Jesus' Shroud? Recent Findings Renew Authenticity Debate

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Rogers's analysis of the 2003 sample has been submitted to a peer-reviewed journal for publication.

Forging Religious Artifacts

Douglas Donahue, a retired physicist from the University of Arizona, traveled to Turin in 1988 to collect the shroud samples for testing. He was co-director of the National Science Foundation-University of Arizona Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Laboratory—one of the three labs chosen to date the shroud.

"I'm satisfied with the way it was sampled. We had several textile experts present from a number of countries, and all unanimously agreed that the sample we received was representative of the whole cloth," Donahue said. "It wouldn't be unreasonable to sample other spots of the cloth, though you can understand that they wanted to preserve it and didn't want holes cut all over the place."

Even if carbon dating links the shroud to the first century, proving it belonged to Jesus will still be near impossible—the closest scientists are likely to get is validating the time and place where the cloth and its haunting image were made. The shroud, an approximately 14-foot-by-3-foot (4-meter-by-1-meter) cloth, is bloodstained and imprinted with a faint image of a tortured man's face, hands, and body.

According to the Gospels, Jesus was removed from the cross and placed in a tomb, where he was wrapped in cloth in accordance with Jewish custom. But few, if any, records exist from that time to detail that shroud's whereabouts.

The Shroud of Turin entered public awareness in 1349, when a French knight named Geoffrey de Charny is said to have acquired it in Constantinople (now Istanbul) and brought it to the attention of Pope Clement VI. The shroud was held in a church in Lirey, France, and was first shown publicly in 1355.

More Evidence Contradicts Carbon Dating

Since that first exhibition many have questioned the shroud's authenticity, since forging religious artifacts was big business during medieval times.

The 1988 carbon dating results satisfied many skeptics that the Shroud of Turin was a clever hoax, and the findings stymied further research.

But some scientists have persisted. In 1999 Avinoam Danin, a botanist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, stated at the 16th International Botanical Congress that he found pollen grains on the shroud from plants that could only be found in and around Jerusalem, placing its origins in the Middle East.

Further comparison of the shroud with another ancient cloth, the Sudarium of Oviedo (thought to be the burial face cloth of Jesus), revealed it was embedded with pollen grains from the same species of plant as found on the Shroud of Turin.

The Sudarium even carries the same AB blood type, with bloodstains in a similar pattern. Since the Sudarium has been stored in a cathedral in Spain since the eighth century, the evidence suggests that the Shroud of Turin is at least as old.

Regardless of whether the shroud belonged to Jesus Christ, it lures millions of visitors at each public display.

"Its allure is both scientific and spiritual," said Phillip Wiebe, a professor and chair of philosophy at Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia. "It's a very mysterious object. How was the image formed and who was on it?"

Wiebe is presenting a lecture, "The Shroud of Turin: Authenticity and Significance for Theology," at the "Man of the Shroud Exhibit" this week at the Good Shepherd Church in Surrey, British Columbia.

Archaeological Triumph

If the image on the Shroud of Turin is a fake, then much mystery remains about how it was created. Some suggest it was painted. But STURP, using methods standard for art analysis, found no evidence of paints or pigments.

"This may well be an artifact of Jesus," said Barrie Schwortz, a photographic, video, and imaging specialist based in Los Angeles, California. Schwortz served as the official documenting photographer for STURP.

When Schwortz embarked on the study, he said, he was highly skeptical. "I fully expected to see brush strokes—essentially a manufactured relic—and walk out," Schwortz said. "But I've followed the science over 30 years. And when you have eliminated other possibilities, the one remaining—no matter how unlikely—must be the truth."

What will carbon dating another sample prove?

"This artifact is very important. It deserves at least as much respect as Ghengis Khan's sword, the Gutenberg Bible, or something like the Rosetta stone," Rogers said. "For me, it is not going to prove the Resurrection or any theological point. But it might bring us a little closer to the truth. And determining the actual date will be a real archaeological triumph."

On TV: Da Vinci and The Mystery of the Shroud airs on the National Geographic Channel Saturday, April 10, at 10 p.m. ET/PT in the United States.

Got a high-speed connection? Watch National Geographic Channel video clips in streaming video.

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Related Web Sites
National Geographic Channel
Quest For Truth
National Geographic Program Previews
Trinity Western University
The Shroud of Turin

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