The Shroud of Turin- Digging Deeper
by Mondo Gonzales
One of the reasons I love the world of biblical archaeology is the ways in which artifacts which have often been in storage for centuries still have the potential to speak volumes as modern technology advances. This was true with the lead tablet that I reported on last month. This lead tablet had been excavated in the 1980s, but sat undiscovered for 40 years as it sat in a rubbish pile. Even if it had been discovered back then, the technology to read it was not available. Now that we have sophisticated imaging techniques, we can actually read what’s inside an unrolled tablet!
The same is true of the Shroud of Turin. This article doesn’t contain enough room to share all the amazing unique attributes of the Shroud. Those can be found at www.whocanhebe.com or shrouduniversity.com or shroudencounter.com. However, in this article I wanted to share some updates that have happened in the recent weeks.
Before we get into these updates, I want to share that I approach the Shroud as I would any other archaeological artifact. Biblical artifacts can never be proven 100% as being connected with any narrative or event in the Bible. Archaeology does not work this way. Archaeologists think in terms of probability like any other scientific discipline. Artifacts are analyzed, tested, measured, and examined in context and in situ if possible. If they are not found in situ (original location), their provenance (origin) is investigated as best as possible to establish a chain of custody. There are dozens of authentic finds that are put on the black antiquities market each year. These often have no provenance, but archaeologists still spend the time to analyze them as best as possible for any contribution to understanding the Bible that they can give. Secondly, biblical artifacts (even if demonstrated to have a higher probability of authenticity) should never be worshipped. We know from church history that some (hopefully well intentioned) people have sought to worship alleged biblical artifacts (relics). This has left a bad taste in some people’s minds for having anything to do with biblical artifacts. The phrase, “throwing the baby out with the bath water” applies here. This shouldn’t be so. We should always investigate any claimed artifact, but never with the intention of worshipping it. At the end of the day, we believe the Bible by faith, but it is exciting when God provides archaeological artifacts to help contribute to the historical reliability of His Word.
Most people today who have had any cursory interactions with the existence of the Shroud often point back to a Carbon-14 test which was done in 1988. The British Museum tested pieces of the Shroud with results asserting that the Shroud was only 700 years old. For many, this ended the discussion and the Shroud, therefore, could not be the actual burial cloth of Jesus. For them, it was fabricated in the 14th century and that was that. However, many people challenged the testing methodology of the British Museum noting that proper and normal procedures were not followed. There are at least six peer-reviewed scientific articles challenging the 14th century AD Carbon 14 date as being flawed in its testing. On a side note, recent tests by Italian scientists using Wide Angle X-ray Scattering (WAXS) on pieces from the Shroud returned a date of approximately 55-74 AD which certainly would be consistent with the general time frame of the resurrection of Jesus. This latest research challenges those who claim that the Shroud was fabricated in the 14th century.
This has led David Rolfe, a film-maker who has a documentary and the website (www.whocanhebe.com), to issue a $1 million challenge to the British Museum to produce a similar type burial cloth that matches several of the characteristics of the Shroud of Turin. He asserts that it is impossible to reproduce the Shroud. This would give evidence to its authenticity.
Here are the requirements that the British Museum must satisfy within a 6-month period if they accept the challenge.
- Depth of color penetration equal to 0.2 micrometer, which corresponds to the thickness of the primary cell wall of the linen fiber. The cellulose of the medulla is colorless.
- Half tone effect, where the shading of the image is due to the areal density of the fibers that each have the same color, i.e., the same RGB value.
- The fibers are uniformly colored round their cylindrical surface.
- The front and back images of the body show almost the same color intensity, i.e., we cannot appreciate which image is more contrasted, front or back.
- The images must be permanent on the linen for a period of at least one year.
- Only known medieval techniques and substances can be used.
Recently I had the opportunity to film a 2-hour DVD with Russ Breault where we covered, “Objections to the Authenticity of the Shroud.” That DVD will be out soon and should help address those with logical questions and objections to seeing the Shroud as most likely authentic. Scientific investigation shouldn’t turn a blind eye to legitimate concerns that investigators have.
