Is the Shroud of Turin Really Christ's Burial Cloth? Page 2


The Shroud figure most likely recalls a Roman crucifixion.   General features.    Practiced by the Assyrians, Scythians, Persians, Alexander the Great, and even the Jews prior to the first century BC, crucifixion was then adopted by the Romans, reserved at first primarily for murderous or rebellious slaves,92 and then applied to provincials and criminals of other kinds.    Crucifixion continued as a political and military punishment until the time of Constantine (sole ruler 312–337 93), when it was abolished in the Roman Empire as an insult to Christianity; and gallows became the preferred method of execution.94    Still, later crucifixions did occur, e.g., Arabs crucified Christians (like Jesus) en masse in the seventh century, Europeans in the Middle Ages practiced it with Muslims, and any Crusader who visited the Holy Land during the 11th–13th centuries would have known about this.95    However, the Romans used a special whip called a flagrum for scourging (which normally preceded their crucifixions),96 the most common type being a leather whip usually with three tails, at the ends of which were attached pieces of lead or bone which dug into the flesh upon impact.    In 1709 a Roman flagrum, buried by volcanic ash in 79 AD in Herculaneum, was excavated—which included dumbbell-shaped metal pieces that would have made wound marks just like those found on the Shroud man’s back.97    It was also normal in Roman crucifixions for the condemned man to carry his crossbeam (patibulum) to the site of execution,98 where then it was lifted and attached to the upright post (stipe) of the cross, rooted and stationary in the ground.99      Men were crucified naked,100 and they were fixed to the cross with 4-1/2 to 5 inch nails.101    Zugibe believes that crucifixion soldiers probably had a wooden stair-like box which they made the victim climb up backwards with his arms nailed to the crossbeam until it could be pegged into a hole at the top of the vertical beam.102  

Unusual features.  Yet other features about the Shroud man point to this not being just an ordinary crucified figure, including: his capricious crowning with thorns, the uncommon wound placed in his side, the wrapping of his body in an expensive linen shroud before it was buried in a tomb, and the retaining of a burial cloth which had touched a dead (contaminated) body, which would have been anathema in general to the Jews and most other ancients.103   The Shroud body showed no evidence of decomposition (cf. Acts 2:27).104   The Romans did not place a face-cloth over a crucified man’s head.105    Also, Jesuit scholar Werner Bulst has noted that the Roman practice of allowing Jews to bury a crucified man before sundown, according to Jewish law, would have been available only during a short period of time, from the installation of a Roman procurator in Judea and Samaria in 6 AD to the Jewish revolt and war in 66 AD—suggesting a first century AD date for the Shroud man. 106

The Shroud figure meticulously matches the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ Passion.    An amazing fit to the Gospel accounts.    (1) Just as Jesus was JEWISH, so the Shroud man displays Middle Eastern, Semitic features (Coon).107    (2) Just as we read that Pilate had Jesus FLOGGED (Matt 27:26), so the Shroud man bears between 98–105 scourge marks, many dumbbell-shaped like those inflicted by the three-tailed Roman flagrum, lashed all over the front, back and legs of his body.108    The number of strikes was probably around the maximum permitted by Jewish law (40 times, Deut 25:3), short of what was believed might kill the victim.109    (3) The Roman soldiers twisted “some THORNS INTO A CROWN . . . [and] put it on his [Jesus’] head” (Matt 27:29),110 which could explain the blood which saturated the Shroud man’s hair and ran down his face and the back of his head.111    Turin physician Sebatiano Rodante counted more than 30 head wounds imprinted on the Shroud.112    (4) The soldiers “put a reed in his [Jesus’] right hand” . . . and then took it “and STRUCK HIM on the head” (Matt 27:29-30), including “on the face” (John 19:3), which would have caused bruising.    Yet even before this, Temple police in the Sanhedrin chamber had “struck Jesus on the face” (John 18:22), presumably with the hand or fist.    So we find that the Shroud man’s eyebrows, right cheek and nose are swollen, and his right eyelid is possibly torn.113    (5) As Jesus was led away to be CRUCIFIED (Matt 27:31), so bleeding wounds visible on Shroud man’s right wrist and left heel indicate where he was nailed to the cross.114    Although Gospel translations say that Jesus’ “hands” were pierced (Luke 24:39–40), classical sources show that cheir (G5495) could just as well refer to the “wrist,” where the nail mark actually appears on the Shroud man.115    No Medieval artist would have known that nails through the palms cannot support a man’s body.   

