A Guest Posting by Yannick Clément
An Exchange of Emails with Joe Zias (Wikipedia Entry)
Here, I would simply like to share some precious and very pertinent informations I got from a real expert in ancient Jewish burial rituals who’s name is Joe Zias. Mr. Zias [Pictured] is a well-known and well-respected Jewish archaeologist who also was the former curator of Archaeology and Anthropology for the prestigious Israel Antiquities Authority. I reached him recently via email to discuss with him about some topics related to the Shroud of Turin.
The first subject I wanted to talk with him concerns two hypotheses that have been proposed over the years concerning the possible use of flowers and/or plants during the burial of the Shroud man. These hypotheses propose that these botanical species would have been laid on the Shroud man’s body before the end of the burial procedure.
The first hypothesis is well known in the Shroud world and propose that some images of flowers are visible on the Shroud and that these flowers would have been present inside the cloth at the moment of the body image formation and, for an unknown reason (most probably related to the image formation process itself), would have been also reprinted on the cloth’s surface along with the body of the Shroud man.
The second hypothesis is less known, but have been proposed recently by the archaeologist Paul Maloney in a paper that was published on this blog. It is related to various microscopic debris of plants and flowers that he found in good quantity in some of Max Frei’s pollen samples. Mr. Maloney proposes the idea that these debris would have been left on the Shroud after the deposit of these botanical species on the body of the Shroud man before he was completely enveloped in the Shroud.
I always been very suspicious about the first hypothesis concerning the images of flowers on the Shroud (for the main reason that I don’t see how a natural image formation process could, at the same time, produce a body image AND some images of flowers on a linen cloth) and, after some reflection, I felt the same concerning Mr. Maloney’s own hypothesis.
But in order to better judge the potential validity of these two hypotheses, I decided to contact Mr. Zias (with who I have exchange some emails in the past) and ask him a pertinent question on the subject.
Here’s the email I sent him: “Hello Mr. Zias!
Recently, I read a hypothesis about the Shroud of Turin that I consider truly irrational and I just want you to confirm to me that my reasonning about that is correct.
Mr. Paul Maloney, a Professional archaeologist who study the Shroud since the 1980s and who is in possession of the Max Frei’ collection of sticky tape samples he collected from the Shroud in 1978, propose the idea that the fact that there are a high concentration of microscopic debris of plants and flowers in some samples, this means that they must have come from some deposits of plants and flowers directly on the Shroud at some time during its history. So far, I have no reason to doubt such a reflection. But the thing is that Mr. Maloney propose that such a direct deposit of plants and flowers on the Shroud could have happened during the burial ritual of the Shroud man…
That’s where I disagree, because I really think that the deposit of plants and/or flowers WAS NOT part of the common ancient Jewish burial ritual of the Second temple period.
Question for you: Am I right about that fact? I’m sure you know the answer! Thanks in advance for taking 2 minutes to confirm me that I’m right about the fact that there was no deposit of plants and/or flowers on the corpse and/or Inside the burial shroud during the common Jewish burial ritual that was perform in Antiquity. I know that this is still the case in modern orthodox Jewish burials, but I want to be certain that this was already the case in Antiquity…”
And here’s his short reply: “Shalom, you are absolutely correct on that point. Joe Zias”
Interesting don’t you think? As I said at the beginning of my post, the only goal I seek here is to share these precious information with all of you, because I know that they are very pertinent and come from someone who have no bias on the subject. After reading the confirmation of Mr. Zias that plants and/or flowers were not part of ancient Jewish burials, it’s now up to you to make up your mind about the 2 hypotheses related to the presence of plants and/or flowers inside the Shroud with the body. Personally, I’m now more convinced than ever that there was absolutely no botanical species present inside the Shroud and that all that was there was the bloody and unwashed corpse of the Shroud man and nothing else… If I’m right, this would be in total sync with a real partial burial done in haste, which would correspond exactly with the Gospel accounts! In sum, I can say that what seems to be flower images to some people is most probably a good example of the pareidolia phenomenon that has been described by Barrie Schwortz and Paolo Di Lazzaro in this paper.
