The Definitive Shroud of Turin FAQ

the shroud draws you in, doesn't let go, and reveals itself gradually

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Parsing an Associated Press article by Ariel David

For the most part, the Associated Press article by Ariel David (November 2009) about the claim the Shroud has "faint writing on the linen proves it was the burial cloth of Jesus" was well written and factual. But is has a few problems with it.

The claim, made by Barbara Frale, a Vatican researchers, is dubious. The story helps us see that. He explains succinctly why skeptics hold that view. But what is not made clear is that most people who think the Shroud is real share that view. David confused this issue with another issue when he wrote:

Experts say the historian may be reading too much into the markings, and they stand by carbon-dating that points to the shroud being a medieval forgery.

The problem is that many experts that agree that "the historian may be reading too much into the markings" don't stand by the carbon dating. These are two completely different issues. One would be hard pressed, for instance, to find a scientist in the Shroud Science Group who agrees with Frale. And one would be hard pressed to find anyone in the group who stands by the carbon dating. The Shroud Science Group is a group of about 140 researchers and academics studying the Shroud.

David writes:

Barbara Frale, a researcher at the Vatican archives, says in a new book that she used computer-enhanced images of the shroud to decipher faintly written words in Greek, Latin and Aramaic scattered across the cloth.

These computer enhanced images have been around since 1994. Frale's conclusions are based on the studies done by French researchers the late 1990's and was widely criticized at the time. The computer-enhanced images were derived from photographs taken in 1931 by Giuseppe Enrie. They were photographed on high resolution orthochromatic film with angular lighting. While they may be wonderful photographs to look at they are useless for identifying fine detail such as lettering, computer enhancement or not. Orthochromatic film only records black and white and interpolates for a limited range of gray by forming grain patterns. Those grain patterns are the problem. It would be very difficult to capture the detail required for such an inscription. This seems to be classic case of pareidolia, the seeing of patterns in random data. Among those who think the Shroud is real, Frale pretty much stands alone. It would have been nice if the story had made this point.

David makes his biggest blunder when he writes:

The shroud bears the figure of a crucified man, complete with blood seeping from his hands and feet, and believers say Christ's image was recorded on the linen's fibers at the time of his resurrection.

The first part of the sentence is correct, up to the point of "and." Many, if not most, who think the Shroud is real, at least among researchers, do not hold that "Christ's image was recorded on the linen's fibers at the time of his resurrection." The leading image formation hypothesis, is that the images were formed by a chemical reaction called a Maillard reaction caused by amine vapors reacting with a carbohydrate layer on the fibers of the Shroud. It is important to stress that this is a hypothesis. Any other explanation so far offered is also hypothesis or speculation.  To write, that "believers say Christ's image was recorded on the linen's fibers at the time of his resurrection" is like writing that Christians believe the world was formed in six literal days. Yes, some do. But all Christians are not the same in what they believe. Nor are those who think the Shroud is real like those who believe the image was imprinted by a Resurrection.

In the following short paragraphs David is mostly right:

There has been strong debate about it in the scientific community.

Skeptics point out that radiocarbon dating conducted on the cloth in 1988 determined it was made in the 13th or 14th century.

But Raymond Rogers of Los Alamos National Laboratory said in 2005 that the tested threads came from patches used to repair the shroud after a fire. Rogers, who died shortly after publishing his findings, calculated it is 1,300 to 3,000 years old and could easily date from Jesus' era.

It is not a "patch" but an area of mending, specifically a reweaving. Rogers found significant evidence of the reweaving and published his findings in an international, peer-reviewed scientific journal. Moreover, Rogers work has been significantly confirmed by other scientists.

David writes:

Earlier this year, she published a study saying the Templars once had the shroud in their possession. That raised eyebrows because the order was abolished in the early 14th century and the shroud is first recorded in history around 1360 in the hands of a French knight.

It actually raised eyebrows because it is poor historical analysis. The history of the Shroud goes back to Athens, to Constantinople and to Edessa. There are gaps in the records--not at all uncommon in ancient history--between Athens and the town of Lirey, France in the 1350s. It is the job of historians to bridge gaps in history. This notion that there is no history before around 1360 was promulgated by Joe Nickell. It is simply wrong except in a Euro-centric way. To say there are no extant northern European records before 1356 is correct. To imply that the absence of evidence is evidence, which is how the reader might interpret the above, is incorrect.

David correctly writes:

Another shroud expert, Gian Marco Rinaldi, said that even scientists who believe in the relic's authenticity have dismissed as unreliable the images on which Frale's study was based.

"These computer enhancements increase contrast in an unrealistic way to bring out these signs," he said. "You can find them all over the shroud, not just near the head, and then with a bit of imagination, you see letters."

This was an important point. And yes, "even scientists who believe in the relic's authenticity have dismissed as unreliable the images on which Frale's study was based." This may have been the most important point in the whole article.

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