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A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

Have you ever gone to the kitchen to get a banana or some other healthy snack and found yourself staring smack dab at a big chocolate chip cookie? It is a decadent pleasure -- one that we ought to feel guilty about enjoying, but one that we can't help but sample because it is simply so enjoyable.

That's the way I feel about the Shroud of Turin.

We are, after all, a serious blog for Christian apologists. We discuss the veracity of scriptures and the meaning of rather in-depth phrases in response to the challenges that we encounter on our trip around the Internet.

But then, I see the Shroud. The Shroud of Turin - it is like the chocolate chip cookie. It isn't something that should side-track our effort to establish the truth of the Gospels and the Lordship of Jesus Christ, but it is a fun little side attraction on the way.

Over the past few years, I have blogged on several occasions about the Shroud. Let me make this clear: I don't know if the Shroud is the actual burial cloth of Jesus Christ -- in fact, I tend to doubt it. But what if it is? I mean, as I said previously, " There are good reasons to think that it is real, but there are also good reasons to think that it is an extremely good fake. I personally haven't made up my mind one way or another about the Shroud, for while it is truly a fascinating artifact, if it is ever demonstrated conclusively not to be the actual burial cloth of Jesus it will have absolutely no impact on my faith. Still, the possibility that it is genuine is one of the things that make the Shroud so fascinating."

The thing that makes the Shroud such a mystery is that it is an incredible piece of work -- it seems that no one has an explanation as to how the shroud could have been produced -- at least, not until now. According to an article from Reuters entitled Italian scientist reproduces Shroud of Turin, Luigi Garlaschelli, a professor of organic chemistry at the University of Pavia, has managed to reproduce the Shroud using materials that were avaiable in the Middle Ages -- the time period in which detractors of the Shroud claim that the Shroud was produced. According to the article:

Garlaschelli reproduced the full-sized shroud using materials and techniques that were available in the middle ages.

They placed a linen sheet flat over a volunteer and then rubbed it with a pigment containing traces of acid. A mask was used for the face.

The pigment was then artificially aged by heating the cloth in an oven and washing it, a process which removed it from the surface but left a fuzzy, half-tone image similar to that on the Shroud. He believes the pigment on the original Shroud faded naturally over the centuries.

They then added blood stains, burn holes, scorches and water stains to achieve the final effect.

Professor Garlaschelli, who received funding from atheist and agnostic groups, did not produce his duplicate for examination by the press or other scientists (yet), but has merely produced photos and his paper purporting to demonstrate that his work has disproved the genuiness of the Shroud.

Excuse me if I am not yet impressed.

I believe that (as skeptics would certainly agree) it is best to allow Professor Garlaschelli's shroud to be examined by people who have spent their life examining the Shroud and the intricacy of the design. I believe that several other people have attempted to make replicas in the past, and all of the others have failed to produce a copy that compares to the original upon closer examination.

Also, while Professor Garlaschelli says that his funding made no difference in his result, I am not quite ready to accept him at his word. This is especially true when the article reveals a certain cockiness on his part that is inconsistent with what I believe a non-partisan scientists might say. Specifically, the professor comments:

"If they don't want to believe carbon dating done by some of the world's best laboratories they certainly won't believe me," he said.

Yeah. Never mind that there is some question about the accuracy of radio carbon dating of recent objects. Consider, just as an example, the following from essortment (in a short essay that makes no reference at all to the Shroud or other problems that pop up in the Skeptic/Christian debate):

Although the theory of radiocarbon dating is interesting, there are several inherent problems with the process. The first of these problems is the fact that the original ratio of carbon and radioactive carbon is unknown. The second problem is that the possibility of contamination of the sample over time is quite high. The older the sample the higher the probability of contamination, in fact! What this means is that using carbon dating to date very old samples is really quite impractical given our current level of knowledge and technological capabilities.

While carbon dating continues to be considered by many as a viable way of obtaining authoritative dates for a wide range of artifacts and remains, there is much room for error in the process. Even the use of accelerator mass spectrometry to analyze the relative levels of carbon and radioactive carbon has resulted in flawed determinations. It is not uncommon for different laboratories to determine quite different ages for the same artifact! While some of this deviation could possibly be explained by contamination or erred methodology in the labs themselves, it is apparent that the problems with carbon dating are much more complex than that.

Very simply put, too many things are unknown to allow the carbon dating process to be as accurate as many proclaim it to be. Factors as diverse as changes in the earth’s magnetic field and changes in the amount of carbon available to organisms in times past could translate into perceivable differences in the carbon ratios in artifacts and remains from ancient times. Even changes in the atmosphere itself could impact this carbon ratio. We know that changes such as these have occurred over time. They are still occurring today in fact.

