The Quest for God and the Jesus of History
Religion gets in the way of studying the Shroud of Turin, objectively. And yet, if the Shroud was not a religious object--one might say a relic--the impetus for seeking to understand its provenance and the nature of the images would be largely missing. Oh, yes, there would be interest. There would be people who are passionate about the Shroud just as there are people who are passionate about mysterious artifacts from history: old maps, stones with inscriptions, coins, pyramids and temples. But interest would not be as intense and widespread. Similarly, there would not be such impassioned skepticism about its possible authenticity.
Shortly after Raymond Rogers published his findings in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Thermochimica Acta, decidedly showing that the 1988 carbon dating of the Shroud was invalid, Philip Ball, a former physical sciences editor for Nature, that most prestigious international science journal, the same journal that had published the carbon dating results in 1989. wrote in Nature Online:
The scientific study of the Turin Shroud is like a microcosm of the scientific search for God. It does more to inflame any debate than settle it . . . . And yet, the shroud is a remarkable artifact, one of the few religious relics to have a justifiably mythical status. It is simply not known how the ghostly image of a serene, bearded man was made. (Emphasis in bold mine)
Is Ball right? Is it a microcosm of the scientific search for God? To some extent it is. But it is more than that. It is, for some people an attempt to prove the Resurrection of Christ. We don't need to prove that God exists, some say, adding, but it would be nice to prove the Resurrection. Oh, yes, but such a supernatural act would seem to be proof.
Less specifically, it is part of the quest for the historical Jesus. If the Shroud is genuine, it might tell us much about the man, including, presumably, what he looked like. We must say presumably because we can't be certain the image is representative, even if it is genuine, so long as we don't know how the image was formed. The Shroud, if real, can also prove that those, like John Dominic Crossan, who argue that Jesus wasn't even buried in a tomb are wrong.
Because the Shroud is a religious object, it makes for easy believers and automatic skeptics. Objectivity suffers. But that is not all bad. Skeptics are needed to challenge beliefs. Unfortunately, to just attach the word God, the name Jesus, and the notion of religion to this artifact turns many people off, prevents funding for research and makes it difficult to publish findings.
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