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The Shroud of Turin is either the most awesome and instructive relic of Jesus Christ in existence . or it is one of the most ingenious, most unbelievably clever, products of the human mind and hand on record; there is no middle ground. (John Walsh, The Shroud, 1963)
The Shroud of Turin is a centuries old linen cloth that bares the image of a crucified man; a man that millions believe to be Jesus of Nazareth. Is it really the cloth that wrapped his crucified body, or is it simply a medieval forgery, a hoax perpetrated by some clever artist? Modern 20th century science has completed hundreds of thousands of hours of detailed study and intense research on the Shroud. It is, in fact, the single most studied artifact in human history, and more is known about it today than ever before. Yet, the controversy still rages on. This paper will provide different arguments and theories that have been proposed by those on both sides of the issue because then, by knowing the facts and theories, one can make up their own mind about the Shroud. To begin with we will examine the actual Shroud itself.
The Turin Shroud is currently kept inside three locked containers in the Turin Cathedral: a wooden case, an asbestos-covered iron chest, and a silver-decorated wooden casket. Inside its casket, the Shroud is rolled around a velvet-covered staff and wrapped in red silk. It has a backing of Holland cloth, which was added in 1532 after it was damaged in a fire. It is a strip of pale biscuit-colored linen, 4.4meters by 1.9meters with an additional 8centimeter strip on its left-hand side. It bears various folds and blemishes that have been accumulated throughout its long life. Most conspicuous are the marks of the aforementioned 1532 fire, which burned through one corner of the cloth, damaging it in several places, most notably through the shoulders of the image. The burn-holes have been repaired with patches of altar cloth, but blackened areas are still clearly visible around them. There are also four sets of three round burn-holes dating from before the 1532 fire, which are generally known as poker marks, because that is what they are widely thought to have been. The four sets line up when the cloth is folded, so many believe they were made at the same time, possibly in an attempt to test the Shroud s authenticity by subjecting it to trial by fire. The burn marks, whatever their significance, are not the reason that people look upon the Shroud. It is the image that attracts all the attention, for is it not truly the image of the Lord Jesus Christ? Down the center of the cloth, taking up nearly 4meters of its total length are two images showing the front and back of a naked, well-proportioned man. The cloth is believed to be a winding sheet, which means that the corpse would have been laid on one half, and his front covered with the other. The man is bearded, with very long hair hanging down past the shoulders at the back, and stopping at shoulder-length at the front. The hands are modestly crossed over the groin region. The sole of one foot, darkened with what appears to be blood, is clearly outlined on the image of the back. Also, there are small, pierced wounds on the head, and a round one on the only visible wrist as if a nail had been driven through it. There is a wound as if from a large stab in the chest, blood from which also runs across the small of the back. The face appears to be swollen and contused, and over 100 scourge marks have been counted on the back. These wounds also curl around to the front of the body and legs.
It was not until 1898 though, that serious interest in the Shroud was generated. It had previously been viewed as a curiosity because the image was too faint to make out clearly with the naked eye; the body seemed impossibly tall and thin, and the eyes looked owl-like as if the man were wearing sunglasses. But, in 1898 a lawyer from the town of Turin, Secondo Pia, was asked to take the first photographs of the Shroud. He was also a keen amateur photographer and a local councilor. In total, Pia took ten photographs, and they were undoubtedly the most significant of his career. This is because, seen in the picture s negatives for the first time the image suddenly came into focus. Rather than a vague outline of a bearded man, there was a massively detailed photograph of a terribly wound real body. It was a horrific, and brutal example of man s inhumanity against himself, accomplished through the art of crucifixion.
In order to prove that this Holy Shroud was genuinely the burial shroud of Jesus Christ, Shroudies conducted extensive research and presented these following arguments and theories.
First of all, to disprove that the image was painted on, the researchers examined the image itself. They found that there were no substantial traces of pigment, ink or dyes found on the cloth. Also, looked at under a microscope, the color of the image showed no sign of soaking along the threads, as most paints would. Even individual threads showed coloring on just one side. They found it inconceivable that an artistic technique would not allow any paint to soak through something just 0.3millimeters thick.
Also, after studying the image, anatomists and forensic scientists agreed that the physique was consistent with a real human body; some even went as far as saying that it was too flawless to be the work of an artist. Pierre Barbet, who worked with freshly amputated arms, showed that the only way that the weight of a nailed body could be supported would be by nailing it through the wrists, as seen in the image. In contrast, many artistic depictions and interpretations of Jesus crucifixion show the nails in the hands. He also discovered that the nail, driven through the wrist, would have struck the median nerve, causing the thumb to retreat into the palm. Consequently, the thumbs of the man on the Shroud are invisible.
One of the favorite theories of scientific Shroudies is that the image was not in itself a miracle, but that it was the by-product of one- the Resurrection. This theory has been recently promoted by John Jackson (co-founder of the Shroud of Turin Research Project Inc) as the nuclear-flash theory. Proponents of this theory suggest that, as the image resembles a scorch-mark, it was caused by a split second burst of high-energy radiation coming from Jesus body as it regenerated. In an attempt to explain the results of the carbon dating test, believers claim that had the Shroud been subjected to the blast of radiation, the amount of radioactive carbon-14 would have increased, causing the Shroud to appear to be much younger than it really was.
Another theory suggests that the image was formed through rare natural processes, chemical reactions between the body of Jesus and the cloth of the Shroud. This theory was first put forth by Paul Vignon as the vapourographic theory. He speculated that the cloth was saturated with aromatic oils that contained myrrh and aloes, which reacted with the ammonia gas given off by the body. As a result, he concluded that the image must have been projected to produce a vapor photo.
