Saturday, April 14, 2012

Dishonoring the Truth about the Shroud

Jason Engwer is great guy and has produced lots of useful and helpful material. I really appreciate his on-line work, and I hope that no one will be so foolish as to think that the criticism I'm about to offer is supposed to reflect badly on him personally. My problem is with his statement, not him.

In particular, his comment asserting:
The large majority of the evidence suggests that the Shroud of Turin predates the medieval era. The 1988 carbon dating of the Shroud is an exception that's often cited. However, there are a lot of problems with that carbon testing. Dan Porter has gathered together some of the relevant evidence here.
is misleading at best and more generally speaking, out and out false.

The statement is misleading because "evidence" isn't like people. It's not like there are five personified evidences, named James, Bob, and Sparky, and only Sparky says X, while James and Bob say Y.

Moreover, even within categories of evidence, how we pick our categories ends up determining the majority. There are three main categories of evidence: Scriptural, historical inquiry, and scientific examination.

On Scriptural inquiry, there is virtually nothing to support the shroud. The Scriptures specifically relate that Jesus' body was wrapped in multiple linen sheets (not a single shroud), that his body was covered with about 75 pounds (American weight) of spices, and that his head was separately wrapped. Moreover, the long-haired person depicted in the shroud does not correspond well with Paul's comment about nature teaching that is a shame for men to have long hair, though it accords well with medieval European iconography. Moreover, there is absolutely nothing in Scripture suggesting that Jesus ever left a miraculous image of himself on anything. Furthermore, the burial wrappings of Jesus are specifically described in Scripture, and there is no mention of a shroud. At best, one could hope to find a way to work a shroud into and around the Scriptural evidence, but the Scriptural evidence is uniformly against the Shroud's authenticity.

Historical evidence. The currently prevalent view is that the shroud we see today is the same shroud described for the first time in the 14th century. If this is the case, then the farthest back that the shroud can be documented is the fourteenth century. It's difficult to be sure whether this shroud is the same as that one, but let's concede that for the sake of argument. The absence of any prior history of the shroud (especially given the iconomania of the preceding centuries) is a bit like the dog that didn't bark. Be that as it may, at most the historical evidence can establish a 14th century date for the shroud.

Scientific evidence. The most reliable dating method that has been applied to the shroud is C-14 dating. Like every scientific test, there limits on that reliability. Nevertheless, three tests were performed, and the conclusion was that the material of the shroud dates to the 13th or 14th century with about 95% certainty.

People have proposed other dating techniques, ranging from the absurd to the trivial.

An example of an absurd dating technique is the technique of comparing the shroud to medieval iconography in terms of realism and/or technique. This is an absurd dating technique because it merely demonstrates that the shroud represents a unique artifact, regardless of its date. In other words, it's not as though the shroud represents 1st century Palestinian techniques, but not 14th century European techniques.

An example of a trivial dating technique is the "vanillin dating" approach. There are a number of obvious problems with this technique, the chief one of which is that it lacks any substantial body of scientific research that can authenticate it. A secondary problem with this technique is that the process involved is temperature dependent, and it is already known that the shroud was exposed to fire. A third problem is, if you actually bother to go and read the place where the "study" was offered up, the scientist who provided it himself acknowledged its shortcomings.

Looking at the "scientific" evidence in the light most favorable to those who imagine that the shroud is more ancient than History, Scripture, and Science all suggest, the most that can be said is that there is some kind of remote possibility that the sampled pieces of linen may have come from a part of shroud that was repaired by someone who deliberately attempted to deceive the viewer of the shroud by hiding the repair.

So, the best case scenario for shroud advocates is that part of the shroud is a hoax.

In point of fact, while there are mountains of evidence so-called, there is no reliable evidence that suggests that the shroud is any older than 13th century. The shroud may still be interesting, however, as the earliest known photographic negative.

The reason Mr. Engwer's comment is misleading at best is that dating techniques are not all equal. That said, I still love and appreciate Mr. Engwer, and I want that to be totally clear. I willingly accept his assertion that he honestly believes that he is simply convinced by what he thinks is the evidence.



Natamllc said...

I hope to read a comment by JE after this?

I have a question to pose to him basis your last sentence:

"... I willingly accept his assertion that he honestly believes that he is simply convinced by what he thinks is the evidence."

Does Jason believe the Shroud of Turin captures the semblance of Jesus Christ Our Lord, Savior, King and Champion against our flesh, this world and the devils?

Chris H said...

Thanks TFan, I appreciate you interacting with Jason on this. The long hair point is an interesting one, do we have any additional evidence Jewish hairstyle at the time?

Chris H said...

*evidence about Jewish hairstyles that is

JasonTE said...

