What Does the Shroud of Turin Prove about Easter?

Re-posted from National Review  April 4, 2015


Is this the Real Face of the man in the Shroud of Turin? Credit: History Channel - Real Face of Jesus?
Is this the face of the man in the Shroud of Turin? Credit: History Channel – Real Face of Jesus?

This weekend Christians around the globe will begin their annual celebration of Easter, or Resurrection Sunday, commemorating what they consider to be the greatest event in human history. The basis for the world’s largest religion is the belief that, in Jerusalem around A.D. 33, an itinerant Jewish rabbi died as a result of crucifixion and after three days rose from the dead, fulfilling his own and numerous other ancient Messianic prophecies found in the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament.

Sounding too much like science fiction, this tale is easily dismissed by non-believers. However, millions of Christians firmly believe that material scientific proof of the Christ’s resurrection actually exists today, and that evidence is called the Shroud of Turin.

The Shroud, alleged to be the burial cloth of Jesus, is the most studied, tested, and analyzed religious relic the world has ever known. It is preserved in an underground vault in the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Turin, Italy. Beginning April 19, the Shroud will be on a rare public display, through June 24. Pope Francis is scheduled to pray in front of the Shroud on June 21, and his visit to Turin will generate enormous global media attention.

The Shroud’s public exposition, highlighted by the pope’s visit, naturally will also generate a debate about the Shroud’s authenticity. If you have read this far, but are laughing at the idea that the Shroud of Turin is the burial cloth of Jesus and proof of his resurrection, you should know certain numerous indisputable scientific facts. In fact, they are far too many for this space, but here are some highlights.

The key mystery of the Shroud centers on how and why there is a detailed negative photographic image of a beaten, crucified man, anatomically correct, front and back, head to toe, on a piece of fine linen cloth measuring 14.5 feet by 3.5 feet.

Scientists have determined that the weave of the flax linen cloth dates back to Jerusalem at the time of Jesus. Furthermore, pollen and dust found on the Shroud are native to where, according to the Bible, Jesus lived and walked.

Human male blood found on the Shroud is a rare type AB. As one would expect, blood of that crucified male penetrates the linen cloth. But here is where science enhances the Shroud’s mystery: Blood on the cloth preceded the image of the crucified man. “Blood first, image second” is a mantra of Shroud researchers.

Here is a startling fact that makes the Shroud nearly impossible to be considered a forgery and enhances the mystery. Unlike his blood, the man’s crucified image does not penetrate the cloth but rests on top. His image could be scraped away with a razor blade. Since any earthly substance used to create the man’s image would seep into and adhere to the cloth, this lack of penetration continues to baffle modern science.

Moreover, tests on the mysterious substance constituting the image have concluded that it was applied with 100 percent consistency, as it rests on the cloth’s top two microfibers. Such consistency is a feat impossible to achieve with human hands.

Then there is the latest technology that enabled the discovery that the Shroud contains “distance information,” derived from techniques first developed by NASA. Distance information means that the image can be read like a 3D map. The application of this technology to the Shroud was the basis for the History Channel’s 2010 mega-hit documentary The Real Face of Jesus? (The show aired again on April 4.)

Reading the Shroud like a 3D map enabled the artists and scientists who studied it to develop what they determined was the beaten and bruised human face of Jesus. Surprise! He looks like a Middle Eastern man in his thirties.

Now comes the part where the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, with their accounts of Christ’s suffering and crucifixion, are reflected by the specific marks of torture seen on the man in the Shroud.  In plain view are over 100 whip marks on every portion of his body, left by scourging from Roman flagra. Blood stains that formed a circle around the top of his head are consistent with the crown of thorns.

Local Jerusalem road dust has been discovered on the cloth over his knees, severely bruised after several falls. Most notable are the holes left by large spikes, the marks of crucifixion, displayed on his wrists and feet. Blood stains can be seen near a large wound that would have been consistent with injury from a spear in his side. Also remarkable and biblically compatible is that the man in the Shroud did not have any broken bones.