It is the hutzpa of his response that makes me wonder about his work. Why not simply say something like, "I believe that my method has produced an exact replica of the Shroud, but I will anxiously await further examination to confirm my preliminary observations"? That would make me believe that he was less of a shill for his funders.

Let me repeat what I have said before: faith doesn't hinge on the authenticity of the Shroud as the actual burial cloth of Jesus. The New Testament doesn't say, "believe in Jesus because we have his burial shroud." It contends that we should believe in Jesus because of the testimony of the witnesses to the fact that he has risen. The Shroud, if it is the burial cloth of Jesus, adds weight to those claims because the image implanted in the Shroud has yet to be explained.

However, if Professor Garlaschelli has, in fact, produced a replica of the Shroud which passes examination, then it will have no more impact on my faith than if he had proven that cats can't eat grapes -- it is irrelevant.


In John 20: 6-7 we read,

"6Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, 7and(G) the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’[a] head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself."

Doesn't this make it impossible for the shroud of turin to be Jesus' burial clothing? There was a piece that covered the head and another that covered the body, which is different from the shroud of turin.

What do you think?

Ed (or maybe Adri? {g}),

The {sindon} would have covered the whole body, regardless of whether an extra cloth was placed over the face or tied around the face to keep the jaws together. ({othonia} is a plural of a different word than {sindon}, and is used in GosLuke in relation to the same object; GosJohn uses {othonia} only, but is the Gospel which specifically mentions the extra piece of cloth.)

Since the marking on the Shroud is certainly not made by blood (or pigmentation either--the closest parallel so far is like a photonegative discoloration of fibers from a high-radiation event), the existence of a cloth over the face would not be a major issue; but it's unclear whether there was supposed to be a cloth over or only around the face anyway.

Of related interest is that there is an artifact currently called (in Spanish) "El Sudario", which is a direct port from the Greek description in GosJohn {sudarion} about the head-cloth. While there is significant evidence of the Shroud's existence predating its supposed forgery in the middle-Middle-Ages, going back to (or through) the 7th century, there is definitely certain provenance attestation of the Sudario going back at least to the 7th century (when the Persians overran Jerusalem); and its details, as a cloth wrapped around a bloody head, match up interestingly well with various details of the Shroud: notably the complexity of the dorsal wounds on the head, and the length of the nose. Unfortunately, it isn't very clear what the compositional details of the Sudarion's stains are. I gather they're bloodstains, and not the strange markings of the Shroud; but then this introduces the question of why the same type of markings weren't left on the Sudarion, if it's authentic.

In any case, the Sudarion does show (via polarized-light comparative analysis) a lot of correspondence with the Shroud, so if one is fake it was probably based on the other. And the Shroud has had a lot more specific scientific analysis; which is the main reason why people keep picking at the radiocarbon analysis from 1988. (I've read the report, and unless it was modified later it doesn't actually have some of the problems attributed to it.) It isn't because people's faith hang so precariously on the genuineness of this artifact--Protestants diss Roman Catholic artifacts on general principle anyway. It's because there's a huge amount of scientific data regarding the Shroud that makes a medieval forgery proportionately improbable (or even impossible). It's a major puzzle even from the perspective of secular science.


Concerning the carbon 14 tests, did you ever see the article publish by Ray Rogers in Thermochimica Acta (a peer-reviewed journal) in 2004?

Link here :

I just thought it might be of interest to you.

Also, there appears to be a "second face" on the Shroud (info from the peer-reviewed Journal of Optics):

I wonder if the Italian scientist's shroud has this feature also?


No, I hadn't seen that study. For those of you not wanting to follow the link to the article, the summary reads:

In 1988, radiocarbon laboratories at Arizona, Cambridge, and Zurich determined the age of a sample from the Shroud of Turin. They reported that the date of the cloth's production lay between a.d. 1260 and 1390 with 95% confidence. This came as a surprise in view of the technology used to produce the cloth, its chemical composition, and the lack of vanillin in its lignin. The results prompted questions about the validity of the sample.

Preliminary estimates of the kinetics constants for the loss of vanillin from lignin indicate a much older age for the cloth than the radiocarbon analyses. The radiocarbon sampling area is uniquely coated with a yellow–brown plant gum containing dye lakes. Pyrolysis-mass-spectrometry results from the sample area coupled with microscopic and microchemical observations prove that the radiocarbon sample was not part of the original cloth of the Shroud of Turin. The radiocarbon date was thus not valid for determining the true age of the shroud.

It this peer reviewed study is accurate, then Garlaschelli isn't even using the right time period for saying that he was using materials available at the time.