One of my links above was incorrect. Here are the correct links to the two previous threads in which I interacted with TurretinFan on this subject:


Those threads address the Biblical objections to the Shroud, the medieval photography theory TurretinFan has referred to, and other relevant topics.

And Dan Porter has posted a response to TurretinFan at his blog. See here. He raises the issue of the length of hair kept by previous generations of Christians, like Francis Turretin. What qualifies as long hair depends on the standard of comparison you're using. That's why I mentioned, in the second thread linked above, that it was common for first-century Jewish men to have hair that many people today would consider long. TurretinFan hasn't interacted with that argument, but instead has just repeated his initial objection.

turretinfan said...


Even if I grant every one of your points, that does not revitalize your claim about the "large majority of evidence." Perhaps when I have more time, I'll get into the weeds of responding to each of the points you raise.

One point I'll address right now. There is more than one supernatural power on earth. Even if we could establish that the unknown mechanism that produced the shroud was supernatural power, rather than merely technologically impressive natural power, that would still leave open the question of whose power it was.

God nowhere testifies that this is his.

- TurretinFan

S. P. said...

"...and the conclusion was that the material of the shroud dates to the 13th or 14th century with about 95% certainty."

As far as I can tell, that is the certainty of the laboratory analysis itself. The questions that critics bring up to challenge the result has to do with sampling.

Natamllc said...

Jason, like Paul, your great learning has made you mad! :)

I proffer a speculation seeing you are enjoying speculations, too. How about the Angels sent to go inside the Tomb the third day, presumably removing the large stone that sealed it shut, even though, being Angels they needed not remove that stone to go inside that Tomb and graciously removing those objects that surrounded Our Dear Lord, presumably ever so gently seeing they knew who it was they were sent to undress, folding them in one place, the head covering and in another place, the larger body covering?

Seeing we all have this mandate: 1Pe 5:5 Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." , would you kindly in His humility then, answer this question, directly?

Do you believe that image on the Shroud of Turin is the semblance of Christ?

Andy U said...

Maybe I'm crazy, but wouldn't an authentic shroud involve God in a violation of His own command against images?

JasonTE said...


I didn't answer your earlier question directly, because it was answered indirectly in so many other places. Yes, I believe that the Shroud most likely is "the semblance of Christ", assuming you're using that phrase the way I think you are.

Natamllc said...

Andy u r! :)

Interesting question though! How about all the images and carvings God directed those He anointed to be made when building the tabernacles of Moses and David?

If it is God directing it to be done, no, there would be no violation.

It is what is being purported here that makes it a violation. With God, all things are possible and if God wanted to violate His Word, He could.

We would still be in the same position in our relationship to God, though. And what is that position? "Faith"; without it it is impossible to please God for we must believe that He is and that He is the rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. If not for His Faith, though, I would not know to seek Him so as to please Him so as to obtain the rewards promised.

Natamllc said...


that astounds me.

I don't like the indirect in this instance because it needed to be flushed out so that it is a clear black and white matter for those less fortunate who do not have the ability to comprehend the indirectness of your belief about the image.

You have lost a lot from me, what ever that means to you, seeing I am nothing more than a pile of dung on the earth worthy to be shoveled into a hole with a trowel! Deu_23:13 And you shall have a trowel with your tools, and when you sit down outside, you shall dig a hole with it and turn back and cover up your excrement.

I am praying for you and greatly appreciate TF's abilities to take the time to work through this matter with you here even though he has been slightly maligned here and there about this and all other issues he takes a firm stand against!

I hope your humility will afford you a fresh look at that reality TF is laying forth in here and over at Triablogue?

But, hey, we are reformed people and I presume you're monergistic, too? So, for me at least, I don't have the gift to go toe to toe with you to argue against your belief. I am however enjoined to respect what is right in your eyes and I do respect your belief however contrary it is to mine.

I have stated my belief offering Isaiah 52:14 as the reason why I do not believe that image on that shroud is the physical semblance of Christ.

I have to say this though, I would hope your conviction is as strong as mine and you are praying for me that I will not remain deluded about it being so as I am praying for you that whatever it is that has deluded you into believing that image is that of Christ is removed!

Natamllc said...

Also, since we are at it, let me ask you to speculate on this matter, too?

Who brought Jesus his clothing which he was wearing when Mary came up to him in the Garden after His resurrection? Where were they kept and who had charge of them so that after undressing him he put them on so he was not walking around naked? Was it the angels I made reference to earlier in another comment in here?

JasonTE said...

I've posted a reply to TurretinFan that isn't showing up, at least on my screen. Maybe it went into a moderation folder or there was a glitch or something. In case the post never shows up in this thread, you can read it here.

turretinfan said...

Andy, that is a serious problem for the shroud.

JasonTE said...


