The Shroud of Turin: Why I think the image is natural and probably medieval

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

medievalshroud.com

British Society for the Turin Shroud Archive

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

The radiocarbon data were correct

The hand talks back!

A review of three recent papers on the Shroud

Interestingly, Hugh Farey took part in a very civilized debate on the Resurrection with Ben Watkins on the Resurrection in April 2023:

Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? A Debate between a Catholic and an Atheist

Readers may be interested in checking out this Website by Daniel Porter, whose articles on the Shroud are very balanced:

Shroudstory.com

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):

Hi Vincent,

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,
Best wishes,
Hugh

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).

Concluding thoughts

Finally, for balance, let me recommend these two articles from Daniel Porter’s blog, shroudstory.com:

After 23 Years Studying the Shroud, This Is What I Think

The Evidence

What do people think?

64 thoughts on “The Shroud of Turin: Why I think the image is natural and probably medieval

  1. Alan Fox:
    Though I wouldn’t call Thomas Jefferson a paragon of virtue, his pruning of the New Testament of everything but the teachings of Jesus seems a similar approach.

    The older I get the fewer paragons I see in the world. I have this list of celebrities in my head that I hope will never be exposed as evil. Mr Rogers and such.

  2. Hugh Farey,

    Hi Hugh

    This paper describes the test methods for identifying blood type for both the shroud and the sudarium. The methods used on the tunic have not yet been identified. It appears that the methods are consistent between both relics.

    Significance of type AB blood

    Hi Alan
    Was unable to condense the link can you describe the process on WordPress?

  3. I’ve edited the URL. I’ll detail how to create a link in the Moderation Issues thread.

  4. Hi Cole,

    The paper you reference does not describe how the Sudarium was tested, which as far as I know is only described, in Spanish, in the Actas del I Congress Internacional sobre el Sudario de Oviedo. In it, Carlo Goldoni says he is confident that the blood on the Sudarium is blood, but is not sure that it is AB, give the profusion of contaminants (especially bacteria, plant and fungal spores) also present.

  5. Hi colewd,

    Thank you for linking to Kelly Kearse’s paper, The Shroud of Turin, the Relics of Jesus, and Eucharistic Miracles: The Significance of Type AB blood. I’d just like to note that he expresses his findings with due caution:

    …When various bloodstained artifacts are tested for blood type, a similar experimental setup is used with a few modifications. First, it is important to emphasize that A and B molecules are not found solely on red blood cells. These same molecules, which are carbohydrate in nature, are also expressed on various bacteria, fungi, and other organisms.(21-26) Thus, it is entirely possible for a sample to test as positive for AB without any red blood cells even being present. Such results are known as false positives and are always a concern when dealing with aged samples…

    …It should be pointed out that the blood typing findings for any of these artifacts, including the Shroud of Turin, have never been published in a refereed peer-reviewed scientific journal. Reporting of such information is limited to specialty journals or books.31 This is important, because to many scientists, the level of scientific scrutiny provided by peer review helps to establish a certain amount of credibility to the findings. This is not to say that all scientifically reviewed published work is beyond reproach or that reliable results may not be found elsewhere, only that in scientific circles this is the normal, expected route, particularly for original data performed on the artifact in question….

    …Moreover, in all of the Eucharistic Miracle results presented to date, including those published in a scientific journal for the Miracle of Lanciano35-37, no control antibodies were ever used to demonstrate at a minimum, that antibody binding was specific. Thus, the results of blood type AB for such miracles are inconclusive on several levels….

    Finally, in the case of artifacts, particularly in trying to establish a relationship based on shared blood type, it should be emphasized that the correlation is only as scientifically strong as the data’s weakest link.

    Let me also add that a blood type of AB is not what one would expect for someone who was conceived of the virgin Mary. Make of that what you will. You might like to have a look at this paper: The Science Behind Jesus’ Blood Type:

    The blood type of a child comes from the parents, of course, but what happens when a child is born without a biological father? There are two possible answers to this question, both of which are biologically inexplicable.

    The first is that Our Lady’s blood type was also AB and that she passed it on to Jesus without the contribution of a human father. Here we face a biological anomaly: passing on genetic material directly without a biological partner would result in a clone, an identical copy of the single parent. But Jesus was male, so He was definitely not a clone of His mother!

