Because the Shroud of Turin has received much public attention in the news, on television and on the Internet, it needs little introduction. However, there has not been much truly recent news about the Shroud in the popular media, so I thought it was time to see if anything had slipped under my radar.
On the ABR website is a posting from December 17, 2009 under the heading, “First Century Burial Casts Doubt on Shroud of Turin.” It observed, in part:
Researchers said Wednesday for the first time they have found what they believe to be pieces of a burial shroud from the time of Jesus. The find is of importance because tests on the shroud and the body it wrapped revealed the earliest proven case of leprosy in the Old City of Jerusalem.
[Shimon] Gibson, the excavation director, said the remains of the man covered in the cloth consisted of different wrappings for the body and the head, which was consistent with burial practices of the era. He also said research had shown that the weave of the cloth was a simple one, much different from the more complex Shroud of Turin's.
The first of their kind discovered in Jerusalem, the shroud fragments date from the same time of Christ's death, but are very different than the Shroud of Turin. One of the most controversial relics in Christendom, the Turin linen features an intricate twill weave. The newly found cloth is made up of a simpler two-way weave.
The original source for all of the media reporting on this find was a scientific article, “Molecular Exploration of the First-Century Tomb of the Shroud in Akeldama, Jerusalem,” in the journal PLoS ONE (off-site link). It said nothing about the Shroud of Turin; its focus was on the detection of leprosy and tuberculosis in the fibers from a shroud found in a sealed section of a Jerusalem tomb dated to the first century AD. Once the media got hold of the story and massaged it, though, it took on the tone of an indictment of all who dared consider the Shroud of Turin to be the genuine burial cloth of Christ. It claimed reputable British and Israeli archaeologists had shown that cloth with a complex herringbone weave like that of the Shroud was not in existence until medieval times.
For example, http://news.discovery.com/archaeology...doubt-on-turin-shroud.html (off-site link) led off its report with the words, “An international team of researchers has found fragments of a burial shroud that cast serious doubt on the Turin shroud, the controversial linen cloth venerated by many Catholics as the proof that Christ was resurrected from the grave.” They continued,
One of the most controversial relics in Christendom, the Turin linen features an intricate twill weave. The newly found cloth is made up of a simpler two-way weave. Moreover, the Jerusalem garment is in two pieces—one for the head and one for the body—while the Turin shroud is a single piece of fabric. If the remains in the Jerusalem tomb represent typical burial shrouds widely used at the time of Jesus, this casts strong doubt that the Turin Shroud originated from Jesus-era Jerusalem [emphasis added].
Although the reporter was honest enough to include the emphasized “if” above, the anti-Shroud bias is obvious.
In Israel, Haaretz similarly began its story with the headline, “Jesus-era leper sheds light on Turin shroud mystery” (off-site link). The writer reported, “Israel experts said on Wednesday that a burial shroud known as the Turin shroud, assumed to be the type used to wrap the body of Jesus, did not actually originate from Jesus-era Jerusalem.” In reality, the assumption made by the investigators was that this single, admittedly atypical shroud finding near Akeldama in Jerusalem represented normal burial practice in Jesus’ day. Yet the Hebrew University press release, dated 12/15/2009 (off-site link), made it clear that the find was unusual:
What is particularly rare about this tomb is that it was clear this man, which is dated by radiocarbon methods to 1-50 C.E., did not receive a secondary burial. Secondary burials were common practice at the time, where the bones were removed after a year and placed in an ossuary (a stone bone box). In this case, however, the entrance to this part of the tomb was completely sealed with plaster. Prof. Spigelman believes this is due to the fact that this man had suffered from leprosy and died of tuberculosis, as the DNA of both diseases was found in his bones.
Since they acknowledged that there were atypical qualities about this tomb, it is hard to understand why the investigators would assume that other attributes of it—including the “simpler two-way weave” fabric of its shroud—had to represent typical Jewish custom of the time, and thereby call into question a first-century AD date for the Shroud of Turin. There were obviously other factors influencing them.
As is often the case, the above news was widely popularized in the secular media, while the other side of the story received scant notice. Just a few months later, Diana Fulbright decisively addressed the above anti-Shroud claims in a paper, “Akeldama repudiation of Turin Shroud omits evidence from the Judean Desert.” The paper, delivered at the International Workshop on the Scientific approach to the Acheiropoietos Images in May 2010 (off-site link), showed conclusively that ancient textile evidence from the Judean Desert and elsewhere proved that the herringbone twill pattern of the Shroud was known in the first century AD, rather than originating during medieval times. This paper also repudiated the frequently made allegation that the size of the Shroud is too large to have been produced on first-century looms.