Figure 9 – Shroud of Turin, negative detail showing the nail wound in the wrist rather than the palm, and also blood flowing up the man’s arms, which were raised on the cross.  

(6) As Jesus ‘CARRIED THE CROSS by himself’ to Golgotha (John 19:17), so abrasions on the left shoulder blade and right shoulder area of the Shroud man give evidence that he carried his crossbeam, as was Roman custom (and which may have weighed around 5060 pounds), to the site of execution.116    (7) However, when Jesus, weakened from his scourging, FELL under the weight of the wood, the Roman soldiers commandeered Simon of Cyrene, standing nearby, to carry Jesus’ crossbeam the rest of the way (Luke 23:26).    Likewise, the Shroud man shows an abrasion (scraping) or contusion (bruising) on his left knee;117 and microscopic dust particles were found on his left knee and nose.118 

Unusual aspects of Jesus’ end-of-life.   Yet besides these usual features of a Roman crucifixion, other unusual aspects are displayed on the Shroud, which also marked Jesus’ Passion:   (8) Breaking the legs of a crucified man would normally have been done to hasten his death, if he was a Jew, so that his corpse need not be left on the cross past sundown and or over a Sabbath.119    Yet when the soldiers saw that Jesus had apparently died already, they did not break his legs.    Instead, one of the soldiers ‘PIERCED JESUS’ SIDE WITH A SPEAR, and blood and water came out’ (John 19:31–34).    So blood from a wound on the Shroud man’s left side shows a separation of blood parts, including the watery serum that appears when blood coagulates.120    After extensive study, Zugibe concluded that Jesus died of cardiac respiratory arrest (a sudden stopping of function), due to hypovolemic (loss of blood) and traumatic shock (serious injury), from crucifixion.121    (9) Later Joseph of Arimathea, a disciple of Jesus and “a rich man,” obtained permission from Pilate to take Jesus’ body, and he “wrapped it in a clean linen cloth and LAID IT IN HIS OWN NEW TOMB” (Matt 27:57–60).    Jesus’ wealthy benefactor would explain how the Shroud man got wrapped in an expensive 3:1 herringbone linen burial cloth.122    (10) The Gospels tell us that Nicodemus, another well-to-do follower of Jesus (cf. John 3:1–21), brought “a mixture of MYRRH AND ALOES, weighing about a hundred pounds” to the crucifixion site for his burial (John 19:39).    Turin forensic physician Baima Bollone (1983) and Middle Eastern archaeologist Eugenia Nitowski (1986) found traces of aloe and myrrh on their Shroud cloth samples (although some other researchers did not);123 and traces of aloe and myrrh also have been identified on the Sudarium, aloe especially applied in areas where there was a lot of blood.    These aromatic substances not only covered the stench of death, but it was believed that they helped preserve the body after death.124    (11) Luke 23:53 tells us that Jesus’ body was “WRAPPED . . . in a linen cloth.”    This word may seem inappropriate, yet interestingly enough a thin 3” strip of cloth runs along one long side of the Shroud, which was cut off and apparently used to tie the shroud to the body, since the arms and legs look like they were bound in place.   Then later this strip was sewed back onto the main piece of cloth.125    (12) Finally, on the third day, according to Scripture, Jesus was ‘RAISED FROM THE DEAD’ (Matt 28:6).    This, of course, would be a most unusual event; but it could explain many otherwise-unexplainable qualities found on the Shroud cloth, such as its 3-D encoding, the Shroud body image lacking outside directional light, and the X-ray like images of inside body parts.  

The question of whether Jesus’ body was washed.    We are told that Jesus was buried “with the spices in linen clothes, according to the burial custom of the Jews” (John 19:40, italics added)—but did this include WASHING Jesus’ body?    The Gospels do not say one way or the other.    Some researchers think that Jesus’ body was not washed,126 although Christine Quigley writes that Hebrew women normally bathed a corpse to purify it.127    Pathologist Frederick Zugabe writes that it was a legal Jewish obligation to wash a corpse, even if time before sundown allowed for only hasty burial preparations; and this washing could have been done in a few minutes.    Furthermore, he notes that washing the body of the Shroud man was essential to produce the blood imprints on the Shroud cloth.128   The scourge wounds would have clotted long before the man was even placed on the cross.    Also, the blood stains would have had to have been implanted on the cloth within an hour after the body was washed, which then reopened all of the wounds and implanted the precise wound impressions.129    In summary, as Antonacci notes, the details of the Shroud man are “perfectly consistent” with the Gospel record of Jesus at the end of his life.130   In fact, the Shroud may be read as a kind of Fifth Gospel (Meacham).131 

