The Turin Shroud: Jury Still Out

Regarding one’s view of the Shroud, faith or lack of it is immaterial. But scientific fact and experimental integrity do matter … and the fact is, the Shroud was never a likely subject for a C-14 test because of its highly contaminated state; the testing itself was sloppy, with the number of labs being cut in half just prior to testing, and the inventer of the TAMS test himself protesting the test conditions. In short, the testing was a priori inappropriate, and should never have proceded.

The weight of probability also invites perceiving the testing results as flawed, because so many of the Shroud’s other features and oddities point to a much longer history; as does the putative but very well-constructed pre- history of the Shroud _before_ its first emergence within Latin Christianity. For example, the Shroud is probably older than the test dating, because of the Pray Manuscript or Codex – dated to 1192-1195, which shows the Shroud features as they can be seen today – and which is likely to have been copied from an even earlier, more elaborate source from the end-11th or early-12th century. The related issues of the Shroud’s pre-deCharney history, and its extremely probable existence in early Byzantine art, are only a pair of strong hints among many that the cloth pre-dates the period suggested by the testing.

Nor does nose-thumbing the image disprove the Shroud: most fist-shaking about the Shroud’s – and the imputed male figure it carries – supposed flaws (the artist forgot to draw in the man’s thumbs; the man was a misshapen monster with Marfan’s Disease and off-the-beam shoulders, etc.) have been met with calm, rational counter-explanations in any number of books, articles  and websites.

Moreover, the Shroud, to date, has not proven to be a fake – whatever that means. Debunkers have never agreed on what kind of a “fake” it is – a painting, a scorch, a heated-statue artifact, an early camera obscura image, etc., but each of them expresses near-certainty that it IS a “fake” … but …it is a “fake” only along the lines of each one’s particular (and occasionally lunatic) pet theory of image-production; theories that are frequently impossible to correlate with any of the others.

Worse, no experiment has to date replicated all of the Shroud’s properties, including its anomalies. Only partial duplication has been successful, and partial duplication is not what the issue demands. Put  with overweening simplicity:  a partially-duplicated Shroud is not thereby a duplicated Shroud. Full duplication is the criterion – full duplication with means that were available only to artists of the 13th Century.

However … imagine that some day a totally, perfectly replicated – i.e., “sufficiently” replicated according to art and science – experiment is done, with the experimental shroud sufficiently matching the historical Shroud. All that this would prove is that – like money – the Shroud can be duplicated. It would not prove that the Shroud is in fact a piece of normative human artwork. (Granted, though, it could certainly point in that direction.)

To reiterate: the Shroud, as it stands, has nothing to do with atheism or theism. There is, after all, no test for “Christness”. Believers, in any case, ought not need proof that the image confirms the historical existence of Jesus – a premise they are pre-required to take on faith. Nor can they sensibly expect the  image to  “prove the Resurrection” – a claim that certain enthusiasts make with great, illogical overconfidence.

Finally, a few words about “fake”, “fraud”, and “hoax”:

Should the Shroud be strongly indicated as a non-paranormally, non-naturally-produced, completely explainable human artifact, still this would not necessarily mean that the Shroud is a fake. It might mean only that the Shroud is perhaps the most beautifully-rendered depiction of Jesus’ death ever conceived and executed, worthy of artistic acclaim and Christian devotion.

A fake is a form of hoaxing. A religious painting, sculpture, or any other such artifact is an expression of devotion. A fake is created from deceit, with the intention to trick and bamboozle. Something like the Pieta, for instance, tries to deceive no one. If the Shroud turns out to be an expression of devotion, created by an incredibly subtle artist, then the Shroud – in all fairness and objectivity – must be declared a religious artwork, not a fake.

Only if the (purported) artist intended to deceive could the Shroud be validly termed a hoax. Some , in fact, do argue that yes, the unknown artist did intend to bamboozle his/her public with the Shroud image. But, on reflection, and obviously, that makes little sense, in view of the fact that the image is practically invisible to the naked eye. No other such deliberately-executed, semi-invisible depiction of Jesus’ death and burial is known to history. If hoaxing,  the artist must have been masochistic indeed, because s/he produced an image nearly impossible to see; a mere phantom for an equally phantasmic public? Hardly.

Until the day comes when all of its features and anomalies can be sufficiently duplicated, the Shroud does remain a mysterious piece of cloth. In the end, it is neither atheism nor theism that objects to the Shroud’s authenticity … but rather, that particular human insecurity that forbids itself to live in the presence of mystery and demands that the world be explained in black and white terms, with all gray areas excommunicated as Damned Things.


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