Is the mysterious shroud of Turin

A Relic of the Resurrection?

by Rev. Dr. John C. Wilkey, Pastor, United Methodist Church Pittsfield, Illinois President, Central Illinois Conference Council on Finance and Administration

Is there factual proof that Christ’s crucified body underwent an amazing energy transformation at the moment of the Resurrection? I believe the Shroud of Turin provides this evidence. I have had an interest in the shroud for many years but have become firmly convinced of its authenticity as a result of reading two new studies. These investigations were made by Robert K. Wilcox (Shroud, Macmillan, 1977), former religion editor of the Miami News; and Ian Wilson (The Shroud of Turin, Doubleday, 1978), also a newspaperman and an Oxford history graduate. In addition there are older, Roman Catholic books on the shroud, including Edward Wuensche I’s Self-Portrait of Christ (1956), Pierre Berbet’s A Doctor at Calvary (1953) and Peter Rinaldi’s It Is the Lord (1972).

What is the Shroud of Turin? It is a piece of linen cloth measuring 14½ feet in length and 3½ feet in width. It is kept in the Cathedral of Turin, Italy. Imprinted on the cloth is the frontal and dorsal image of a man approximately 5 feet, 11 inches in height. His hands are crossed at the pelvis. There is a large, bloody wound on the wrists and one on each foot. The entire body is covered with wounds made by the Roman flagrum or whip. The man’s hair is matted with blood from scalp wounds caused by sharp objects such as thorns. The face is bruised; the nose is probably broken. In the side is the largest wound; it was probably caused by the common Roman spear used by execution squads. This wound shows not only blood but a clear fluid (“water”) stain as well. The man is bearded, which indicates he was Jewish; Roman and Greek men were nearly always clean shaven. The man’s hair is bound into a pig-tail in back; this is a little known but common custom of ancient Jews. The shoulders bear marks which were caused by carrying a rough, wooden beam.

The evidence is overwhelming that the image is that of Jesus of Nazareth after His crucifixion. While there were thousands of crucifixions in antiquity, the New Testament accounts mention the flogging, the wound in the side, the nailed hands and feet, the bruised face, the cap of thorns, and the bruised shoulder from carrying the cross beam. This could be no other person than Jesus.

The Shroud of Turin is known positively to have existed since 1357 when it was exhibited in Lirey, France. It was nearly destroyed in a fire in 1532. The fire did burn 24 holes in the cloth which was folded up at the time. These have been patched with duck-foot shaped pieces of newer cloth. The fire did not damage the image itself.

The shroud is an object of controversy even today. Opponents of its authenticity, including both Catholics and Protestants, charge that the shroud is a 14th century forgery. They base their arguments on a lengthy document of Pierre D’Arcis, bishop of Troyes; Lirey was in his diocese. D’Arcis claims to have found an artist who admitted painting the shroud for money.

However, in opposition to the D’Arcis document, several factors support the shroud’s authenticity. First, the image on the shroud is a negative; the natural lights and shadows are reversed, as on a photographic negative. It was not until 1898 when the first photograph of the shroud was taken that this fact was discovered. When the negative of the shroud photograph was developed, a positive image appeared, showing a face and body of almost photographic exactness! How would a medieval forger know how to do this in the 14th century? And even if he knew how, why would he paint something that could not be appreciated until half a millennium later? Furthermore, scientific tests made on the shroud in 1973 show conclusively that there is no paint on it. However the image got on the cloth, it was not painted!

Two big questions are raised by the shroud: Where was it before 1357? and, How did the image get on it?

Both Robert Wilcox and Ian Wilson have a fascinating and convincing theory about the shroud’s whereabouts before the 14th century. There was a well-known face of Christ on cloth in the Syrian town of Edessa in the 6th century. In 943, this cloth or “Mandylion” as it was called, was sold by the Muslim emir of Edessa to the Byzantine Emperor, Romanus Lecapenus, who brought it to Constantinople. Soldiers of the Fourth Crusade reported seeing the Mandylion there in 1206. Shortly after, the Crusaders sacked the city and the Mandylion disappeared. The Knights Templars, a militant religious order who were in the Fourth Crusade, were later accused of worshiping a strange “head.” Copies of this “head” are obviously made from the face of the Shroud of Turin. The Knights Templars were suppressed by the pope in the 14th century, and one of them, Geoffrey DeCharnay, was burned at the stake in 1307. It was another Geoffrey DeCharnay, probably a nephew of the old Templar, who turned up with the shroud in Lirey in 1357.

But the Mandylion was only a face, not a full body image. Not so, says Wilson. The Mandylion was referred to by a strange and unique Greek word meaning “folded in four.” The shroud, when folded in four, shows only the face of Christ. The Mandylion, I am convinced, was what we now know as the Shroud of Turin.

How did the cloth get from Jesus’ tomb to Edessa? The early church historian Eusebius tells about Abgar V, King of Edessa, who heard of Jesus and sent for Him to come and heal him. If we theorize that the messengers from Abgar arrived after the crucifixion, they would have sought out the apostles. The linen shroud would be an embarrassment to the apostles for two reasons. First, it had touched a dead body and was therefore unclean. Second, as Jews, they abhorred images. So the apostles might have given the burial cloth to the Syrian messengers to take to Abgar. Edessan tradition says that the cloth was later stored in the city wall and forgotten until the 6th century.

The other question is more intriguing: How did the image get on the shroud? Wuenschel and older Roman Catholics theorized that the image was a “vapor-graph,” made by ammonia gasses from the “aloes” (see John 19:39) produced in the damp atmosphere of the tomb. Experiments with aloes do produce a brownish stain similar to that on the shroud. But vapors never rise in straight lines, so any image produced by this process is always badly blurred. The image on the shroud is quite clear.

Ian Wilson, after conferring with two Air Force Academy physicists at Albuquerque, New Mexico, has a more convincing theory. Dr. John Jackson and Dr. Eric Jumper believe the image was burned or scorched by some flash of pure energy from within the shroud, similar to the images scorched on objects in the nuclear blasts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It must have been that at the moment of the Resurrection, Jesus’ body was transformed by some energy process unknown to us, but which scorched the image onto the cloth. This is a theory I find quite convincing after studying the evidence.

Then what significance does the Shroud of Turin have for us? Some regard it as only a medieval forgery. Some think it is but another bit of traffic in “holy relics” so characteristic of pious, unsophisticated Catholics. But I believe it is a genuine piece of evidence which corroborates the testimony of the New Testament.

The shroud gives us a reliable picture of the physical appearance of Jesus of Nazareth. For centuries, the question of His personal likeness has intrigued artists, theologians, and common Christian folk. I believe the shroud shows us what Jesus looked like.

But more important, the shroud is a piece of historical evidence from the central fact of Christianity: the Resurrection. Let me be quite clear, however: I do not accept the Resurrection because of the shroud. I accept it in faith based on Scripture. But the shroud supports faith and the written Word. It is factual evidence against Bultmann, Willi Marxen, and others who speak of the Resurrection as a myth or legend.

The shroud is the burial cloth of Jesus Christ which underlines the truth of our New Testament faith. More and more scientists accept the authenticity of the shroud, and of the Resurrection which it proclaims. Isn’t it tragic that so many theologians and preachers deny what science now supports?


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