Various details of the Shroud clearly point to first-century Palestine, Jerusalem and Passover time.    Cloth characteristics point to it coming from first-century Palestine.    Gilbert Raes (1973) of the Ghent Institute of Textile Technology in Belgium, discovered from two small pieces which he was allowed to cut from the Shroud (1973)132 that it has a 3:1 herringbone cloth pattern, with a twill (diagonal) weave.    This unusual weave also has been found in Egyptian tomb cloths, dating back to 1450 BC, as well as in pieces of linen from Palmyra in eastern Syria, made during the 1st–3rd centuries AD.133    Mechthild Flury-Lemburg, former curator of Switzerland’s Abegg Foundation Textile Museum, has explained how this pattern, unusual in antiquity, was expensive to make and denoted “an extraordinary quality.”    Here, on the loom one horizontal thread (“weft”) was passed under three vertical threads (“warp”) and then over one, and so on, creating its distinctive diagonal, zigzag pattern.134    An expensive linen cloth such as this placed on a crucified victim would indicate a degree of wealth, respect, family ties, or ranking not usually associated with common criminals, whose bodies were usually left on the cross or on the ground, for birds of prey or scavenging animals; and crucified Jews were sometimes burned in a common pit.135 

Raes’ microscopic studies also found threads of cotton on the Shroud mixed in with the linen.136    While cotton was a rarity in Europe until about 1350 AD, both linen and cotton yarns were commonly used in the Middle East in Jesus’ time; and Baime Bollone notes that the ancient weavers often switched from one kind of yarn to the other on the same loom.137    Then, Flury-Lemburg was called in to help repair and also save the Shroud, since the cloth was oxidizing and darkening, which meant that the image might eventually disappear.    (Now the Shroud is kept in an air-tight container, where air is pumped out and an inert gas, argon, is pumped in.)    However, at this time (2002) Flury-Lemburg discovered rare stitching on a seam of the Shroud that has only been found elsewhere on cloths retrieved from the Jewish fortress of Masada near the Dead Sea, before it was taken by the Romans and which would appear to date the Shroud back to between 40 BC–AD 73.138    Moreover, the irregular dimensions of the Shroud (originally 14’3” x 3’7”?) seemed odd to Ian Dickinson of Canterbury, England, an expert in early Syriac, until he realized that the international unit of measurement used in Jesus’ day was the Assyrian cubit (= 21.4”); and using this, the Shroud cloth would have measured a standard 8 x 2 cubits.139 

Pollens on the Shroud point to it coming from the Jerusalem area.    Zurich pathologist Max Frei, also a botanist (Ph.D.) and a recognized authority on Mediterranean flora, studied pollen samples that had been tape-lifted from the Shroud surface (1973, 1978); and under various kinds of microscopes he identified 57 pollen species, microscopic grains that can last for millions of years.    Many of these pollens are found in the area of Jerusalem (45), with a lesser number found around Edessa (15) and Constantinople (13), cities where the Shroud had been, or elsewhere in the Mediterranean area (18).    Frei found only 17 pollen species that grew in France or Italy, while nearly all of the rest had a non-European origin or grew in the Jerusalem area.140    Zugibe considers this “strong evidence” that the Shroud originally came from Jerusalem.141    Different species of plant pollens can be identified under a microscope by their diverse shapes and surface features.    Frei spent the last nine years of his life identifying these pollens, making seven trips to the Middle East in different floral seasons.142    Clearly, the Shroud has a history outside of and predating France and Italy.    However, some botanists have complained that Frei did not confirm his identifications by using a scanning electron microscope—which was because he wanted to preserve these samples for future research.143 

Figures 10, 11 and 12 – Remnants for these flowers, among others, were found on the Shroud, including the yellow Chrysanthemum coronarium. Lepton coins, like the one pictured here, which were placed over both eyes of the Shroud man, were minted during Pontius Pilate’s reign.  

