Is the Shroud of Turin the actual burial cloth of Jesus Christ or is it a very clever man-made artifact? Skeptic Daniel Porter, after investigating the shroud, exclaims on his website: “It is real, or it is the world’s most amazing and unexplained hoax!”

The shroud of Turin measures roughly 14-by-3.5 feet and bears the faint head-to-feet image of the front and the back of a man. Forensic pathologist Dr. Robert Bucklin describes the image as that of an adult man, 71 inches tall, about 175 pounds, with shoulder length hair, moustache, and a forked beard. He had been scourged, shoulders and knees were abraded, his side had been pierced, the wrists and feet had been pierced by nails and blood stains from the wrist run toward the elbow as would occur in a crucifixion.

The shroud can be traced to the Middle Ages and is believed to be the same as the “Edessa cloth” discovered in Turkey in 544 and moved to Constantinople in 944. For centuries it had the reputation of protecting whoever possessed it from harm. In 1204 the shroud disappeared from Constantinople and is believed to have been in the possession of heretics until 1349. It was then moved to Chamberry, France, where it was almost destroyed in a fire in 1532. It has been in Turin, Italy, since 1578.

In 1898 the shroud attracted worldwide attention when Secondo Pia was allowed to photograph it during one of its rare public displays at the cathedral in Turin. On developing the film, when light and dark were reversed, much to his amazement he saw in his darkroom the positive version of a face that was extraordinarily lifelike, haunting, hollow-eyed, showing clearly a contused cheek, slight displacement of the nose, and puncture wounds about the head that might have been made by some thorny cap. Pia wondered: Could it be possible that he might be looking at the first-ever photograph of the face of Jesus Christ?

The cloth clearly dates at least to the middle ages. How could this image have been produced five centuries before photography was invented? Research began in earnest and websites devoted to the shroud are replete with scientific data which is easily available online.

Experts agree that the shroud is not a painting, the faint image being caused by chemical or physical changes in individual superficial linen fibrils to a depth less than 1/100 as thick as a hair. The blood stains are Type AB negative. The variations in the sepia tone that produce the image are so subtle that up close the image vanishes. You have to stand at a distance to appreciate it. Artist Isabel Yiczek said she would need a brush 15 feet long to paint such an image (but it could never be fine enough for such delicate shading of the fibers at such a distance.)

More than a photographic negative, however, the shroud contains three dimensional information not found in ordinary photographs. Using a NASA image analyzer researchers were able to create an 3D image indicating the cloth once conformed to a human body.

Believers in the authenticity of the shroud were disappointed in 1988 when samples from one corner of the shroud were subjected to carbon-14 testing and reported to date between 1260 and 1390. However, a 2005 peer-reviewed article in the journal Thermochimica Acta by Los Alamos National Laboratory chemist, Dr. Raymond Rogers, reported that the previous data were not valid as all the samples had been taken from a single area which had been invisibly repaired. Other scientific tests indicate the cloth to be much older than the medieval dates.

Hebrew University scientist Avmoam Damn reports the shroud contains pollens that only come from flowers that bloom in March and April and are only found around Jerusalem, as well as spores native to Edessa and Constantinople. Spectra of dirt found on the shroud show an unusually close match to aragonite limestone found in ancient tombs in Israel. “There might be other places in the world (though none are known) were aragonite has the identical chemical signature,” says Dr. Joseph Kohlbeck of the Hercules Aerospaces Center in Utah.

On his website the above-referenced Daniel Porter says the shroud was examined with “visible and ultraviolet spectrometry, infrared spectrometry, x-ray fluorescence spectrometry, thermography,
pyrolysis-mass-spectrometry, lasermicroprobe Raman analyses, and microchemical testing. No evidence for pigments (paint, dye or stains) or artist’s media was found anywhere on the Shroud of Turin.”

John 20:6-7 reads: “When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place.”

Almost unknown is a second cloth, which dates back to Jerusalem in 614, now in Oviedo, Spain, known as the the Sudarium of Oviedo. It has always been believed to have covered the head of Jesus but has never been commercially exploited. In her recent book Sacred Blood, Sacred Image, the Sudarium of Oviedo, Janice Bennett reports on forensic-type studies which show that the blood stains on the head covering correspond to those on the shroud, both are human blood, type AB, and both show similar pollens from the Mediterranean region. Both show evidence of a cap of thorns, a thing not typical in crucifixions. Some believe that the 34 x 21 inch Sudarium of Oviedo is the cloth that covered Jesus’ head until Joseph of Arimathea “wrapped him in a fine linen cloth (Greek: sindon) and laid him in a rock-hewn tomb.”

What, then, are we to say about the report in The New York Times in August 1988: “Tests Show Shroud of Turin to be a Fraud”? Small samples of the shroud, taken unfortunately from a single area near a corner, had been distributed to scientists in Arizona, England, and Switzerland for Carbon 14 dating. They dated the cloth between 1260 and 1390. What a disappointment to the “shroudies” who had hoped for a date from the first century!

Carbon dating is not an exact science and can be (and often is) skewed by contaminants (incense, candle smoke, the fire the severely damaged the cloth in the 1532 fire, bacteria, handling.) It is said that the section tested had been invisibly mended in the past. The results might have been more acceptable if the samples had been taken from several areas of the shroud. C-14 testing sometimes produces unexplained results as when the body of a mummy and the cloth wrapping of the mummy produced dates centuries apart. Just this month it was announced that Christopher Ramsey, head of the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit had agreed to reconsider the results of the earlier tests “because he recognized the need to reconcile the dating of the shroud with other evidence suggesting that the cloth is much older than 600-799 years.”

Finally, no one can explained how the image was produced. It is possible that process itself altered the C-14 results?

And what was that process? It is posited that the image was imprinted on the cloth by some sort of emanation from the body, by some type of radiation, by some sudden burst of energy. It is the color one would get on slightly scorching a linen cloth with a hot iron. The conjectures are certainly intriguing. Are they hinting at, perhaps, a resurrection?

On a fascinating local note, Dr. Alan D. Adler, former head of the biochemistry department of the Western Connecticut State University in Danbury CT founded the American Shroud of Turin Association for Research to study the porphyrins in the blood found on the shroud. In 1998 the shroud was unwound from its spool and stored flat in argon gas, at the recommendation of Dr. Adler, to prevent further fading and damage. In a Time magazine cover story of that year he declared, “we know for sure it’s human blood and it came from a man who died a traumatic death.”

Dr. Adler’s death in 2000 was a great loss to sindonologists. A true scientist, Dr. Adler said he could not debate whether the face on the shroud was that of Christ as “There is no laboratory test for Christ-ness.”

Interest in the shroud has not quieted. It well may be that we will never know for sure whether we have on the shroud a a “picture” of the actual Christ , whether this cloth once wrapped his body and bears his blood. But there does exist a remarkable unexplainable representation of a man who died in the manner of Christ which is cause enough for considerable wonderment and reflection.

Look at the photo of the man on the shroud. Study the research data. Decide for yourself. Who do you say that he is?

The Face of Jesus?