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The Shroud of Turin

Part 1 of 2
First impressions of the Shroud:

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First impressions of the shroud:

There are a many curious features of the shroud that appear to support the "painted 14th century" theory rather than the belief that the shroud was an actual burial cloth from first century CE Palestine. Note that this does not necessarily imply that the shroud is a forgery. It might have been created as a religious icon.

bullet The shape of the shroud:
bullet John 19:40 refers to Jesus body being wrapped in two linen cloths -- one for the face and another for the body. This was the customary Jewish practice at the time. 1
bullet John 20:5-7 describes how Peter and the beloved disciple saw "othonia" -- Greek for multiple linen cloths -- lying in the tomb.

Yet, the shroud is one continuous piece of linen.

bullet Finger length: Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley have found that the relative length of fingers predict a person's sexual orientation. Heterosexual men tend to have a short index finger (the one next to the thumb) compared to the ring finger (the one next to the little finger). Gay men have an even shorter index finger. Since the relative size of a person's fingers is determined before birth, these findings imply that a person's sexual orientation is at least partly decided before birth, not chosen at puberty as many social and religious conservatives believe.

The man in the image has the fingers of his left hand wrapped around the right wrist, so that the length of the fingers on the left hand are not visible. But the fingers of the right hand are extended. The index finger is long relative to the ring finger - a configuration not seen in normal men. Even stranger, the index and middle fingers are of the same size.

The man's index finger is at least five inches long -- a very rare length today. It would have been even more unusual in the first century CE.


digitally processed image of the face on the shroud2Portrayal of the top of the man's head:

There are two images on the sheet, showing a man's back and front. That is because this burial shroud was apparently wrapped from the the man's toes, up the front of his body, over his head, and down his back to his heels.

Webmaster's comment:

When I first looked at the digitally enhanced photograph shown above, there appeared to be only a gap of less than 1 cm (less than a half inch) between what I though were the front and back images of the man's head. That made no sense, because the shround would have been draped from the toes, up over the front of the body, over the hair at the top of the body and then down the back to the heels.

I was confused about what happened to the image of the top of the victim's head.

I commented in this essay on this small gap as a "top of the head" problem.

Unknown to me, a web site of Dan Porter at discussed what they also referred to as the "top of the head" problem. 8

Some time later, I looked at a full image of the shroud and realized that I was mistaken. What I interpreted in the above image as the top of the back of the man's was really a gap between the top of his head and a large water stain. There is a large gap between the front and back head images after all, separated by a water stain.

Some investigators have suggested that the image on the shroud was caused by some form of radiation emanating from the body, perhaps at about the time of death. This leads immediately to what might be called the "top of the head" problem.

If radiation from the head created the two two images on the shroud, then there seem to be only two possibilities:

1) There was similar radiation from the top of the head. It would have left an image of the top of the victim's head on the shroud. However, there is no such image. Only a tiny gap is seen. There could have been a small piece of fabric or other material that only covered his head and which adsorbed the radiation. However, there is no obvious reason why just the top of the head would have been covered.

2) There was no radiation from the top of the head. This would result in a dark gap of perhaps 12 cm (almost 5 inches) between the top of the front of the head and the top of the back of the head. No such gap is visible.

Thus the radiation theory seems to fail because it does not match the image.

That still leaves the possibility that the Shroud is some form of image intentionally created -- either as a painting by an artist or by some form of photographic technique.

This leaves two possibilities:

1) The shroud was created as a forgery that was to be "sold" to the public as Jesus' shroud. This seems improbable because the "top of the head" problem would immediately point out that this is not a real 1st century shroud.

2) The shroud was created by a human as a type of icon to be venerated. This seems to be the more likely possibility.

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bulletPortrayal of the man's arms and hands: There are two problems here:
bullet The body is shown in a relaxed state. Yet his hands reach and cover his genitals. In reality, a man's hands can only reach his genitals if his arms are stretched downwards. This would have happened if the body had been tightly wrapped with a long narrow strip of fabric. However, this shroud is a long, wide covering that was simply laid over and under the body -- not wrapped tightly around it.

bullet The right forearm also appears to be several inches longer than the left. This makes sense if the image were painted by an artist in order to cover the genitals and preserve the modesty of the image. But it makes no sense if the image was made by a real body. They tend to be quite symettrical.


Portrayal of the man's face: Portrayals of Jesus gradually evolved over the centuries. Various details can be used to roughly date an image of Jesus. The picture on the shroud shows a forked beard, hair parted in the middle with loose strands of hair on the forehead. These details identify the image as having been created in medieval times. 3

The shape of the head looks strange. The face is about twice as high as its width.

bullet Portrayal of other parts of the body: The body's navel and genitals do not appear on the image. Since this is definitely not an image produced by Adam, the absence of a navel is surprising. The body's buttocks, chest, toes "are defined poorly or not at all." 4 This is consistent with the image being a medieval work of art, but not with the body generating its own image.