You're taking Isaiah 52:14 in a sense that surely wasn't intended. The passage refers to the human form in general, not just the face. It seems to be referring to a significant disfigurement, a significant departure from what humans normally look like. The Shroud image meets that standard. There are more than thirty wounds discernable on the head alone. Having thorns driven into your head, nails driven through your wrists and feet, scourging wounds covering your back, legs, and other parts of your body, a spear thrust through your rib cage, etc. constitute a significant disfigurement.

How far are you taking your interpretation of Isaiah? How disfigured do you think Jesus was? How were people able to put clothes on Jesus (Matthew 27:31), how were the Roman soldiers able to tell where to place the nails, why did people continue to speak to Him while He was on the cross, why was His mouth discernable (Matthew 27:48), how were the Roman soldiers able to discern that He was dead (John 19:33), why was the precise area of his rib cage to pierce discernable (John 19:34), etc.?

As far as Jesus' post-resurrection clothing is concerned, there's no way for us to know how the clothes were provided. There are multiple possibilities and no way for us to discern the right answer.

Natamllc said...


another thing comes to mind now after pondering this that you wrote: "You're taking Isaiah 52:14 in a sense that surely wasn't intended. ...".

I suppose you mean to rationalize that Joseph when granted the body took it and cleaned it up with water like they did Dorcas' body and allowed for the welts and swelling to subside so that the flesh came back to some normalcy of human features and semblance so the imprint of his image was no longer like Isaiah 52:14 before shrouding his head and body?

I have spent some years in West Africa. Sadly I was right in the middle of the civil wars in both Liberia and Sierra Leone. I have actual video footage of what the Nigerian soldiers did to men and women, boys and girls who were caught and accused, whether or not they were, of being on the wrong side of the fight there in Sierra Leone. I also have seen the footage of the mutilation of Samuel Doe who I was at the time doing some negotiations with.

The footage is gruesome and the humiliations I witnessed, too, I am reminded now to testify too, that the Holy Spirit in a similar way whispered into my heart that the welts and swelling and tearing of those dear African's flesh on their foreheads and arms and backs wasn't nearly as grotesque in appearance as Jesus' after the ungodly chastisement He suffered.

Well, tell me then, what was the intended sense for Isaiah 52?

JasonTE said...

Natamllc wrote:

"I am speaking as a witness by the Spirit when I make my interpretation of Isaiah 52:14 and make no apology for that. As I said before about how the Spirit spoke to me one day about that verse after reading it and recalling when I saw a man crash his bike and hit the pavement so hard it changed his appearance on one side of his face, I note what I said. One side of his face was fully human. The other side was so marred beyond recognition there was no semblance or features of a face. The Spirit spoke to me that Jesus' entire face was so marred there was no semblance of a face. The brutality and forces that came out of those Roman soldiers inflicting upon Jesus our chastisement was super-human and very demonic in nature. They pummeled His face so badly He had no human semblance. That is what the Bible teaches."

No, that's not what the Bible teaches. Rather, it's an impression you got during some experiences you had.

Most of what you go on to say has little or no relevance to the issue under consideration. In order to maintain your interpretation of Isaiah 52, which you attained from experiences you had that we can't verify, you have to assume that the Roman soldiers did far more damage to Jesus' body than would normally occur under those conditions. You have to assume that more was involved than the sources tell us, based on experiences you had that we can't verify. You have to assume that Biblical passages that seem to refer to Jesus' form as recognizable (like the examples I cited in my last response) involve some sort of supernatural overriding of an inability to recognize a human form in Jesus. Then you have to make exceptions to your own interpretation, such as when you acknowledge that Jesus' bones kept a human form. The alternative interpretation I'm offering is consistent with the text of Isaiah 52 and doesn't require all of the unverifiable and dubious assumptions you're reading into the other passages involved.

There's nothing wrong with qualifying the Biblical text when we have verifiable reasons to do so. We often attain information about the Biblical languages and information about Biblical contexts from archeology or extra-Biblical literature, for example. But the impressions you got about Isaiah 52, during some experiences you had, are impressions that we can't verify. Why are we supposed to structure our Biblical interpretations around your unverifiable experiences? If it took such experiences to lead you to your conclusions, aren't you suggesting that the Bible and other relevant sources, taken without your experiences, wouldn't lead to your conclusions?

Natamllc said...


have you done your own tests on the shroud?

Natamllc said...


" have to assume that the Roman soldiers did far more damage to Jesus' body than would normally occur under those conditions."

Yep, you're right there, Jason. My reasoned assumption there is mine and I proffer it. If God does nothing with my proffer, so what?

Are you now asserting the birth, life lived, sufferings, death, burial and resurrection were all "normal" conditions for Jesus Christ?