Can you think of one person in all of human history whose well-known suffering corresponds to the exact marks seen on the man in the Shroud? As mentioned earlier, one of the most important Shroud questions concerns how the image of a tormented, crucified man was formed on his burial cloth.

A scientific answer can be found in a 2012 study by world-renowned Shroud researcher Giulio Fanti of Padua University in Italy. His study strongly suggested that the force causing the man’s image to be imprinted on the cloth was radiation released in the form of an electrical discharge: in layman’s terms, a burst of light and energy.

This means that the Shroud may be proof not only of Christ’s Passion and crucifixion but also of his resurrection.

Fanti is also one of many scientists who have debunked the faulty carbon-14 testing conducted in 1988. The results of that testing, according to which the Shroud was created during the period between 1260 and 1390, reflected tests only to tiny pieces of border additions known to have been used to repair the cloth after it was damaged by a fire in the 16th century. Fanti’s dating study resulted in headlines — for example, “Shroud of Turin is not a medieval forgery” — that appeared across media (including National Review) around Good Friday, March 29, 2013.

Shroud of Turin, front and back. Negative image, with burn marks from a fire, in 1532 running the entire length of the cloth. Credit: Barrie Schwortz

Fanti examined the decay rate of microscopic fibers within the Shroud compared with decay rates of similar linen cloths known to be both older and newer. He concluded, with a 95 percent confidence level, that the Shroud’s creation ranged from 280 b.c. to a.d. 220. That timeframe obviously includes a.d. 33, the year traditionally associated with Christ’s crucifixion.

Decades of interest in the Shroud of Turin have led me to cultivate friendships with some of the world’s leading experts, including Russ Breault, president of Shroud of Turin Education Project Inc. He was a consultant to and appears in the History Channel’s The Real Face of Jesus? “We can never prove the Shroud to be authentic, because we don’t have the DNA of Jesus to make a match,” Breeault tells National Review. “However, we can certainly rule out forgery, for it is clearly not the work of an artist.”

An expert on the historic relationship between Adolf Hitler and the Shroud of Turin, Breault lectures on the subject. Hitler thought that the Shroud of Turin was the burial cloth of Jesus and wanted to possess it, believing that it would give him supernatural powers with which he could win the Second World War. Fortunately, Italian leaders and the Vatican successfully hid the Shroud from Hitler’s grasp, though his men came within inches of its secret hiding place.

Model of Shroud face from the documentary The Real Face of Jesus? Credit: History Channel

Another Shroud expert who is an acquaintance of mine is Barrie Schwortz, who launched the first Shroud website back in 1996. Shroud.com has since evolved into the most comprehensive site for Shroud news and research. Barrie was the technical photographer for the famous Shroud of Turin Research Project in 1978, the first time in history that the Vatican allowed the Shroud to be examined by a team of renowned scientists and doctors for 120 consecutive hours.

In Turin, starting in mid-April when the Shroud goes on public display, Schwortz will meet with tour groups. It is expected that millions of pilgrims and tourists (this writer included), along with Pope Francis, will view the Shroud, which has not been on public display since 2010.

Given that ISIS has publicly warned the nation of Italy that it is a terrorism target, Schwortz is concerned for the Shroud’s security, telling National Review that “the authorities there are very hesitant to discuss their security arrangements with anyone, but you can be sure that extra measures are being taken in light of the recent threats from ISIS.” One can only hope that, as Italian authorities were able (with the help of divine intervention, some say) to thwart Hitler from finding the Shroud in 1943, their present-day successors will be able to keep it far from the reach of ISIS.

“The Shroud is actually an itemized receipt documenting the extraordinary price that was paid when God sent his only Son to redeem the world,” Russ Breault tells National Review. His statement is based in faith as much as in science, but to that I say, Happy Easter!