Shroud Debunked—Again

December 29, 2009

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“In all the approximately 1,000 tombs from the first century A.D. which have been excavated from around Jerusalem, not one fragment of a shroud had been found,” stated Shimon Gibson, an Israeli archaeologist. That is—none was found until 2009, when a newly excavated tomb yielded a shroud that represented bad news for the infamous “Shroud” of Turin.

The tomb, discovered in a first-century cemetery, contained the remains—bones, hair, and burial wrapping—of a man whose DNA, interestingly enough, yielded evidence of both leprosy and tuberculosis. Because the tomb had been sealed with plaster 2,000 years ago, the hair and cloth had been spared the high humidity of Jerusalem cave burials and could be radiocarbon dated. They were in the A.D. 1–50 range.

In contrast, the Turin cloth was radiocarbon dated to between 1260 and 1390. That is consistent with the time an artist confessed to having “cunningly printed” it—with the front and back images of an apparently crucified man—circa mid 1350s. It is also consistent with the red ocher pigment found on the “Shroud” image, and with the red ocher and vermilion tempera paint composing the “blood” stains. (See my Inquest on the Shroud of Turin , 1998, chaps. 1, 11, 12.)

The real shroud from the sealed tomb—now called the Tomb of the Shroud—casts still more doubt on the Turin cloth’s antiquity and therefore its authenticity. Whereas the newfound shroud is described as a “patchwork” of linen and wool cloths of simple weave, the Turin “Shroud” is a single fourteen-foot length of linen woven in a complex, striped twill pattern. That weave, observed archaeologist Gibson, was not known to have been available in the Jerusalem area until the Middle Ages. (See Mati Milstein, “Shroud of Turin Not Jesus’, Tomb Discovery Suggests,” Dec. 16, 2009)

Indeed, I made this very point in my book (1998, p. 35): “The weave of the cloth of Turin is a three-to-one-twill, striped in the herringbone pattern. This is suspect in itself, since most linens of Jesus’ time—whether Roman, Egyptian, or Palestinian—were plain weave.” I quoted the Rev. David Sox (who turned from Shroud believer to skeptic when the evidence warranted it): “ All of the ancient Egyptian linens extant are different. All of the extant Palestinian linen, including the wrappings from the Dead Sea Scrolls, is of a regular weave—quite different from the shroud.”

Although the newly discovered cloth is the only shroud found in a Jesus-era tomb, another Jerusalem tomb yielded clothing. Both examples argue against the belief that the Turin “shroud” is from first-century Jerusalem—not that any more evidence against authenticity is really needed.