Flower images on the Shroud point to it coming from Jerusalem in the spring.    Alan Whanger, a retired medical professor at Duke University, confirmed (1985) a faint Chrysanthemum-like flower image which the German physicist Oswald Scheuermann (1983) had earlier found on the Shroud.144    Whanger spent the next four years studying thoroughly the botany of Israel; and by 1989 he had identified and matched 28 plant species with images of flowers, buds, stems, leaves, and fruit detected on the Shroud.145    Later Avinoam Danin, a professor of botany at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, along with botanist Uri Baruch, confirmed nearly all of Whanger’s identifications, as well as finding traces of additional plants.    Of Whanger’s 28 plants, 27 grow in close vicinity to Jerusalem and the 28th grows near the Dead Sea.    While 3 also grow in France and 9 in Italy, half are not found anywhere in Europe, but only in the Middle East.    In fact, Jerusalem is the only place in the world where all of these plants are found.    Moreover, the blossoming season for all these species is March and April, including Passover time, when Jesus was crucified.146    It would seem that the women devoted to Jesus and present at his crucifixion had gathered bouquets of fresh flowers to place on his body in the tomb.    In fact, some of these flowers would have had buds opening only at 3–4 in the afternoon, and so could only have been picked late in the day.147    Besides the flowers placed around the head, other bouquets rested on his chest and extended down to the waist.    A bouquet of Rock Rose (Cistus creticus) blossoms lay next to the Shroud man’s left cheek.    Another bouquet featured Bean Caper (Zygophyllum dumosum), which grows only in Israel, Jordan and Sinai—all this limiting the Shroud’s place of origin.148    Some researchers have questioned these flower images which they have trouble seeing on Shroud photos;149 however, plant images can only really be seen on enhanced photos (Danin)150 and with the close, studied eye of professional botanists.    Particles of well-preserved plants and withered flowers have been found (although rarely) in other early Jerusalem burial cases, in ossuaries (bone boxes).151 

Limestone particles on the Shroud point to it coming from Christ’s tomb.    Earlier it had been observed that limestone samples taken from the rock shelf of the Holy Sepulcher and the Garden Tomb, one or the other considered to be the most likely location of Christ’s tomb, contained an unusual form of calcium carbonate called travertine aragonite, which is also combined with small amounts of strontium and iron.    When Ricardo Levi-Setti of the Enrico Fermi (Physics) Institute at the University of Chicago (1985) analyzed a calcium sample taken from the foot area of Shroud with a high-resolution scanning microprobe, he found this to be an unusually close match to limestone found in these Jerusalem tombs, with the Shroud sample also containing travertine aragonite and small traces of strontium and iron.    On the other hand, none of the limestone samples taken from nine other tomb locations around Israel matched the sample taken from the Shroud.152

Coins placed over the Shroud man’s eyes point to it coming from Pontius Pilate’s reign.   Early Jewish rabbinical oral law noted that provisions taken to preserve a corpse until the Sabbath had passed could include tying the chin up and placing small objects on the eyes to keep them closed (Mishnah, Division II Mo’ed, Shabbath 23.5).153    So perhaps it should not be surprising that John Jackson and Eric Jumper’s early analysis of Shroud images (1977), using the VP-8 Image Analyzer, revealed buttonlike objects placed over both eyes, reflecting the early Jewish practice of placing coins or pottery fragments over the eyes of the deceased to close the eyelids.154    Then Francis Filas, a Jesuit theologian at Loyola University, working in collaboration with Michael Marx, a Chicago numismatic expert (1981), reported the detection of coin markings over the eyes which strikingly resembled the image on the lepton coin (or widow’s “mite,” cf. Luke 12:59, KJVABS), that was issued during the reign of Pontius Pilate between 29–32 AD and which included an astrologer’s staff and text.155    This coin identification has also been questioned, although later sophisticated computer analysis confirmed it.156    Polarized overlays by the Whangers also confirmed the right eye identification, while at the same time they also found an almost perfect match for the coin over the left eye with a Pontius Pilate lepton known in numismatic circles as the “Julia lepton,” coined in only 29 AD.157    Israeli archaeologist Rachel Hachlili reported finding two coins of Herod Agrippa I (ruled 4144) inside a skull in a Jewish tomb; and Jewish coins have been found in other tombs in the region, or inside skulls that were later reburied inside ossuary boxes.158

