It may not be an exaggeration to state that the most compelling and mysterious artifact that has ever been known to historians, scientists, and religious scholars is the Shroud of Turin. Periodically it comes to the forefront of public attention, most recently in the History Channel's program entitled "The Face of Jesus?" presented in March 2010. In this well-presented offering, a brief history of the Shroud is presented along with the attending scientific examinations, concluding dramatically with a reconstruction of the face and body providing a view what might have been the appearance of the man who was wrapped within.
Was that man Jesus Christ? To be quite honest with you, I doubt that we will ever know with 100% certainty, but the evidence is certainly compelling. We do know that whoever was once within the shroud had been horribly brutalized with over 100 lashes inflicted with a whip such as that of an ancient Roman flagrum common to the time Jesus walked the earth. The wrists and feet bore pierce marks , the head had punctures consistent with having been encircled with a crown of thorns. The knees were damaged as if the victim had fallen repeatedly, perhaps as he carried the instrument of his death to its final destination. Amidst the bloody traces left on the burial cloth was one area coming from the man's side, again, consistent with a deep stab wound, just as the one Jesus received from a Roman guard after his death.
Since there has been much literature and numerous TV programs concerning all of these aspects, I would like to offer up some thoughts about that part of the story to which there are no clear answers.
Let's therefore consider the manner in which the faint image which has become so familiar to us today somehow came to exist in the first place and what its implications might be. What we do know is that it shows no pigmentation which would be expected if it was a cleverly painted forgery. The image is also not of any other material foreign to the cloth as would also be the case in a drawing. Nor is it a scorch mark in that is not the result of the cloth itself being carbonized by heat.
It is the result of a slightly darker discoloration of the very topmost (or, to be technically correct, "innermost") part of the fabric. Additionally, the closer to the body the cloth was, the darker the image. As demonstrated on the History Channel program, using this characteristic along with the manner in which the Shroud conformed to the body around which it was wrapped, it was possible to generate a reasonably accurate rendition of the man within. At this point, the questions start to outnumber the answers, but what we do know so far does present possibilities which may give us insight into the very Resurrection itself! But before we proceed, I would like to remind and caution you that my point of view is certainly not the only one possible. Again, as with any commentary, the reader is encouraged to study the subject for him or herself.
To this date, no one has a satisfactory explanation as to the origin of the image. From the facts I've seen, it appears to have been produced in some fashion by an emanation from the body itself. Since, as we've seen, those parts of the body closest to the shroud bear the greatest darkening, we find that here we have a consistency with the manner in which known electromagnetic radiation (which includes gamma rays, x-rays, ultra-violet, visible light, infra-red, radio waves) behaves called the Inverse Square Law. In basic terms this means that if you double your distance from an EM source, like a light bulb for example, it only appears one-fourth as bright. Double it again, it is only one-sixteenth as bright to the observer. I believe it is this very principle which allowed the two-dimensional image on the Shroud to display 3D characteristics when subjected to image analysis - the darker parts being "higher" than those which are more faint.
Another problem we have is that, as far as we know, this was a unique event. There are no other "shrouds," no evidence from the past or present that any other such image has been created, though some experimenters in modern times have tried. Despite their access to current technology, none of the results I've seen or have read from the literature has come anywhere near to replicating the complexity and detail of the shroud image. We are truly faced with the situation of trying to find an answer to a 2000 year old mystery that we can't explain even with Twenty-first Century technology. Though science does do a remarkable job describing the manner in which the laws of nature work, it will always be at a loss to explain events beyond that of the quantifiable. Since miracles by definition transcend natural laws and principles, they will always remain outside the realm of science's grasp. That being said, let us take a look at possibilities not bounded by what we can see or measure of how a most extraordinary image could have managed to be produced on an otherwise very ordinary piece of linen cloth.
We begin our journey by going back to he year 33 A.D. Within Joseph of Arimathea's previously unused grave site lay the lifeless body of Jesus of Nazareth, hastily entombed before sunset on the Day of Preparation which preceded the Sabbath. To ensure that none of his disciples would come, steal the body, and claim that their master had "risen from the dead," the chief priests and Pharisees had prevailed upon Pontius Pilate to seal the tomb entrance and place guards at the location. As history would reveal, they had little reason to be concerned on that account as the disciples had most likely returned to the Upper Room, hiding in understandable fear that the fate which befell Jesus might soon descend upon them as well. But what would happen in the darkness of that following Sunday morning which followed would be beyond anything any of them could possibly imagine.
When the "unimaginable" did occur, one of the things which we should bear in mind is this:: John 8:12 Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.
It's just one verse, simple, and yet profound. In fact in the Bible there are repeated references to Jesus, God, and . . . "light." Yes, there is the symbolic aspect of what Jesus said about himself here, and he certainly was the "light" of truth to the world. But is there more to it than that?
In Acts, chapter 9, Saul of Tarsus, ardent persecutor of Jesus' believers, was temporarily blinded by a flash of light in which he heard Jesus' voice. Soon after, he became known as Paul, perhaps the greatest evangelist the Gentile world has ever known.
Again, in John's description of the wondrous heavenly city of New Jerusalem we have: Revelation 21:23 And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof. These are but a few examples of Jesus not only being "light" figuratively but also literally! Does the image on the Shroud likewise suggest that this might be so? Though we can never know for certain on this side of heaven what exactly happened in that tomb in the chill of that early Sunday morning, we do know that by the direct, unexplainable, and miraculous intervention by God, Jesus' dead body was made alive once again. Could this have been accompanied by a burst of energy which included some type of light that affected the fibers of the linen shroud to produce the image that remains today?
