Lightening Striking the Other Crucified Person in His Shroud

imageAcilius, in the Red Panther blog, wonders, Does the Shroud of Turin disprove the Gospels?

In April, I noticed a post on Rod Dreher‘s blog about the Shroud of Turin.  Mr Dreher had been impressed by a book, Finding Jesus: Faith. Fact. Forgery: Six Holy Objects That Tell the Remarkable Story of the Gospels, by David Gibson and Michael McKinley, a companion volume to the CNN series of the same awkwardly punctuated name.  The other day, I saw that the Reverend Mr Dwight Longenecker, a former Anglican priest turned Roman Catholic, had also posted about the shroud, quoting at length from an article at National Geographic in which the shroud’s puzzling nature is explored.

Quoting Longenecker, Acilius writes:

De Lazzaro explained that the ultraviolet light necessary to reproduce the image of the crucified man “exceeds the maximum power released by all ultraviolet light sources available today.” The time for such a burst would be shorter than one forty-billionth of a second, and the intensity of the ultra violet light would have to be around several billion watts.”

The scientists shrug and say the only explanation lies beyond the realm of twenty-first century technoscience. In other words, the extraordinary burst of ultra violet light is not only beyond the ability and technology of a medieval forger. It is beyond the ability and technology of the best twenty-first century scientists.

He goes on:

What could explain all of this?  If no known technological process could have produced the image on the shroud, and the only unknown technological processes that could have produced it would be the result either of the greatest design fluke in history or of contact with visitors from outer space, perhaps we should discard the forgery hypothesis and turn next to a search for a natural process that could have produced the image.  There may in fact be such a process.  Lightning is an extremely energetic and poorly understood phenomenon; it was only in 2009 that it was discovered that lightning often produces significant amounts of antimatter in the upper atmosphere.  No one had expected to find this, and no one can explain it.  Bursts of ultraviolet radiation is a lot less exotic than appearances of antimatter, and so would be significantly less surprising as phenomena associated with lightning.

So, perhaps at some point in the middle decades of the first century CE in or near the city of Jerusalem the body of a man who had been scourged, jabbed in the side with a spear, mounted on a cross, fastened to that cross with nails through his wrists and feet, and subjected to a group of small puncture wounds on the forehead was wrapped in the shroud that has been on display in Turin for the last several centuries.  Before that man’s body was buried or entombed, it was struck by lightning, producing a burst of ultraviolet rays that created the image on the shroud.  This event, occurring in an urban area and centering on the body of a man whose gruesome death a crowd would have witnessed at most a few hours before, would certainly have been very much discussed.  One must suppose that people would try to find religious significance in it, and that in the course of those discussions many people would claim, whether truthfully or not, to have been associated with the man during his lifetime.

Perhaps the whole story of Jesus, as it has come down to us, grew from the reactions to this event.  Or perhaps the story of Jesus as we have it represents the conflation of several stories.  It is difficult to imagine that the man whose image is preserved in the shroud is not the man whose crucifixion is described in the Gospels, but not so difficult to imagine that stories about another man, who was also crucified in Jerusalem around the same time and who was well-known locally before his crucifixion as the leader of a new religious movement, would be combined with the story of the man whose crucifixion was followed by the spectacular event of a lightning bolt and the transformation of his burial cloth into the object we now see in Turin.


Nowhere in the New Testament does it say that Jesus’ body was struck by lightning after it was removed from the cross.  If the image on the shroud turns out to have been created by lightning, the evidence connecting it with first-century Jerusalem, the fact that its appearance in first-century Jerusalem would certainly have caused great excitement there, and the similarity of the wounds the man had to the wounds the Gospels attribute to Jesus makes that silence a tremendous obstacle to accepting the historicity of the Gospels, I would say a far bigger obstacle than any of the gaps or discrepancies of detail that New Testament scholars have yet uncovered.

All the other problems fade pretty quickly once you start thinking of the Gospels as what they originally were, a collection of liturgical resources more akin to a hymnal than to a biographical study.  The Gospels are series of pericopes, distinct passages designed to be read aloud or recited at particular moments in worship services.  So, for Christians, there seems to be a great deal at stake in the question of what precisely the Shroud of Turin is.  If the recent studies of it are all wrong, if the researchers have been led astray by their religious biases and it is after all a forgery from the Middle Ages, then the crisis is averted.  If the studies hold up, and if the image does prove to be the result of a lightning strike, do Christians have a way out?

A bit of speculation too far, I think. But it is thinking, and thinking is a good thing.

