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Is the Shroud of Turin Real?

by D.M. Murdock/Acharya S

Is the Shroud of Turin genuine? Or is it a forgery in a long line of 'pious frauds?' How was it made?

The Shroud of Turin in original and negative

The Shroud of Turin is a world-famous piece of cloth alleged to have been the burial garment of Jesus Christ. The shroud is held up by believers as evidence not only of Christ's existence but also of his divinity. But is the shroud real? Or is it a fake?

In this analysis, it should be kept in mind that the story of Jesus Christ in the New Testament and other Christian texts is demonstrably fictional, created in order to unify the Roman Empire under one state religion. In doing so, the Church forged hundreds of texts, which were constantly reworked, mutilated and interpolated over the centuries.

The Faithful Forgery Factory

In its quest to establish a religion to gain power and wealth, the Church forgery mill did not limit itself to mere writings but for centuries cranked out thousands of phony "relics" of its "Lord," "Apostles" and "Saints." Although true believers keep attempting to prove otherwise, through one implausible theory after another, the Shroud of Turin is counted among this group of frauds:

There were at least 26 "authentic" burial shrouds scattered throughout the abbeys of Europe, of which the Shroud of Turin is just one.... The Shroud of Turin is one of the many relics manufactured for profit during the Middle Ages. Shortly after the Shroud emerged it was declared a fake by the bishop who discovered the artist. This is verified by recent scientific investigation which found paint in the image areas. The Shroud of Turin is also not consistent with Gospel accounts of Jesus' burial, which clearly refer to multiple cloths and a separate napkin over his face.

"The Shroud of Turin is one of the many relics manufactured for profit during the Middle Ages. Shortly after the Shroud emerged it was declared a fake by the bishop who discovered the artist."

In the literature, we find references to shrouds of Milan, Lodz, Nice, Aix-la-Chapelle and Besançon, among others. Concerning this issue of relic-forging, Dr. Gerald Larue remarks:

Carbon-14 dating has demonstrated that the shroud is a 14th-century forgery and is one of many such deliberately created relics produced in the same period, all designed to attract pilgrims to specific shrines to enhance and increase the status and financial income of the local church.

Mythicist Barbara G. Walker, author of Man Made God, likewise comments on the holy relic mill:

About the beginning of the 9th century, bones, teeth, hair, garments, and other relics of fictitious saints were conveniently "found" all over Europe and Asia and triumphantly installed in the reliquaries of every church, until all Catholic Europe was falling to its knees before what Calvin called its anthill of bones.... St. Luke was touted as one of the ancient world's most prolific artists, to judge from the numerous portraits of the Virgin, painted by him, that appeared in many churches. Some still remain, despite ample proof that all such portraits were actually painted during the Middle Ages.

'True Cross' relic in the Louvre (Photo: Kitty Mervine)And Dr. George A. Wells states:

About 1200, Constantinople was so crammed with relics that one may speak of a veritable industry with its own factories. Blinzler (a Catholic New Testament scholar) lists, as examples: letters in Jesus' own hand, the gold brought to the baby Jesus by the wise men, the twelve baskets of bread collected after the miraculous feeding of the 5000, the throne of David, the trumpets of Jericho, the axe with which Noah made the Ark, and so on...

At one point, a number of churches claimed the one foreskin of Jesus, and there were enough splinters of the "True Cross" that Calvin said the amount of wood would make "a full load for a good ship." The list of absurdities and frauds goes on, and, as Pope Leo X was depicted as exclaiming, the Christ fable has been enormously profitable for the Church.

"A number of churches claimed the one foreskin of Jesus, and there were enough splinters of the 'True Cross' that Calvin said the amount of wood would make 'a full load for a good ship.'"

As we will see, the Shroud of Turin may be added safely to this lengthy list of "pious frauds" committed by believers and vested interests who wish to shore up their faith. It must be therefore asked why force, forgery and fraud were needed to spread the "good news" brought by a "historical son of God."

