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The Shroud of Turin

Part 2 of 2

A more detailed analysis of the Shroud:

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This topic is continued from Part 1

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Detailed analysis of the linen:

Ever since the shroud was first photographed in 1898, it has generated considerable interest in the scientific community:

bulletCarbon -14 dating: In 1988, pieces of the linen cloth were sent for destructive Carbon-14 testing in three separate laboratories in three countries. The individuals who were measuring the age of the samples were aware of the source of the material, and were thus aware of the two most likely dates that the shroud was made: 1st and 14th centuries CE. Listed are results, in terms of the number of years before 1950 CE, followed by the 94% confidence limits in brackets:
Laboratory Result 1 Result 2 Result 3 Result 4  Result 5
Arizona 591 (30) 690 (35) 606 (41) 701 (33)  -
Oxford 795 (65) 730 (45) 745 (55) -  -
Zurich 733 (61) 722 (56) 635 (57) 639 (45)  679 (51)

After further computation, the results date the fabric to between 598 and 728 years before the time of the measurements. That is, between 1260 and 1390 CE. 3

This means that the flax from which the linen was made was growing in the ground about 1325 CE when it was harvested. The date of the image itself is unknown; the test could only estimates the age of the fabric.

If one assumes:
bullet that the shroud was painted in the mid-14th century, and

bullet there was a two year interval between the flax growing in the field and the completion of painting, and

bullet the painting was finished shortly before its the earliest firmly known date of the shroud's existence, (1353 CE) 

then the flax was alive circa 1350 CE. That is very close to the average of the laboratory estimates. These results were a deep disappointment to the people who had faith that the cloth was the burial shroud of Jesus. 

Some believers have since developed reasons why they felt that the dating was in error:
bullet One theory is that the event that caused the image to be imprinted on the cloth might have been related to Jesus' resurrection. It it happened, it was a miracle that might have involved forms of energy which are currently unknown to humanity. Those energies might have changed the molecular structure of the carbon in the linen, thus introducing a 1300 year error into the Carbon-14 analysis. This could produce an estimated date approximately equal to the time when the existence of the shroud was first firmly documented.

bullet Another theory is that there exists various forms of contamination on the linen samples that were presented to the testing laboratories. Although the samples were cleaned prior to testing, the task might not have been done thoroughly at all three labs. Alternatively, standard methods of cleaning might have been ineffective.

This argument does not hold water. In order to increase the apparent date of the samples from 30 CE to 1350 CE, the sample would have had to be about one third linen and two thirds contamination (by weight). That is, about 40 pounds (18 kg) of contaminant (mold, mildew, bacteria, etc) would have had to accumulate on the original 20 pound (9 kg) shroud to make a total current shroud weight of 60 pounds (27 kg). 9 One need only to look at the cloth to realize that this is not the case. However, this is a widely circulated belief.


A third theory is that the extreme temperatures that the shroud experienced in the 1532 CE fire might have influenced the results. In addition, the shroud was subjected to centuries of intermittent exposure to candle smoke and incense. Sebastian Sparenga of the McCrone Research Institute states:

"The suggestion that the 1532 Chambery fire changed the date of the cloth is ludicrous. Samples for C-dating are routinely and completely burned to CO2 as part of a well-tested purification procedure." 9

bullet Finally, some believers suggest that the samples which were carbon dated were not of the linen burial cloth itself. They came from a cloth patch that had been used to repair the shroud. Thus, the age measurement indicates the approximate date when the repair work was done, not the date at which the flax was harvested to make the shroud. To take a sample from a patch rather than from the shroud itself would require an extremely high degree of incompetence or deception. Both seem highly improbable.

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bullet The man's fingers: One unexpected feature of the image is that the man's thumbs are not shown. One would expect all five fingers to be shown on both hands. However, during a crucifixion, nails are passed through the wrist. This forces the thumb out of position, so that it would not be seen in an image of the corpse. It is very unlikely that physicians and artists in the 14th century would have know this. If the shroud is really a forgery or icon, one would have expected the painter to have shown all five fingers on the man's hand.

bullet The man's wrists: The gospels record that Jesus' hands were pierced by nails. But this is impossible; the palm pierced by a nail would not be capable of supporting the full weight of the man; the flesh and ligaments would simply tear. The Romans pierced the wrist with a nail, or tied the arm to the cross piece. Physicians and artists in the Middle Ages assumed that the gospels were right and that Jesus was nailed through his palm. (Luke 24:39, John 20:24, John 20:27) The crucifixion paintings of the era showed this. Some modern paintings do as well, out of ignorance or a sense of tradition. The first episode of the TV program "AD" that was broadcast in 2015-APR portrayed the crucifixion. It showed nails being placed on the actor's wrist. If the shroud is really a forgery or icon, the painter would be expected to have drawn a palm injury. The shroud actually shows a hole in the wrist.

bullet Pollen: Pollen are very fine microspores that are used by plants for propagation. Max Frei reported that he discovered many species of pollen grains on the shroud. Some news sources reported that he positively identified pollen which came from plants that only grew in Palestine during the 1st century CE. In fact, he reported that he found pollen from desert halophytes - "salt plants" which grow only in very saline desert soils such as those in the Jordan valley. 4 Frei was described by Joe Nickell as a "freelance criminologist" 5 and by the media relations and publications department of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem as a "forensic scientific expert..." 6Frei is probably best known for having pronounced the forged Hitler Diaries as genuine.

