Really, what should we be telling people?
“The Big Short,” which won an Oscar in 2015, begins with these clever words:
It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.
These words have since been spread across the globe in numerous languages, been cleverly incorporated into motivational speeches, and emblazoned on souvenir sweatshirts featuring Mark Twain’s name and often his image. Consequently, countless individuals have come to believe that Mark Twain wrote those two sentences. He didn’t. At least there is no evidence that he did so. What we thought we knew for sure just ain’t so.
And such is the case with the Shroud of Turin. Much of what we think we know for sure just ain’t so.
In my previous posting, “Is Proof Possible,” a couple of commenters pointed out that “proof” can mean different things to different people. One, a lawyer, focused on distinctions used in the practice of law. Fair enough. Legal terms can be very clarifying.
Choosing ‘proof beyond a reasonable doubt,’ the lawyer went on to say, “I firmly believe that the combination of evidence from multiple disciplines (scientific, medical, historical, etc.) proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the Shroud of Turin is the authentic burial cloth of Christ . . .”
I can’t agree. But neither can I say that I believe beyond a reasonable doubt that it’s fake. At one time, I might have agreed with the lawyer. But my perspective changed as I became aware of problems with the evidence. In many instances, it is insufficient. Sometimes it’s wrong. Often it is so controversial or contradictory that it cannot be considered evidentiary.
The phrase “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” is most commonly used in a criminal context, but it can also be used in other ways. In general, it means that there is no other reasonable explanation for something other than the one that is being proposed. It’s a powerful statement and it implies you have the evidence to back it up.
Point 1: The Color We See As An Image
It is convenient to use the word “chromophore” which is a chemical structure or group of atoms and molecules that absorbs and reflects specific wavelengths of light, resulting in the color we see. Chromophores can be found in various substances, such as paint and dyes. In the context of the Shroud the term refers to the chemical structure responsible for the image’s appearance on the cloth.
According to the 1981 summary of STURP’s conclusions, the scientific consensus was that the image was produced by “oxidation, dehydration, and conjugation of the polysaccharide structure of the linen’s microfibrils.” In other words, a chemical change to the flax microfibrils changed the way they absorbed and reflected light so as to form an image. This is, in fact, what happens when linen ages and turns yellow.
More recently, in a paper published in 2017 by the Turin Shroud Center of Colorado we read:
The colored linen fibers are only colored due to a chemical reaction involving the fibers themselves. There is no evidence of a coating or extraneous material added to the fibers to cause the image color. The image-bearing fibers have a yellow-brown color.Jackson, J., Propp, K., Jackson, R., Koumis, A., Bertrand, J., & Siefker, B. (2017). The Shroud of Turin: A Critical Summary of Observations, Data and Hypotheses, Version 4. Retrieved from https://www.shroudofturin.com/Resources/CRTSUM.pdf
The Jackson paper then goes on to explain that testing results showed that no paint pigments or paint-carrying mediums were found on image-bearing linen fibers. Further testing with laser-microprobe Raman analysis, pyrolysis-mass spectrometry, and microchemical testing confirmed the absence of paint pigments or mediums. It seems to have the earmarks of proof beyond reasonable doubt. But does it?
In the same paper, it is reported that Ray Rogers, STURP’s lead chemist, suggested that a Maillard chemical reaction might have occurred between amines produced by a decomposing body and a contamination layer on the Shroud fibers. Through experiments, Rogers demonstrated that a Maillard reaction could result in the yellow-brown coloration of linen fabric treated with a thin starch contamination layer, forming melanoidins, which are brown polymeric materials. However, Jackson notes that biophysicist John Heller and chemist Alan Adler, both Shroud researchers, were unable to detect any starch on the Shroud. Rogers, on the other hand, reported that his spot tests with aqueous iodine indicated the presence of some starch fractions on Shroud fibers.
If Rogers is right, then the color was not the result of “oxidation, dehydration, and conjugation of the polysaccharide structure of the linen’s microfibrils.” Rogers writes,
The density-density of the image is not simply a function of the chemical properties of cellulose: it also depends on the individual properties of the threads. The observed effects must have been caused by different amounts of impurities that originally coated the surfaces of the threads as a result of slightly different production conditions.