And when it comes to Mr. Maloney’s hypothesis, I think the alternative hypothesis he mentioned in his paper, which have been proposed by a palinologist named A. Orville Dahl, is much more rational and viable! This scientist proposed the idea that these debris of flowers and plants came from an event that has not been documented and that could be related to a liturgical ceremony in which the Shroud could have been used as the Sacred cloth on the altar of a church. It is during that kind of ceremony that flowers and plants would have been laid on it and would have left some microscopic debris. Personally, I think it’s truly possible that such a religious event could have happened while the cloth was kept in Constantinople and it is even possible to assume that this could have been the inspiration for the “epitaphios” cloths used during Easter time by the Orthodox Church, which started to appear in the Byzantine capital around 1200 A.D. I also think that it’s also possible to link such a liturgical event with the L-shaped burn holes on the cloth, which could well have been produced during that kind of liturgical ceremony in which the Shroud could have been used as an altar cloth folded in 4 equal pieces. Effectively, the nature and the appearance of the burn holes makes it possible that they were produced by some small drops of a corrosive liquid (note: Al Alder thought this was the most probable scenario to explain these burn holes), maybe coming from the use of incense, or produced by some small drops of very hot wax coming from a candle.
Here, I must say to those who would still be tempted to believe in the presence of images of flowers on the Shroud or to believe in Mr. Maloney’s hypothesis that, if these proposal would be true, then we would have a good reason to seriously doubt the authenticity of the Shroud as the real burial cloth of Jesus of Nazareth, because we know FOR A FACT that, historically, flowers and/or plants were NOT part of a common Jewish burial during the First century A.D.! And think about it : If the use of flowers and/or plants was not part of the normal Jewish burial ritual during the time of Christ, how in the world this would have been the case for his own burial, which was obviously done very partially and in haste?
Personally, I even doubts that some burial substances like aloes and myrrh (which traces has never been found by Adler or Rogers’ chemical investigations) could have been present inside the Shroud with the body, except maybe in solid form (maybe in powder). If that’s the case, it’s possible that this powder would have been placed inside some cloths (used as « bags ») and then disposed all around the Shroud man’s corpse inside the Shroud, which is an interesting hypothesis that was first proposed by doctor Pierre Barbet in his book about the Shroud and which, according to Barbet, would have been done basically for two reasons: 1- To retard a bit the decomposition process of the corpse. And 2- To remove bad smelling inside the tomb. And of course, this would have been done because those who did the incomplete burial of the Shroud man (this is a FACT) would have been well aware that they had to come back to the tomb later on to finish the job properly with a real anointment of the body. That was most certainly the main reason why the women needed to open Jesus tomb on Easter morning and the reason why they get there in a hurry very early was obviously to avoid facing a decomposed body and the very bad smelling that goes with it. But beside this possible presence of aloes and myrrh in powder inside the Shroud at the time of the image formation (which is a hypothesis that will probably never proven), I seriously doubt that there was any other thing, except for the dead and unwashed body of the Shroud man, still covered with blood and serum stains…
Now, after having exchanged some emails with Mr. Zias concerning the idea of flowers and/or plants that could have been used during the burial of the Shroud man, I decided to go further by asking him some questions in link with another well-known hypothesis concerning the possible presence of coins (often mentioned as being authentic « Pilatus coins » from Jesus era) over the eyes of the Shroud man.
Again, here’s parts of our exchange:
First, I send him this email: “Hello Mr. Zias!
Again, I need your knowledge on ancient Jewish burial practice! Along with the so-called images of flowers that some pro-Shroud guys said having seen on the cloth, they also claim that there would be images of coins over both eyes of the Shroud man and many of them goes further by pretending that these coins are Roman coins!
The only thing I would like to know is this : Does it was a common Jewish practice to put coins over the eyes of their deads during the burial ritual?“
And here’s the message he sent me: “It was never a Jewish custom and those coins that were found in the skull in Jericho were probably placed within the mouth, non Jewish Roman practice but in order to cover all bets we find it on rare occasion. Secondly, coins of Pontious Pilatis, sound like Monty Python. Joe Zias.”
Then, I send him the email: “In the case of the few coins that were found in ancient Jewish tombs, don’t you think, like me, that this is probably a pagan ritual done by some Hellenized Jews of that time?”
And here’s what he said to me: “Def. a roman pagan practice in which on occasion, Jews, in order to cover ‘all their bets’ placed coins in the mouth of the deceased.”
Then, I sent him this message: “Since we know that some Jews (many being from the upper class) were hellenized at the time of Christ, it’s not very surprising that archaeologists could find coins in Jewish tombs from time to time but, as you said well, this was surely not a common practice among Jews of that time… I think it’s fair to say that, when it comes to ancient Jewish burial ritual, the use of coins is the exception that confirms the rule, right?”