Carbon-14 Dating

Despite claims to the contrary, carbon-14 dating conducted in 1988 has proved the shroud cloth was created during the 13th or 14th centuries AD/CE. In the Shroud of Turin article on Wikipedia, we read:

After years of discussion, the Holy See permitted radiocarbon dating on portions of a swatch taken from a corner of the shroud. Independent tests in 1988 at the University of Oxford, the University of Arizona, and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology concluded with 95% confidence that the shroud material dated to 1260–1390 AD.... In 2008 former STURP member John Jackson rejected the possibility that the C14 sample may have been conducted on a medieval repair fragment, on the basis that the radiographs and transmitted light images taken by STURP in 1978 clearly show that the natural colour bandings present throughout the linen of the shroud propagate in an uninterrupted fashion through the region that would later provide the sample for radiocarbon dating. Jackson stated that this could not have been possible if the sampled area was a later addition.

"Independent tests in 1988 at the University of Oxford, the University of Arizona, and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology concluded with 95% confidence that the shroud material dated to 1260–1390 AD."

Shroud of Turin, full length, sideways

'Carbon dating tests carried out in 1988 in Oxford, Zurich and Arizona suggested that the shroud was created some time between 1260 and 1390' (Daily Mail UK, 12/21/11)

Regarding believers' claims that the carbon-14 dating is flawed, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Paranormal Claims (CSICOP) relates that the 13th-14th century date revealed by C-14 was verified by three different labs:

DATING. The assertion that blood and pollen matching prove the Shroud of Turin dates to at least the eighth century is - based on the evidence - absurd. The shroud cloth was radiocarbon dated to circa 1260-1390 by three separate laboratories. The date is consistent with a fourteenth-century bishop's report to Pope Clement VII that an earlier bishop had discovered the forger and that he had confessed.

When it was asserted that the C-14 date was "distorted" by the possible use of a newer patch of cloth or the carbon from a fire in the 16th century that left several burn holes in the shroud, a test in 2008 confirmed the original C-14 dating of the 13th to 14th centuries by demonstrating that the piece of cloth previously used indeed was "representative of the whole."

The carbon-14 date of the 13th to 14th century coincides with the shroud's first appearance in the historical record, in the possession of a French knight in 1360. Thus, we are lacking a provenance for the shroud and can hardly make any scientific historical claim for its origin.

Blood on the Shroud?

Turin image with trickling bloodAlthough some claim the shroud impression contains human blood, that contention has never been proved by science, and the trickles of blood on the head appear to confirm that the image is a forgery, as the blood would have been matted in the hair, not running down the scalp.

As concerns the so-called blood purportedly on the shroud, CSICOP says:

BLOOD. The Associated Press reported claims that the shroud bears type AB blood stains. Perhaps this erroneous information has its origin in other fake shrouds of Jesus, since the Shroud of Turin's stains are not only suspiciously red (unlike genuine blood that blackens with age) but they failed batteries of tests by internationally known forensic experts. The "blood" has been definitively proved to be composed of red ocher and vermilion tempera paint."

"The 'blood' has been definitively proved to be composed of red ocher and vermilion tempera paint."

There remains a debate among the faithful, however, as to the nature of the supposed paint or pigments and whether or not they are present on the shroud.

Pollen Proof?

The claims of pollen supposedly found on the shroud, allegedly indicating that the cloth was manufactured in the Middle East before the eighth century, have been discredited as "fraud" and "junk science." The person who originally claimed to have found the pollen on the shroud, Max Frei, has been accused of "sleight of hand" in reporting that pollen samples he took from living plants were subsequently found on the shroud. CSICOP basically determines that Max Frei's "find" is an out-and-out fraud:

POLLENS: It was reported that pollens on the shroud proved it came from Palestine, but the source for the pollens was a freelance criminologist, Max Frei, who once pronounced the forged "Hitler Diaries" genuine. Frei's tape-lifted samples from the Shroud were controversial from the outset since similar samples taken by the Shroud of Turin Research Project in 1978 had comparatively few pollens. As it turned out, after Frei's tapes were examined following his death in 1983, they also had very few pollens - except for a particular one that bore a suspicious cluster on the "lead" (or end), rather than on the portion that had been applied to the shroud. (See Skeptical Inquirer magazine, Summer 1994 pp. 379-385.)