Nothing New in the News
The popular media reporting seen above is one of many instances where the genuineness of the Shroud of Turin has been publicly attacked over the years, while subsequently corrected or modified reports were never widely publicized. Another was a 1988 radiocarbon dating of a sample of Shroud fabric to the Middle Ages, ca. 1260 to 1390—which was subsequently shown to have been taken from a repaired area of the Shroud. It was found that cotton fibers, found nowhere else on the Shroud, were used in the repair and skewed the date, invalidating it. As reported at the Ohio Shroud Conference:
In his presentation today [August 15, 2008] at The Ohio State University’s Blackwell Center, Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) chemist, Robert Villarreal, disclosed startling new findings proving that the sample of material used in 1988 to Carbon-14 (C-14) date the Shroud of Turin, which categorized the cloth as a medieval fake, could not have been from the original linen cloth because it was cotton. According to Villarreal, who lead the LANL team working on the project, thread samples they examined from directly adjacent to the C-14 sampling area were “definitely not linen” and, instead, matched cotton. Villarreal pointed out that “the  age-dating process failed to recognize one of the first rules of analytical chemistry that any sample taken for characterization of an area or population must necessarily be representative of the whole. The part must be representative of the whole. Our analyses of the three thread samples taken from the Raes and C-14 sampling corner showed that this was not the case.” Villarreal also revealed that, during testing, one of the threads came apart in the middle forming two separate pieces. A surface resin, that may have been holding the two pieces together, fell off and was analyzed. Surprisingly, the two ends of the thread had different chemical compositions, lending credence to the theory that the threads were spliced together during a repair.
Yet another widely publicized allegation is that the image of an apparently scourged and crucified man faintly visible on the Shroud of Turin’s fibers is the work of a medieval painter, an unknown person with a genius at portraying human anatomy. Repeated efforts to find any paint pigments have shown absolutely none exist, however. The image, rather, has been shown to reside in a very superficial discoloration of the surface of the linen fibers by still-unknown means. Has this been reported in the popular media? Not to my knowledge.
The point is, when the media next publicizes a report that makes the Shroud of Turin out to be a fake for some new reason, wait for the other shoe to drop. You might have to hunt for that shoe, though. Don’t expect the secular media to lead you to it.
An Overview of the Shroud of Turin
Changing gears, I now want to make some observations on how the Scriptures discuss the death and burial of Christ, and compare them to the Turin Shroud. Arnold E. Lemke must be credited for the following summary from his excellent paper, “The Shroud of Turin—‘Is it, or Isn’t it’ (the burial cloth of Christ?),” presented at the St. Croix Pastor, Teacher, Delegate Conference on June 13, 2000. I am dividing his list into two sections, the first discussing the injuries inflicted on the Savior, and the second the burial preparations. First, the injuries:
John 18:22: “When Jesus said this, one of the officials nearby struck him in the face...”
John 19:1: “Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged.”
John 19:2: “The soldiers twisted together a crown (στέφανος—garland, wreath, chaplet) of thorns and put it on his head.”
Mt 27:30: “The soldiers...took the staff and struck him on the head again and again.”
John 19:18: “Here they crucified him, and with him two others...”
John 20:25: “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands...and put my hand into his side...”
John 19:34: “One of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear...”
Summarizing these verses, we see that Jesus was...
- repeatedly struck with a fist in the face
- hit on the head with a staff
- flogged, presumably with a Roman flagrum
- a “crown” of thorns was forced onto his head
- crucified with nails through his “hands” and feet
- a Roman spear was thrust into His side
The Injuries of Christ
Let us look in detail at these injuries. We would expect that, if the Shroud of Turin was truly the burial cloth of Jesus Christ, the injuries Scripture describes above would be reflected in the image on the Shroud. Do scientific studies show that to be the case?
