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The Shroud of Turin

The Shroud of Turin  

    This page reviews books and Web sites concerning the Shroud of Turin, the alleged burial cloth of Jesus. They will show that the Shroud presents unsolved mysteries. While skeptics (McCrone, Nickell, and Schafersman) claim it is a 14th Century fake, its advocates insist that fakery is impossible and the relic is genuine. I tend toward fakery but there is room for doubt.
Antonacci, Mark. Resurrection of the Shroud: New Medical, Scientific, and Archeoloogical Evidence, Evans & Co., 2000. 328 pages.
    Antonacci believes in the Shroud’s genuineness. His book is thorough and seems balanced. (Amazon currently has 34 reviews of his book. For skeptical views, see Nickell and Schafersman, reviewed below.) There are three ways a Shroud-like image might be produced (also see Mattingly below):
  1. Purely by human action (probably deliberate deception);
  2. By some natural means not yet known (unknown physics); or
  3. By supernatural means (presumably God presenting evidence for Jesus).
    Each view has its advocates. Of course most Christians believe #3, and most nonbelievers accept #1. Antonacci agrees with #3, but he carefully considers the arguments for #1 and throws it into doubt. Here is his top-level Table of Contents:

   1. Resurrecting the Shroud (13 pages) - Background, pictures, biases, what the Shroud cannot be (according to the author).

  2. Examination of the Man in the Shroud (20 pages) – Evidence of wounds on his head, face, hand, arm, chest, shoulder, leg, and foot closely match what the Gospels say, but any forger who was not an idiot would match their descriptions. Antonacci presents evidence that the stains on the Shroud’s linen are blood, but a clever forger would also have used real blood. See p. 25 for evidence of blood. Nickell (p. 144) says that the stains are consistent with artists’ material. Antonacci reduces his credibility by relating that no experiments have duplicated the linen stains, which exactly match the supposed wounds. He agrees that this argues against authenticity but he lapses into claiming that a miracle may have occurred. (A typical Christian ploy: if something eludes a natural explanation, just invoke God!)
  3. Images on the Shroud (13 pages) He places great emphasis on a device called the VP-8 Image Analyzer, which he thinks can recover true 3-D information from a 2-D image. Wrong; all the VP-8 can do is make apparent depth information more vivid, as is done with medical imagery such as X-rays and sonograms. The enhancement can help to emphasize important features, but it cannot create true 3-D data where there is none. (Only a hologram, invented in the late 20th century, can create real 3-D data from a 2-D pattern.) The author reviews Nickell's powder-rubbing method and concludes that it does not produce a Shroud-like image. Antonacci explores about a dozen theories about how the image was created and concludes that none are successful. 
   4. Painting Theories Explained (13 pages) - His claim that the image is a photographic negative is wrong; parts of it are positive.

   5. Attempts to Reproduce the Shroud Image (37 pages) - Antonacci describes unsuccessfult naturalistic attempts to reproduce images like the Shroud. He repeats his error that the image somehow represents genuine 3-D information, while the brightness contours, which he relies on, can only be enhanced. Enhancement of any kind cannot create 3-D data where there is none.

  6. Archaeological Artifacts and Other Evidence [About the Victim] (25 pages) - Discusses the Shroud's linen substrate, alleged coins over the eyes, pollen allegedly found only in Jerusalem, and Jewish burial customs. The author assumes the Gospel of John is accurate, but most scholars think it was written at least 70 years after Jesis' death, so its data is probably not accurate.

