THERE ARE TWO pieces of cloth– the smaller one closely matching some marks on the larger one. They have apparently survived 17 years short of 20 centuries; not to mention invasions, Jihad and Crusades, long travel, display, trial, fires, and all the vagaries of time, history, and human frailty.
To the very first people who handed them on, these items were ritually unclean, polluted and polluting, and signs of an accursed, shameful, and unholy death, according to the Jewish Law, the Torah. That these bloody things from a gory execution and death were even handed on, passed down, and venerated in the first place is a strange, remarkable, and mysterious matter in itself.
One is essentially a large bloody rag with pin-holes in it (above); the other is a 14-foot long piece of the very finest herringbone Egyptian linen, woven for use as a Jewish burial cloth, around the time when Julius Caesar had been dead only a little over 75 years. It’s now kept in Portugal. Other ancient cloth samples have likewise survived the centuries– but these particular two still exist because they were protected and kept safe, and for what they were thought to be.
The larger cloth was always venerated down the ages, for the indistinct marks of a naked wounded man somehow imprinted as a photographic negative on the cloth itself, thought to be the image of the dead Jesus Christ. In 1898, an Italian photographer Secondo Pia was startled and surprised as he developed his photographic negatives of the longer cloth– he saw a positive image, with incredible details, leaping out at him from the images: a person, in positive, not negative.
The interest and excitement went international. Debate, discussion and study continue to this day.
Now It Is Seen Clearly
To our modern eyes, these cloths tell a tale so clearly, so contemporary, that our modern forensic science and pathology can give an exact autopsy and cause of death for the dead man who was probably once wrapped in them. The image on the larger cloth is anatomically and medically correct, down to visible bones, blood flow, nerve damage, and other signs of the horrific torture and violence done to this long-ago man.
The man revealed clearly for the first time was tall, well-muscled, and about 5’11”, 185 pounds. The best guess is that average heights in Biblical times in the Holy Land were 5′ 1″ up to as tall as 5′ 5″, so Jesus was tall for his day and age. Average adult male height in 2016 Israel is about 5′ 9″. He had a mid-shoulder short pony-tail.
Via Pia’s photo negatives, previously indistinct marks on the larger cloth were now seen clearly for the first time in 19 centuries– blood-stains, whipping injuries, a large wound on the lower right chest, skinned shoulder and knees, bruised and battered face, broken nose, swollen cheek, torn beard, blood-soaked hair and marked forehead, a dislocated left shoulder, a distended belly, and holes in both wrists and mid-foot.
Over 230 distinct whip-marks and other lacerations appear on the back and front of the body-image, from chest & shoulder to shin & calf. Most marks are typical of the ancient Roman flagrum whip, a wooden handle with three leather thongs and two lead weights per thong. This flogging alone was almost enough to kill him: it was considered so brutal and potentially deadly that no Roman Citizen was supposed to be whipped this way.
Study And Research
As increasingly serious and scientific investigations, imaging, and other reports into the two cloths went on through the 20th century, photographic comparisons and overlays of both were done– the blood and pleural fluid stains and many other marks actually overlapped almost exactly. This is a statistically unlikely ‘coincidence’.
That is: these two cloths had been used on the same person, the smaller one doubled over and pinned roughly around the dead man’s head, as he hung upright on a Roman cross; the larger wrapped around him from foot to head to foot after a quick washing of the body, which was then wrapped with winding cloths, in a inclined grave bed. The larger cloth is consistent with 1st century Jewish burial customs. Crucially, the shroud-cloth shows no signs or stains of corruption and decay, no blood smears of the body being somehow being buried half-alive, or moved after it was placed in the tomb.
Despite controversy, certain attention-seeking scientists, and odd theories, a lot of serious peer-reviewed and multi-disciplinary scientific investigations over the last 40 years have been done with the larger cloth– known as The Shroud Of Turin since the 1500s. It has given up many secrets, except one: what is it?
