Dueling Shroud Claims: Fence!!

I had heard that a new Shroud book was on the way this autumn, but I hadn't heard any real details on it yet. The Associated Press has now released an article on at least one main new claim from historian Barbara Frale's book: the identification and translation of scribbled letters in Greek, Latin and Aramaic detected over (or near) the head of the Shroud.

The letters (or anyway the appearance of letters) have been known about for some time; the last I had heard, the prevailing theory was that they were due to coins on the eyes: specifically a Roman coin with a shepherd's staff and the Greek inscription TIBERIOU CAISEROS (known to have been minted between 29 and 32 CE) on the right eye, and a Julia lepton on the left eye. (Both coins would be 'leptons' of different sorts.)

The AP article, however, reports that high resolution photos of the Shroud taken in 2002 showed no evidence of coins; thus undermining what, until then, had been a long-running theory with a lot of progressing inductive confirmation through successive studies with better technology. (Which disconfirmation evidence I hadn't heard about myself, though I hardly bother to keep entirely up to date on Shroud studies either.)

Dr. Frale, pressing the issue, now hypothesizes that the letters she detects come from a death certificate that would have been placed over the face of the deceased by Roman officials until the body was claimed by the family.

Antonio Lambatti, a church historian and author of other books on the Shroud, rejects the idea that a Roman authority would have provided a death certificate for the body, since Jesus had been crucified and so would have more likely been unceremoniously dumped in a common grave. Of course, all the Gospels are unanimous (with various details) that a high-ranking Sanhedrin member petitioned Pilate for the body and received permission to bury it. So the real issue here would seem to go back to the plausibility of Joseph of Arimathea's side of the story. (As well as the existence of a possibly sympathetic centurion in charge of the execution.) Without JosArim, or someone effectively like him (Nicodemus, for example), a major portion of the Gospels' accounts of what happened to the body (and why) are in serious trouble anyway, including having any kind of shroud at all for the body of a crucified man. On the other hand, if Frale's analysis holds any water, this could add plausibility to the claim of the existence and actions of JosArim, or someone like him. (Though of course both appeals shouldn't be circularly attempted at once.)

The AP article dutifully reports scepticism based on the carbon-dating results, though it doesn't report much scepticism based on direct criticism of Dr. Frale's analysis (yet). The article also neglects to mention the significant amount of scientific criticism of the carbon-dating test (including from the two scientists who invented both kinds of carbon-dating processes in the first place.) But the reporter may not have known about that.

Professor Luigi Garlaschelli briefly weighs in with the information about the coins not being found in the 2002 high-res photos after all. Dr. Garlaschelli recently made headlines (as discussed here on the Cadre Journal, back in October) for purportedly reproducing the weird discoloration effects of the Shroud's image using methods available in the 14th century. This article posted at Freerepublic goes into far more detail about the Dr.'s experiments, and the results, than anything else I've found so far. (It's only been a month and a half-ish since Dr. G's announcement of his results, so there isn't much out yet. I was pleased to find something with so much detail this early!) Commenters are welcome to post links to any more detailed analyses they know of, pro or con; ditto for Dr. Frale's claims, of course.

(The Cadre's quasi-official position on the Shroud, by the way, is... chocolate chip cookie! {g} It's fun to chew on--I find the wealth of detail personally very interesting myself, as well as the analytical debates back and forth--but it isn't a meal.)


Jason Pratt said…
Just a comment-tracking registration.
BK said…
I love the shroud. I find it hard to believe that such writing exists on the Shroud that has escaped notice for all this time. I look forward to seeing more about this.
Jason Pratt said…
Note: the AP article wasn't very clear about whether Barbara Frale held a doctorate (though I couldn't imagine her getting this far in publishing without one), so in my original version of the article I didn't include that honorific. (After all, we now live in a day of authors who can get attention as experts without having first qualified with a doctorate in that subject. Which certainly I'm not going to complain about in principle! {wry g} Even when the results are as ridiculous as, say, Richard Dawkins trying to pontificate about 'religion' and 'Christianity'. Pun intended.)

Anyway, I've run across some evidence now that she does indeed have a doctorate (in something--I still don't know what yet), so I've adjusted the text of my article above accordingly.


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