  7. The History of the Shroud of Turin (33 pages) - Covers the provenance and travels of the Shroud, in an attempt to show that it was created well  before the 14th century. More discussion of the pollen which allegedly comes only from the Middle East.
 8. Scientific Challenges to the Carbon Dating of the Shroud (28 pages) - Although three well-respected laboratories independently dated the Shroud to the 14th century, the carbon dating has been criticized on several grounds. He mentions various major errors in carbon dating, but this test is widely used and is well respected by archeologists and other scientists. (It agrees with the very accurate method of tree-ring counting.) The author states that if radiation (of some mysterious kind) caused the image, it could affect the carbon dating method. But this assumes what he is trying to prove. Other questions about C-14 dating concern the location where the samples were cut from, cleaning methods, contamination, and scientific protocols not followed. The Church has so far not allowed further tests of any kind. 

  9. The Scandal Exposed (18 pages) - How a leading skeptic supposedly prevented a pro-authenticity group, the Shroud of Turin Research Project (STURP), from involvement in carbon-dating. STURP claims that the carbon dating is erroneous. The author discusses chemical tests for the presence of paint and concludes that there is none. (This contradicts Nickell and McCrone.)
  10. The Cause of the Images on the Shroud (26 pages) - According to the author, the most likely cause of the image is radiation coming from the body, producing collimated upwards and downwards radiation, which interacting with the linen and produced an image possessing most of the properties of the Shroud image. This is highly speculative and needs to be confirmed or refuted by additional tests. But as mentioned previously, the Church has not agreed to this. Why? 

  11. Unlimited Worldwide Opportunity (22 pages) The author bizarrely claims that the New Testament is better authenticated than any other work of the classical era. That is preposterous: the four Gospels depend largely on one author, "Mark," (actual identity unknown; all the Gospels are anonymous) and his subsequent imitators. They were writing religious propaganda, not biography. Paul, the earliest NT writer, very likely did not believe in a physical Jesus.

   A-J (Appendices); J is a list of the Shroud’s Unique Characteristics (3 pages)

