Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Shroud of Turin

Friends, I've got the Shroud of Turin on my mind. Have you ever seen it? This religious icon --an ancient linen cloth embedded with the supposed image of Jesus--has fascinated me since my teens and early twenties. At the time I read several books on the subject. In 1988 the shroud (in the respected scientific community) was largely ruled as a hoax, because carbon dating placed the linen of the shroud to the middle ages (1260-1390).

I believed science & put the shroud out of my mind.

However, recent press has brought the
Shroud of Turin back on the horizon. Some are claiming that earlier carbon dating tests in 1988 may have been botched because we have documentation the shroud was in a fire in the early 1500s. Nuns repaired singed parts of the shroud with linen, of course, from the middle ages. Exposure to smoke and heat would have also affected the carbon dating process.

Many facts about the shroud continue to intrigue me: 1. male human blood is detectable 2. the image is definitely not painted 3. the image is not a photograph 4. the image is 3D 5. the image suggests the man was crucified in the Roman style 6. the image is not digitalized or computerized, as this technology was not available 7. The image is superficial--as if singed on--and does not embed the cloth.

If I had to gauge a guess, I'd say the shroud is a natural chemical process that occurs occasionally when corpses are wrapped in linen. A clever medievalist was aware of this process, & created the shroud during the middle ages. At the same, I question: then why do we not have more examples of this phenomenon? If this chemical process was possible, and known by some scientists, then why do we not have spooky shrouds of other people? I also wonder. How is that modern scientists can not reproduce a process clever folks could do in the 1300s? (Actually, there are modern theories that are being tested but the chemistry is beyond me at the moment)

Other points to consider about the shroud. First of all, where was it for two thousand years? The 'provenance' (historical evidence of existence) of the shroud dates to 1357 and on. Where the shroud was before this time is less documented & mysterious. To me, it is a key point that the original carbon dating also points to the 14th century. Another oddity is the image looks exactly like the Roman Catholic, European conception of Jesus. It seems too good to be true. This fact makes me suspicious. The 'real' Jesus, given the time & place he lived, would likely have been a short, dark haired man, not a tall fair haired man. Finally, religious relics and pilgrimages were all the rage in the middle ages. Many lesser relics have gone down in history as hoaxes, debunked by modern science. Even today we have the virgin Mary appearing in half-bitten twinkies.

The shroud remains intriguing. Hopefully further scientific inquiry will yield some answers, though the Vatican is (understandably) loathe to let the shroud be tampered with. It's either the best hoax in history, or the real thing.

No comments: