The Shroud of Turin is an intriguing and stimulating subject for college audiences. Yes the Shroud has religious implications, but so do the Dead Sea Scrolls and most every archaeological discovery made in Israel. They are fascinating artifacts and can be studied objectively without becoming an overt platform for the Christian faith.
Who can argue that Jesus was the most prominent figure in western history and was responsible for reshaping the ancient world? Yet because of inordinate fears of church and state separation, he is barely a footnote in today's public schools and state universities. By researching the Shroud, students are exposed to an intriguing presentation of the historical Jesus and are also drawn into an array of disciplines that have been employed over the years to unravel the Shroud's great mystery.
Numerous avenues of scientific and historical research...
Optical sciences, chemistry, particle analysis, blood chemistry, medical forensics, physics, botany, numismatics, archaeology, carbon dating, and other disciplines are involved in revealing the Shroud's many secrets. Is the Shroud just a clever painting? What is the cause of the image? What are the chemical components of the blood stains? Could the image be that of a real human being?
History also provides clues derived from ancient art techniques, the role of icons in ancient Christianity, textile analysis, Jewish burial practices, and the Roman use of crucifixion. Could the Shroud have a first century origin? What do these avenues of research indicate?
An Academic Mosaic
When in history did the idea of an image on linen originate? What caused icon images to become so prominent within ancient Byzantine Christianity? What is the "Image Not Made By Human Hands" discovered in the sixth century? Could it be related to the Shroud? Do ancient legends and folklore offer any clues? Are there ancient liturgical references? Is there a link to the Fourth Crusade and the Knights Templar?
There are few subjects that span such a diversity of disciplines all focused on one artifact. Learning about the Shroud exposes the audience to 100 years of scientific and medical inquiry. It demonstrates the investigative role of science as well as it's limitations. It connects the student to past events, people and cultures that have shaped our world today and brings perspective to the role of religion in previous centuries, the roots of which run deep in Western Civilization. The rise of modern secularism cannot alter the historical role of religion and should be included in what every student learns as part of a well rounded education.
A Profound Mystery
The Shroud of Turin was described by National Geographic as "One of the most perplexing enigmas of modern times." Time Magazine called it "The Riddle of the Ages."
People may have seen one of many documentaries such as History's Mysteries on The History Channel, Secrets of the Dead on PBS or numerous other ones on Discovery Channel, Learning Channel, and National Geographic Channel. People are intrigued by the mystery but these shows only cover the surface. Our program, Shroud Encounter takes the audience far deeper into the mystery and reveals fascinating details usually left on the cutting room floor.
There are always two sides to every story. The same holds true with the Shroud. However any topic with such distinct religious implications inevitably involves emotions on both sides of the debate. There are those who want it to be authentic and those who don't. It is important to note that because of these emotions, the scientists comprising the Shroud of Turin Research Project made sure to publish all of their findings in over a dozen respected peer reviewed journals. This is not the case with the detractors of the Shroud who either self published their results (McCrone) or failed to publish all their data and failed to follow established protocols (C-14 data as published in Nature).
Famous microscopist Walter McCrone once claimed the Shroud was a fake and that it was merely a painted forgery. He made great headlines with his assertions but in the end was proven wrong. He did find a one particle of vermillion paint but it was most likely dislodged from one of many paintings or copies of the Shroud that were laid on the cloth's surface. This was done to enhance the value of the painting by having touched the real thing.
McCrone also found iron oxide particles that he claimed were used in red ochre paint. Yet these particles were from the iron in the water in which original flax linen was retted (soaked). The iron oxide particles are far too pure and far too small to have been used by a medieval artist in some kind of "jewelers rouge" as he claimed. Jewelers rouge is coarse and contaminated with other elements. This is not what is found on the Shroud. The iron oxide on the Shroud is evenly distributed over the entire cloth with no greater concentration in the image areas, a small detail McCrone conveniently overlooks. The bottom line is that the shroud is not a painting as verified by spectroscopy, x-ray radiography and every other avenue of research.
It is interesting to note that Walter McCrone also claimed back in 1972 that a Viking map called the Vinland Map was a forgery. Yale University hired him to determine its authenticity. McCrone proudly declared it was a fake. Now researchers from Yale University and the Smithsonian Institute have determined that it is in fact authentic. See any parallels? McCrone used questionable science and jumped to unsubstantiated conclusions for the sake of his own press coverage.
Something remarkably similar occured in 1988 with carbon dating. The carbon labs allowed their data to hinge on one highly questionable sample taken from one of the most handled areas of the cloth. A skilled archaeologist would never have sampled that section. The risk lied with the possibility of the cloth having been repaired at some point. Were they certain the sample was fully representative of the entire cloth? They failed to take a second sample as a back up and they failed to perform micro chemical analysis to make sure it was fully representative, both called for in the original protocol. They boldly asserted, much like McCrone, that the Shroud was a fake.
Yet again, questionable science makes the headlines. Seventeen years later, renowned thermal chemist, Ray Rogers, was able to perform micro-chemical tests on samples from the main body of the cloth and from the corner cut for carbon dating and determined they were not the same! Indeed that corner was apparently rewoven in the Middle Ages. All of this confusion could have been avoided had they followed protocols and the rules of good sampling methodology. It now appears the carbon dating tests have been rendered irrelevant.
Is It Relevant?
Archaeology continues to unearth evidence demonstrating the accuracy of biblical accounts. They just found King Herod's tomb (2007)! The Dead Sea Scrolls continue to be examined. The Shroud could be the greatest archaeological artifact of all time yet hidden by controversy and confusion instead of dirt and debris.
It is that possibility that makes the shroud worthy of continued investigation. Most of the Shroud's mysteries have been revealed in the past century through photography and modern science. Questions about religion make the news every day. The subject of the Shroud couldn't be more relevant to our time.
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