   Antonacci claims that he has exposed errors that supposedly proved that the Shroud is a medieval artifact. (page 10) He also says that creation of the image has never been satisfactorily explained. He concludes that the Shroud is evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. (page 214)
   The Catholic Church owns the Shroud. There are several suspicious aspects to its attitude about testing: the scientific team was so constrained in time (for no apparent reason) that they had to work in a frantic rush. (page 11) The Church has not allowed further testing, although it might settle the interminable disputes. Are they afraid of something?
   Probabaly the most valuable part of the book is his explanation of why the image cannot be due to painting or another human act. The book is weaker in other claims, especially about the Shroud's provenance and history, the carbon dating, and the image formation. These are obviously difficult or fatal problems for authenticity.
Iannone, John C. The Mystery of the Shroud of Turin: New Scientific Evidence, Alba House, 1998, 228 pages.
    The author sanctimoniously capitalizes all personal pronouns having to do with Jesus, such as "His," "Him," etc. Iannone is a devoted Catholic who accepts any alleged evidence that supports the Shroud's authenticity. His belief extends even to the legend of King Abgar, who supposedly wrote to Jesus asking for a cure. Neutral scholars do not accept this myth. Despite the author's reduced credibility, he makes some valuable points which are not trivial to refute. For example he claims that the 1st century Shroud was kept in Edessa (present-day Urfa in Turkey) for hundreds of years. If true it would disprove the alleged 14th century origin of the Shroud. But the evidence he cites is very thin. Another claim is that the eyes of Jesus were covered with coins issued by Pontius Pilate in the 1st century. This is unlikely because:
    1. Jews did not cover the eyes of the dead.
   2. Even if they did, they would never use coins issued by Pilate. He was unnecessarily cruel and ordered the crucifixion. Jews hated him and all things Roman.
   3. The images of the alleged coins are so faint that confirmation bias is necessary to see them. The purported letters on the coins are even harder to believe.
    The author casts doubt on the Carbon-14 dating of the Shroud. He makes several common claims:
   4. The sample dated may have been taken from a newer piece of linen added to the original Shroud.
   5. The linen was handled many times and may have been "rejuvenated" by contamination.
   6. The C-14 dating disagrees with other evidence.
   7. Similar dating procedures done on other cloths have had serious errors.
    All this matters, but the fact remains that the probable accuracy of the C-14 dating is better than other methods of dating. Everyone involved agrees that more tests might establish a reliable date for the Shroud, but the Church has not permitted this.
    Iannone begins his Chapter 10 with the usual arguments against an artist's creating the image;
   8. The image lies on only the topmost part of the linen fibers, while a pigment or liquid would penetrate more deeply.
   9. No brush strokes are apparent.
 10. No artist working in the 14th century would have portrayed a naked man, or one nailed through the wrists rather than the hands. Nails through the hands was the universal practice in medieval art.
      The author continues by speculating about the cause of the image. He suggests several, none of which are plausible. He alleges that the image may have been made by some kind of instantaneous release of energy, perhaps related to "flash photolysis" like that from an atom bomb explosion. That would scorch the linen and create the image. It may even have changed some C-12 to C-14, making the dating erroneous. He concludes that a magical resurrection of Jesus produced the image. Except for that, his book is well done and will convince most readers, but many serious questions have not been answered.
 Mattingly, Stephen J. How Skin Bacteria Created the Image on the Shroud of Turin, Kindle edition, 2015.
    I have not encountered Dr. Mattingly’s theory elsewhere in the books and Web sites I have examined. He proposes that the yellowish image on the Shroud linen was caused by action of skin bacteria, Staphylococcus epidermidis. He proposes that it explains the color of the image and the fact that it appears only on the linen’s surface and does not penetrate more deeply. It is the only natural (non-artistic) theory that plausibly explains how the image got on the front and back parts of the Shroud. The book is technical and to confirm or refute it would take expertise in bacteriology as well as other factors concerning the Shroud. I have no response to his theory except to reiterate the other objections mentioned elsewhere in this section of my site, and to note that the STURP (Shroud of Turin Research Project) did not consider his theory. But Barrie Schwortz, STURP"s official photographer says "there are discrepancies between Mattingly's image [from a test he did] and the shroud. For instance, Mattingly's face image is distorted by the wrap-around effect of the cloth, but the image on the shroud is not. ... Mattingly is a Catholic and believes the biblical account of Jesus' death." 1 (Schwortz is cited below.)
McCrone, Walter. Judgement Day for the Turin Shroud, Prometheus, 1999.
   Thorough, comprehensive, convincing. My reason for not giving it 5 stars is the large number of other investigators who present evidence contradicting McCrone. Barrie Schwortz, the official documenting photographer, lists many experts on his Web site, most of whom are believing Christians. These experts say that the 1988 carbon dating, showing a medieval date for the Shroud, is wrong for various reasons, none of which I find convincing. A believer is not likely to be impartial because many of them have their whole worldview wrapped up in the Christian God. In contrast, I, a firm atheist, would change my mind if sufficient evidence were presented, such as a large, indisputable miracle--for example a sign on the Moon, visible from Earth, reading, "Manufactured by God and Son." Even if the evidence for the Shroud indicates authenticity, the other evidence against Christianity makes the chance of the Shroud being the burial cloth of the supernatural Jesus, just about zero.

Nickell, Joe. Inquest on the Shroud of Turin, Prometheus Books, 1987. 186 pages.
     For a skeptical  view of the Shroud, see http://skepdic.com/shroud.html .For a longer review of Nickell’s book, see https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/R2HQF1E509P39J/ref=cm_cr_arp_d_viewpnt?ie=UTF8&ASIN=1573922722#R2HQF1E509P39J
     Nickell is a full-time professional investigator, having explored and written about everything from ghosts to crop circles. His default position is skepticism, which, unsurprisingly, he applies to the Shroud. This description is in the order of his chapters.
   1. The Scandal at Lirey – Nickell gives a thorough account of the Shroud’s 14th century provenance, showing how it was handled carelessly by modern standards. The handling may have damaged it. The Shroud’s first recorded appearance was about 1353.