Absolutely. Lemke must again be quoted:
One of the earlier attempts to evaluate the significance of these mysterious pictures [the Shroud] was that of Dr. Pierre Barbet, a French surgeon, as recorded in his book A Doctor at Calvary (New York: Doubleday and Co., 1953). From later photographs which he had access to and a personal examination of the linen cloth at the time of the Turin exposition of 1933, Dr. Barbet came up with the following early observations based on his professional experience, findings which for the most part have been supported by subsequent studies:
- the blood marks were made by clotted blood rather than fresh flowing
- not a trace of painting can be seen even in magnified enlargements
- there is a noticeable swelling at the left cheek as if the person had been struck hard
- there are scourge marks all over the back side of the body, dumbbell shaped; the imprints slant upward on the shoulders, horizontal on the buttocks, down on the legs
- the blood flows from the head and side wounds are downward as if the one depicted was in a vertical position when they were caused
- the feet are slightly crossed
- the “hand” wounds are in the bony and ligamentous structures of the wrist area
- no thumbs are observed, as if having been forced in sharply as happens when the median nerve of the wrist is activated by an object forced through it
In addition, later more detailed studies of the image by the Shroud of Turin Research Project of 1978 as well as other studies by scientists revealed apparent injuries to the shoulder area from abrasions caused by the rubbing of some heavy object (crossbeam?) tied to the subject’s outstretched arms; also damage to the left knee of the kind that would have occurred if a person fell with such a burden. Spillage of excess blood (group AB) [New York Times, 8/3/99] on the cloth from both the chest wound and the feet were noted of the kind that might have taken place if the body was laid in a prone position and covered. The marks on the scalp indicate a rough “cap” rather than the more traditional “crown” of thorns usually depicted in Middle Age and later paintings. The side wound matches exactly those of the Roman lance found in various excavations. A totally unexpected anomaly was the discovery of “three-dimensionality” in the image on the cloth when viewed through a VP8 analyzer of a sort never seen before on such material and which provided additional depth and detail (Wilson, The Mysterious Shroud, p. 47-49).
We see, therefore, that the apparent injuries seen in the Shroud image fit what Scripture leads us to expect. But how were those images formed? Were they somehow painted onto the Shroud by a brilliant medieval artist with both deep insight into the Scriptures and advanced medical knowledge? Detailed examination of the Shroud over many years has revealed a number of intriguing details which help to answer this and many other questions. The Shroud of Turin FAQ offers the following insights:
- The images on the Shroud were not painted. No pigment is involved in them. As the FAQ states, “The images are clearly and demonstrably the result of a chemical change either to the fibers themselves or to an organic material on the fibers that was there before the images were made.”
- The Shroud displays two life-size negative images, front and back, of an apparently crucified man. The images are head-to-head, suggesting that a man was laid out on the cloth with his feet at one end and that the cloth was brought over the top of his head and draped across his front. The images are unique. There is nothing like them in the world of art. The images:
- are similar to photographic negatives but are not photographs
- contain height-field data that can be plotted as 3-D elevations of the body
- are superficial to the topmost two or three fibers of thread
- the body is anatomically precise
- the wounds are medically correct as only a modern pathologist would understand them
- are unexpected from a medieval point of view
- The 1988 radiocarbon dating, which supposedly proved the Shroud dated to medieval times, was a failure. Ray Rogers, a Los Alamos National Laboratory chemist, found that “the sample used for carbon dating was not representative of the cloth. It was chemically different.” Cotton was used in the repaired area.
- There is real human blood on the Shroud. It has all of the chemical hallmarks of blood, including hemoglobin and serum albumin.
- Particles of limestone dust chemically identical with that around Jerusalem have been detected. It has a rather unique mineral makeup.
- Clear marks of scourging can be seen, with welts that match the shape of a Roman flagrum that was tipped with dumbbell-shaped metal bits.
There are other points that could be made, but there is less unanimity on them; these include the presence of pollen grains unique to the Jerusalem area, possible Roman coins of Jesus’ time placed over the eyes, and faint images that look like flowers known to grow near Jerusalem. But these additional facets, though intriguing, add nothing to the solid scientific case presented in the FAQ that there is a real human form on the Shroud of Turin, who was severely beaten and has wounds consistent with those the gospels tell us were suffered by Christ. The close correlation between the biblical data and the wounds clearly depicted on the Shroud image (bruises, “crown” of thorns, scourge marks, hand, foot and side wounds), together with the numbered points above, are sufficient to cause fair-minded people to tie them together.