He used tape to lift samples of pollen from the linen. They were then extracted and embedded in glycerin jelly so that they could be examined from all directions in a microscope. He reported, before his death in 1983, that many of the pollen samples from the shroud were from species of plants that were unique to the Middle East and not found in Europe. Nickell implies that Frei's sampling procedure might have been faulty. He mentions that the tapes "had very few pollens -- although one bore a suspicious cluster on the 'lead' (or end), rather than on the portion that had been applied to the shroud.

bullet Blood on the man's forehead: Dr. M. M. Baden commented that the image on the shroud shows blood having trickled from the scalp, presumably due to the wounds created by the crown of thorns mentioned in the Gospels. He noted that blood from a scalp wound does not flow in rivulets, but rather mats the hair. 7

bullet The head on the reverse side of the shroud: An image has been found on the reverse side of the shroud which is a near duplicate of the one on the front. Some suggest that this is evidence that the shroud is a forgery. It has been speculated that "any paint or liquid used by forgers to make a print on the cloth would have soaked through" to the reverse side. However, there are two problems with this theory: the images on the front and reverse sides of the shroud only appear on the surface layers of the linen; there is no image in the middle of the cloth. Also, the two images are not identical.

One possible explanation is that the shroud was created as a forgery or religious icon by an artist who first painted a practice image on one side of the linen, to perfect their technique. Then they painted a second image on the front of the linen for public viewing. Unfortunately, there is a key piece of missing information: are the two images directly on top of each other. If they are perfectly aligned, then the practice image theory is unlikely to be true. If they are offset, then the opposing theory that the front image was generated by special rays associated with the resurrection is likely to be false. More measurements on the shroud would be necessary to resolve the difficulty.

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Disagreement about the implications of the shroud's weave:

The linen in the Shroud of Turin is woven with a 3:1 herringbone pattern; other linen has a simpler 1:1 weave. We have not been able to resolve differences among experts about the significance of the weave:

bullet According to Joe Nickell, a Senior Research Fellow at the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry:

"... no examples of its complex herringbone weave are known from the time of Jesus when, in any case, burial cloths tended to be of plain weave."

He cites three references:

bullet Joe Nickell, "Inquest on the Shroud of Turin: Latest Scientific Findings," Prometheus Books., (1998), Page 35.

bullet Ian Wilson, "The Blood and the Shroud," The Free Press, (1998)

bullet David F. Brown, Interview with H. David Sox, New Realities, 4:1 (1981), Page 31. 14
bullet A Wikipedia article states: According to master textile restorer Mechthild Flury-Lemberg of Hamburg, a seam in the cloth corresponds to a fabric found only at the fortress of Masada near the Dead Sea, which dated to the first century. ... Flury-Lemberg stated, 'The linen cloth of the Shroud of Turin does not display any weaving or sewing techniques which would speak against its origin as a high-quality product of the textile workers of the first century'." 16

bullet That article continues: "The weaving pattern, 3:1 twill, is consistent with first-century Syrian design, according to the appraisal of Gilbert Raes of the Ghent Institute of Textile Technology in Belgium." 16

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  1. G.A. Wells, "The historical evidence for Jesus," Prometheus Books, (1988), Page 190. Read reviews or order this book
  2. William Harwood, "Mythology's Last Gods," Prometheus Books, (1992), Page 263, Footnote 5. Read reviews or order this book savely from the online bookstore 
  3. P. E. Damon, et al. "Radiocarbon Dating of the Shroud of Turin." Nature, 337:6208, 1989-FEB-16, Pages 611 to 615.
  4. G.A. Wells, op cit, Page 185
  5. Joe Nickell, "Blooming 'Shroud' Claims," Skeptical Inquirer magazine, 1999-NOV/DEC issue, Page 22-23.
  6. G. R. Lavoie, "Unlocking the Secrets of the Shroud," Thomas More, (1998). Read reviews or order this book
  7. M.M. Baden, Article, Medical World News, 1980-DEC-22.
  8. Charles Arthur, "Scientists find another face on reverse side of Turin shroud: Scientists debate meaning and origin of image on little-see back surface of shroud," The Independent. Online at:
  9. "The Shroud of Turin," McCrone Research Institute, at:
  10. "Amounts of modern biological contaminant required to raise the date of a 36 A.D. shroud," McCrone Research Institute, at:
  11. Robert Wild, "Art, Artivice or Artifact? Supposed burial shroud probably made in 14th century," in Molly Meinhardt, Ed., "Mysteries of the Bible: From the Garden of Eden to the Shroud of Turin," Biblical Archaeological Society, (2004), Page 180. Read reviews or order this book
  12. Ibid, Page 181 - 182.
  13. Ibid, Page 183.
  14. Joe Nickell, "Claims of Invalid “Shroud" Radiocarbon Date Cut from Whole Cloth," Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, at:
  15. N.D. Wilson, "Father Brown Fakes the Shroud: Start with a piece of glass and some white oil paint," Books & Culture, 2005-MAR/APR. See:
  16. "Shroud of Truin" Wikipedia at:
  17. "What is the height of Jesus Christ?," Mormon apologetic & discussion board, at:

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Copyright © 1999 to 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 1999-NOV-18
Latest update: 2015-APR-20
Author: B.A. Robinson

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