I must say at this point that I have complete respect for both Jackson and Rogers, a view I share with many Shroud researchers. In the world of Shroud research—sindonology—where “shroudies” are often labeled pro-authenticists or anti-authenticists, I always thought of Jackson and Rogers as neither. They were pro-science and pro-truth, sort of let-the-chips-fall-where-they-may kind of scientists. And yet, they can’t both be right. We can believe the color is because the fibers had been somehow altered or we can believe the color comes from a coating on the fiber. If we are to be rigorously scientific we must admit that for now we have contradictory evidence.
Reasonable doubt, is how I see it.
We must mention Walter McCrone. McCrone was a microanalyst who suggested that the image on the Shroud of Turin was composed of iron oxide pigment, most likely ochre or iron oxide red. McCrone’s conclusions were based on his analysis of microscopic samples obtained from the Shroud, which had been provided to him by Ray Rogers. However, McCrone’s findings have been widely disputed by many researchers, including Rogers. Despite this, some skeptics of the Shroud’s authenticity still cite McCrone’s work. For more information on this topic, see a vigorous defense of McCrone on YouTube, Good Science, Bad Science, and the Shroud of Turin by Joel Bernstein, Global Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at New York University Abu Dhabi and former Barry and Carol Kaye Professor of Applied Science at Ben-Gurion University.
And we must mention Colin Berry. Berry is a talented British chemist, who suddenly entered the conversation with a blog called Shroud of Turin Without All The Hype. His style was blunt. He was convinced that the Shroud was a medieval fake and he set about trying to explain why he thought so to the community of Shroud believers. He was a bit of a shock to the more laid-back gentility of the Shroud world, especially when he referred to the work of STURP as Mickey Mouse science.
Berry disagreed with Rogers but not because he agreed with Jackson or the 1981 STURP report. He did not. Berry has a lot to say about that report at Ho Hum, Ho Hum, STURP’s 1981 Conclusions. But for now, let’s stick to Berry’s disagreement with Rogers.
First, look at what Rogers had written that would prompt a reply:
I believe that a combination of relatively rapidly decomposing impurities on the surface of the cloth with transfer/diffusion of catalytic compounds from a body, as discussed by Pellicori, could explain the observations on the chemistry and appearance of the image on the Shroud. It should explain the shallow penetration of the image, the fact that the color did not penetrate more deeply at presumed contact points, its “half-tone” appearance, and its predominantly discontinuous distribution.Rogers, R. N. (2005). Studies on the Radiocarbon Sample from the Shroud of Turin. Retrieved from https://www.shroud.com/pdfs/rogers10.pdf
Yes, but with all due respect to a gifted chemist sadly no longer with us, Raymond Rogers seems to have had little or no understanding of the flax/linen surface onto which the superficial Shroud image was imprinted, whether by natural processes, or miraculously or by forgers. He describes the hemicelluloses of linen as an “impurity”, despite being an intrinsic and major component of the superficial primary cell wall (PCW), and then substitutes that conjectural man-made impurity coating (starch, saponins etc) onto which the Shroud image was imprinted.Shroud Story. (2013, September 1). Paper Chase: An Alternate Hypothesis for the Image Color. Retrieved from https://shroudstory.com/2013/09/01/paper-chase-an-alternate-hypothesis-for-the-image-color/#comment-48894
Some may argue that McCrone’s work raises considerable reasonable doubt. While that may be true for some, I personally do not find it as convincing. On the other hand, Colin Berry, with his extensive knowledge of chemistry and practical experimentation, presents compelling arguments. Over the past eight years, he has raised numerous questions that, by most standards, would be considered reasonable doubt.
Two significant papers have emerged with in-depth discussions regarding the chemical nature of the image on the Shroud. The first, titled A Detailed Critical Review of the Chemical Studies on the Turin Shroud: Facts and Interpretations is authored by Thibault Heimburger, a French medical doctor. Heimburger provides a comprehensive and meticulous analysis of the subject, ranging from the 1981 STURP conclusions to the works of Ray Rogers to the opinions of Walter McCrone. The paper is accessible, clear, and highly recommended for anyone wanting to know more.