The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) present us with a unified view of the wrapping of Jesus’ body by Joseph of Arimathea and its placement in the tomb. The Gospel of John, however, adds unique details which at first glance appear to conflict with what the Synoptics report. For this section of the study I am especially indebted to Lemke’s paper! First we have the pertinent verses from his list of applicable Scriptures:
Mt 27:59: “Joseph took the body, wrapped (ἐντυλίσσω—wrap) it in a clean linen cloth (σινδών)...”
Mark 15:45-46: “(Pilate) gave the body to Joseph. So Joseph bought some linen cloth (σινδών) took down the body, wrapped (ἐνειλέω—wrap up) it in the linen (σινδών) and placed it in a tomb...
Luke 23:53: “(Joseph) wrapped (ἐντυλίσσω) it in linen cloth (σινδών) and placed it in a tomb...”
John 19:39-40: “Joseph was accompanied by Nicodemus...Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about 75 pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them tied it (δέω—tie, bind; wrap??) by strips of linen (ὀθόνιοις—dat. of means) in company with the spices. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs.”
Luke 24:1: “On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb.”
Luke 24:12: “Bending over, Peter saw the strips of linen (ὀθόνια) lying by themselves...”
John 20:6-7: “Simon Peter... saw the strips of linen (ὀθόνια) lying there, as well as the burial cloth (σουδάριον) that had been around (ἐπί) Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen strips (ὀθόνια).” (Literally: “...not lying with the linen strips but apart, folded up (ἐντυλίσσω), in a place by itself.”
Lemke went further, defining the key Greek words in these verses:
“σινδών” (sindon)—larger linen cloth as used for a garment (Mk. 14:51), burial shroud, sheet, curtain
“σουδάριον” (sudarion)—“sweat cloth,” various kinds of linen cloth, towel, handkerchief
“ὀθόνιον” (othonion)—diminutive of “ὀθόνη”—sheet,” strips of cloth, especially linen
As in the case of Christ’s injuries, Lemke tied together in a succinct summary the scriptural data bearing on the process of placing Christ’s body into its shroud:
- it was wrapped with a linen cloth by Joseph, placed into a tomb
- perhaps first, being bound at hand and foot with strips of linen
- with help from Nicodemus, myrrh and aloes were added
- the burial wrappings included linen strips and another “linen cloth” folded up but set apart from these linen strips
- women planned to bring additional spices later to also anoint the body (no new wrappings)
With this organized approach we see that, in contrast to the synoptic gospels, most translations (including the KJV and NASB) of John’s gospel seem to give a different picture of how the body of Jesus was wrapped. Matthew, Mark and Luke say the body was wrapped in a single “σινδών”—a large linen sheet or garment. John, however, speaks of the wrapping being done with strips of cloth, accompanied by the spices. The first impression one gets from John is that something like an Egyptian mummy wrap was performed, and there is also mention of an additional linen “face-cloth” that the synoptics are silent on.
Reconciling the varied accounts of the wrapping process is no easy task. Lemke suggests:
Let’s begin with the accounts of the three synoptic gospels where the terminology is simple and clear: Jesus’ body was “wrapped” (ἐνειλέω, ἐντυλίσσω) in a “large linen cloth” (σινδών) and then placed into the grave. The Greek is quite straightforward here and provides a clear picture of what occurred. The problem comes with the parallel account from John (John 19:39-40). If John is here describing just the same actions and materials as the synoptics (which seems to be the presumption of most translators) then there would be an apparent conflict—a tying or wrapping up in “ὀθόνια” (strips of linen). But, looking more closely, we note that John actually uses quite different terminology from the others. He uses “δέω” instead of one of the three Greek words used specifically for wrapping; the basic meaning of “δέω” is to “tie, bind.” He uses “ὀθόνια” and “κειρία”—“small linen strips,” “cords”—to describe the material used for such a tying here and in the similar account of Lazarus (John 11:44). It is quite a stretch to try make these come out the same as “σινδών”—“large linen cloth”—as in the first three gospels.