Wiki's Shroud subsection on "Flowers and pollen" reiterates this sordid tale:

Skeptics have argued that the flower images are too faint for Danin's determination to be definite, that an independent review of the pollen strands showed that one strand out of the 26 provided contained significantly more pollen than the others, perhaps pointing to deliberate contamination. Skeptics also argue that Max Frei had previously been duped in his examination of the Hitler Diaries and that he may have also been duped in this case, or may have introduced the pollens himself. J. Beaulieau has stated that Frei was a self-taught amateur palynologist, was not properly trained, and that his sample was too small.

"Skeptics argue that Max Frei may have introduced the pollens himself."

Purported pollen allegedly found on the shroud of TurinResearcher Mark Thompson further comments about the pollen:

One thing that is well known to botanists is that the range within which many wild plants grow contracts under pressure from agriculture, civilization, industry and climate changes, and can expand due to the inadvertent or deliberate transport of seeds in cargo along trade routes.

These shroud researchers asserted (using a database that covered only Israel, it seems, along with other available reports of the plant's range, which I presume to be reliable for the sake of argument) that Z. dumosum grows only in Israel, Syria and the Sinai peninsula.

What I was working on before the likely fraud by Max Frei was pointed out here, is that Z. dumosum may have grown throughout the Middle East along the Mediterranean coast clear up into Byzantium and Constantinople during the 8th century. Other species of Zygophyllaceae grow throughout that range, from Turkey and Greece even into India and clear around the Mediterranean into the Levant and Northern Africa (including the related notorious hallucinogenic Soma/Haoma candidate plant Peganum harmala).

So, the statement that "As Zygophyllum dumosum grows only in Israel, Jordan, and Sinai, its appearance helps to definitively limit the shroud's place of origin" seemed worth questioning, especially due to climate changes and population pressures in the region over the last 1100 years....

Another source of suspicion was that the odd appearance of vague flower images on the shroud are "explained" in one of these papers as due to "corona discharge." This was also quite far-fetched, since corona discharge is more related to Kirlian photography than the residue of pressed flowers. Unless one insists that the Shroud and any enfolded bouquets were struck by Divine Lightning or something -an entertaining notion worthy of Steven Spielberg I suppose, but hardly likely.

The conclusion here is that the pollen does not only grow in the "Holy Land" and that other arguments are metaphysical, not scientific.

In addition, where these researchers came up with the "eighth century" date one can only guess, but even if said date were correct, such would no more "prove" that the shroud was "authentic" in the sense that it was the "original burial cloth of Jesus," than does the spurious argument used by other apologists that the remains of a first century boat found in the Sea of Galilee provide evidence that Jesus existed. The latter argument runs thus: "Here is a boat from the first century A.D. found in the Sea of Galilee. Jesus and his disciples would have ridden in a boat like this." This line of argumentation is fallacious and unscientific.

Weave Too Complex

A fragment of a burial cloth from the first century AD/CE, found in JerusalemIn 2009, the discovery of a "Jesus-era" shroud in a tomb of a Jewish priest in Jerusalem demonstrated the primitive nature of weaving at that time and place. This fact was not lost on the researchers, who released statements to the press that this rare discovery essentially proved the Turin shroud to be a much later fabrication with a twill weave far too complex and intricate for the appropriate period.

In addition to this discrepancy in the weave, the burial cloth genuinely dating to the relevant era is composed of two pieces, whereas the Shroud of Turin is a single cloth. As MSNBC concludes: "If the remains in the Jerusalem tomb represent typical burial shrouds widely used at the time of Jesus, this casts strong doubt that the Turin Shroud originated from Jesus-era Jerusalem."

"The Jerusalem tomb burial shrouds cast strong doubt that the Turin Shroud originated from Jesus-era Jerusalem."

The Crucifixion as Old Testament Midrash

The argument that the shroud is "genuine" because it depicts a man apparently crucified with wounds through his wrists, rather than his palms, does not account for the fact that a skilled forger would know that the palm nails would not hold up the body's weight in a real crucifixion.

Moreover, if the correct procedure for a crucifixion is to hammer nails through the wrists, then the gospel account would be incorrect, as it evidently was cobbled together from the "Pierced One" of the Old Testament Psalm 22, along with the common Pre-Christian pagan motif of a figure in cruciform.