The second paper, List of Evidences of the Turin Shroud, is from the Proceedings of the International Workshop on the Scientific approach to the Acheiropoietos Images, held in Frascati, Italy in 2010. The list of authors included Giulio Fanti, Jose A. Botella, Fabio Crosilla, Francesco Lattarulo, Niels Svensson, Raymond Schneider, and Alan Whanger all of the Shroud Science Group, an informal collaborative online discussion group. The list of acknowledgments for those who offered assistance or encouragement is impressive: Ray Rogers, M. Alonso, Paulo Di Lazzaro, Diana Fulbright, and Barrie Schwortz. This list skirts the original STURP conclusion about image chemistry as a layer as did Rogers. Here are two applicable points from the paper:
- A8) Body image color resides only on the thin layer that is probably the primary cell wall (pcw) of outer surfaces of the fibers;
- A10) There is a very thin coating (probably the pcw) on the outside of all superficial linen fibers on Shroud samples that was named “Ghost”; “Ghosts” are colored (carbohydrate) layers pulled from a linen fiber by the adhesive of the sampling tape and they were found on background, light-scorch and image sticky tapes.
The word “probably” stands out like a sore thumb. The use of A and B designations also stands out. The list is subdivided into two categories, to wit, “Type A which refer, in the authors’ view, to unquestionable facts and observations made on the TS and Type B which refer to confirmed observations or conclusions based on a proof made in reference to the TS.”
This treatment of this evidence only reinforces the sense that we are in the midst of reasonable doubt.
It is perhaps not good science to describe observations in terms of the hypotheses that might have caused them. It does make for clear journalism, however. That’s what we have in a BBC article by science writer Philip Ball that discusses the work of the Shroud Science Group that led to the paper, List of Evidences of the Turin Shroud.
There’s no shortage of hypotheses. Some suggest that the image came about through natural processes; some impute considerable ingenuity to medieval forgers of relics; others invoke wondrous physical processes associated with the Resurrection. But do any have any merit?Ball, P. (2015, June 19). How did the Turin Shroud get its image? BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-33164668
Those who invoke the “wonderous physical processes,” (e.g. radiation or something well beyond established science—John Jackson, Mark Antonacci, Frank Tipler and Bob Rucker) tend to favor the old 1981 STURP evidence. (Well, they seem not to have given up on it yet). Others seem to favor the subsequently observed layers (or PCW). The point isn’t who is right or what is right. The point is that the evidence is drenched in contradiction and controversy and thus reasonable doubt.
In the practice of law, contradictory and controversial evidence is a matter for litigants, lawyers, judges and juries. They try to sort it out. But, with scientific claims it’s not that way. In science, contradictory and controversial evidence suggests experimental errors, limitations in methodologies, or even a lack of understanding. In science, contradictory evidence is resolved by more science. It has been 45 years since STURP. If after that time we are unable to explain the chemical nature of the image in certain terms, then we must do more science. There is an image on the Shroud that calls for an explanation. There is no getting around that fact. We can’t ignore this or gloss over it. The conflicting claims effectively cancel each other out and inject a strong measure of reasonable doubt.
Hugh Farey shared some thoughts in a comment on another blog, in which he stated:
De-controversialisation, if such a word there be, is the goal of all scientific investigation. Only when there is no controversy about something does it become part of mainstream ‘science.’ Finding out, and demonstrating, the best representation of truth that he can come up with, in such a way that there is no longer any controversy about it, is every scientist’s dream. If I, or Joe Marino, or Bob Rucker, or Giulio Fanti or John Jackson, or even you, I dare say, could achieve a description of the Shroud that was truly uncontroversial, we’d all be happy men!https://talesoftimesforgotten.com/2020/02/24/sorry-the-shroud-of-turin-is-definitely-a-hoax/#comment-32117
Well said! What else?
Point 2: A Notion of 3D Data in the Image
Consider the conclusions drawn from an experiment carried out in 1976 by physicist John Jackson and radiographic expert William Mottern. Utilizing a device called a VP-8 Image Analyzer, they studied a photograph of the Shroud. The outcome, displayed on the VP-8’s television-like screen, was described in the summary of STURP’s 1981 conclusions as follows: “The computer image enhancement and analysis conducted by a device known as a VP-8 image analyzer reveal that the image contains unique, three-dimensional information encoded within it.”https://talesoftimesforgotten.com/2020/02/24/sorry-the-shroud-of-turin-is-definitely-a-hoax/#comment-32117
Subsequently, Barrie Schwortz, in a visually rich presentation discussing STURP’s 1978 Scientific Examination of the Shroud, described the image as a “rather amazing natural relief of a human form, demonstrating that, in stark contrast to regular photographs or artworks, certain spatial or topographic data was encoded into the Shroud’s image.” The words ‘human form’ had now appeared, as well as the assertion that it was unlike normal photographs or artwork. Was this distinction based on additional data or an expansive interpretation? It’s unclear.
