Lying in a hospital room bed, a pain drip in my arm that was clouding or maybe stimulating my thinking in unexpected ways, the television on, but I cannot find the remote control they once upon a time put in my hand; I’m watching a show called Forensics Files. The cop being interviewed described something as like the “Shroud of Turin,” and suddenly, I’m awake. The room seemed fine, the pain fog cleared, the show was interesting. But, alas, it was a false analogy; something about the way a ski mask looked on the face of the driver of the getaway car seemed like the Shroud. But then this same cop said, “You take the first thing you see, and you make a list of assumptions, and create theories. Work from theories, neva, neva from evidence. Ya see, it wasn’t a ski mask. Why would a getaway driver wear something that would make him stand out and look suspicious while waiting at the curb? It don’t make no sense. Try to make sense out of what doesn’t make sense. Make a list of everything.
I realized then that I had recently posted something in a posting titled, “Take Everything With A Grain of Salt,” and how about twelve years ago, following a talk I gave at a large Catholic church in New York’s Westchester County, the pastor had pulled me aside to talk.
I thought it was an interesting posting. But there was only one comment and it was only somewhat loosely related.
It was clear that this Catholic pastor was not a fan of the Shroud of Turin because as he put it:
Of course, we don’t know anything about the Resurrection. The Gospels are utterly silent about it. Maybe that is because there is nothing to learn. That leaves me wonderfully free like artists and playwrights and theologians, free to contemplate and imagine.
It is hard to disagree with that sentiment. I get it. He went on. And I thought this was interesting:
Ask yourself this, Dan. Is it possible that the Shroud was not a burial cloth. Maybe it was a cloth used during the deposition from the cross or while carrying Jesus to the tomb? Maybe it was removed before the body was sealed in the tomb. Perhaps that is why the bloodstains are the way they are and why the image is of a dead man.
What if, I pondered from beneath the pain drip in my arm:
- When Jesus was taken down from the cross, what if his body, at the foot of the cross or nearby, was placed on a fine linen cloth and bloodstains formed..
- Perhaps the wrapped body sat in the sun for a long time awaiting bureaucratic decisions and perhaps in some way we don’t understand, chemical reactions caused images to form.
- That cloth, or perhaps another fine linen cloth (the first one perhaps was not fine linen after all), was used to transport Jesus to his tomb.
- Or perhaps a third cloth was used in the tomb, one that became heavily stained with blood and Jesus’ followers decided to use yet another cloth for burial; the one we now know as the Shroud of Turin was not left in the tomb because it was so bloodstained – presumably, images had formed.
- Or, more likely, it seems, any combination of two, three or four cloths were used, and the one we have placed so much interest in was not the one in which Jesus was actually buried.
We might think, and it would be legitimate to do so, that perhaps a Gnostic monk somewhere, maybe to the east of Cappadocia, having come across a bloodstained cloth, and having deduced its markings, used some ancient method to “sketch” in a negative image.
And too, there are about in the theological land among some in the scholarly bunch involved in biblical studies, concerns that the “empty tomb” may have been a later addition to the gospel accounts of the Resurrection. Philip Jenkins, Distinguished Professor of History at Baylor University, writes in the Anxious Bench:
- . . . From the time of Mark’s gospel, around 70, the empty tomb became central to the Resurrection narrative, so central in fact that Jews evolve rival stories to account for the absence of Jesus’s body (Matt. 28. 11-15). The story evidently mattered in religious polemic. Over the next thirty years or so, the story is repeated in various forms in three other gospels. Yet even Luke, who knows the story, makes no use of it in Acts. Before the 90s, moreover, (the time of Matthew and Luke), the one account that we do have of the empty tomb does not refer to visions of a bodily risen Jesus at or near the site. Where is the empty tomb story before 70? (emphasis mine)
If this is true, and it should be considered with honesty, then might we might even wonder if the empty tomb biblical narratives originated also with a graphical representation and some bloodstains on a cloth.
And then there is the possibility that the Shroud of Turin is medieval. There is legitimate reason enough to consider what Hugh Ferry and others have suggested as a possibility.
I’m still excited about that sculpture I recently discovered, The Resurrection by Pericle Fazzini, installed in the pope’s Paul VI Audience Hall in Rome. The artist describes it thus:
An explosion from the earth, with olive trees in the air, stones, clouds, lightning bolts … like an enormous storm in the form of the world and Christ who rises serenely from all of this.
I would have/could have added:
the Shroud of Turin, its miracle made image upon the cloth, being tossed out with the olive trees, stones and lightening bolts.
But, I would be poetic or philosophic if I said so. Or perhaps I would be one of those who believe, I think legitimately, that the Resurrection was spiritual. (though, I personally believe the Resurrection was physical in ways we cannot fully comprehend.)