Before continuing, let us read the account of the raising of Lazarus in John 11:43-44:
When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth.” The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
Notice that Lazarus was “bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth.” He had to be unbound in order to “let him go.” My first impression was that this meant the entire body was wrapped in a circular manner. If that were so, obviously the Shroud of Turin was a fake—a circular wrapping could not have yielded the front and back images of a crucified man that the Turin Shroud is famous for. But was that actually the case? Resuming with Lemke:
Perhaps the answer or solution to this apparent problem is that John, an eyewitness of these events, was not in fact speaking to exactly the same part of the burial activity as the other three writers who received their information second hand, but to a quite different aspect of the process of which he personally was aware and which is not that well known today. Taken literally, John appears to be saying that the body of Jesus was “tied with linen strips” (ὀθόνια) in connection with his burial. If we then use his account of the burial of Lazarus some chapters earlier to help with the interpretation of just what is meant (“the feet and hands bound with cords,” John 11:44) we would have to say this tying of Jesus also probably was applied to the hands and feet, not to the whole body. The Lazarus account goes on to say, “λύσατε—loose/untie him” (KJV); (not: “take off the grave clothes” - NIV) and let him depart.” Then the picture becomes clear and the items mentioned later in the gospels that were found by the first visitors to the grave, the linen strips and the folded cloth, can be put into better perspective. The gospels are not in conflict—no Scripture is. Rather, it is much more likely that our understanding of Jewish burial practices simply has not been that clear now after a span of almost 2000 years. And it may have been a preconception or simple misconception on the part of both early and later translators that attempted to force from John’s words a parallel meaning to the first three gospels in regard to the wrapping of Jesus, when in fact he was speaking to something quite different—a tying of the limbs to hold them in position at the time of burial due to rigor mortis rather than a separate wrapping or covering of the entire body with strips.
I think this explanation makes a great deal of sense, but there are additional factors leading me to believe it needs to be modified. Consider the need for the women to complete the burial preparations early on the first day of the week. Joseph and Nicodemus would doubtless have been aware of the women’s plans to return to the tomb after three days. Realizing they would need to UNWRAP the body in order to finish the preparations, it makes sense that the two men would have used small linen strips as ties to simply hold the shroud, with the hundred pounds of myrrh and aloes it contained, in place around the body—just to keep the main sindon cloth closed up and secure until it would be reopened to complete the preparations. It would have been quite awkward for the women to remove the linen from a body that had been wrapped in a circular fashion, like the archetypical Egyptian mummy. But if the preparations done by Joseph and Nicodemus constituted just a temporary measure performed in haste, it makes sense that the body would have been laid out and wrapped in the manner the Shroud image indicates. It would have been MUCH easier for the women to reopen the linen if it had simply been folded over the body and tied in place with separate linen strips. That way, they could have quickly removed the ties, lifted away the upper half of the shroud without disturbing the resting body, finished the preparations, and then rewrapped it according to proper Jewish custom.
And knowing men, can we realistically expect that Joseph and Nicodemus, apparently working alone, would have patiently covered the body of the Lord in a bunch of strips of spice-laden fabric, particularly with sundown coming rapidly?
To summarize this discussion, we need not insist on interpreting the difficult verses in John’s gospel in a manner that precludes accepting the Shroud of Turin as a genuine first-century burial shroud, when such a perfectly acceptable view as that laid out above is possible.
What About the Face-cloth?
As valuable as Lemke’s insights are, he appears to have fallen short in his understanding of one aspect: the soudarion or face-cloth. While he recognizes that “σουδάριον” is the word also used earlier by John in connection with Lazarus when he struggled out of the tomb and needed help to be released from his grave cloths and ties, in the case of the Shroud of Turin Lemke does not see a need to distinguish a separate cloth from the main sindon, although he allows for its possibility in the emphasized statement below:
But the statement that this σουδάριον was “folded and set aside” would indicate a more likely possibility—that he is here pointing to a larger cloth, namely the same basic burial cloth (“σινδών”) that the other evangelists speak of, perhaps as a play on the word “sweat cloth” (this for the whole body, not just the face). That would be our preferred interpretation. It is also possible, of course, that there was in fact a true face cloth (“schweisztuch”—Luther) used for a brief time perhaps to help cover the head or face of our Lord while being taken on a carrier to the grave and then left there, with the main linen wrapping cloth later having been taken away from the grave by the time Peter arrived on Easter morning—but this is speculative [emphasis added].
It appears Lemke was unaware of the Sudarium of Oveido. He is not alone in this; it is not nearly as well known as the Shroud of Turin. A separate face-cloth, however, is one of those things consistent with Jewish burial customs, being reported in the Lazarus account and observed in the Akeldama find, so we would expect one to accompany the Shroud of Turin as well. The Discovery.com article quoted above picked up on this, observing, "Moreover, the Jerusalem garment is in two pieces—one for the head and one for the body—while the Turin shroud is a single piece of fabric."