By 2015, the same year “The Big Short” was up on the big screen, Schwortz was saying:
This spatial data encoded into the image actually eliminates photography and painting as the possible mechanism for its creation and allows us to conclude that the image was formed while the cloth was draped over an actual human body.National Catholic Review: “The Shroud of Turin and Technoscience” by Father Dwight Longenecker, July 4, 2015
Now we —and I say we because for many years I had been caught up in the excitement, believing it was so—could conclude that the image was formed while the cloth was draped over an actual human body. The VP-8 tells us no such thing. Not that the cloth was draped. Not that what we were seeing was unlike normal photographs or artwork. Not even that three-dimensional information was encoded within it.
The VP-8, as it was being used by Mottern and Jackson, is a very simple tool. Its purpose is to create a 3D rendering from the brightness (= relative grayscale values) in all the different places of a two dimensional image.
Because a photograph, including a so-called black and white photograph, is a collection of varying bits of brightness, the VP-8 will produce a 3D rendering of that brightness data. Today, software apps have replaced the VP-8. Photographs used as input are now image files called heightmaps or topography-brightness-maps.
The VP-8 and all of the modern software can also be used to visualize two-dimensional information for easier interpretation. A good example of this is graphing the population densities of a geographic region as imaginary terrains that soar upward where cities are found and drop down to valleys in rural areas.
I seriously doubt that the VP-8 was ever intended for classifying data as three-dimensional. It cannot be used to prove that suspected 3D data is, in fact, 3D. Ray Rogers pointed out that a drop of black ink dropped onto a piece of filter paper would diffuse outward and when plotted with the VP-8, would produce a picture of a mountain. Would anyone imagine that this was a real mountain or that the data was truly three-dimensional and encoded as such, was what some have taken to calling spatial data?
Nonetheless, the VP-8 machine is capable of generating a 3D rendering from a photograph if the photograph functions as a heightmap. I have a hard time believing that Jackson and Mottern believed they had demonstrated or proven anything more. Didn’t the use of the VP-8 to plot a checkerboard as a rendering of three-dimensional blocks prove this?
Because the VP-8 is equally capable of allowing correct and incorrect interpretations, the word “apparent” is vital in this context because the varying brightness only suggests the apparent shape of something, possible spatiality, or ostensible topography. Therefore, the 3D rendering generated by the VP-8 is an interpretation of the heightmap rather than a true representation of 3D data. Certainly Jackson and Mottern knew this.
If we put the word ‘apparent‘ in front of the word spatial, as we should, we find that we can no longer for sure eliminate paintings or photographs. Nor, can we for sure conclude anything.
Nevertheless, it is easy to believe that the image displayed on the VP-8’s screen is three-dimensional simply because it appears that way. I did. As the adage goes, if it looks, walks, and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck, right? Consequently, if the image seems to portray the natural contours of a human figure, it’s logical to assume it contains 3D information about a human figure. However, it’s crucial to recognize that the perceived 3D quality of the image could be merely an illusion generated by the VP-8’s capacity to map the apparent distance of each point on the image’s surface. In truth, the image remains two-dimensional, and the illusion of 3D results from our interpretation of the brightness data. It could be that the proverbial duck is nothing more than an illusion.
Karl Popper, certainly one of history’s greatest philosophers of science, tells us that the duck test, formally the fallacy of essentialism, has been a problem since the days of Plato. Modern humorists like Groucho Marx and the Monty Python troupe have lampooned the test with puppets and nonsense logic. What looks like a duck, they tell us, may be a real duck, a rubber duck, or a miraculous apparition of a duck.
3D renderings of faces have been made from a dry powder painting, a photograph of a face mask, a conventional woodblock print, and thermal imprinting on cloth. The apparent 3D of the Shroud image may be many things.
