Shroud—Further Update

June 3, 2013

Just in time for Easter 2013 (as readers may recall), a new book claimed recent tests proved that the Turin “shroud” was not medieval, as carbon-14 tests had shown, but instead dated from the first century. The Archbishop of Turin, however, dismissed the results, because the fibers tested could not be authenticated as having actually come from the shroud. (As I pointed out in my blog of March 28, the tests were highly doubtful in any case.) Also, the new pope, Francis I, revealingly referred to the cloth as an “icon” (i.e., a work of art) rather than “relic” (which it would be, in Catholic parlance, if it had actually wrapped the corpse of Jesus).

Now I have a copy of the book—Il Mistero della Sindone (“The Mystery of the Shroud”) by Giulio Fanti and Saverio Gaeta (thanks to CFI Libraries Director Tim Binga, who ordered it at the first opportunity). I do not read the language well, but with my big Italian dictionary I was able to translate important passages. The book does refer to recent skeptical challenges, but, of course, as is typical of pro-shroud works, dismisses them summarily. The authors acknowledge that (as I translate), “The professor Luigi Garlaschelli of CICAP (the Italian Committee for the Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal) has carried out various experiments seeking to improve a technique proposed by ‘paranormal investigator’ Joe Nickell. . . .”

In fact, chemist Garlaschelli’s commendable work combined several of my hypotheses effectively: Briefly, he adopted my rubbing technique (which automatically makes a quasi-negative image like the shroud’s), employed a human model but substituted a bas-relief for the face (to eliminate ugly wraparound distortions), used a red-ocher powdered pigment (so it would not soak into threads), but one that was acidic (to explain the shroud’s pigment-attendant “yellow stain,” probably due to cellulose degradation), and one that is consistent with medieval formulation. (See my Inquest on the Shroud of Turin, 1998, and The Science of Miracles, 2013.)

The authors of Il Mistero do little to help solve the mystery. They choose fourteen reputed characteristics of the shroud images, then rate how well six proposed techniques reproduce them. They give a low score of 3 to the old “contact” hypothesis, a 7 to Ray Rogers’s gas-from-a putrefying-corpse concept, another 7 to “Garlaschelli, Nickell (artist/Chemical)” method, an 8 to forensic anthropologist Emily Craig’s freehand application of my powdered pigment suggestion, a 9 to the bizarre idea of applying ultraviolet rays, and finally, a whopping 13 to another such notion, a supposed “corona effect,” attributed to a burst of radiant energy at the moment of Jesus’ resurrection, supposedly “photographing” his image onto the cloth.

Space does not allow me to discuss here all the problems with the alleged characteristics they have chosen or their misunderstanding of some of them. I do commend them for acknowledging that both of the artistic techniques can indeed reproduce the shroud images’ three-dimensional aspect. And, I especially commend them for admitting that only the artistic techniques meet their first stated characteristic, namely, the reproducibility of the complete image. (See their chapter 5, and chart on p. 155.) Therefore—since the other proposed techniques, including the imagined “corona effect,” cannot be shown to actually produce shroudlike images—the situation is unfortunate indeed for shroud zealots.

This is especially true in light of the considerable, utterly devastating evidence against the shroud’s authenticity. It includes both the gospel descriptions of Jesus’ interment and actual Jewish burial practices (using multiple cloths and spices), the suspicious lack of provenance for over thirteen centuries, a bishop’s report of 1389 to Pope Clement VII that the shroud had been part of a faith-healing scam and was the work of a confessed forger, that there are numerous image flaws (like hair that hangs as for a standing rather than recumbent figure, and suspiciously still-red and picturelike “blood” stains), red ocher pigment over the entire image (discovered by celebrated microanalyst Walter McCrone), as well as red ocher and vermilion tempera paint making up the “blood”—and much much more, notably including radiocarbon testing by three laboratories which put the cloth’s date at 1260–1390 CE—consistent with the time of the reported forger’s confession.