In order to disprove these arguments and theories, non-believers have conducted equally as extensive research to provide rational explanations for the formation of the image and the origins of the Shroud.
Most notably, in 1988, carbon dating tests were carried out to determine once and for all whether or not the Shroud was a hoax. The principle of carbon dating is this: carbon-14 is a radioactive form of carbon that is produced in the upper atmosphere by the action of cosmic rays. It is absorbed by all organisms and can be detected in them. The rate of absorption is constant throughout the organism s life, and when it dies, the carbon-14 deteriorates at a constant rate. What the carbon dating process does is, it measures the amount of carbon-14 in the sample; as the amount that would have been present in the living organism could be calculated, and the difference between that and the existing amount shows the age of the sample. After intensive lobbying from several parties, the Vatican granted permission for the cloth to be carbon dated. So, on April 21, 1988, a 7centimeter piece of the Shroud was cut from one corner, providing the non-believers with the sample they coveted. On October 13, 1988 the results were released, showing that it was 99.9% certain that the Shroud originated from the period 1000 to 1500 and 95% certain that it dated from between 1260 and 1390. As far as they were concerned, the Holy Shroud of Turin was a fake. Furthermore, the dates suggested by the tests pinpointed exactly the same period in history as that when the Holy Shroud first appeared.
In response to the Shroudies nuclear flash theory, the opposition was confident that they could scientifically prove that the theory was full of holes, as the Shroud would have been had it been exposed to such a process. They stated that were the nuclear flash theory valid, the energy released would have been so great that it would have destroyed not only the cloth itself, but also a large part of Jerusalem. Also, they found that all radiation spreads out from its source in all directions, therefore, the shroud would have been equally scorched in all parts. To produce the Shroud image, the radiation would have had to travel directly up, perpendicular with the body, and also directly down to produce the back image, and in no other direction.
As for Vignon s vapourographic theory, researchers exposed many basic flaws, which all but disproved it as credible. They recognized that any chemical reaction would have continued through the cloth as the rising vapor passed through, whereas the Shroud image is only on one side of the cloth. Also, to produce the image, the gas would have had to travel in parallel lines and decrease in density as it moved further away from the body. Unfortunately, vapors do not travel in perfectly straight lines but instead diffuse and convect, which would have resulted in a blurry image.
One of the most intriguing theories that has been put forth as to explain the origins of the Shroud identifies Leonardo da Vinci as the ingenious mastermind behind the hoax. Supporters of this theory point out that the carbon dating results coincide not only with the time span that included the height of fake relics, but also the lifespan of Da Vinci. As Pierre Barbet says, If this be the work of a forger, he must have been a super-genius as an anatomist, a physiologist and an artist (Rinaldi, The Man in the Shroud, 1974 pg. 37). Those who believe in this theory also believe that Leonardo clearly displayed these characteristics throughout this life, as demonstrated by the wondrous works that he accomplished. In order to create the Shroud, Leonardo must have had a great knowledge of anatomy, and an obsession with perfection that went beyond the need to satisfy the public. It is known that Leonardo was a pioneering anatomist, in that he was one of the first people to dissect corpses in an attempt to discover how the human body worked. His perfectionism is summed up by one writer: Leonardo would spend hours, days, or even weeks studying the muscle of an animal appearing in the background of a painting so that it could be drawn perfectly (Baigent et al. The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, 1982 pg. 126). Proponents of this view think that had Leonardo been compelled to recreate the crucifixion, he would have undoubtedly researched the anatomy of the physical position and the physiological changes that would have resulted from that particular form of execution. It is thought that he would have discovered the proper position for the nails to be hammered in at the wrists and ankles. Finally, he also worked on a secret machine made of mirrors in the 1490 s, the purpose of which is unknown, but mirrors concentrate light and heat and both are required to produce an image like the Shroud. Now that we have identified the means that would have enabled Da Vinci to create the Shroud we turn our focus to the motive.
It is speculated that Leonardo was a member of a group known as the Priory of Sion. The members of this association denounced Jesus as a false prophet and acknowledged John the Baptist as the true Messiah. This would explain why they participated in rituals that involved trampling or spitting on the cross. Non-Shroudies also point out that in the image on the Shroud, it seems as if the head is separate from the body, better known as the severed head effect. One explanation for this separation is that Leonardo intended for it to be a pun, saying that the one who was beheaded (John the Baptist) is over the one who was crucified. As these examples illustrate, as a member of the Priory of Sion, Leonardo would have cherished the opportunity to be able to create such a mockery of Jesus crucifixion as it challenged the very religion it was supposed to exemplify so uniquely.
Personally, I feel that if people believe that the Shroud of Turin is truly a miracle, which Joe Nickell defines as supernatural phenomena believed to have divine origin (Nickell, Looking for a Miracle, 1983 pg.10), then they should not be so concerned with proving it as such. As it says in the New International Version of the Bible, in John chapter 10, verse 25: Jesus answered, I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracle I do in my Father s name speak for me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. As believers in Jesus and his resurrection, people should not be worried about getting others to agree with their beliefs, because as non-Christians, their lack of faith restricts them from understanding God s works. Also, I think that, in general, today s society relies too much on science to provide explanations for various occurrences in everyday life. No matter how advanced, or smart, or how much technology we possess, there will always be things that cannot be explained and we must accept that. I also understand that some of the theories presented by the Shroudies do seem a little sketchy, but the fact that they are even trying to explain it in scientific terms is faulty in itself.
In conclusion, regardless of all the research and studies that have been, and will be, conducted, this debate will continue to go on for years to come. The reason is that, on one side, you have people relying on their faith to explain the phenomena, while on the other side you have people trying to provide scientific evidence that supports their view. Both sets of beliefs are deeply rooted in things that consider their way to be the right way and as such, any other explanation is false.
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