The man's height: Various experts have estimated the man's image to be 5' 11" to 6' 2" tall. Jews who lived in the 1st century were much shorter than this.

Writer William Harwood comments:

"According to a medieval writer, [the Jewish historian] Josephus described Jesus as an old-looking man, balding, stooped, with joined eyebrows and approximately 135 cm (4 ft. 6 in.) tall." 5

Harwood was apparently referring to the writings of the eighth century archbishop of Crete, Andreas Hierosolymitanus, who quoted a description of Jesus Christ which (he said) could be found in a version of Josephus extant at that time. This was based on the standard 46 cm. long regular cubit -- an ancient unit of distance. Using the 53 cm. special cubit, Jesus' height would have been about 156 cm (5 ft. 1 in.).

However, it is likely that the archbishop confused the description of Jesus with that of Paul found in the "Acts of Paul and Thecla" by a resident of Iconium named Onesiphorus. He described Paul as, "a man of small stature, with a bald head and crooked legs, in a good state of body, with eyebrows meeting and nose somewhat hooked." 6 Although Josephus does refer to Jesus, his surviving writings do not contain a physical description.

An analysis of skeletons from 1st century CE Palestine has shown that the 5 ft. 1 in. figure is typical. Harwood also makes the point that if Jesus were really 6 feet high, his height would have been so remarkable that he would certainly have been described as a giant in the Christian Scriptures (New Testament) The image on the shroud is about a foot too tall for Jesus, using the best data available. Certainly, if Jesus was about six feet tall, there would have been no reason for the Temple leaders to have paid Judas to identify Jesus at his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus would certainly have stood out among the disciples.

bullet The man's eyebrows: As mentioned above, Josephus apparently believed that Jesus' eyebrows were joined. The image of the man shows separate eyebrows.

bullet Proportions of the man's face: A person's eyes are typically very close to the midpoint between the top of their head and the bottom of their chin (with the possible exception of Jay Leno). But close-up photographs of the image on the linen shows the eyes much closer to the top of the head than is normally seen in people.

bulletBlood stains: There are a number of irregularities exhibited by the red stains on the shroud that some believe are blood stains, and others believe are red-oxide paint. They preclude the possibility that the stains were caused by blood:

bullet Blood from a fresh wound is red in color and quickly changes to a brownish color due to oxidation. But the stains on the shroud are red -- not what one would expect from blood deposited there in the first or even the 14th century CE.

bullet During the fire of 1532 CE, the shroud was exposed to significant temperatures: about 900 degrees Celsius at the top of the container in which it was stored, to 200 degrees at the bottom. Organic substances such as blood would have "decomposed, changed color or volatilized at different rates." 7 But the stains remained bright red and otherwise similar in appearance from top to bottom.

bullet The stains are very clear and precise in outline. If they were caused by blood from a crucified person, they would have been smeared as a result of handling and wrapping the body. Robert Wild commented: "...we must also suppose...that the nails were pulled from Jesus' hands and feet and that his body was then taken down from the cross, carried some distance to the tomb, and laid upon the linen shroud, all without smearing or rubbing the bloodstains! This, it seems to me, stretches credulity to the breaking point."

bullet Many of the stains flow down the forehead, the arms, and other places on the body as if the body was oriented vertically at the time that the shroud was stained. But the body would have been horizontal at the time that it was wrapped and laid in a tomb.

bullet John 19:39-40 states that large quantities of spices were wrapped with the burial garments around Jesus' body. These materials would have badly smeared the stains if they had been caused by blood.

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None of these factors are insurmountable arguments against the shroud being that of a crucified man of the first century CE. It can be argued that no energy rays were emitted from the top of the man's head. Perhaps an unusual fabric had been woven for Jesus' shroud. Josephus' description of Jesus may be inaccurate. The medieval writer might have been mistaken when he quoted Josephus. If one allows for the existence of miracles, then all bets are off. Blood would be able to flow uphill; the body could be extensively handled without smearing the blood.

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This topic continues in Part 2 with a more detailed examination of the shroud.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Joe Nickell, "Claims of Invalid “Shroud” Radiocarbon Date Cut from Whole Cloth," Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, at:
  2. Digitally processed image of the face from the Shroud of Turin, Wikipedia, at:
  3. 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:
  4. 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 183. Read reviews or order this book
  5. William Harwood, "Mythology's Last Gods," Prometheus Books, (1992), Page 263, Footnote 5. Read reviews or order this book savely from the online bookstore
  6. "What is the height of Jesus Christ?," Mormon apologetic & discussion board, at:
  7. M.M. Baden, Article, Medical World News, 1980-DEC-22.
  8. Dan Porter, "Top of Head Puzzle," Shroud of the Turin Blog, 2014-JAN-15, at:
  9. Dan Porter, "Top of the Head Puzzle Redux," Shroud of the Turin Blog, 2014-FEB-28, at:

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Copyright 1999 to 2016 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 1999-NOV-18.
Latest update: 2016-DEC-14.
Author: B.A. Robinson

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