I wanted to address a couple of these objections from a biblical exegetical perspective as it seems that these objections could easily be avoided if we take a closer look at the biblical text. One of the major objections is “that the clearly crucified man on the Shroud could not be Jesus because the person has a beard. Does not the Bible say that Jesus would have His beard torn out because of Isaiah 50:6 which reads in English, ‘I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting’”?
The most general answer to this objection by Shroud proponents is that text does not say that all of Jesus’s beard would be torn out, but just a reference to part of it. The man on the Shroud definitely has a beard, but the quality of the image could show that portions of the beard were plucked out. This is one solution, but I want to present another based on the original languages and textual history. It is semi-technical, but hang in there as I think going through the details is worth it.
There are three main ancient texts that scholars use to assess any of the Old Testament texts. The first is the Hebrew Masoretic text tradition (primarily based off the Leningrad Codex which is dated to 1000 AD). This text could also be called the Jewish Rabbinic Hebrew text. Most English Bible versions use this 1000 AD Hebrew text as their main source in their translation of the Old Testament into English. The other ancient textual tradition is the Dead Sea Scrolls dated before 70 AD, a full 1000 years more ancient than the Rabbinic Hebrew text. The third text is the Greek translation of the Hebrew (the “Septuagint,” often abbreviated as LXX) which began in the 3rd century BC and with the oldest extant texts going back to the 2nd century BC.
Interestingly, neither the word “beard” nor “hair” appears in Isaiah 50:6 in the Hebrew or Greek texts. Here is a literal translation of the Hebrew Masoretic text from 1000 AD in the Hebrew word order, “My back, I gave to (those) smiting, and my cheeks to plucking out, my face not I hid from insults and spitting.” The Hebrew word for “plucking out” (marat) appears in Ezra 9:3 and Nehemiah 13:25 in connection with hair being removed. This is why most English translations translate Isaiah 50:6 as referencing the beard being plucked out even though there is no reference in this passage specifically to hair or beard.
What does the older Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) text show? There is only one complete scroll of Isaiah found in Cave 1 near Qumran. In this scroll (1QIsaa), the Hebrew reads, “My back, I gave to (those) smiting and my cheeks to those (striking with) a metal rod, my face not I turned away from insults and spitting.” Notice that in this older Hebrew text it says nothing about plucking out of a beard, but instead that the cheeks would be hit with a weapon.
There are two major English translations of the Greek Septuagint. The 1851 Brenton translation which reads, “I gave my back to scourges, and my cheeks to blows; and I turned not away my face from the shame of spitting:” The 2007 NETS translation renders it, “I have given my back to scourges and my cheeks to blows, but I did not turn away my face from the shame of spittings.” Here again, the ancient Greek translation says nothing about beards being plucked out, but instead that the Servant’s cheeks would be hit with blows. The Greek word “blows” is parisma and is used specifically in the gospels in reference to Jesus being spit on and being hit in the face as the Isaiah 50:6 passage teaches. Notice, “And some began to spit on him and to cover his face and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” And the guards received him with blows” (Mark 14:65; the Greek word parisma for “blows” also appears in John 18:22; 19:3).
Remember that the DSS text described Jesus being struck with a metal weapon. The Greek word in the NT for “reed” (kalamos) is a word that can also be used as a metal rod as found in Revelation 21:15 (a rod made of gold metal). We are told twice in the NT that Jesus was struck in the head with a “kalamos” (reed; Matt 27:30; Mark 15:19).
Okay. What we do we have? There is strong linguistic agreement that the ancient DSS Hebrew text, the ancient Greek Septuagint and Gospels all agree against the Rabbinic Masoretic Hebrew text. They all make reference to Jesus being struck in in the face with blows of a weapon. Nowhere in the NT does it say that Jesus’s beard was plucked out. The best linguistic evidence would argue against Jesus having His beard ripped out. This is important because there are those that argue against the authenticity of the Shroud saying that the figure on the cloth has a beard and therefore could not be Jesus. Based on the linguistic evidence this is a false objection and should be discarded. This line of argument from Isaiah 50:6 has no bearing on the authenticity of the Shroud.