The Sudarium also connects the Shroud to first-century Palestine and to Jesus.    A number of manuscripts document the early history of the Sudarium, including the Chronicles of Pelayo, a twelfth century bishop of Oviedo and historian, and the Codex Valenciennes 99, a French manuscript in book form from the ninth century, which also mentions bringing the Ark (chest) containing the Sudarium from Jerusalem to Spain.159    Clearly, the Sudarium has been in Spain from the seventh century on.160    Yet earlier, Nonnus of Panopolis in Egypt knew of the existence of Christ’s sudarium in the first half of the fifth century; and the San Antonino Mártir chronicle of 570, written by an anonymous Italian pilgrim who visited the Holy Land, mentions “the sudarium of Christ” being cared for by seven nuns living in a cave near the Monastery of St. Mark on the eastern side of the Jordan River.   Earlier still, the Life of Santa Nino of Georgia, who died in 338, mentions that Peter had hidden the sudarium, to protect it.161    Besides this, EDICES studies of pollens lifted from the Sudarium support the tradition of this face-cloth originating in Jerusalem and then moving to Egypt and Spain.162    Of the 141 pollens and 10 spores found on the Sudarium, 99 percent of them are Mediterranean, including from Jerusalem, and not from Spain.163    Many of the pollen species found on the Shroud of Turin are also found on the Sudarium, according to Danin and Baruch.164 

The chances are astronomically small that both the Shroud and the Sudarium would not portray the same crucified man.165   As Moreno notes, the length of the nose, the swelling on the right side of the nose, the position and size of the mouth, the outline of the chin, the shape of the beard, and the size and position of the blood stains all point to the same male being pictured on the Shroud of Turin and on the Sudarium of Oviedo—who was beaten, given a crown of thorns, and crucified.166    There are 120 points of correlating bloodstains between the Sudarium and the Shroud.167    Every scientific study on the Sudarium points to it coming from Jerusalem and from Jesus of Nazareth, except for the carbon-14 dating, which is simply unreliable in this case (Bennett).168 

Carbon dating problems.    In 1988, three research laboratories, in Oxford, Arizona, and Switzerland, subjected small samples taken from the same corner of the Shroud to carbon-14 dating;169 then later that year it was announced that the Shroud cloth dated beween 1260–1380 and had a Medieval origin.    Afterward, Oxford art expert and agnostic Edward Hall called the Shroud “a load of rubbish” on British TV.170    Still, the Hungarian Pray Manuscript (1192–1195)—which contains a picture, like that on the Shroud of Turin, of a naked Jesus with his hands crossed over his genital area and of his shroud with its unusual 3:1 herringbone pattern and “poker holes”—precedes this period by over sixty years; and the poker holes indicate that the Shroud had an even earlier history.171    An unusual stitching on the Shroud cloth is only found elsewhere in first-century cloth taken from Masada, not far from Jerusalem.172    The dimensions of the Shroud point to a time when Assyrian measurements were used.173    Pollen samples tape-lifted from the Shroud point to over 45 plants which grow in the area of Jerusalem and to a time before the cloth came to Europe.174   Flower images found on the Shroud point to botanical plants that could be found, all of them, only in the region of Jerusalem and in the spring, the time of the Passover, when Jesus was crucified.175    Calcium carbonate traces found on the Shroud match samples from the two tombs which are thought, one or the other, to have been Jesus’ tomb.176    And objects placed over the Shroud man’s eyes look like coins minted during Pontius Pilate’s reign.177 

Carbon-14 dating tests on the Sudarium provided ranges of 642869, 653786, 5001000, and 540754 AD178—although the literary record and other evidence clearly point to first-century Jerusalem.    Sometimes carbon-14 dating is unreliable, as with the case of an Oxford lab which assigned a 1,200 age to some South African rock paintings discovered by a school-boy—until a 72 year old woman recognized them as her own.179    In another case, the British Museum produced a carbon-14 date for the bones of a mummy that was 800 to 1,000 years earlier than the date produced for its textile wrapping.180    As Biblical archeologist Eugenia Nitowski notes, if numerous lines of evidence contradict a carbon-14 dating, then an archaeologist must dismiss the latter as incorrect.181    Zugibe explains that for various reasons sometimes samples are just not amenable to the carbon-14 dating process.182    In fact, at the time of the carbon-14 testing, Thomas Phillips, of the High Energy Physics Laboratory at Harvard University, wrote that if a Resurrection had occurred here, radiating light and/or heat from this could have altered the carbon molecules so as to make carbon-14 dating unreliable.183 


Return to Page 1

Continue to Page 3