And no, I am confident that Garlaschelli's shroud has no second face. :)

OK, but the scientists didn't choose the sample. Or rather the six samples that were chosen. The vatican did. So if the vatican people were so daft as to choose from an area that would be the one fake in a big Shroud, you almost have to laugh. Not very lucky are they? And if that was a bad sample. NO prob. Lets do it again with a good sample. Im dying to know. Im sure that lots of labs would love to retest it.

What Im trying to figure out is why does everyone think its Jesus. Never mind the time it came from. Lots of people are curcified, right? So who says its him, just because of a similar death and wounds? Cos if thats all, then I don't even know why anyone cares when it was done. It still is no closer to proving who it is. There is a reason we think its Him, right?

Anon 1: There's still some dispute as to how the sample was chosen. The original protocol for selecting and testing samples, which would have been far more rigorous (and costly, and perhaps more damaging to the Shroud) was abandoned without clear explanation; and a simplified version was again abandoned without clear explanation for an even-more-simplified testing protocol. (Even Harry Grove, who helped develop the AMS testing method that would be finally used, and who tended to be very critical of the scientific project of analyzing the Shroud, was outraged at this abandonment of proper protocol; and issued a joint statement with Garman Harbottle, who had helped develop the older and more destructive proportional counter method of radiocarbon testing, that "we are opening the door, perhaps, to an enormous controversy, to endless disputes and recriminations that could stretch forever."

Sure enough. {g} The Vatican officials Gonnella and Ballestero, who authorized both rejections of previously submitted protocols, were blamed when they insisted researchers take only one sample from Rae's Corner (widely regarded as the single most contaminated part of the Shroud) because, quote, "That was where it had been cut before." (It's also probably where the Shroud had been hung by most for display.) Gonnella, at a conference the following May, charged that Michael Tite of the British Museum, who was in charge of coordinating research of the three labs that would analyze the single piece, and also representatives of the Oxford labs, "behaving like dogs", had pressured him into changing the protocol; hoping (so he said) that the Church would then refuse permission for the test and be subsequently pilloried by an orchestrated press campaign saying they had refused the simplified testing protocols due to being an enemy of science and afraid of the truth.

(Cardinal Bellestero was far more conciliatory toward Tite and the representatives of the testing teams, saying it wasn't the place of the Church to question their results, much less to censor them, and that the testing crews up to that time deserved only the Church's respect.)

To clarify: six samples were not chosen and tested. One sample was chosen for testing by three labs. They tested other control samples, too, but not from the Shroud. (All samples, including from the Shroud, were clearly labeled, including as to expected dates--a huge breach of protocol, though the testing departments point out in their joint report that they thought the type of weave would be obvious as to its dating by microscopic observation anyway.)

Ruffin's book on the Shroud, dating back to 1999 or 2000, still looks (unfortunately) to be the most comprehensive tally of data in print at this time. (Fortunately, we're likely to see a slew of new Shroud books soon, including one out of the gate later this year, due to some anniversary or other.) Testing was still being done on the Shroud up to the time of that printing; and the results indicate that it may always be intrinsically difficult to carbon-date the Shroud in any case, due to various factors of its known history. (Primarily, being exposed to carbon infiltration during the fire, and also to superheated melted silver reliquaries which have been proven elsewhere to introduce a kinetic isotope effect.)

Interestingly, another factor is that the image is not paint or scorching but is some other so-far-undetermined discoloration (though random paint particles are certainly present down in the fibers, too.) Michael Tite allowed in 1989 that the production of extra amounts of carbon-14 from nitrogen present in the linen was certainly possible "if someone has bombarded the shroud with a strong burst of neutrons". It has long been noted that the image, in its discoloration characteristics and 3D properties, resembles nothing so much as an X-ray negative or the kind of shadow left by organic material after a nuclear detonation. (Though there are obviously differences from these as well.)


Anon 2: {{Lots of people are curcified, right? So who says its him, just because of a similar death and wounds?}}

Physiologically the man appears to be Semitic (with a neat Nazarite hair-tail, by the way, and some evidence that he was wearing phylacteries: those little Jewish boxes on his head and arm that would have held bits of the Torah.) Blood stains test positive at least for male primate (and I have heard, though I cannot pin it down at the moment, that the blood type has post-2000 been confirmed as well as being that most common for humans with a Semitic ancestry). The blood's oddly red color (normally blood dries near black) has been confirmed to be due to massive amounts of bilirubin, exuded by severe trauma.

Coins appearing to date from the time of Pontius Pilate appear to be placed on the eyes. (One matches extremely well with a Tiberius lepton, and one with a Julia lepton. Unusual for Jewish burials at that time to use coins to keep the eyes closed, but not unheard of.)