It’s the many possibilities that makes for uncertainty. It’s the certainty we try to claim that just ain’t so. That’s the case for the duck and the case for the 3D.
The VP-8 was a good machine in its day. The 1981 “official Summary of STURP’s Conclusions” to the media simply stated: “The VP-8 image analyzer, a computer image enhancement and analysis device, reveals that the image contains unique three-dimensional information.” It would have been better if the document hadn’t used the word “unique” and instead had used “apparent.” And it would have been much better if, by 2015, the message hadn’t fermented and matured in such a way as to conclude that the cloth was draped over a real human body. There was evidence that there was real blood in the cloth and that it was in registration with the image. But, while that may be so, that was not what was being explained. Image analysis was a nascent discipline in the 1970s. Regrettably, primary researchers and those who, like me, read about it, disregarded alternative ideas to which we can now give serious consideration.
In 1994, Dr. Emily A. Craig and Dr. Randall R. Bresee, a couple of University of Tennessee forensic researchers, wrote a paper, Image Formation and the Shroud of Turin. It appeared in the prestigious Journal of Imaging Science and Technology (Volume 34, Number 1, 1994). From the outset, their work did not receive the recognition it deserved because it was widely acknowledged they had not successfully reproduced the chemical nature of the image. Fair enough. But look more closely. They were successful in showing that by daubing with powdered pigment it was possible to “paint” a rather amazing natural relief of a human form. Recent analysis, using modern plotting tools reveals the absolute success of their efforts to mimic spatial data.
A few years later, during that same summer of “The Big Short,” Hugh Farey, the editor of the British Society for the Turin Shroud Newsletter, explained how Colin Berry demonstrated that 3D information can be encoded in an image using thermal imprinting. By applying different levels of pressure between linen and a hot statue, a 3D effect can be mimicked. Farey didn’t pull his punches:
He demonstrated that almost any scorch will produce both an effective ‘negative’ image, and can be converted into a ‘3D image’ using similar software to that of the famous VP-8 Image Analyser, demolishing any miraculist claim that only the Shroud was capable of such effects.British Society for the Turin Shroud Newsletter, June 2015
In other words, the certainty we thought we knew for sure just twasn’t so, as Mark Twain might have said.
I am not asserting that the image on the Shroud is not three-dimensional. The truth is we don’t know. Nor am I claiming that the Shroud did not cover a human body when the image was formed. We simply do not have sufficient evidence to confirm this. The VP-8 image analysis, which seems to show the three-dimensional features of the image, is apparent. And if it is apparent, it’s not evidence.
Again, we are in the weeds. We have reasonable doubt. We can no longer say we are beyond doubt. We are in the midst of it.
Point 3: The Geography of Pollen
While the presence of plant pollen on the Shroud has always been a subject of controversy, many individuals, including myself, once believed that there was sufficient identifiable pollen to link the Shroud to the Jerusalem region at some point in history. However, recent DNA analyses have revealed pollen from the Americas and parts of Asia, including China. This finding indicates contamination that likely occurred after travel to and from those regions began in the Middle Ages.
The authors of an article, Uncovering the sources of DNA found on the Turin Shroud, appearing in Scientific Reports, an open access sister publication to Nature, put it this way:
With regard to the land plant species identified, some are native to Mediterranean countries and widespread throughout Europe, North Africa and the Middle East and are thus compatible with both a rather recent Medieval origin in Europe and a more ancient Near Eastern origin. However, others have a center of origin in Eastern Asia and the Americas and were introduced to Europe only after the Medieval period. Clearly, the latter species cannot help in discriminating between alternative scenarios.Barcaccia, G., Galla, G., Achilli, A., Olivieri, A., & Torroni, A. (2015). Uncovering the sources of DNA found on the Turin Shroud. Scientific Reports, 5, 14484. Retrieved from https://www.nature.com/articles/srep14484
Contamination has significantly complicated the use of pollen as a reliable indicator for determining the Shroud’s location at any given time. The presence of North American pollen on the Shroud is not due to the cloth being in America, but rather because someone from America likely visited the Shroud. Similarly, any pollen from the Jerusalem area, if it can even be accurately identified, could also have been brought to the Turin cloth by a visitor. This makes it nearly impossible to use pollen as definitive evidence for the Shroud’s historical location.