   2. From Chambery to Turin – The Shroud came was nearly destroyed in a 1532 fire. The image itself, as opposed to non-image areas on the linen, supposedly was not damaged. Believers claim that was a miracle! [It’s a miracle that anyone believes that claim.] In 1578 the Shroud was moved to Turin.
    3. The Jewish Burial of Jesus – John’s Gospel says that Jesus was buried with two separate cloths, the smaller one covering his face and head. That would prevent the face and head from being imaged on the actual full-size Shroud (3.5 by 14 feet). The body was anointed with spices which would be placed inside in the Shroud, but there is no evidence of them.
   4. Self-Portraits of Christ? – Discussion of a different face cloth with an image.
   5. The Shroud as a Relic – Alleged relics were extremely popular, and were often accepted uncritically.
   6. Post-Mortem at Calvary? – The image shows anatomical improbabilities and impossibilities, such as unequal arm lengths, too-long fingers, hair draped like a standing figure, and the blood clots that would be in the hair from the “crown of thorns” are missing.
    7. Contact Prints and Vapor “Photos” - The image of the face is not distorted like a contact print would be and it would not be lifelike as on the Shroud. Also, a contact print shows only two tones, one tone where the print material contacts the face, and the other where it does not, but the Shroud image has a range of intermediate tones. Advocates have “solved” these problems by suggesting a vapor transfer, but that could not preserve fine details. No suitable process is known.
  8. Resurrection Radiance? – Having no decent explanation of the image, some believers who examined the Shroud proposed that at the moment of resurrection, the body gave off a flash of radiation. This notion has many problems: first, the radiation would have to originate inside the body; if it came from above, for example, the top and bottom parts of the shroud would not be affected equally. Second, the radiation would have to leave the body in parallel lines, collimated like laser light. No such radiation that a body could produce is known. Third, neither alpha, beta, nor gamma radiation could affect only the top few dozen microns of the linen, an observation used by believers to disallow an artist's stain. 
  9. Medieval Negatives – Nickell shows that rubbing a dry pigment onto a cloth lying on a relief can make images similar to the Shroud. The “photographically negative” property, with black and white reversed as in a photographic negative is used by believers to show that an artist could not make the image. But Nickell’s rubbing method produces a negative image.
  10. Scientific Pilgrimages – Discusses work done on the Shroud, mainly by STURP (Shroud of Turin Research Project). The members of STURP have done most of the work to prove the Shroud’s genuineness, but they are all believers, for one reason or another.
  11. The Microanalyst and the Shroud – Walter McCrone, a leading microscopist and particle expert, after examining the Shroud, decided that it is not authentic, and that the alleged blood on it is tempera paint. STURP did not accept that finding.
 12. Is the “Blood” Blood? – STURP members did their own tests and claimed finding real blood. (That is not definitive because a forger could have easily used real blood to make the image. However, blood dries to a black color, while the image pigment is red, presenting believers with a major problem.) Scientists not connected to STURP found compounds used by artists in the 14th century.
  13. The “Yellow Fibers” Mystery – The author explains the yellowing of cloth fibers by attributing it to degraded iron oxide.
  14. Summation and Aftermath – Recaps the rest of the book. (p. 141-147)
  15. An Update – Reviews other material about the Shroud. Nickell maintained his opinion from the 1983 edition to the 1987 revision.

