Recently, some prominent defenders of the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin have produced a spate of online videos promoting their point of view. We’ll have a look at two of these below. At first blush, they sounded pretty convincing – especially their attempts to debunk the carbon-14 dating for the Shroud to somewhere between 1260 and 1390. I then did some online research, and I came across some very convincing rebuttals of popular pro-Shroud arguments. Interestingly, these rebuttals were made by a Catholic science teacher named Hugh Farey, a
current former editor of the British Society for the Turin Shroud newsletter, and a former Shroud believer. I was highly impressed with Hugh Farey’s eloquence as a speaker. Shroud believers will find his arguments devastating. I post them here for readers’ interest.
5 Popular Arguments for the Shroud of Turin Debunked
UPDATE: In this video, Hugh Farey argues that: (i) contrary to popular belief, the wounds on the back of the man on the Shroud do not match the scourge marks that would have been left by a Roman flagrum (or whip), and in any case, Jesus’ back would have been a mangled, bloody mess after flogging; (ii) oft-repeated claims that the hand wounds on the Shroud go through the wrist are mistaken (but see here), as are claims that Jesus would have fallen off the Cross if he hadn’t been nailed through the wrist; (iii) frequently made assertions that the man on the Shroud had a blood type of AB rest on highly questionable evidence, as do similar assertions made about the Sudarium of Oviedo; (iv) the pollen found on the Shroud does not tie it to Palestine, contrary to claims made by the Swiss criminologist Max Frei contended back in the 1970s; and (v) there is no good reason to believe that the limestone minerals on the Shroud come from limestone in Palestine: other locations (e.g. France) are a better match.
The Shroud of Turin is a Forgery
UPDATE: In this video, Hugh Farey argues that: (i) the carbon-14 dating of the Shroud, which places it in the Middle Ages, is well-established (see also here); (ii) the herringbone weave found on the Shroud comports better with a medieval, Northern European origin than a first-century, Palestinian origin; and (iii) the image on the Shroud is more likely to be artificial than natural in origin.
Hugh Farey’s blog
British Society for the Turin Shroud Archive
Articles by Hugh Farey on the Shroud
The Medieval Shroud (Part 1) What was it for? How was it done? Who? When? Where?
The Medieval Shroud (Part 2) No Case for Authenticity: A thorough analysis of all the evidence
The Medieval Shroud (Part 3) Essays around the Shroud of Turin
Interestingly, Hugh Farey took part in a very civilized debate on the Resurrection with Ben Watkins on the Resurrection in April 2023:
Readers may be interested in checking out this Website by Daniel Porter, whose articles on the Shroud are very balanced:
Two pro-Shroud videos by Barrie Schwortz and Fr. Andrew Dalton
And now, here are two videos by pro-Shroud proponents: an Orthodox Jew and former Shroud skeptic who now believes that the Shroud is the authentic burial cloth of Jesus but contends that the image was formed by a purely natural process (Barrie Schwortz), and a Catholic priest who thinks there’s a very strong case for the authenticity of the Shroud but who is skeptical of naturalistic explanations for the image (Fr. Andrew Dalton). By the way, Fr. Dalton is a good friend of Barrie Schwortz.
“Is the Shroud of Turin Authentic?”
(Barrie Schwortz, interviewed by James Valliant, Jacob Berman and James Riley on History Valley, April 1, 2023)
“Why The Shroud Of Turin Could Be The Authentic Burial Cloth Of Jesus”
(Fr. Andrew Dalton, interviewed by Cameron Bertuzzi on Capturing Christianity, September 23, 2023)
Is there any physical evidence for the Shroud of Turin’s existence prior to the thirteenth century?