Again, we find that the evidence we thought we knew for certain just ain’t so. It’s the stuff that makes for all manner of reasonable doubt.
Point 4: History From Long-Long Ago
Any reading of the Turin Shroud’s various histories—plural, as multiple versions are alleged—reveals claims of images not created by human means, accompanied by highly-mythological legends, strained interpretations of ambiguous texts, and significant chronological gaps spanning decades and centuries. Such accounts cannot be considered reliable through the lens of objective historical analysis. It’s exciting to suppose, but that doesn’t make it true.
Nonetheless, there are a few historical clues that might lend some credibility to the Shroud’s authenticity. For example, the Hungarian Pray Manuscript, discussed in a guest post by an anonymous contributor on this blog (which has attracted over 725 comments), contains a simple yet persuasive depiction of the Shroud, predating the earliest estimate from radiocarbon dating. On the other hand, Hugh Farey’s article “The Pray Codex” in the British Society for the Turin Shroud Newsletter Number 83 (December 2016) is also worth reading. Though Farey nearly swayed me, I ultimately remained open to the idea that there might be something that challenged the carbon 14 dating. Nevertheless, Farey’s article helped refine my thoughts, and I recommend it to all – authenticists, skeptics, and those who are topically-agnostic alike.
And, there is the The Hymn of the Pearl, an epic poem found within the Acts of Thomas, which should not be confused with the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas. Some scholars believe that the poem predates the Acts of Thomas itself. Often attributed to Bardesane of Edessa, a Gnostic poet who may have been writing as early as 216 CE, the poem contains four enigmatic lines. These four lines, which appear in different locations within Greek and Syriac versions of the Acts, seem curiously out of place and are spoken as if 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 As though divided, yet one likeness Two images: but one likeness of the King.
Keith Witherup, a blogger over at ReligionForum.org, 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. Nonetheless, it is intriguing. It is an unanswered question that warrants more attention.
Perhaps more intriguing, is an ancient 6th-Century Spanish rite, the Mozarabic Rite. In the illatio (preface) for Saturday in Holy Week, we find the curious wording:
Peter ran with John to the tomb and saw the recent imprints (vestigia) of the dead and risen man on the linens.M. Green. “Enshrouded in Silence” ( The Ampleforth Journal, Vol. 74, Part 3 ( p. 329).
These clues seem quite confirming. But are they? As with scientific evidence, historical records must also be questioned, examined, and reexamined for accuracy and relevance. For example, consider the “Hymn of the Pearl.” There are a number of versions in Syriac and Greek. How similar or dissimilar are they? There are a number of translations into modern languages, as well. How accurate are they? More to the point, how well do these translations and versions represent the original author’s intended meaning?
Robin Waterfield, a classical scholar, and translator of ancient texts, writes in the Oxford University Press’s blog, Academic Insights for the Thinking World:
How exactly should one echo the phraseology, word order, sentence structure, metaphors, and so on of the original? Though one can think of a number of supposed translations of ancient texts where the translators have imagined that they knew better than the original author what he was trying to say, it is the other extreme which is all too common in this field: over-literal translation – translation that reads like the first draft of a schoolchild’s exercise, or a 1950s’ phrasebook for Eastern European tourists.
It is a potential problem, not only with the “Hymn of the Pearl” but with every letter, speech, and quotation that becomes part of the popular lines of historical reasoning arguing for and against authenticity.
Then, too, there is the problem of how ancient texts get corrupted by scribes and copyists. Pope Stephen III, in 769 CE supposedly had said of the Image of Edessa:
[Christ] spread out his entire body on a linen cloth that was white as snow. On this cloth, marvelous as it is to see . . . the glorious image of the Lord’s face, and the length of his entire and most noble body has been divinely transferred.
Some scholars now think the reference to his entire body was added by a copyist in the twelfth century. Even so, that is telling. It is telling in its proposed original and telling as a twelfth-century nugget of knowledge about a full-body image.
Point 5: The Other Stuff
I have not addressed the Carbon 14 dating of the Shroud. It tips the scale in favor of reasonable doubt. Some say it proves that the Shroud is fake beyond a reasonable doubt. But we shroudies keep our thumb on the scales because we think there is some reasonable doubt. I believe that you can’t claim any proof that the Shroud is real beyond a reasonable doubt until this matter is resolved with retesting. I invite you to read what I wrote in Is Proof Possible? I also recommend a paper, A Commentary on the C14 Dating of the Shroud by Joseph S. Accetta, a member of STURP. And be sure to catch the extensive comments attached to Accetta’s paper by Joe Marino in a posting, Playing by the Rules of Science.
