The 2019 International Conference “Science, Theology and the Turin Shroud” was held August 14–17 at Redeemer University College in Canada. Despised by some Shroud zealots as the author of Inquest on the Shroud of Turin (1983, updated 1998), I was billed as a presenter, but fears of a possible tragic outcome were whispered in skeptical circles.
Such speculations—hearkening back to the death of Jamal Khashoggi, the dissident who entered a Saudi consulate and disappeared, reportedly dismembered—proved to be greatly exaggerated in the interest of dark humor.
Indeed, I gave the morning Keynote Address on August 15, a Power Point presentation titled “Reasons Why the Shroud is not Authentic.” My audience of predominately shroud believers was attentive and respectful, though most, however, seemed disinclined to accept evidence against the authenticity of the supposed burial cloth of Jesus.
I briefly reviewed the history of the shroud. (Although there have been more than forty “true” shrouds in Europe alone, these were typically half the length of the Turin cloth, and some only copies of it.) I then presented major arguments against authenticity as follows:
- The shroud is contrary to gospel evidence. John’s gospel specifically states that Jesus was buried “as the manner of the Jews is to bury.” Thus the body was “wound” with “linen clothes,” together with a large quantity of burial spices (myrrh and aloes), and a separate “napkin” used to cover the face and head. In contrast, the Turin cloth represents a single cloth (draped under and then over the “body”) without a trace of the burial spices.
- There is no clear historical record for this particular shroud before the 1350’s. And the gospels make no mention of Jesus’ shroud having been preserved. Attempts to link the shroud with the fourth-century Image of Edessa are countered by the fact that that was a face-only cloth, reportedly a portrait of the living Jesus.
- A bishop’s report of 1389 states that the shroud was the handiwork of a confessed artist. The report (to Pope Clement VII) informs that it was part of an earlier faith-healing scam. It had been “cunningly painted, the truth being attested by the artist who had painted it, to wit that it was a work of human skill and not miraculously wrought or bestowed” (emphasis added).
- Stylistic and iconographic elements corroborate that the image is of medieval artistry. For example, the elongated physique is consistent with fourteenth-century Gothic art. Among other telltale elements, the hair falls as for a standing rather than reclining man, and the “blood” flows are unnaturally picturelike.
- The Shroud “blood” failed secret tests by distinguished forensic serologists. Not only was it suspiciously still red, but all of the microscopical, chemical, biological, and instrumental tests were negative. One investigator discovered traces of what appeared to be paint.
- Further analysis revealed that the image is made up of pigment and paint. Famed microanalyst Walter McCrone discovered significant amounts of red ocher on image—but not background—areas. The “blood” proved to be made of red ocher and vermilion pigments in a collagen tempera binder.
- Radiocarbon tests date the cloth to 1260–1390 CE, consistent with the time of the confessed forger. Rationalizations that the date was altered by “contamination” were disproved: such an error would have required twice as much contamination, by weight, as the weight of the shroud cloth itself!
- Only human artistry replicates the shroud image. It lacks the wraparound distortions of a real body, and shroud advocates do not have any viable hypothesis of image formation. As I show in Inquest however, a rubbing technique automatically yields quasi-negative images, that, since dry powder is used, do not soak into the cloth. It also produces other shroudlike features, including encoded three-dimensional information.
Shroud advocates begin with the desired answer and work backward to the evidence. The scientific approach, however, seeks the best evidence, and that is mutually corroborative: there is no history before the 1350’s because the shroud did not exist until then, and the iconography, tempera paint, and radiocarbon date—along with much other evidence—all reinforce each other. Deep denial notwithstanding, the “shroud” was never a burial cloth but instead is the work of an artist of the mid-fourteenth century.