This possibility has been suggested in the History Channel presentation as well as others on the subject. One point that that arose in the former is that such a burst should have produced a relatively uniform darkening on the resulting in a complete loss of any detail. The suggestion was made that the image somehow got "scanned" onto the cloth line by line in a manner similar to that way a modern copy machine functions. Personally, I have to confess that this explanation seems tentative at best.
Upon further consideration of this matter, I began to think that it might have been caused more like the way in which a photograph is produced on film. After all, what we see on the shroud is in many ways similar to a photographic negative, so this seems to me to be a more reasonable theory. In the case of photography, unless the aperture and timing of the shutter are correct the image will be under or overdeveloped. In the case of the former, it will be indistinct with little or any visible detail. In the latter case, one will get one big blur, again lacking in detail. In the case with the shroud , no lens or shutter is present. But is there a way to set the "exposure time?" Once again, the Bible might have an answer: 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 Behold, I shew you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall be changed. in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
"In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye . ." The term "moment" is translated from the original Greek "atomos" which means something indivisible. In the case of time, it would refer to an incredibly brief interval, something momentary. Was the Resurrection of Jesus likewise accomplished in a split second of time just Paul shows that the future resurrection for those who have believed in him will also be at the Rapture? If this is so, this might have been quick enough to fix upon the shroud a clear image without it being "overexposed."
But the wonders do not end here. Consider this from the time Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead: John 11:43-44 And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus said unto them, Loose him and let him go."
"Loose him and let him go," said Jesus, the implication here being that the nature of the shrouds in which the Jews buried their dead were very restrictive. But when we read John's account of the empty tomb, we see no evidence of a struggle by Jesus to free himself. In fact, it is quite the opposite: John 20:6-7 Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie, And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself.
Again, the Bible may provide the answer to this mystery as well in these events which occurred after the Resurrection: Luke 24:30-31 And it came to pass, as he sat at meant with them, he took bread, and blessed it and brake, and gave to them. And their eyes were opened, and they knew him and he vanished from their sight. John 20:26 And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you. >From these we see Jesus could appear and disappear at will. I believe that at the Resurrection he merely "disappeared" from his burial clothes, no more bound by them any more than he was restricted by time and space. This certainly would explain the present and relatively good condition of the 2000 year old shroud and that of the image which was formed, as we have seen, very superficially yet remained intact. Added to this is the very real consideration that had the body remained within for any long length of time and decomposed, that process would have most likely have also destroyed the image as well. Another fact should be considered deals with history. Perhaps the best way for the authorities of almost 2000 years ago to have refuted the testimonies of the Risen Jesus would have simply been to produce his dead body from Joseph's tomb. The record shows they never did - and we who believe the Bible know that they never could because there was no longer any body for them to bring forth, despite the fact that the tomb was originally sealed and guarded.
Now that we have presented evidence which favors the Shroud of Turin as being genuine, let's look at the one finding that has caused considerable controversy. This is the matter of a Carbon 14 dating on a small piece of the cloth which reveals an age of only around 700 years, not the 2000 we should expect. The History Channel show pointed out that the sample was taken from what is probably the worst possible place - a corner which had been handled repeatedly and could have been contaminated in the process. The way this dating method works is this. In nature most carbon is carbon 12. Trace amounts of radioactive carbon 14 is created naturally in the earth's upper atmosphere from nitrogen 14 which has been bombarded by neutrons produced by cosmic radiation. Chemically, both types of carbon are identical and combine with oxygen to make carbon dioxide. Plants breathe the CO2 in and incorporate carbon into their cells. Animals eat the plants and some like us eat both the plants and animals and end up incorporating the carbon into their bodies. As long as something is alive, the ratio between the carbon 12 and carbon 14 stays the same. Once the plant or animal dies, the carbon 14 slowly disintegrates at a fixed rate. By measuring the ratio between carbon 14 and carbon 12, scientists can figure out how long something's been dead. Or, in our case, how old a cloth is which is made of plant fibers is. This technique works well unless additional carbon gets added along the way, which, as we've seen, may happened to the Shroud.
There is, of course, the possibility that whatever caused the image to form may have also upset the carbon 12 - carbon 14 ratio in some manner beyond our current understanding.
Since so much about the Shroud of Turin does fit so precisely with the biblical accounts and there is no satisfactory explanation as to how the image formed upon it even with the modern science of the Twenty-first Century, I believe the evidence leans in favor of it being the genuine burial cloth of Jesus. That being said, I would like to make it clear that my own faith in no way depends upon whether it is or not. Should some resounding and unarguable evidence come forth that proves it is not what it appears to be, I will continue to believe that the Bible is the true and inspired written Word of God and that Jesus is exactly who he and the writers of the New Testament say that he is.
As I close this article, I'd like to leave you with one more thought that in this time of growing turmoil and darkness in our world, isn't it remarkable that the advent of modern technology has allowed us only now to peer into the deepest secrets of this mysterious cloth purported to be the burial wrapping of Jesus?
But regardless of whether the Shroud is genuine or not, one thing for sure is that it has no doubt caused many who would otherwise not do so to dust of their Bibles, open them up, and, maybe deep down for the first time consider that there just might be a lot more to reality than they have ever contemplated before.
I'd like to think that for some of them they will come to discover and believe that the very much living Jesus has been knocking on their doors and waiting for them to open up for him all along.