Barrie Schwortz argues that the Shroud dates from prior to the 13th century, citing the Hungarian Pray Codex as an important piece of evidence. But is it? Here’s what Hugh Farey says about the Hungarian Pray Codex in his article, “The Medieval Shroud 2”:
The Pray Codex sepulchre is decorated with small red crosses, a common Byzantine ‘polystaurion’ design, and its lid with a number of concentric zigzag patterns, like the outlines of stepped pyramids whose bases are the edges of the lid. The angel stands like a surfer on this lid, pointing to the crumpled graveclothes on top. What brings the image to the attention of sindonologists, however, are two groups of little circles, apparently with neither functional nor decorative value, on the sepulchre and its lid. Their superficial resemblance to the alleged ‘poker holes’ on the Shroud has stimulated a huge, and hugely contrived, symbology, in which the rectangular, ‘ziggurat’-painted lid becomes the herringbone weave of the Shroud itself, and the whole page is esoteric evidence that the artist must have copied from it. Although it must be admitted that the little patterns of circles are not easy to explain, the elaborations built thereupon are only justifiable in the light of pre-conviction.
In an earlier article titled, The Pray Codex (British Society for the Turin Shroud Newsletter Number 83, December 2016), Farey points out that the zigzag designs on the Pray Codex “form a series of concentric triangles, rather like ziggurats, and in no way look anything like herringbone [weave].”
And here’s a picture of the Hungarian Pray Codex:
Incidentally, the herringbone weave on the Shroud, which is claimed to be represented on the Hungarian Pray Codex, is actually evidence against its authenticity: Jews in first-century Palestine were not buried in cloths woven in this way (see here and here). In his essay, “The Medieval Shroud 2”, Hugh Farey notes that looms capable of weaving a 3/1 twill “are unknown to history, archaeology or literature before about the twelfth century” (p. 20).
For his part, Fr. Andrew Dalton attempts to identify the Shroud of Turin with the Image of Edessa. But as Hugh Farey remarks in an article titled, “The Pray Codex” (British Society for the Turin Shroud Newsletter Number 83, December 2016), “No contemporary descriptions of the Image of Edessa suggest that it was anything other than a portrait, and one showing Christ very much alive at that.”
Farey makes some additional comments on the Image of Edessa in his essay, “The Medieval Shroud 2”:
The most ardent attempts [to identify the Turin Shroud with early Christian relics kept in Constantinople] involve the celebrated Image of Edessa, which was brought to Constantinople in great ceremony in 944, and deposited in the church of the Virgin of the Pharos, where it quietly lost importance among a number of artefacts more closely associated with Jesus, finally disappearing at the Sack of Constantinople in 1204. Legend claimed that this image had been created specifically for Abgar, King of Edessa, by Christ himself, although, as we shall see, details vary… (p. 38)
In spite of some determined attempts to claim that the Image of Edessa can be identified with the Shroud, in fact, as will be seen, it vanished into obscurity quite soon after arriving in Constantinople, while various cloths associated with the burial of Jesus continued to be venerated quite publicly. Nothing suggests that they were the same thing… (p. 39)
From the vast majority of accounts, then, it is clear that the burial cloth of Jesus and the Mandylion of Edessa were different objects, and that neither carried a full-length image (let alone a double image). (p. 43)
Does the crown of thorns on the Shroud support its authenticity?
Fr. Dalton also cites the crown of thorns on the Shroud as evidence of its authenticity, but Hugh Farey will have none of it. In the same essay, he declares:
Firstly there is insufficient evidence on the Shroud to suggest that the ‘crown’ injuries were caused by anything other than a circlet, and secondly, that there is no archaeological evidence for a cap-shaped crown anyway. When challenged, archaeologists cite images of kings such as Xerxes (from a thousand kilometres away and five hundred years earlier), or more realistically the recently defeated kings of Armenia, from two thousand kilometres away, both of whom are illustrated wearing columnar crowns which may indeed have a cap-like element. However, from Judea itself, every single representation of a first century ruler, such as the Herods or Caesars, show them wearing simple circlets or wreaths. The Gospels unanimously use the word στέφανον, derived from words meaning entwine or wreath in a circle.
Blood from a puncture wound on the scalp of a man with thick hair does not ooze neatly to the surface and then trickle down in little zigzags, as seen on the Shroud. It mats the hair stickily. Even so, Sebastian Rodante considered the depictions of flow on the forehead so accurate that he could identify the pulsing flow of arteries and the more continuous oozing of veins, and thus the actual blood vessels which had been punctured. This is a fanciful over-interpretation. (p. 32)
The strongest argument for the Shroud’s authenticity?