   Nickell’s claims should be evaluated against the opposite opinions of.Antonacci and other authors. Given the large amount of conflicting evidence, most lay persons will not be certain about the Shroud’s genuineness, but many will decide on the basis of how wonderful religious faith is.. But faith has nothing to do with truth. This is a summary of evidence against authenticity:
   1.   A shroud bearing an image is not mentioned in the Gospels. If it existed, they would have described it in detail.
   2.   The body was in a rock tomb with a stone sealing the entrance. The light would be insufficient to produce an image optically.
   3.  A source of collimated radiation inside the body would be needed for the body's front and back to imprint the Shroud.oooo
   4.  A genuine relic’s history would have been carefully recorded. It was not.
  5.  The  Shroud itself would have been carefully guarded and preserved. It was not. (Ianonne, p.97-98) claims that the Shroud's importance caused it to be stored away to conform to Jewish laws, protect it against Roman confiscation, and handling by curious crowds. This theory may apply to the early decades, but after Christianity became official in the fourth century, the Shroud would have been displayed to make the faith compelling. There is no mention of the Shroud at that time.
   6.  An image made naturally by secretions from the body has never been seen in other deaths.
   7,  The hair on the image drapes like that of a standing figure, not a dead, supine one.
   8.  The supposed blood stains are red, while dried blood is black.        ooo
   9.  Of all methods of non-artistic image formation that have been suggested, none are plausible..  
  10. The top of the head is not represented in the image and there is not enough room for it between the front and back images.
  11. The eyes are disproportionately high on the face. See Schafersman's site under "Iconography of the Shroud."       
  12.  A technique used by artists has revealed how the image might have been formed. oooo 
  13. The Shroud's first known appearance is 14th century, not 1st century.
  14.  An 14th century artist confessed to creating it, confirmed by a Catholic bishop.
  15. Carbon dating by three prominent laboratories shows a 14th century origin.
  16. The Church, the Shroud’s owner, has never claimed that it is genuine.
  17. Jesus’ burial in the Shroud does not prove he was resurrected or was supernatural.
  18. If God wanted the Shroud to be evidence for Jesus, he would not make the its authenticity so controversial.
  19. If God wanted that, why did he allow it to be almost destroyed in fires, not once but twice?
   There are many books on each side of the issue, for example those by Iannone, McCrone, Oxley, Wilcox, and Wilson. I have them but so far have reviewed only Wilcox. Despite major problems with the artistic forgery theory (see the Antonacci review), I think the majority of evidence shows forgery, especially the lack of explanation of image formation and the Shroud's absence after discovery of the empty tomb.

Oxley, Mark. The Challenge of the Shroud: History, Science and the Shroud of Turin. Author House, 2010.
    Oxley is a believing Catholic, but except for a few slips he does not weight his book or try to convince the reader that the Shroud is authentic. I give him credit for that. However , about 110 pages are devoted to history, not only of the Shroud, but of lots of peripheral issues which the reader may not care much about. Then he spends a few dozen pages explaining how painful the crucifixion must have been. That adds little to the main subject. In the last 90 pages of the book, he finally gets to the important issues having to do with the Shroud's claimed authenticity. He fairly reviews the evidence and scientific investigation, of which there was plenty, but possibly not enough to resolve the issue. According to Oxley, the carbon dating that "proved" the Shroud to be a medieval artist's work was wrong, so it could be 2000 years old. The main problem with deciding authenticity is that no one, including dozens the dozens of scientists who have looked into the matter, has come up with a plausible mechanism for how the image, with black-white reversed like a photographic negative, was imprinted onto the Shroud. Given this missing explanation, it cannot be decided whether the Shroud was made by natural or supernatural means. Oxley spends less time on all the possible imaging phenomena than does Antonacci, but covers them well. As a hardcore skeptic and atheist, I agree that the image creation is unexplained. More research is needed. He points out that the Church is less interested in the Shroud's authenticity than in its value as an object of veneration. Finally, any skeptic, atheist, or anyone else who attempts to damage this relic should be imprisoned. Natural or supernatural, the Shroud is the only thing like it in the world and potentially has much to teach us. As Oxley says, the Church owes humanity the most thorough possible investigation.