We read at Psalm 22:1, 16-19:

...My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?...

Yea, dogs are round about me; a company of evildoers encircle me; they have pierced my hands and feet - I can count all my bones - they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my raiment they cast lots....

"They have pierced my hands and feet."

Matthew 27:46: 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?' Ilus. Gustave DoreThe use of these Old Testament verses as midrash or scholarly interpretation to create the New Testament account explains both the casting of lots for Jesus's clothing (Mt 22:35) and his pitiful crying from the cross to his Father in heaven (Mt 27:46):

And when they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots...

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, "Eli, Eli, la'ma sabach-tha'ni?" that is, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"

The relevant Greek of Psalm 22:1 (LXX 21:1) about God's forsaking reads: ὁ θεὸς ὁ θεός μου πρόσχες μοι ἵνα τί ἐγκατέλιπές, while that of the NT verse of Matthew 27:46 is very similar: Θεέ μου θεέ μου ἱνατί με ἐγκατέλιπες. Mark 15:34 is even closer: ὁ θεός μου ὁ θεός μου εἰς τί ἐγκατέλιπές με.

The NT verses use the precise terminology for "cast lots" as the Greek OT or Septuagint: βάλλοντες κλῆρον (Mt 22:35; Mk 15:24) or ἔβαλον κλήρους (Lk 23:34) and ἔβαλον κλῆρον (Ps 22:18). Using the phrase ἔβαλον κλῆρον, John 19:24 specifically states that the casting of the lots for the garments was to "fulfil the scripture," referring to Psalm 22. In other words, the Old Testament was a midrashic blueprint for the creation of the NT account, a fact of which the NT writers were consciously aware.

Pierced Hands and Feet

John 19:37 echoes this awareness of the OT blueprints, in discussing the "piercing":

And again another scripture says, "They shall look on him whom they have pierced." (Ps 22:17)

This passage in Psalm 22 refers specifically to the piercing of the hands and feet, a detail left out by the NT composers, perhaps because they knew that Roman crucifixion was not committed in this manner. The fact is, however, that the evangelists did not "correct" this crucifixion error by relating that, in the "real" crucifixion, Jesus's wrists were pierced.

Since it is evident that, rather than representing a historical account of an actual crucifixion, the NT account was cobbled together using Old Testament scriptures, one might suggest that the writers of the gospel tale also had in mind that, like the Pierced One of Psalm 22, the sufferer likewise would have his hands pierced, not his wrists. Hence, the shroud would not match the gospel depiction.

Krishna's foot is pierced by the arrow of hunter Jara, killing himAs concerns the ancient mythical motif of deities and heroes in cruciform or cross-shape, it should be noted that there are images of such figures with piercing of their feet, as in the story of the Indian god Krishna, who is killed by an arrow piercing his foot while sitting under a tree.

The crucifixion account in the New Testament also represents an archetype of the ancient sacred-king, scapegoat sacrifice ritual practiced many times in countless places for thousands of years. In consideration of these facts, there is little reason to assume that the NT account is historical. (See my book Suns of God: Krishna, Buddha and Christ Unveiled for more on the subject of human sacrifice.)

How was the Shroud Made?

Over the centuries, the pious have frequently claimed that the shroud was made supernaturally and could not be reproduced. Such supporters often point to the photographic image of the shroud, which more closely resembles a person's skin tones and contrast, as "proof" of its mystical and godly origin.

However, the shroud's appearance has been reproduced faithfully enough without any divine intervention, such as a supernatural flash of light. This latter idea posits a burst of ultraviolet light/energy from Christ's flesh upon his resurrection, a notion refuted by the presence on the shroud of the beard and hair, unless they too possessed supernatural radiation.

In any event, a team of Italian scientists led by chemist Luigi Garlaschelli reproduced the shroud effect in 2009:

"The result obtained clearly indicates that this could be done with the use of inexpensive materials and with a quite simple procedure."... [The] team used a linen woven with the same technique as the shroud and artificially aged by heating it in an oven and washing it with water. The cloth was then placed on a student, who wore a mask to reproduce the face, and rubbed with red ochre, a well known pigment at the time....

