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The simple weave of a textile found in a first-century A.D. Jerusalem tomb adds to evidence that the Shroud of Turin isn't from Jesus' time, experts say.

The simple weave of a textile found in a first-century A.D. Jerusalem tomb adds to evidence that the Shroud of Turin isn't from Jesus' time, experts say.

Photograph courtesy Shimon Gibson

Mati Milstein in Jerusalem

for National Geographic News

Updated December 17, 2009

From a long-sealed cave tomb, archaeologists have excavated the only known Jesus-era burial shroud in Jerusalem, a new study says.

The discovery adds to evidence that the controversial Shroud of Turin did not wrap the body of Christ, researchers say.

What's more, the remains of the man wrapped in the shroud are said to hold DNA evidence of leprosy—the earliest known case of the disease.

"In all of the approximately 1,000 tombs from the first century A.D. which have been excavated around Jerusalem, not one fragment of a shroud had been found" until now, said archaeologist Shimon Gibson, who excavated the site for the Israel Antiquities Authority.

"We really hit the jackpot."

Found in a first-century cemetery filled with priestly and aristocratic burials, the tomb was initially opened by looters, who left the shroud behind, apparently thinking it has no market value. Experts were able to retrieve the artifact before it began to disintegrate.

The so-called Tomb of the Shroud is a rarity among Jerusalem tombs from the time of Jesus.

For starters, the Tomb of the Shroud appears to have been sealed shut with plaster for 2,000 years, perhaps as a precaution against the spread of leprosy or tuberculosis, which was also detected in DNA extracted from the man's bones.

The tight seal apparently allowed the shroud—radiocarbon-dated to between A.D. 1 and 50—to survive the high humidity levels characteristic of Jerusalem-area caves.

Archaeologists were surprised to even find remains inside the tomb. Traditionally corpses were removed from such tombs after a year or so and placed in ossuaries, or bone boxes. (Related: "'Jesus Box' Is a Fake, Israeli Experts Rule.")

Evidence Against Jesus Link to Shroud of Turin?

Housed since 1578 in a Turin, Italy, cathedral, the Shroud of Turin is believed by many to have wrapped the body of Jesus Christ after his death in Jerusalem—but the cloth has been decried as a hoax by many others. Several studies have attempted to settle the debate.

Carbon-dating studies by three different laboratories in the late 1980s, for example, suggested the shroud was made between A.D. 1260 and 1390, long after the time of Jesus. In 2005 another study asserted that the 1980s test had been based on a patch added in the Middle Ages and that the shroud is actually 1,300 to 3,000 years old.

(Related: "'Jesus' Shroud? Recent Findings Renew Authenticity Debate.")

The weave of the Tomb of the Shroud fabric, the new study says, casts further doubt on the Shroud of Turin as Jesus' burial cloth.

The newfound shroud was something of a patchwork of simply woven linen and wool textiles, the study found. The Shroud of Turin, by contrast, is made of a single textile woven in a complex twill pattern, a type of cloth not known to have been available in the region until medieval times, Gibson said.

Both the tomb's location and the textile offer evidence for the apparently elite status of the corpse, he added. The way the wool in the shroud was spun indicates it had been imported from elsewhere in the Mediterranean—something a wealthy Jerusalem family from this period would likely have done.

First Such Shroud, Second Such Textile

Assuming the new shroud typifies those used in Jerusalem during the time of Jesus, the researchers maintain that the Shroud of Turin could not have originated in the city.

That's perhaps a big assumption, given that there are no other known shrouds from the same place and time for comparison—though in one case clothing had been found in a Jerusalem tomb.

"There have now been only two cases of textiles discovered in Jewish burials from this period," said archaeologist Amos Kloner of Bar Ilan University. And both appear to contradict the idea that the Shroud of Turin is from Jesus-era Jerusalem.

As for the analysis of the newfound shroud, the researchers "checked their findings with the best experts, and this textile was found to be different [from the Shroud of Turin]," said Kloner, who was not involved in the new study, published today in the journal PLoS ONE.

To Kloner, the most important aspect of the new find is that the shroud could be carbon-dated. Examples of Jerusalem textiles from this period—never mind burial shrouds—are so rare that their main importance is in providing organic material for such tests.

The opportunity to compare the weave of this shroud to the weave of the Shroud of Turin is simply an added bonus, he said. "It is wonderful that they found this niche with the remains of a person, and even remains of hair," Kloner said.

Shroud Is a Picture of Health

In addition to adding to the Shroud of Turin debate, the newfound shroud could help paint a clearer picture of the public health situation at the start of the last millennium.

Experts don't know much about the origins of leprosy, and biblical references may well have referred to various skin conditions. The disease is believed to have originated in India and to have arrived in the Mediterranean region sometime between the fourth and second centuries B.C. These most recent findings in Jerusalem may be able to fill critical gaps in knowledge of the disease.

The deceased's apparently high status, right up to the end, indicates leprosy and tuberculosis crossed socio-economic lines at the time in Jerusalem—and that perhaps not all lepers were ostracized, as historical accounts often suggest, the study says.