To my mind, the strongest-sounding argument in favor of the Shroud’s authenticity put forward by Fr. Dalton is his claim that the bloodstains were deposited on the Shroud before the image. Fr. Dalton points out, quite reasonably, that a forger would have made the image first, and then added the bloodstains. I emailed Hugh Farey on this point, and here is his prompt and very courteous reply (bolding is mine):
Thanks for emailing. The evidence that the blood on the Shroud arrived before the image is extremely weak. John Heller and Alan Adler observed that the fibrils of the Shroud appeared corroded in image areas but not in non-image areas. Eugenia Nitowski, who took dozens of micrographs of the sticky tape slides, and myself, who has studied her photographs, do not observe this corrosion, and Ray Rogers denied it existed at all. Heller and Adler found that if the blood was removed from a blood fibre, the fibre itself looked more like a non-image fibre than an image fibre, but for a start it is impossible clearly to distinguish between the two, and secondly, even in intense image areas, the proportion of image fibres is very small, so that any blood placed on top of it is more likely to be placed on a non-image fibre than an image fibre. This is only exacerbated by the fact that the uppermost fibres of all the bloodstains have mostly been corroded away.
Fr Dalton is perfectly correct that it is very unlikely that a forger would have placed the blood on the Shroud first, but I don’t think he did. However, I do believe that the Shroud is a print off a carved wooden block. If the forger first painted the block with whatever ink he used, and then painted blood onto the places he wanted bloodstained, and then a cloth over the whole thing, the blood would contact the cloth before the ink below it. I don’t think that’s what happened, but it could support the “blood first” hypothesis if necessary.
I hope that helps,
Why a 200-nanometer-thick image could still be natural
Fr. Dalton also makes much of the depth of the image on the Shroud: a mere 200 to 500 nanometers. But as we’ve seen, Hugh Farey addresses this issue in his video, “5 Popular Arguments for the Shroud of Turin Debunked”: he creates an image on camera using a marker pen and a cloth handkerchief woven with a herringbone weave. The image penetrates only the uppermost fibers of the cloth. Fr. Dalton also contends that the limestone on the Shroud matches that found in Palestine like a fingerprint, but Farey refutes this claim as flat-out false in the same video.
Can we trust the carbon-14 dating of the Shroud?
Finally, Barrie Schwortz takes issue with the carbon-14 dating, on the grounds that the samples were taken from a single section of the Shroud, and that the laboratories which dated the Shroud refused to release their raw data until they were legally compelled to do so. Fr. Dalton also questions the carbon-14 dating, citing a paper by Tristan Casabianca (Archaeometry, Volume 61, Issue 5, pages 1223-1231, first published 22 March 2019). However, the paper’s conclusion, after examining the original data, is relatively modest, recommending a re-analysis: “Without this re-analysis, it is not possible to affirm that the 1988 radiocarbon dating offers ‘conclusive evidence’ that the calendar age range is accurate and representative of the whole cloth.” Philip Ball, who was on the editorial team of Nature when it published the original 1989 article Radiocarbon dating of the Shroud of Turin (P. E. Damon et al, Nature volume 337, pages 611–615 (1989)) debunking the Shroud as a medieval forgery, recently wrote a follow-up article in Chemistry World (“Twists and Turins”, 9 April 2019) commenting on attempts to undermine the date (1260-1390), in which he declares: “Nothing published so far on the shroud, including this paper, offers compelling reason to think that the 1989 study was substantially wrong – but apparently it was not definitive either.” For his part, Hugh Farey continues to defend the medieval carbon-14 date. In the Appendix to his essay, “The Medieval Shroud 2”, he remarks: “Depending on the age of the alleged contamination, there would have to be about four times as much contamination as original material to skew the date appropriately” (p. 55).
Finally, for balance, let me recommend these two articles from Daniel Porter’s blog, shroudstory.com:
What do people think?