So, what IS the Sudarium of Oveido? It is a small, blood-stained cloth whose stains match up with those of the Shroud of Turin and are of the same blood type. It has no image upon it, but has its own ancient history of preservation which shows it was held in high esteem by the faithful. There are a number of reasons, apart from tradition, for tying the Sudarium of Oviedo to the Shroud of Turin. This summary was taken from http://www.case.edu.au/images/uploads/03_pdfs/williams-shroud-turin.pdf:
- Like the blood on the Turin Shroud, the blood on the sudarium belongs to the rare AB group
- The length of the nose through which the oedema fluid came onto the sudarium is exactly the same length as the nose on the Turin Shroud
- If the face of the image of the Shroud is superimposed over the stains on the sudarium, there is an exact correspondence of facial and neck stains (there are seventy points of coincidence with the front image on the Shroud and fifty points of coincidence with the rear side image—120 points of coincidence)
In short: “the blood types match, the wound marks match, the facial features and measurements coincide...” (Mary Jo Anderson, “The Other Shroud of Christ,”). These coincidences indicate that, in all likelihood, the man whose head was wrapped by the Sudarium of Oviedo and the man whose corpse was wrapped in the Shroud of Turin were one and the same person.
For those who wish to study this further, John Long, who has several articles on the ABR website, informed me that the best book he knows about the Sudarium of Oveido is Janice Bennett’s Sacred Blood, Sacred Image.
The bottom line here is that a sudarium which covered His head on the cross as He was being taken down, then was removed in the tomb to permit preliminary burial arrangements (and “rolled up in a place by itself,” as John 20:7 says), makes the most sense. This is the conclusion both Lemke and Long have arrived at, and is discussed in depth in Mark Guscin’s little book, The Oveido Cloth. Since Jewish practice called for items bearing the blood of the victim to be included in the burial, we can fully expect that the intention was to include the face-cloth within the shroud when the final preparations were performed.
Additional Light from Lexicons
Since a mummy-type wrapping pattern is an apparent implication of some English translations of John’s gospel, it occurred to me that a lexical study might also be helpful. Do lexical studies rule out the lengthwise wrapping seen in the Shroud of Turin? The standard Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich-Danker lexicon, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (second edition, 1979, p. 264) shows the term ἐνειλέω (eneileo) does not require us to understand whether the action of wrapping was done horizontally around the body (as an Egyptian mummy) or in the vertical plane of the body, end-over-end (as the Shroud image requires.) The word’s use derived from various Greek sources gives the meaning “wrap (up), confine in something.” One non-biblical instance given in the lexical notes refers to a child wrapped up in a lion-skin, another to being confined in chains. The essence of the word is that it signifies being within a covering of something. The focus is on WHAT is being wrapped onto the body, not the MANNER of the wrapping. In Mark 15:46, the WHAT is τῇ σινδόνι, “in the linen cloth,” with nothing implied about how the wrapping was done.
Thayer’s Lexicon, one of the reference tools given on BlueLetterBible.com, apparently goes beyond the essential meaning of the Greek text by making the observation that it means “to roll in, wind in” something. In the minds of many this description immediately brings to mind Egyptian mummies, raising an unnecessary bias against the Shroud of Turin. Dr. Rod Decker, recently deceased Professor of New Testament at Baptist Bible Seminary (Clarks Summit, PA) has a web page at http://ntresources.com/blog/?page_id=2526 where he gives his informed opinion about different lexicons. About Thayer’s lexicon, first published in 1885, he says: “Thayer ought not even be considered since his work is both inaccurate and seriously out of date (it is ‘pre-papyri’).”
When we consider that a maker of a fraudulent Shroud would seek to eliminate as many barriers as possible to belief in its genuineness, the end-over-end wrapping the Turin Shroud image requires is not what one expects. That this is the case is, actually, a great evidence it is the real thing.
