Shroud of Turin - Authentic After All?

The Shroud of Turin is one of the best known and most debated Christian relics in history. Tradition tells us the Shroud is the burial cloth used to wrap the body of Jesus after His crucifixion. The Shroud was then found in the empty tomb on Easter morning. 

"So Simon Peter also came, following him, and he entered the tomb; and he looked at the linen wrappings there, and the face-cloth which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings but folded up in  a place by itself."  John 20:5-7

The Shroud depicts the image believed to be Jesus and clearly shows the face and body of a man, with his hands folded across his body. The image is said to be the result of a chemical reaction, of unknown origin, which allowed the blood of Jesus to create the image on the linen cloth, thereby preserving the image. 

Shroud of Turin

The authenticity of the Shroud has been an ongoing debate almost since it was first displayed in the 1350's. No one is sure where the Shroud had been prior to this time which is why so many find it hard to take seriously. For the purpose of this post, we will not attempt to prove the figure depicted on the Shroud is that of Jesus. That is all but impossible to prove. The question we will address is this, is the Shroud from the first century, thus placing it in the proper time period that it could have been the burial cloth of Jesus, or was it made much later, making it impossible for it to have been used to wrap the body of Jesus?

 For a great many years any testing of the Shroud was prohibited. After all, if this truly was the blood of Jesus, how could the church allow it to be destroyed in the testing process? Finally, in 1988 the church allowed strands of the Shroud, not containing the image, to be removed and tested. The testing was conducted by three separate laboratories, one in Zurich, another in Oxford, and a third in Arizona. Of the multiple tests performed by the three labs the oldest possible date found for the Shroud was 795 years +/- 65 years. This placed the date of the shroud to approximately 1193. The mean value of all the testing of all three labs placed the manufacture of the linen somewhere in the 14th century. Case closed. If the fabric for the Shroud was not manufactured until the 14th century, it was obviously impossible for the image to be that of Jesus. Modern science had proven the Shroud to be a fraud. Surprisingly, but perhaps not, the controversy and debate did not end there.


Other scholars quickly pointed out that carbon dating of textiles is not an exact science. An article in the journal of The Archeological Institute of America stated "... radiation dating of textiles has been shown to be problematic in the past." Doctor Dimitri Kouznetsov suggested that a process known as biofractionalization could have resulted in an incorrect result in the radiation dating process. (There are some/many who do not support Dr. Kouznetsov's scientific methodology.)


While several books have been written on the subject, I will touch only briefly on the objections and possible theories as to why the carbon dating for the shroud may be inaccurate. The first and possibly best known is the fact there was a fire at the chapel where the shroud was displayed for many decades. The fire took place in 1532 and was so severe it actually melted the silver case the Shroud was stored in and subjected the Shroud to intense heat and low oxygen. Many believe this fire has made it impossible to accurately date the Shroud by carbon dating since the linen was certainly affected by the heat, smoke, and melting silver of the case.

Scientist at the University of Texas at San Antonio also studied the Shroud and found large deposits of biopolymer coating. It was found this coating, when subjected to the same cleaning process used by the three testing laboratories, became stronger while the aspects of the linen were diminished. It is theorized the carbon dating results obtained by the three labs was actually for this coating rather than the actual linen.

 Another possible source for a contaminate in regards to the carbon dating tests are the conditions in which the Shroud was displayed for centuries. Over the centuries thousands upon thousands of candles were burned in the room along with incense. The smoke from these items is believed to be a possible contaminate not taken into account in the 1988 testing. Some of the most interesting research concerning the Shroud of Turin has been conducted by Dr. and Mrs. Whanger of Duke University. Dr. Whanger studied detailed photographs of the Shroud and found many new details in the imagery. Among the new images found to be present on the Shroud are a large number of flowers banked around the body. Twenty-eight different species of flowers were identified, with twenty of those growing in Jerusalem and the other eight growing within twelve miles of Jerusalem. Doctor Max Frei, a Swiss criminalist and botanist has independently identified pollens of twenty-five of these flowers being present on the Shroud.

 In their book "The Shroud of Turin - An Adventure of Discovery" Dr. Whanger tells of their more than twenty years of research and of their findings and conclusions. Based on the evidence they have obtained, Dr. and Mrs. Whanger believe the Shroud of Turin to be a genuine relic from the first century A.D. An amazing claim, but one which they believe is supported by the evidence of their diligent study of the Shroud.

A final note on the carbon dating and the claims the findings are inaccurate. Many claim the area where the linen samples were taken was not from the actual Shroud, but from a patch. It is unclear when or why the Shroud was repaired or patched, but if the samples taken were from a linen patch and not the original shroud, the test results could well be accurate, but only for the patch, not the actual Shroud.

