The Shroud of Turin, a fabric bearing the negative image of a crucified man, is arguably the most researched Christian relic. Some believe it is the actual burial cloth that was folded over the historical Jesus after his crucifixion. Those who think the shroud is a miraculous imprint believe it was created by divine energy while Jesus rested in his tomb. This belief is countered by others who do not think that evidence exists to support the relic’s authenticity.
Researchers argue about The Shroud’s miraculous authenticity. Many approach their research with predetermined results in mind and ignore anything that goes against their desired conclusion while emphasizing any study that supports their opinion. Religiosity, or lack of it, sometimes causes Shroud researchers to demonstrate a stronger bias and use weaker methods than with other research topics.
Why Is the Shroud so Important?
The Shroud of Turin is supposedly not made by human hands, but through divine intervention. If the Shroud was truly made from Jesus’ body and face, it has recorded his exact likeness. Since Jesus’ body was, according to religion, resurrected into heaven, there are no corporeal elements remaining. Due to this, anything that touched the body of Jesus has become immensely important. The Shroud also has supposed blood stains which would have come directly from the body.
Historical Evidence Against the Shroud’s Authenticity
The Shroud does not show up in historical records until the 14th century. The earliest evidence of its existence is a pilgrim medallion that depicts an image of The Shroud. This should be considered strange since it is such an important relic, one would think it would be mentioned often.
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Once The Shroud was documented in written, historical record, most of the primary source information points to an inauthentic relic. The Bishop of Troyes, Henri Portiers, condemned The Shroud as a fake and a painter was identified during the 14th century. The cloth was subsequently hidden for 34 years until the Anti-Pope Clement said that it could be venerated as an icon, but it must be noted at every showing that it is not authentic.
It is also important to note that there were “corporations of relic forgery” during the 14th century because forgers could sell their pieces to important figures and make large sums of money. It is not out of the question to think that The Shroud could be one of these forgeries.
Lack of Biblical Representation
The Gospel of John describes multiple clothes or linens wrapping the deceased body of Jesus instead of a single shroud. The Bible also did not mention any sort of image on the cloth, which would have been seen as a miracle and something important to include.
Scientific Data Dates the Shroud Later
In the 1980s, a team of researchers carbon-dated the Shroud. The results dated the cloth to the years 1260-1360, much later than Jesus’ death. C-14 carbon dating is widely accepted among the scientific community.
Scientists argue that no natural process could possibly print an image from a dead body onto a cloth. Decaying bodies do not make these images, otherwise, this would be a common phenomenon. One would have to believe in supernatural causes to believe the image was printed from the body.
Even though there was iron found in the blood spots, the presence of iron alone does not prove that it is actually blood. Studies do not show any signs of potassium, which is an essential element of blood. Around the time that The Shroud was found in the 14th century, tempera paints were made with animal collagen that included iron. This ultimately supports the argument that a medieval painter created the image more than a miraculous print.
For The Shroud’s Authenticity
Believers state that The Shroud actually did exist in records before the 14th century, it was just referred to as The Edessa Shroud. This shroud was discussed in written records dating back to the first century. They also argue that Henri Portiers was from a different church and may have declared The Shroud’s inauthenticity in order to keep the city of Turin from becoming a strong center of power and pilgrimage money. Relics had the power to change a city’s entire economy and Portiers did not want to lose power to Turin.
Believers consider that the details point to its authenticity. Since relics were forged so often and never scrutinized, there is no reason that the forger of this relic would have put such extreme levels of forensic detail and biblical accuracy into the image. It would have been accepted as truth with much less effort on the part of the forger.
Biblical Records Miscommunicated about The Shroud
Though The Shroud is not mentioned in the Gospel, some say that The Gospel of John was the last one made, and, therefore, the least reliable. The book could have gotten the information wrong. They also mention a simple mistranslation of The Bible. The original word used to describe the body wrappings may be better translated to the term shroud, not linens, based on our knowledge of the original language.
Scientific Data Is Not 100% Accurate
Believers argue that carbon dating is not always accurate and cannot be taken seriously into consideration. It has been proven wrong in some instances. The piece of cloth tested could have also changed the results. The Shroud survived a fire, and new cloth was added to the edges in the Middle Ages, bringing up a later date in the tests.
They also believe the image was created by divine energy and presence through a scientific process called photolysis. In this process, the holy energies of Jesus radiated light from his body and imprinted onto the cloth lying on his body. This caused a 3D, photo-negative effect in the image. Believers cite the accuracy of the 3D image when giving reasons that The Shroud is an authentic relic.
Since The Shroud of Turin could be such an important relic, believers viscerally want to prove its validity. Nonbelievers seem to have a similar passion to prove that their belief is unfounded. Now that miracles and the grace of God are questioned, and tests can be done to prove at least some facts, the Shroud’s authenticity is under heavier scrutiny than ever before.