    The second is that in most cases of AB children, one parent contributes the A and the other contributes the B. But such a scenario would be equally impossible for Jesus, whether the Blessed Mother contributed the A or the B: there was no biological father to contribute the corresponding type.

    In short, whether Mary’s blood was A, B, or AB, Jesus’ AB blood represents an immense mystery that can only be solved by belief in some kind of divine contribution of the male element..

    So God was Jesus’ biological father? That really makes Jesus’ conception sound like that of the Greco-Roman gods, who were said to be born of a virgin, but who actually had a divine father and a human mother. That blurs the boundary between Christianity and mythology, don’t you think?

  6. vjtorley:

    So God was Jesus’ biological father? That really makes Jesus’ conception sound like that of the Greco-Roman gods, who were said to be born of a virgin, but who actually had a divine father and a human mother. That blurs the boundary between Christianity and mythology, don’t you think?

    While the rank-raglan scale can be problematic to apply, I think it still provides some valuable insights as to how the stories of Jesus were derived. Turns out that Jesus was a fairly standard trope for the times.

  7. vjtorley,

    Hi VJ
    Thanks for directing me to the site that discusses the blood evidence of the the 3 relics. They make some claims that may be beyond the scientific evidence but as a vision where this study may lead it is a solid read.

    As far as the contamination issues it appears that Dr Kearse believes that controls were used.

    Of the above-mentioned artifacts, the studies on the Shroud of Turin and the Sudarium of Oviedowere done using relevant control antibodies (anti-X) and testing of non-bloodstained areas.
    27,28
    These results suggest the blood type is AB, although further verification is important. Much lessinformation is available regarding the details for testing on the Tunic of Argenteuil

    An interesting aspect of the evidence is pollen samples which Hugh addressed in his video. This paper discusses the methods used to determine the origin.

    Shroud and Sudarium overview

    Alan: thanks for the help with simplifying the link.

  8. I discuss pollen in some depth in “Problems with Pollen” in the BSTS Newsletter section of shroud.com. I wrote it in June 2014, before Barcaccia’s DNA paper a year later. Max Frei claimed to have identified 58 plants almost all species level. Barcaccia et al. identify 21 plants at species or genus level. Remarkably, the two lists do not intersect at all, except where Barcaccia finds Carpinus sp. and Frei Carpinus betulus. The European hornbeam. None of the pollens identified on the Sudarium are exclusive to, principally found in, or originally from, Israel.

  9. This is the first time I’ve stumbled on my own video in the wild while googling for stuff for the channel. That’s…kind of a jarring experience, to be honest, lol.

  10. I have always been fascinated by the so-called “fact” that almost everywhere Jesus is depicted as a man with long hair, which for some reason radiated into the famous shroud, while any other piece of evidence there is, doesn’t even suggest that at all….

  11. J-Mac:
    I have always been fascinated by the so-called “fact” that almost everywhere Jesus is depicted as a man with long hair, which for some reason radiated into the famous shroud, while any other piece of evidence there is, doesn’t even suggest that at all….

    According to my reading, the popular image of Jesus stabilized (to the extent that it has) around the year 400 C.E. Variations of this “standard image” tend to include characteristics common to the culture where variations are found. The “Western Jesus” typically has a beard, long light brown hair, and generally Caucasian features.

    Incidentally, non-Christian biblical scholars are increasingly coming to the conclusion that no physical Jesus ever existed at all. Certainly the Gospel Jesus is fictional, and bears little or no resemblance to Paul’s Jesus. Of course, Paul never met his Jesus in person, and Paul’s epistles come as close as medieval editors would permit to saying Jesus was an entirely celestial spirit who never came down to Earth. Paul insists that his knowledge of Jesus comes entirely from visions informed by scripture. It’s interesting that no sources of direct witness to any historical Jesus (if there ever were any) have survived.

    So the physical depiction of Jesus comes entirely from the imagination of the artist. The Jesus on the shroud is, understandably, a match for the way Jesus was painted around the time and place when the shroud was first “discovered”. The shroud itself, in turn, is excellent evidence of the sort of biblical artifact being produced at the time (a time when every “piece of the cross” revered across what is now Europe, added together, would total a good sized forest!)

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