Schafersman, Steven D. ​A Skeptic's View of the Shroud of Turin: History, Iconography, Photography, Blood, Pigment, Pollen, 2003.
     For more pictures than I've seen elsewhere: http://freeinquiry.com/skeptic/shroud/schafersman_skeptics_view_of_shroud.pdf
   To quote: "Every truly scientific study conducted by legitimate scientists--and there have been several of these--has oncluded that the Shroud of Turin is an early Fourteenth Century artifact created to deceive viewers by representing the crucified Jesus Christ. ...: The Shroud is actually the product of a cunning and accomplished High Gothic artist; the images were created by applying pigments to a linen cloth treated with a tempera binder. ... The image is too undistorted to result from any natural means of image transfer from a body..... Contrary to the claims of Shroud authenticity advocates, there is no blood on the Shroud of Turin. All competent, properly-conducted microanalytical tests for blood or hemoglobin on the Shroud have been negative."
     The theory of Antonacci and STURP [Shroud of Turin Research Project] relies on collimated (parallel, bidirectional) radiation originating in the body and traveling both up and down, affecting the Shroud's front and back. This is almost impossible.
     Schafersman, an experienced particle analyst and microscopist, presents claims of "sindonologists" (those who study the Shoud) with matching refutations. His claims, which postdate Antonacci's book, are quite convincing, but they should be balanced with Antonacci's. I strongly recommend reading Schaferman's site and evaluating the arguments pro and con. His site is very thorough (but many pictures are not labeled). For me, the mystery of image formation resolves the controversy in favor of fakery - although many puzzles remain to be solved.

Schwortz, Barrie M. Welcome to the Shroud of Turin Website (November 2016 Update)  https://www.shroud.com/
     Schwortz was the official documenting photographer of STURP.  A Jew, he is not invested in Jesus' resurrection or supernatural properties, but he accepts the Shroud's authenticity. His site is quite thorough and complete. From his site:
"A Summary of STURP's conclusions: No pigments, paints, dyes or stains have been found on the fibrils. X-ray, fluorescence and microchemistry on the fibrils preclude the possibility of paint being used as a method for creating the image. ... 
   Thus, the answer to the question of how the image was produced or what produced the image remains now, as it has in the past, a mystery. We can conclude for now that the Shroud image is that of a real human form of a scourged, crucified man. It is not the product of an artist. The blood stains are composed of hemoglobin and also give a positive test for serum albumin. The image is an ongoing mystery and until further chemical studies are made, perhaps by this group of scientists, or perhaps by some scientists in the future, the problem remains unsolved."
Wilcox, Robert K. The Truth About the Shroud of Turin: Solving the Mystery. Regnery, 2010.
      The authenticity and inauthenticity theories of the Shroud both have major problems. The latter's difficulty is the alleged near-impossibility of a medieval artist creating an artifact that withstands examination by modern analytic techniques. On the other hand, the authenticity view has never satisfactorily explained how the image got onto the linen. Wilcox bypasses this probl;em in his eagerness to declare the Shroud authentic. He mumbles about radiation, of which he has no understanding. If the body's mass were completely converted to energy, necessary for the body to disappear entirely, the energy released would be about the same as a 1500 megaton H-bomb! There would be an immense crater in Judea andthousands dead. Physics has no plausible naturalistic theories about how the body could disappear. I conclude that the whole thing never happened, and that Mark, on whom all the other Gospels depend, was not trying to recount history, but to write a religious tract for potential converts. This does not explain the Shroud, which at this point will remain unsolved until the Church allows more testing - although I regard the probability as favoring inauthenticity - that is, the Shroud is fake.
     Wilcox does something that ruins his claim to objectivity: he discusses at length a woman who claimed to have visions of Jesus, who told her the Shroud is genuine. Wilcox takes her seriously, but a better journalist would have mentioned this screwball in one sentence at most. This book is the least valuable of those I've read. If you want a book by a believer, get Antonacci.

FOOTNOTES to page "Authors, L-P":

1. Spinney, Laura. "Was the Turin shroud 'painted' by bacteria?"