The Shroud of Turin
First impressions. A detailed analysis
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.
|The shape of the shroud: |
|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. 14
|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
||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 is 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.
Portrayal 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 feet, up the front of his body, over his head, and down his back to his feet. The front and back images of the head are separated by a gap of less than 1 cm (less than a half inch).
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 are 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.
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 most likely possibility.
|Portrayal of the man's arms and hands: There are two problems
||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.|
|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.|
|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.
|Portrayal of other parts of the body: The body's navel and
genitals do not appear on the image. The body's buttocks, chest, toes "are
defined poorly or not at all." 13
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.
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." 2 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 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." 17 Although Josephus does refer to Jesus, his 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.
|The man's eyebrows: As mentioned above,
Josephus apparently believed that Jesus' eyebrows were joined. The image of
the man shows separate eyebrows.|
|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.|
|Blood 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:|
|Blood from a fresh wound is red in color and soon 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
|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." 11
But the stains remained bright red and otherwise similar in appearance
from top to bottom.|
|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."|
|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.|
||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.|
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
Detailed analysis of the linen:
Ever since the shroud was first photographed in 1898, it has generated
considerable interest in the scientific community:
||Carbon -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 the number of years before 1950 CE, followed by the 94%
confidence limits in brackets:
|| 679 (51)
After further computation, the results date the fabric to between 1260 and
1390 CE. 3
This means that the flax from which the linen was made was growing in the
ground sometime between those two dates when it was harvested. The date of the image itself is
unknown; the test only estimates the age of the fabric.
If one assumes:
|that the shroud was painted in the mid-14th century, and|
|there was a two year interval between the flax growing in the field and
the completion of painting, and|
|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.
believers have since developed reasons why they felt that the dating was in error:
||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.|
|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
|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
|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.|
|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. 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
|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"
and by the media relations and publications department of the Hebrew
University of Jerusalem as a "forensic scientific expert..."
6 Frei 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."
|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|
|The face 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
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.
Disagreement about the implications of the
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:
|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
He cites three references:
|Joe Nickell, "Inquest on the Shroud of Turin: Latest Scientific Findings," Prometheus Books., (1998), Page 35.|
|Ian Wilson, "The Blood and the Shroud," The Free Press, (1998)|
|David F. Brown, Interview with H. David Sox, New Realities, 4:1 (1981), Page 31.
|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|
|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."
- G.A. Wells, "The historical evidence for Jesus," Prometheus Books,
(1988), Page 190.
Read reviews or order this book
- William Harwood, "Mythology's Last Gods," Prometheus Books,
(1992), Page 263, Footnote 5.
Read reviews or order this book savely from the Amazon.com online bookstore
- P. E. Damon, et al. "Radiocarbon Dating of the Shroud of
Turin." Nature, 337:6208, 1989-FEB-16, Pages 611 to 615.
- G.A. Wells, op cit, Page 185
- Joe Nickell, "Blooming 'Shroud' Claims," Skeptical Inquirer
magazine, 1999-NOV/DEC issue, Page 22-23.
- G. R. Lavoie, "Unlocking the Secrets of the Shroud," Thomas More,
Read reviews or order this book
- M.M. Baden, Article, Medical World News, 1980-DEC-22.
- 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:
- "The Shroud of Turin," McCrone Research Institute, at:
- "Amounts of modern biological contaminant required to raise the date
of a 36 A.D. shroud," McCrone Research Institute, at:
- 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
- Ibid, Page 181 - 182.
- Ibid, Page 183.
- Joe Nickell, "Claims of Invalid “Shroud” Radiocarbon Date Cut from Whole
Cloth," Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the
- 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:
- "Shroud of Truin" Wikipedia at:
- "What is the height of Jesus Christ?," Mormon apologetic & discussion board, at: http://www.mormonapologetics.org/
Copyright © 1999 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on
Originally written: 1999-NOV-18
Latest update: 2014-FEB-26
Author: B.A. Robinson