The origins of leprosy remain hazy, but the researchers are hopeful that, as with the new study, a combination of archaeology and molecular pathology will help trace the evolution and distribution of this and other ancient diseases.

"The medical research has been quite extensive and has shed enormous light on the inhabitants of Jerusalem," study leader Gibson said. "This is the first time that DNA research has been done on the skeletal remains of human beings from the period of Jesus around Jerusalem."

SOURCES AND RELATED WEB SITES

7 comments
Philip McMillan
Philip McMillan

Does it really matter ? Ok folks, one of the commandments is not to have any other Gods before God. If you placed this thing above the front stage in a pulpit and started to worship the thing as they do , this in itself is evil. Hope that is could be a Holy relic yes, but understand it is NOT one of the HOLY PIECES OF TEMPLE FURNITURE. Do not get distracted from what is important. ////Side note, the face does not match the way it would be if it were wrapped around His head. it would be extremely wide and across . They had no idea of art. it seems it was created. as art, but in truth it would be very wide, it doesnt reflect the side of His cheeks and ears, they would be very wide,  oh yes, doesnt matter, its not my job to proof anything, only to plant the seed of the Holy Ghost, Amen

ILLissa White
ILLissa White

C)  For an archeologist to come out & make a statement that basically compares apples & oranges & expect people to BELIVE IT AS A SCIENTIFIC FACT; while the Shroud of Turin was PROVEN to be from the time frame of Jesus in a subsequent carbon test done on a different area of the Shroud from that corner patch that was added in Medieval times; In my opinion it shows that Gibson may have an ULTERIOR MOTIVE to disprove the Shroud of Turin as Jesus' (maybe because he is an ATHEIST?) but I'd REALLY like to hear his explanantion of how that image got on the Shroud of Turin & I'd really like to see him TRY to discredit the WORLD RENOWN SCIENTISTS who did the thorough investigation that was documented in, "Is This the Face of Jesus?" shown on PBS during Easter now for the last couple of years?!  Talk about sticking your neck out on a limb to TRY TO BECOME FAMOUS for some kind of pathetic archeological find by drawing attention to it by comparing it to the death Shroud of CHRIST???..... NARCISTIC PERSONALITY DISORDER WITH DELUSIONS OF GRANDEUR, anyone?  If he was trying to create some kind of LEGACY for himself, this was a HUGE FAIL!

ILLissa White
ILLissa White

B)  Whereas even a WEALTHY family in Jerusalem would not have wasted such a fine fabric like the Shroud of Turin is, or any other fine fabric for that matter, on a LEPER!  No matter how much they loved their family member, he was still a LEPER & everyone knows, even back then, when a leper dies you bury them in what they are wearing & burn all their clothes & bedding.  And the wool was used on purpose to keep the leper warm because as the nerve endings were slowly destroyed by the disease, the victim felt COLD! The fact that he was a leper is the REASON WHY his remains existed to this day, as he was not re-interned in a bone-box!  NO ONE wanted to go in there & touch his body/bones/remains to do that out of fear of catching leprosy!

ILLissa White
ILLissa White

A)  If only 2 shrouds have EVER been found, how can there POSSIBLY be ANY EVIDENCE WHATSOEVER that the Shroud of Turin didn't wrap the body of Jesus?  How can the shroud of a leper PROVE THAT?  Where did this guy get his CREDENTIALS?  Out of a "Cracker Jack" box?

The fact is, that Joseph of Aramathia (NOT JESUS' FATHER) was a wealthy merchant who was a friend of Jesus' family & who, as a MERCHANT had traveled extensively & gave HIS FAMILY TOMB to JESUS' family for His burial & gave them his own burial Shroud, as well!  It was meant to be the shroud for Joseph of Aramathia, & who KNOWS WHERE HE GOT IT!  He may have even had it specially COMMISSIONED in a land where he liked the weave & feel of their fabric!  There are records of Joseph of Aramethia getting as far as the BRITISH ISLES after the death of Jesus, who's to say he hadn't been there before? Or to china, or to Tibet, as athe book "The Lost Years of Jesus Christ"  suggests? 

Wern Branzuela
Wern Branzuela

I have problems with methodology here. Which is more credible the carbon dating method done on the Shroud of Turin or the opinion of the textile historian Dr. Orit Shamir? Does it mean textile difference in terms of whether it is a wool or any other invalidates the conclusion made by carbon dating?

Thanh Duong Ben Mansour
Thanh Duong Ben Mansour

Dr. Gibson is making a big leap in logic to say the Shroud of Turin probably didn't come from Jerusalem in the first century.  He is little to compare the shroud.  Recent tests have put it to the time of Jesus.  He's out of the loop and this article is dated.

Thanh Duong Ben Mansour
Thanh Duong Ben Mansour

Dr. Gibson is making a big leap in logic to say the Shroud of Turin probably didn't come from Jerusalem in the first century.  He is little to compare the shroud.  Recent tests have put it to the time of Jesus.  He's out of the loop and this article is dated.

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