstrate that the geologist is clutching at straws, the money is not his, it came from those who are behind the agendas,who it seems also have funds to squander. The same also can be said about the Swiss millionaire whose identity was not revealed, for obvious reasons, and who was behind the “Jesus’ wife” fragment that Karen King, with her own agenda, was actively promoting. Good for Harvard, they were about to leap by publishing a report, then decided to look before leaping, and gave up the idea. It is now clear that the fragment of the papyrus was manufactured, is fraudulent, as maintained by me on this very blog right from the beginning, though it was defended by another commenter.

        Professor Wolfgang Krumbein has contradicted himself. In the beginning he said the James ossuary was exposed to sunlight and environmental conditions for centuries. Later, he alleged that robbers had opened a hole in the Talpiot tomb and stolen it, another one clutching at straws. Not even the owner, O.Golan,believes him, because he had already said, years ago,that it came from Silwan.

        The claims about the patina came from Charles Pellegrino, however he did not publish a scientific paper because he is not an archaeologist and, I think, he does know that it will simply not sell. Patina can be manufactured, and the IAA returned the James ossuary to its owner, also making the statement that the second part of the inscription was a forgery, as I had always maintained, in fact published an article about it three months before the IAA statement.

        We have to be very careful while reading news items about “findings” in the fields of biblical archaeology and biblical studies.

        Talpiot IV will be written shortly, meanwhile the rest of the story, for those who are interested:

        1. It must also be noted that nothing is being said about the fact that geologist Aryeh Shimron is not an expert in limestone ossuaries,he knows about plaster. He says that an earthquake in the fourth century filled the tomb with soil, but how is it that it did not happen to another tomb, just twenty metres away? Not even O.Golan, the owner of the James ossuary, believes his story. He wants at least 300 tombs to be examined.

          Andrey Feuerverger, who worked on the statistics, was misled by the proponents of the so-called Jesus family tomb to interpret the inscription on one ossuary as identifying Mary Magdalene. He admitted that later and wisely wrote in his report that “any tampering with the tombsite and other possibilities for fraud” would have to be “weighed and taken into account.” He abandoned the topic completely after the sensationalism. The University of Chicago professor mentioned in the article (link) above is even wiser,

          Patina is also not considered to be a reliable indication, it can be manufactured. In an official report written years ago Professor Amos Kloner, former Jerusalem District Archaeologist, wrote that the patina “inside the relatively deep letters is not the same as on the ossuary’s four sides and the decoration lines.”


          There is more:

          Shimron ignores a telltale incision, known by the best scholars. About this, Professor Kloner wrote:
          “each of the letters of the two words “brother of Jesus” are carved less deeply than those on the right side of the inscription.”
          Note: “brother of Jesus” is “Akhui d’Yeshua” in Aramaic, therefore Kloner says “two words”. the right side says “Yaakov bar Yehosef”, “James son of Joseph” in Aramaic.
          What does this mean? Two hands and two chisels — and two different periods.

        2. Further to the above,there is an interesting article entitled “The Master’s Tomb in Jerusalem: Apostolic Memory from the First Century” on the website of the Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship, an Orthodox Messianic Jewish congregation in Hudson, Wisconsin.
          The article mentions the inscription “In dumum Domini ibimus”, meaning “Let us go the house of the Lord”. It is actually in the Armenian chapel inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, next to the image of a boat. It has said to have survived the destruction ordered by Hadrian and is another piece of evidence against Talpiot..

    1. “…we have an another “art historian” swallowing whole the carbon dating results. ”

      Since you are a lawyer, why don’t you file a case against the Radiocarbon 14 dating of the Shroud of Turin ?

      1. In addition to being a lawyer, I have had advocational interest in Science, History and Religion since I was maybe 8 or so. I built a tesseract (with some help) when I was 17. You know what a tesseract is, don’t you? Ever build one?

        I have also published a number of Op-Ed pieces and a leading article on Ocean pollution in 1972. Want to really do me in?

        Check out the contents of

        In one of the pieces I more or less predicted something like 9/11 nine months before 9/11:

        Have fun and criticize.


  2. Yet another European art critic who turns his back and ignores the origins of the Christian enculturisation of Europe, including the numerous religious art works he no doubt depends on for a living. As a result we see the Islamisation of a former entirely Christian continent, and the rise of Isis, as a result of their own peculiar belief in a vengeful God. They will not be stopped without global repentance and reconversion.

    1. Daveb,

      You lost me. Are you saying that ISIS demands “global reconversion” to Islam or is it that reconversion to Christianity is necessary. I might ask “Which Christianity?” Christianity comes in many different flavors. To claim that there was once a global Christianity ignores much of Asia including of course China as well as sub-Saharan Africa.

      On the other hand, the truly reformist and ecumenical spirit of Pope Francis embracing all who love whatever their particular religious flavor may very well be a wave of the future of the Church and Christianity. Christ may appear in many different guises for He is, after all, “only” Love.

      This is of particular relevance to me right now because last week my wife and I saw a revival of the “King and I.” I’ll spare you all my critique but one the most impressive parts of revival was a complex ballet based upon Uncle Tom’s Cabin. What struck me is how the authors transposed a Christian concept of Jesus to Buddha.

      I am not culturally attuned enough to judge whether this was a western affectation of the play or a justifiable insight.

      Nonetheless, I believe that all who love are Christians becasue faith in love is all that counts.

      1. John K, my remarks were deliberately cryptic, and were a response to yet another example of comments made by a person who apparently earns his living from the achievements of a culture which has its origins in a Christian heritage, and yet turns his back on that heritage, showing no respect for it. I see extremes of fanaticism, including ISIS as a form of Antichrist and I have noticed that whenever Christ is abandoned as we see in western culture today, it seems to make a place for Antichrist to step in. That is why I see a need for repentance and conversion. Fatima 100 years ago had much the same message.

        1. Addressed to John Klotz:
          Ecumenism is convincing when it is sincere, not just PR, and when the differences are not swept under the rug, just respected. Bertrand Russell recognised how different religions contradict each other and it is not an easy job to thrash out the differences. If you have access to the respected Goan, England-based scholar Gavin D’Costa books you would see how difficult things can be. He teaches theology at the University of Bristol and although Catholic, is an advisor to both Catholic and Anglican Churches in England.

          The transposition you talk about is generally unnecessary. It can even be dangerous, complicating the lives of some people, depending on where they live. There have been agenda-based transpositions:

        2. Erdogan is dangerous, he is destroying all the progress made in Turkey which began with Kemal Ataturk. The US has not recognised the genocide for political reasons and also because Turkey is a part of NATO. If they allow this country to enter the EU it will signal the end of what is left of Christian Europe.

      2. this popes message is not differnent then any recent pope…the only difference is the media is twisting what he says to fit their agenda

  3. It’s a Guardian article, at “”

  4. Ah! Thank you. I’ve often wondered…

    As for the tesseract, perhaps you built a three-dimensional model of the four-dimensional figure, just as one might draw a two dimensional image of a three-dimensional cube. In a true tesseract, as in a square or cube, each of the 32 edges is of unit length. Had you achieved one aged 17, your Nobel Prize would not have had to wait so long…

    1. Hugh,

      My instructor was a fellow 17 year old who had won a Westinghouse Science prize building tesseracts and who was attending a Civil Air Patrol Cadet summer encampment at Samson AFB as was I.

      We did it with soda straws and glue. It reminded me of a stroboscopic picture of Ted Williams swinging a baseball bat and you could visualize the motion of the bat through time and space but that was a two dimensional photograph. Our tesseract was two cubes connected at each corner and it expressed to me the motion of the cube through time. Each cube was square but the 4th dimension connection was of course angled. (Draw a a two dimensional cube and the sides will be 90* but the third dimension will be represented by angled lines. I am sure you have done that many, many times.

