Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? …if Christ has not been raised then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.
1 Corinthians 15: 12, 14
If Jesus indeed was resurrected from the dead he is the first and only person in human history to do so. His was no near-death experience; according to gospel accounts he was tortured, killed and entombed for three full days before the resurrection.
To echo the words of Paul everything rests on this; everything we believe as Christians about the purpose and meaning of Jesus’ life and everything we believe about the significance of our own; it all flows through this singular truth.
Yet when was the last time you gave the resurrection a second thought? I find that I simply stipulate this milestone of human history without absorbing the reality of what it represents, how it must have been shaken those who witnessed it to the core of their beings, and the impact it should have on us as believers today.
Wouldn’t it be helpful if there was some piece of physical evidence to support the gospel accounts of the resurrection? Indeed there is — call it a miraculous selfie — and it’s known as the Shroud of Turin.
I recently attended “An Evening with the Shroud of Turin,” hosted at Church on Morgan with two accomplished scientists and Triangle residents: Alan Whanger, M.D., a Duke University alumnus and professor emeritus, and Thomas D’Muhala, a nuclear engineer and member of a team that studied the shroud in person back in the 1970s. These two men possess the credentials and scientific minds of skeptics, yet they are Christians who have dedicated decades of their own time to understanding and sharing scientific evidence and insights they’ve gathered about the shroud.
This historic artifact is named for the city in Italy in which it resides today. It is a burial shroud that contains a one-of-a-kind, photonegative image of a body, bearing a striking resemblance to historical depictions of Jesus, and containing an abundance of natural and supernatural evidence that supports Biblical accounts of his suffering and death. It is believed by many, including these two gentlemen, to be the burial shroud in which Jesus was wrapped at the time of his death and at the moment of his resurrection.
The Shroud of Turin is a beautiful confluence of natural and supernatural evidence of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Here are six amazing things I learned about the Shroud of Turin from these Triangle experts:
- Evidence suggests the image is not a work of an art. The fabric shows no signs of brush marks, which would have been the most likely option at that time. Unlike manmade portraits the image is anatomically perfect. The image appears in the negative and the cloth itself is fluoresced, which suggest it was created by some type of energetic event. In fact, Mr. D’Muhala’s expert opinion is that the image on the cloth is a holographic image, defined as: “a three-dimensional image created with photographic projection. The term is taken from the Greek words holos (whole) and gramma (message).” Wow.
- It was the source for early portraits of Jesus. Overlays of early portraits of Jesus with the shroud reveal many similarities in facial features and proportion that suggest it may have served as a reference for early artists, which helps explain why it resembles our own ideas of what Jesus looked like.
- Wounds on the body are consistent with Gospel accounts of Jesus’ death. The gospel accounts say that a crown of thorns was placed on Jesus’ head, he was scourged and then forced to carry his own cross, and he was then nailed to the cross by his hands and feet. After he died, his side was pierced with a spear by a Roman soldier. The shroud contains the following evidence:
- 40 puncture wounds on the head of its victim, consistent with a crown of thorns
- signs of bruising on the shoulders consistent with carrying a cross
- 125 scourge wounds with barbs
- puncture wounds at the wrist and feet consistent with nails; in fact the body is still in the position of crucifixion with one foot overlaying the other, only the arms have been repositioned over the body .
- a wound in the side with blood with serum, indicating it was post-mortem
- the blood contains high bilirubin, consistent with severe trauma
- The details of the burial evident on the shroud are consistent with Jewish tradition and with the reported circumstances of Jesus’ death. Jewish burial tradition required that items containing the lifeblood be interned with the deceased. The shroud contains outlines of the following items wrapped with the body:
- Sponge on a reed (Matthew 27:48)
- Crown of thorns (John 19:2)
- Roman spear (John 19:34) This was a surprising discovery as it would have been very unusual for a Roman weapon to be included with a Jewish body. One can imagine that Pontius Pilate would have been pleased to allow the spear as evidence of this Roman execution.
- A Pontius Pilate coin. Coins were placed over the eyes and the one over the right eye left an impression on the shroud. The coin, a “widow’s mite” contains the image of Pontius Pilate and dates to at least 39 AD.
- Local flowers. In Jewish tradition flowers were placed around the body. In this case one of the world’s leading botanists identified pollen samples from the shroud as originating exclusively within 15 miles of Jerusalem at the time period of Jesus. The wilting of the flowers indicates the image was create 30-36 hours after burial.
One thing I learned is not true about the shroud: the carbon dating test from the 1980s. The test was done on a piece of fabric taken from one of many patches on the shroud, dating back to the Middle Ages between 1260 and 1390, but not to the time of Christ. The swatch is clearly inconsistent with the shroud itself, made from a different, thicker thread, woven together differently. The patch is a visibly different color and it is not fluoresced like the shroud itself. Unfortunately for many skeptics this was the only evidence needed to discount the shroud’s authenticity.
The shroud was not well cared for in its early years when it was privately owned by royalty. It also has been a frequent target of enemies of Christianity, including some who tried to burn down the chapel where it was housed, which did considerable damage to the shroud. Today it is the property of the Catholic Church and is only displayed once a decade, yet even so the image continues to deteriorate and fade over time. And the church is now understandably reluctant to subject the shroud to additional testing or examination that may give any further ammunition to skeptics.
If this is your first encounter with the Shroud of Turin I invite you to take a closer look. If everything rests in the truth of the resurrection, is it not conceivable that God would preserve a remnant like the shroud, not as “proof” to non-believers, but as a source of comfort and strength to those who have not seen and yet believe (John 20:29):
The God of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
2 Corinthinians 4:4
Ready to keep learning? Start at Dr. and Mrs. Whanger’s site: The Council for Study of the Shroud of Turin and with the Shroud of Turin Research Project (STURP) of which Tom d’Muhala was a key research team member.