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Focus: The Hymn of the Pearl

In my essay, Slouching Towards Emmaus, I wrote about a short paper by Kim Dreisbach called “Liturgical Clues to the Shroud’s history.” Two items, in particular, caught my attention. The first was the “Hymn of the Pearl,” an epic poem found within the Acts of Thomas (not to be confused with the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas). Some scholars think the poem is older than the Acts of Thomas. It is often attributed to Bardesane of Edessa, a Gnostic poet writing as early as 216 CE. A few puzzling words, a mere four lines of poetry that seem curiously out of place, that are found in different places in different Greek and Syriac versions of the Acts, are spoken, as though, in the first person by the risen Christ:

     Suddenly, I saw my image on my garment like in a mirror 
Myself and myself through myself [or myself facing outward and inward] 
As though divided, yet one likeness
Two images: but one likeness of the King [or King of kings] 

Keith Witherup, a blogger over at, would later explain:

If you look at a photograph of the Shroud you see two full-size images of a man, one in which the image is facing outward and one inward. In more modern terms we describe these as front-side and back-side images, or ventral and dorsal images. They are, indeed, as in a mirror as they are full size and seemingly perpendicular to the surface. Those words, “as though divided, yet one likeness,” resonate with the two separate images that meet at the top of the head.

It is hard to imagine what else these lines of poetry could refer to. Saying that, however, doesn’t make for logically sound, objective history,

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