I have not addressed myself to the issue of the blood chemistry. Instead I invite you to visit Q & A —The Shroud or Not the Shroud?
We have a tendency in the Shroud enthusiast world to build stacks of opinions and declare it evidence. For instance, look at this list of people who have examined the images for forensic or anatomical indications that the Shroud is real:
- Dr. Pierre Barbet: A French surgeon who performed extensive studies on the Shroud during the mid-20th century. His book “A Doctor at Calvary” provides an in-depth analysis of the crucifixion from a medical perspective, using the Shroud’s image as a reference.
- Dr. Robert Bucklin: An American forensic pathologist who studied the Shroud’s image, focusing on the anatomical and physiological aspects of the crucifixion. He published his findings in the Journal of Forensic Sciences in 1997, concluding that the image on the Shroud is consistent with the known historical facts of Jesus’ crucifixion.
- Dr. Alan D. Whanger and Mary Whanger: The Whangers, a husband-and-wife team, conducted a series of detailed image comparisons and anatomical studies on the Shroud’s image using a technique called Polarized Image Overlay Technique
- Dr. Frederick T. Zugibe was an American forensic pathologist and a medical examiner. He served as the Chief Medical Examiner of Rockland County, New York, from 1969 to 2003. In addition to his work in forensic pathology, Zugibe was known for his extensive research on the Shroud of Turin and the medical aspects of Jesus’ crucifixion.
The list is impressive. In reading their papers and books, one might expect to find consensus. You will. But you will also discover significant disagreement. As any good lawyer knows, too many cooks spoil the stew and too many expert witnesses inevitably leads to reasonable doubt.
If you read nothing else on Hugh Farey’s blog, read The Day I Changed My Mind. And note in particular:
Recently I have become less of an advocate for the ‘authenticity debate,’ not, I hasten to add, because I am any less of an authenticist, far from it, but because increasingly the focus of sindonological interest has drifted away from that debate and become more centred on internecine discrepancies within the ‘authenticist’ camp. There are different factions of ‘miraculists’ and ‘rationalists,’ whose opposing views on the whole of theology are far more discordant than either of their disagreements with ‘medievalist’ views, especially mine. Remarkably, the ‘general public’ does not seem to notice this, and cheerfully supposes that all is coherent in the authenticist camp. “Science has proved…” they chant, unaware of the profound academic disagreement between say, Ray Rogers and Alan Adler, Fred Zugibe and Robert Bucklin or Joe Marino and Bob Rucker, to name only a few. It has been my interest recently to point these out to the blind adherents of authenticity, to the usual opprobrium and resentful acknowledgement.
Really, what should we be telling people? It’s okay to believe. It’s fine to be confident that when all is said and done that the Shroud will be proven to be real, or not. For now and the foreseeable future, we are far from that place we call beyond when we speak of reasonable doubt. We can’t ignore the carbon 14 dating, We must try to figure out the chromophore and not simply gloss over it. We need to use the word apparent when something is apparent. There are many unanswered scientific and historical questions to be answered. That is the state of things.
For me, now, the Shroud is a mystery. A depiction of the face graces my wall next to Salvador Dali’s modern masterpiece, Christ of St. John of the Cross. Both evoke the Resurrection, which I wholeheartedly believe in. Naturally, there are moments when I am Thomas. However, in spite of rational doubts, my faith endures. Like Thomas, the Resurrection is not something I believe in beyond reasonable doubt but something I believe in despite reasonable doubt.
In closing, I must admit, that in the metaphorical stillness of the night, when evidence and reason dissolve away, a voice, a subtle whisper, an intuitive sensation arises. It’s as if I’m standing in a thin place between me and a realm beyond. Maybe, says that voice; not yes nor no but maybe. The 3D quality of the Shroud’s image is more haunting and palpable than simply technical. The whole image seems too sophisticated to be crafted by human hands, yet too imperfect to be deemed miraculous. The questions that linger, come the dawn, are not so much “what you don’t know” but rather, “what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”