And here is reply: “Absolutely correct, in most cases when coins were found colleagues believed they simply fell out of the pockets of those visiting or preparing the tomb. only exceptions were Jericho and the Caiaphas tomb where they were found in situ, the latter is a clear case of hypocracy as this was the tomb of the family of the high priest.”
Then, I asked him one more question: “1- Beside coins, was it a common Jewish burial practice in the time of Christ to cover the eyes of their dead with other things like buttons, pieces of ceramic, pieces of potery, etc. ?”
And here’s his answer: “During the period in question, Jews never used anything to cover the eyes of the deceased as the head was wrapped in a shroud.”
Again, as I said at the beginning of my post, the only goal I seek here is to share these precious information with all of you. And after reading what Mr. Zias had to say about that, it’s now up to you to make up your mind about the idea of a possible presence of coins or some other thing over the eyes of the Shroud man. Personally, I’m now more convinced than ever that there was absolutely nothing present over his eyes at the end of the partial burial procedure… And if the eyes seems to pop-up on the 3D photos, this could simply be due to one of these two natural reasons : 1- For some unknown reason, there would have been a release of a greater quantity of « energy » (which could well be post-mortem gases) in the region of the eyes versus the surrounding area, which would have caused a very high concentration of yellowed fibers there. Or 2- The eyes of the Shroud man were simply very swollen, maybe due to the intense beating he received (which is an hypothesis that have been retained by Mel Gibson when he shoot his movie The Passion of the Christ). This pathological state would have caused a direct contact between the eyes and the cloth, thus causing a very high concentration of yellowed fibers there.
In conclusion, to illustrate better my thoughts on these controversial subjects, I propose you a fictive interview I would make with a reporter:
First question : Do you think there are images of flowers on the Shroud?
My answer : Since the data coming from the Shroud convinces me of the authenticity of the cloth, I’m also convinced that there is no such thing on the cloth, because we know for a fact that, historically, flowers or plants were not part of the common Jewish burial ritual in the days of Christ. And since the burial of the Shroud man was done very partially and in haste, I don’t see why the people who did it would have lose time picking flowers outside the tomb! In sum, I would say that it’s not because some people are seeing some images of flowers that these things are really there on the cloth…
Second question : Do you think there are images of coins on the Shroud over the eyes of the Shroud man?
My answer : Same thing! Since the data coming from the Shroud convinces me of the authenticity of the cloth, I’m also convinced that there is no such thing on the cloth, because we know for a fact that, historically, the use of coins in ancient Jewish burial was truly exceptional and happened only in the case of Jews that were very hellenized, which was obviously not the case for Christ and his followers who were all pious Jews. So much in fact that, even after the Resurrection, they were still going in the Temple of Jerusalem and in synagogues to preach! We also know that, in pagan burial rituals, only one coin was normally used and placed inside the mouth of the dead person and not over his eyes. And we also know that because the dead Jews were all placed inside burial shrouds, there was no need for the use of some other material (like a piece of ceramic or something like this) to cover the eyes of the dead in the case they would open after death. In sum, since the burial cloth was already covering the entire body of the person, there was no need to put something else over the eyes to cover them! Again, it’s not because some people are seeing some images of coins on the Shroud that this is really what’s there…
I hope this post of mine will help some people to make up their minds better regarding these topics! That’s all for the moment… Stay tuned for more! J
P.S.: I really think that those who have proposed these obviously wrong hypotheses should have done the same kind of “homework” I did before proposing them publicly! By getting in touch with a real expert in ancient Jewish burials, they would probably have come, just like me, to the evident conclusion that if the Shroud is authentic, there was most certainly no plants, no flowers, no coins and no other things like that present over the body or the eyes of the Shroud man when he was enveloped in that cloth… Interesting note on this subject: This is exactly what Ray Rogers did when he analyzed the nature of the image chromophore, which proves once again his high level of professionalism! Effectively, during his research on the subject, Rogers got in touch with Anna Maria Donadoni, who was a Conservator at the Turin’s Museum of Egyptology, in order to learn about the most common ancient method of manufacturing linen cloths and if such a technique could really produced a thin layer of carbohydrate impurities on the cloth’s surface, which would include traces of starch like the one detected by McCrone and by himself later on. It’s only AFTER having made this important check-up that he was confident enough to publicly propose an important change in STURP conclusion about the image chromophore, which is, as he said, probably not located inside the structure of the fiber itself but only in this kind of carbohydrate coating which is probably resting over a good portion of the topmost fibers on the cloth’s surface. That’s how good science is done! Obviously, in the cases of the 3 hypotheses I discussed in this post, we cannot talk about “good” science, but much more about “good” imagination!