Severe head wounds match a cap of thorns. (Plenty of people crucified, not so many with thorn wounds in the head--we only know of one of those mentioned in any ancient texts! The common notion of a wreath of thorns as a 'crown' is anachronistic, by the way.) Indications are that the man died quickly on the cross but without the crucifragium (the breaking of the legs)--also unusual for crucifixion victims. There is some evidence of pleura (easily mistaken for water) emerging with blood from the spear thrust between the ribs. (Not unusual, but still fitting the profile.)

Spectral analysis indicates a wide variety of flowers, buds, stems and fruit are part of the image (closely resembling images made by a coronal discharge); 28 have been tentatively identified, all of which happen to grow either in Jerusalem or in the Judean region between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. Pollen particles found in the cloth match 25 of these species. Most of these species bloom from March to April.

Image analysis also includes impressions of at least one crucifixion-style nail, a sponge on a stick, a cap of thorns, two scourges, a large hammer, and a pair of pliars--as well as a Roman spear! A Jewish custom, possibly (though not certainly) dating back to early-mid 1st century, prefers all items in contact with blood of a dying person should be interred with the person. This would be extremely unlikely for a crucifixion victim, without sympathy from at least the sergeant in charge of the execution squad (itself highly unlikely). Plus, as is well known, the Romans didn't usually allow proper burial for crucifixion victims anyway except in special circumstances (since the whole point was to punish traitors to the Empire through this special execution method.)

This is completely aside from a trail of artistic evidence dating back to the 2nd century, which in its earlier stages matches one legend of the Shroud's progression, and which eventually supplanted the original blonde-greek-god artistic representations of Christ with the stereotypical visual tropes we find most often in art concerning Him--tropes which match the image of the Shroud (though that could be dependent the other way around of course.) Of most important interest for dating purposes, is a painting that definitely far predates the supposed creation of the Shroud (per C-14 dating results), which clearly shows a painter's guess of how the body was wrapped in a shroud featuring the same damage marks this shroud does. (And also some of the artifacts imaged in the Shroud. Another interesting artistic motif is that the flowers in paintings about the Passion and Burial often match those detected in two independent fashions in the Shroud.)

To sum up:

If it's a fake, then someone at some time during or before the High Middle Ages, killed a Jewish man by crucifixion in a fashion very detailed to Christ (but with details beyond the texts that would indicate him to be a specially devout Jew), wrapped him in a cloth known to be of a weave and composition (and cotton breed!) found only among wealthy people in 1st century Palestine, with props so highly detailed to the time and region that only modern scientific examination can now detect them, transferred that image in some baffling way to the extreme outer surface of the cloth as a photo-negative, and then got rid of the body and the props (instead of promoting the props along with the cloth as being OMG the real relics of Christ's crucifixion y'all!!1!! {g}).

If it's real, but not Christ, then it's the burial shroud of some other specially devout Jewish man of the correct age and bodily structure (of active work, like a carpenter) executed by crucifixion after a scourging and beating with a crowning cap of thorns, who only suffered for some hours before dying, who wasn't given the crucifragium (but was given the typical spear-stab to ensure death), who was then provided with a burial by some wealthy patron and a sympathetic Roman (possibly the same person) in dirt and packing flowers typical only (in combination) for Judea in the spring, whose body (and the stuff around it) somehow left not only the expected bloodmarks but also some freaky photo-negative discoloration most reminiscent of a high-grade nuclear burst--which, understandably {g!}, then was mistaken for Christ's and paraded around for two thousand years, slowly but surely inspiring an overarching artistic theme about Christ's appearance (and some details of His burial) in its first thousand years of existence.


Update: in connection with an Associated Press article on claims about the meaning of those letters around the head (if they exist at all) being made in a new book released soon this autumn, Dr. Garlaschelli (the guy mentioned in the main post above) relates that high-res photos of the Shroud in 2002 significantly disconfirm the existence of coins on the eyes. (News to me, but then I don't really keep up with Shroud news that much. I did want to post a qualifying comment here, however, against what I wrote about the coins above. What other high-level Shroud scholars think about the coin theory now, I have no idea yet.)

For recent updates, both on the new theory about the letters (if they exist) and a link to the most detailed analysis of Dr. G's experiments that I've read so far (though it's still only mid-Nov 2009 as I write this comment), please move along to this Cadre article here.)


To qualify again: I don't consider myself anything like a "high-level" Shroud scholar (or even much of a scholar about the Shroud at all). I only meant I don't know what scholars other than Dr. G think about the coin theory now.


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