7 thoughts on “Lightening Striking the Other Crucified Person in His Shroud”

    1. Yes… But most probably not for the reasons Di Lazzaro and his team are trying hard to promote! Unlike what these Italians are thinking (and are trying to make believe), it’s highly probable that the image formation process is talking much more about Jesus’ Passion and death than his Resurrection!

  1. “Speculation too far…” and then some. The lightening part is interesting, but the whole ‘this would discount the Gospels’ musing is off the rails.

  2. Even Herbert Thurston had to admit, perhaps grudgingly, that if it wasn’t Jesus on the Shroud, then it was certainly meant to be [ “Of that there can be no doubt … ” ]. The give-away is the wounds on the head from the “crown” of thorns.

    The lightning comment is interesting, I hadn’t heard about the forming of anti-matter before, but it would be very short-lived, immediately combining with matter and releasing a huge amount of energy. I know of no case where a body has disappeared as a result of a lightning strike; Does anyone else? I’ve heard that typically in the case of a lightning strike, the electricity forms a narrow tunnel through the body from the strike point to the ground contact.

    The encounters with the resurrected Christ by independent witnesses in the NT are too numerous and consistent to be dismissed as outright fabrication. The “new religious movement” was one of many such, but quite different from the others, in its new moral tone, in defining of relationships, standards of behaviour, in its counter-culture, in its underlying theology, and in its subsequent history, making it exceptional.

  3. UV from a nearby flash would just radiate on the outside of any close objects I guess. UV is light.
    How could it penetrate and affect the shroud the way it is?
    Strong UV light may only be produced by the most energetic phase of lightning called the return stroke (20-30 kiloamperes on average) ,
    ,so to have a possible interaction with the shroud, a direct strike should be needed.
    A direct return stroke would have produced considerable damage to
    the shroud as well as to the corpse. As far as I know this is not the case.

    Prior to lightning strike, corona discharges may take place on nearby objects.
    This indeed could possibly radiate from the body, if the shroud is rather dry. No direct strike is required for that.

    But, such a strong corona effect is usually produced in open air, in the immediate vicinity of the stroke.
    When the shroud image was produced, rigor mortis seems to imply that the body had been in the tomb for several hours.
    In such a place, no lightning strike could occur, no lightning-induced corona discharge could be expected.


  4. Honestly, isn’t this a new competitor for the “Most Absurd Theory about the Shroud of Turin Ever,” not to mention Christianity in general? It’s just jaw-dropping in its nonsense. To start with, a lightning bolt could not produce the image on the Shroud, much less dissolve a human body.

    Beyond that, what kind of morons would the apostles and early Christians have to have been to see this inexplicable event (hypothesizing for the moment that it could have happened), then conflate two separate lives, make up a series of miraculous deeds that Jesus performed, abandon their previous livelihoods and spread a story that no one would believe (because no one would have heard word one about miracles that didn’t take place) in order to get themselves martyred in brutal deaths for a heavenly reward by a figure they had just made up?

    There’s an old expression about believing ridiculous assertions: “If you believe that, I’d like to talk to you about buying the Brooklyn Bridge.” Anyone who would give this ludicrous lightning proposal even a shred of credibility should put their money in trust immediately because those bridge proposals cannot be far behind.

  5. Well, I suppose the general point is that the likelier the Shroud of Turin is to be the burial cloth of the man whose crucifixion is described in the Gospels, the closer it is to enabling us to formulate an empirically falsifiable hypothesis that would include the proposition that Jesus rose from the dead. Formulating an empirically falsifiable hypothesis is the first step towards the development of scientific understanding. An hypothesis that survives enough attempts at falsification can grow into knowledge. So, if you are hoping for science to show that Jesus rose from the dead, the recent test results regarding the shroud are exciting.

    However, falsifiable hypotheses are quite often falsified. If the results do hold up, therefore, and the shroud is shown to be that of a man who was crucified in Jerusalem in the first half of the first century in the manner described in the Gospels, then sooner or later an examination of some kind may lead to evidence either that Jesus rose from the dead or that he did not. Evidence that Jesus did not rise from the dead would be evidence against everything in the Gospels. Don’t take it from me that the Gospel does not hold together if Jesus did not rise from the dead. As you may recall, Saint Paul had something to say about that in the fifteenth chapter of the first letter to the church in Corinth. If you don’t acknowledge Saint Paul as an authority, then reading the comments on a blog about the Shroud of Turin is a very strange hobby for you to have. So I think we can all agree that if the results hold up there will be a great deal at stake in future examinations of the Shroud of Turin.

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