Jewish Funerary Customs
As an aside, an additional point to note in passing is the statement in John 19:40, that the burial of Jesus followed “the burial custom of the Jews.” In an email to me on 6/6/2014, Shroud researcher John Long commented:
I’ve read so many descriptions of Jewish burial practices that I’m reluctant to say, “they always did it this way or that”...there are not enough burial clothing and shrouds preserved from ancient Israel to make a definitive comparison between an average burial with that suggested by the Shroud...Did most Jews simply dress the deceased in their “Sabbath best” or wrap them in some kind of shroud-like arrangement? Or did they sometimes do both? I’ve seen explanations for each, but I’m impressed by those researchers [cf. Lavoie, Unlocking the Secrets of the Shroud] who point to the Code of Jewish Law (16th century): a victim who died a violent death with blood flowing “should not be cleansed, but they should inter him in his garments and boots, but above his garments they should wrap a sheet which is called sovev (a white shroud),” a tradition that some Jewish scholars believe goes back to New Testament times—this indeed makes good sense for the Shroud burial.
In a lengthy paper on Jewish shrouds, Ada Grossi addressed the question of what light Jewish funerary customs shed on the Shroud of Turin. She concludes that the Shroud of Turin “appears to be a traditional Jewish burial shroud; the only really peculiar feature is the exceptional value of the cloth (which is however consistent with the range of possibilities allowed by Jewish laws).” (I would add that Joseph of Arimathea is repeatedly affirmed in Scripture to have been a wealthy man, so the costly nature of the Shroud cloth should not surprise us.) Grossi particularly observed:
One of the most relevant features of the Shroud is the absence of wool fibrils, which leads to the conclusion that the Sindonic fabric has been weaved using a loom subject to the laws of Jewish cleanliness, i.e. intended for weaving flax only, according to the prohibition of sha'atnez deriving from Dt 22:11 (explicitly forbidding to wear clothes with the illegal mixture of wool and linen). Since sha'atnez is an exclusively Jewish issue, alien to every other cultural milieu, its absence can be considered a strong evidence of the Jewish making of the Shroud of Turin's fabric (p. 2).
The Matthean notion of clean linen cloth expressed in Mt 27:59 (ἐν σινδόνι καθαρᾷ) ought to be therefore interpreted in a distinctive Jewish way, that is as ritual purity or cleanliness (absence of sha'atnez), as already suggested in previous papers: besides, it cannot be neglected the fact that such a detail is pointed out only in Matthew's Gospel, the one especially addressing the Judaeo-Christian nucleus of the primitive Church (pp. 2-3).
Beyond those and a few other particulars, Grossi agreed with Long, “the very few references contained in ancient literature, sometimes quoted as sources to study Jewish funerary customs, are actually very vague and don't give any solid contribution.” We will leave it at that.
In this study we have observed that nothing known about the Shroud violates what Scripture tells us about the injuries suffered by the Lord, or the manner in which His body was wrapped. The gospels give us no compelling reasons to reject the Shroud of Turin as a genuine artifact left behind from our Lord’s years on earth. In view of the many ways the scriptural accounts match up with indisputable details in the Shroud of Turin image, is it too much to suppose that Christ may have left behind, for those with eyes of faith to see, an image that records the same wounds he showed His disciples when He appeared in their midst after the Resurrection (John 20:19-20, 24-29)? I, for one, have no difficulty doing so. To accept the Turin Shroud as a remnant of the Lord’s earthly life does not displace the Scriptures or, in itself, amount to an idol. Rather, it is not unlike the archaeological remains we investigate that testify to the truth of the Bible’s record of history. The concluding words of Lemke’s paper ring true:
For many, no doubt, Christians and non-Christians alike, it may be the most intriguing, and perhaps instructive, relic of all to have come down through the centuries. But Scripture and God’s record therein of this world’s history, and his plan for that world which is to come, a plan centered on the cross of Calvary, is of greater interest and of far greater significance to us. It is that which will be most on our minds and hearts when we see the Lord coming dressed in glory on the Final Day. It will not be the ancient piece of linen, special as it may have been, left behind in a borrowed tomb which bore the name of another, now almost 2000 years ago.
Barbet, Pierre. A Doctor at Calvary. New York: Doubleday and Co., 1953.
Lavoie, Gilbert. Unlocking the Secrets of the Shroud. Allen, Texas: Thomas More Co, 1998.
Wilson, Ian. The Mysterious Shroud. New York: Doubleday & Co., 1986.
Websites for additional background information:
http://shroud.com/index.htm (Main Shroud of Turin web site)
http://shroud.com/library.htm (Variety of technical studies on the shroud)
http://shroud.com/bstsmain.htm (British Society for shroud studies; recent newsletters)
http://www.shroud.com/infolink.htm (Links to a variety of shroud related sites)