"The result obtained clearly indicates that this could be done with the use of inexpensive materials and with a quite simple procedure."

Shroud of Turin reproduced by Italian chemist Luigi Garlaschelli

Blowing and Dusting Techniques

Another theory of how the shroud was produced seeks to explain the apparent negative impression as well as the lack of brush strokes, if it is an artist's creation. This technique requires a cadaver or, perhaps, sculpture, of an appropriate size, shape and attributes, such as wounds. Once the body is wrapped in a shroud, the artist blows the red ochre and other pigments along the cadaver's contours, thus producing the three-dimensional and apparent negative imagery.

In "Image Formation and the Shroud of Turin" (17), Drs. Emily A. Craig and Randall R. Bresee suggest that examples of this blowing technique may be found in the paleolithic artwork of the Lascaux caves, for instance, also devoid of brush strokes.

Lascaux cave image (Photo: Prof saxx)

The cave paintings of Lascaux, Altamira, Chauvet and other sites are so extraordinary and advanced for their time that one could easily propose a series of arguments for their "supernatural" and divine origin in the same manner as done with the Turin shroud. The fact that there are thousands of these amazing paintings, composed over a period of tens of thousands of years, is far more impressive than the manufacture of a single piece of cloth.

A type of "soft-brush" technique can be found in books from the relevant era that specifically address the painting of a dead man and wounds. In this regard, Craig and Bresee also remark:

...the 12th century work of Theophilus, De diversis artibus, and the 14th or 15th century work of Cennino d'Andrea Cennini, Il libro dell'arte, revealed step-by-step procedures for artists of that period. Cennini's handbook includes instruction for grinding pigment into powder, brushing charcoal with feathers, and burnishing an image onto cloth. His handbook contains chapters containing specific instructions on "how to paint a dead man" and "how to paint wounds."

Using this dusting technique, Craig and colleagues were able to produce the following images:

Reproduction of Shroud of Turin by Emily A. Craig and Randall R. Bresee

Craig, et al., conclude:

These considerations indicate that the inspiration, knowledge and tools necessary for an artist to create the image on the Turin cloth were probably available during the 12th and 13th centuries, although the specific combinations of individual techniques we used in our dust drawing technique may not have been described. It is clearly possible that an artist created the image on the Turin cloth. Of course, radiocarbon dating also supports this hypothesis, because this analytical technique determined that the Turin cloth originated between 1260 and 1390 A.D.

"The inspiration, knowledge and tools necessary for an artist to create the image on the Turin cloth were probably available during the 12th and 13th centuries."

Craig and Bresee, aware that the cloth has been proved scientifically to date to the 13th century at the earliest, make the seemingly desperate suggestion that the shroud could still represent an "authentic" image of Christ transferred from an earlier "genuine" one. This sort of proposal in order not to offend religious sensilibities has, of course, continually muddied the field.

Artist rendering of a typical Jewis man of Jesus's timeTheories of who created the cloth include Leonardo da Vinci, whose face appears to match that of the shroud. It is also believed by many that Knights Templar leader Jacques de Molay (d. 1314) is the victim whose body was used to create an image that is apparently distorted as concerns normal proportions.

Others point out that the face on the shroud resembles a European, while the alleged historical Jesus would have been Semitic in features, much like the image to the right.

In the end, there remains little reason to suspect that the Shroud of Turin is anything but a late artifact created over a thousand years after Christ's alleged advent. Therefore, it does not serve as evidence of Jesus's purported divinity or existence as a historical figure.

Further Reading

Turin shroud too complex for Jesus's time
Shroud of Turin a fake?!
Italian group claims to debunk, reproduce Shroud of Turin
Unraveling the Shroud
Shroud of Turin (Rational Wiki)
Was Turin Shroud faked by Leonardo da Vinci?
Radiocarbon 14 dating of the Shroud of Turin
Image Formation and the Shroud of Turin

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"Murdock's scholarship is relentless! ...the research conducted by D.M. Murdock concerning the myth of Jesus Christ is certainly both valuable and worthy of consideration." —Dr. Kenneth L. Feder, Professor of Archaeology, Central Connecticut State University, Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience In Archaeology

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