 Below is a list of a few instances in which carbon dating was found to be in error when being applied to linen test objects.

  •  a) Organic materials from the Akrotire volcanic eruptions have produced age estimations from 1100 years up to 2590 years. This is a variance of some 1400 years. If the tests on the Shroud are off by the same 1400 years, it places the Shroud squarely in the 1st century.
  • b)  Mummies tested in the British museum showed the mummies to be 800 to 1000 years older than their wrappings, which should not be possible since it is highly unlikely the mummies were re-wrapped. 
  • c)  A body discovered in a peat bog in Chesire was confirmed to have died in 300 B.C. but tests results showed a later date in the first century a difference of almost 400 years.

 According to the Journal of The Archaeological Institute of America, "There is still much to learn about natural processes that may incorporate extrinsic carbon into testable substances."

The carbon dating aside, is there any evidence which proves the Shroud is indeed a fake created in the Middle Ages? Proof it is a fake, no, but there is mounting evidence it is not a fake and the evidence surprisingly comes from the scientific community. Test have proven the image could not have been produced by the use of pigments or dyes. Now, new tests say the Shroud was not faked at all, at least not in the middle ages.

Scientists working at the National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Development claim the image on the shroud could not have been faked. Interestingly, they also say it could not have been produced by the linen coming in contact with a body. They insist the only way the image could have been produced on the front and back of the shroud, as is the case, was with a short and intense burst of VUV directional radiation. It should come as no surprise that no such technology existed in the Middle Ages. The scientists have no explanation on how the image came to be on the linen, but they insist it was beyond the ability not only of people living in the middle ages, but even in today’s modern laboratory.

 One report states the following concerning the Shroud and these new developments. “Thedoubleimage (front and back) of a scourged and crucified man, barely visible on the linen cloth of the Shroud of Turin has many physical and chemical characteristics that are so particular that the staining which is identical in all its facets, would be impossible to obtain today in a laboratory… This inability to repeat (and therefore falsify) the image on the Shroud makes it impossible to formulate a reliable hypothesis on how the impression was made.”

The process used to create the Shroud cannot be duplicated and by definition is therefore not scientific. If not created by science, or any known technology, then by what means was the Shroud created? Is the Shroud the real thing, or an elaborate hoax which continues to baffle scientists centuries after its creation? These answers are elusive at best. The Catholic Church, which owns the Shroud, takes no position on the authenticity of the Shroud. The church neither claims it to be authentic, nor denounces it as a fraud.

 In a strange turn of events, the results of new testing were released in April of 2013. These new tests showed the Shroud to date back to between 300 B.C. and 400 A.D. This places the artifact well within the time of Jesus as well as His burial. As one would expect, these results are not universally accepted. The new tests were conducted on the same fibers as were previously tested, but new procedures were used which the scientists in charge claim allow for a higher level of accuracy.

I personally do not believe the Shroud of Turin is the actual burial cloth of Jesus. The first reason is that Jesus did not leave any physical artifacts behind, no keepsakes, no writings, nothing that later believers might worship or hold sacred. After all, we are not called to worship artifacts, but Jesus understood people and knew our tendency would be to hold these artifacts as far more valuable than they truly were. The second reason is far more biblical. In the passage above from the gospel of John we hear the eye witness account of the empty tomb. The burial cloth was there, as was the separate cloth that covered Jesus' head. Two separate pieces of cloth, one for the body, one for the face and head. The Shroud of Turin, a single piece of material, displays the image of both the body and face. If the shroud were the burial cloth of Jesus, it should have only shown His body. Interestingly, there is a second artifact which is believed by some to be the cloth that covered Jesus' head and face. The 'Veil of Veronica', sometimes called 'the Sudarium of Quiedo' is owned by the Vatican but is currently not on display. To the best of my knowledge no dating tests have ever been conducted on this artifact. To be fair, it is possible the burial cloth covered both the body and head with an additional piece of cloth just for the head.

 Note: Some believe the Shroud is actually the Image of Edessa which disappeared from Constantinople around 1204 A.D. which is approximately 100 years before the Shroud was first displayed. In the Orthodox church the image is known as the Holy Mandylion. Almost all reports say the Image of Edessa is that of Jesus' face only, not the entire body. Some interesting theories have been put forward including one which claims the Image of Edessa was actually folded up and placed in a frame allowing only the face to show. This and other theories linking the Image of Edessa with the Shroud of Turin are not considered reliable and few scholars accept them.

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