Science can tell what it isn’t (painting, photograph, scorch, or some other artistic technique, or known natural effect), but not what the image on the cloth is, or how it was made. Since science rightly has no experimental categories or laboratory machines which render ‘evidence of God’, or ‘Jesus signs’, or ‘miraculous event’, this is as it should be.
Some scientists speculate that some kind of UV directional radiation flash or intense energy-burst might well have created the image on the Shroud. We weren’t there.. but the Shroud was. There’s even an app for you to look at the Shroud: Shroud 2.0.
Barrie Schwortz, raised an Orthodox Jew, educating Christians about the Turin Shroud. He created the yuge Shroud.com (see the Latebreaking News page), and he was also part of the 1977-8 STURP Research Team.
Our Abiding Doubts
Still, it’s a possible relic which which only revealed the deepest detail to us– with our tools and experiments and analysis– in our scientific, skeptical, yet spiritually modern seeking age. It’s almost like a God-given sign for OUR age. If this fact does not move you, perhaps nothing will.
To simply declare “It’s a fake! A forgery!” is not a statement of fact, nor does it answer the basic question “A fake what?” Or to argue “You only say that because you want it to be genuine!” invites the fair response “Fine… but perhaps you only say that because you want it not to be genuine!” Remember– lots of his enemies saw the miracles and results of miracles performed by Jesus. Note: these hostile eyewitnesses did not dispute that something extremely strange and unusual had happened, only what it meant, and by what power Jesus had performed such signs and wonders.
An Abiding Question
If these two relics are original and authentic, they reveal to us a snapshot of two related moments from Good Friday, Jerusalem, most likely on Friday, April 3, A.D. 33. They show us the image of a body which has been tortured, crucified and killed, but a body which did not decay, and which somehow vanished from the burial cloths leaving a very unusual image on the Shroud, by means yet unknown and undiscovered.
Jesus never offered invincible proof as to who he was and is, forcing faith and belief in him; he did no undeniable miracles before stadium mobs, nor obeyed the Devil’s suggestion that he leap from the top of the Jerusalem Temple, and drift safely to earth in plain view of the massed crowds. Evidence, likelihood, strong suggestions, a willingness to test by faith and love– only these can take us the rest of the way.
It either is as he said, or not, after all. “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believe“, the Risen Jesus says to the no-longer doubting Thomas. To the eyes of faith, the Shroud & Sudarium are transformed from newspaper and internet curiousities into a love letter to our souls, written in his most precious blood.
Me? I believe it’s His, and that He was who He claimed to be: the Son of God Incarnate, the Lord.
After pondering the testimony of early eyewitnesses, archaeology and history, the possible relics like the Shroud and Sudarium, the science, the wondering and asking, we must still overcome our pride and resistance to faith, and our tendency to self-deceptive false faith, or else sheer unbelief. It’s a costly sacrifice. It’s a step of faith, from ‘believing about’, to believing IN’.
That is– not irrational faith, not crazy faith, not faith in any old whatnot, on anybody’s say-so, or faith in spite of the facts, evidence, and likelihoods– but believing in Jesus, after He has called us to seek Him, learn of Him, follow Him, then live and die in Him.
It’s all about trust and love, above all evidences or proofs– for has truly He died and really risen again from death; and ascended bodily into heaven to prepare a place for us, that we might live in union with him and all the saved and the saints.
He will only gently ask us, never force us– to believe and so live in Him, forevermore. ~
The noble Joseph, when he had taken down Thy most pure Body from the tree, wrapped it in fine linen, and anointed it with spices, and placed it in a new tomb.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.
The angel came to the myrrh-bearing women at the tomb and said: “Myrrh is fitting for the dead, but Christ has shown Himself a stranger to corruption.”
Eastern Orthodox Troparion (hymn of the day) of Good Friday
A blessed Good Friday to you all, and this article is my gift for you–
With much love,