      I looked at the completed project and recalled the Ted Williams picture and realized the conclusion which was hardly original at that time : time really was the fourth dimension. Physicists are now up to nine dimensions.

      It was I believe the summer of 1953 or 1954.

  5. I apologize if I am now a bit ‘off topic …
    However, there are two issues that I do not seem to have been explored:

    1) DNA and Jewish Tombs in Jerusalem and near Giv’at ha-Mivtar…

    2) The tomb of Josef (= Joseph, the foster father of Jesus).
    >An ancient tradition states that the tomb of St. Joseph, now empty, is in the Valley of Josaphat. St. Jerome, on the other hand, was of the opinion that St. Joseph’s tomb is within the boundaries of the Garden of Gethsemane. (See Life and Glories of St. Joseph by Edward Healy Thompson, pp.409-410).
    Why Jesus was not buried in the Garden of Gethsemane?
    I think it was not buried there because of the distance from Golgotha …
    and, perhaps, to the legal problems associated with the ignominious death on the Cross …
    But …
    What is the exact distance between Golgotha and the Garden of Gethsemane?
    — — —

    What is your comment?

    1. I have written in a hurry and I also forgot to mention the old study
      (published: December 16, 2009):

      Molecular Exploration of the First-Century Tomb of the Shroud in Akeldama, Jerusalem
      by Matheson CD, Vernon KK, Lahti A, Fratpietro R, Spigelman M, et al.


      See also:
      Correction: Molecular Exploration of the First-Century Tomb of the Shroud in Akeldama, Jerusalem

      >Dr. Boaz Zissu was mistakenly omitted from the author byline.
      >He should be listed as the ninth author and is affiliated with Martin (Szusz) Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology, Bar Ilan University, Israel.
      >His contribution included excavating materials for analysis.


      See also:
      Mitochondrial and Y-chromosome haplogroups extracted from historic human remains in Israel

      under the address:

      Another interesting link:

      Jewish Heritage Written in DNA
      >Fully sequenced genomes of more than 100 Ashkenazi people clarify the group’s history and provide a reference for researchers and physicians trying to pinpoint disease-associated genes.

      Bibliographic reference:
      S. Carmi et al., “Sequencing an Ashkenazi reference panel supports population-targeted personal genomics and illuminates Jewish and European origins,” Nature Communications, doi:0.1038/ncomms5835, 2014.

  6. According to Google maps the quickest way from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which reputedly contains Golgotha, to Gethsemane, is 1.3km and takes 15 minutes to walk.

    1. Two more words on the “tomb of St. Joseph”:
      “In an ecstasy, a saint has seen the body of St. Joseph preserved intact in a tomb, the site of which is yet unknown. The more the glorious spouse of the most Blessed Virgin Mary is honored, the sooner will the finding of his body take place, which will be a day of great joy for the Church.”
      [Words of Fr. Paul of Moll, 1824-1896, from Father Paul of Moll, by Edward van Speybrouck, p. 238]

      Any news?
      A secret burial?

      1. Why Jesus went to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane?
        Was that due (perhaps) to the fact that the tomb of Joseph, the foster father, was nearby?
        What do you think of this idea?

        >According to the canonical Gospels, after the Last Supper, Jesus and his disciples went out to Gethsemane, a garden located at the edge of the Kidron Valley, thought by scholars to probably have been an olive grove.
        >Once there, he is described as leaving the group so that he can pray privately


        Perhaps you should explore the idea of a tomb of St. Joseph nearby. Maybe this could better “explain” the phenomenon of sweating blood of Jesus … See also what wrote (about the “hematohidrosis”) the physician Luke, a well-educated man and a careful observer by profession.

  7. I don’t know what others think but I feel the BBC website has got a very strong anti-religious bias.

    1. It wouldn’t surprise me.
      What is more surprising is the BBC’s 2008 documentary on the Shroud that makes a strong case for it’s existence back to the first century.

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