The second objection I would like to address from a linguistic perspective has to do with Isaiah 52:14 which reads in English, “As many were astonished at you– his appearance (Hebrew mareh) was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form (Hebrew toar) beyond that of the children of mankind.” This objection goes something like this, “the man on the Shroud cannot be Jesus because the Bible says that Jesus would be unrecognizable as a human and the guy on the Shroud looks recognizable.” The general response by Shroud defenders from a reasonable and logical perspective is that Jesus was not beat up more than any other human that has ever existed. Think of war and other atrocities. The writer is simply describing that the Servant spoken of in this passage would be significantly bruised physically in His faithfulness to God.
Again, I think once we examine the linguistic evidence as well as the context, there is no need to answer this criticism because the objection itself is on a false foundation.
Let me address the contextual contribution which will show the objection as false. We often forget when interpreting the Bible that chapter and verse divisions were not part of the original text. They were added at different times between 1227-1555 AD. Bible teachers recognize that the Servant passage (called a pericope) goes from Isaiah 52:13 all the way to 53:12 (a total of 15 verses). This is one singular and contextual passage referring to the mission of the Servant whom we believe was Jesus of Nazareth. Here is the immediate context of 52:14:
“Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted. 14 As many were astonished at you—So, his appearance (Hebrew mareh) was marred, beyond human semblance, and his form (Hebrew toar) beyond that of the children of mankind– 15 so shall he sprinkle many nations. Kings shall shut their mouths because of him, for that which has not been told them they see, and that which they have not heard they understand.” (52:13-15 ESV)
“Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? 2 For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form (Hebrew toar) or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty (Hebrew mareh) that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (53:1-3 ESV).
Most critics see the words “was marred” and use this as the basis for saying that Jesus was so marred (disfigured) from being beat up that this shows the Shroud as fake. However, more detailed examination presents a different perspective.
The first six verses (52:13-53:3) make no specific reference to His death nor the crucifixion. The first place any reference is made to a physical description of suffering is in 53:4 using the words “stricken” or “smitten.” Then in 53:5 it says specifically that the Servant would be “pierced” which we know happened in the crucifixion. Unfortunately, some Bible teachers take the later verses (53:4-12) and force them back on the first part of the passage.
The two Hebrew words for “form” and “appearance” only appear together in Isaiah (52:14, 53:2) and Genesis (29:17; 39:6). Notice the Genesis passages:
“Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful in form and appearance” (Gen 29:17).
“So, he left all that he had in Joseph’s charge, and because of him he had no concern about anything but the food he ate. Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance” (Gen 39:6).
Just from a lexical connection, these two words when used together always refer to whether someone is deemed beautiful or attractive to the human eye. This clearly is the usage in Genesis 29:17; 39:6 and Isaiah 53:2. In fact, Isaiah 53:2 says that there would be nothing beautiful or attractive about the messianic Servant that humanity would have any desire for Him. Compare this with the way in which mankind determines the value of people as seen in, “But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart” (1 Sam 16:7).
When we examine the context of Isaiah 52-53 we learn that the messianic Servant would not be considered beautiful or attractive in form or appearance (53:2). If we look at the DSS, there is one minor difference surrounding the word “he was marred” and scholars are baffled at the variation. In English, when we read, “his appearance was so marred” it is hard not to read into this our own bias from the NT crucifixion scene. The Hebrew noun mishchat only appears here in the entire Bible and it is extremely difficult to understand what this word really means. Most translations simply say “marred” (disfigured). However, some lexicons see this connected to a similar root in Leviticus 22:25, moshchat meaning “ceremonial defect.” This has interesting overtones as no doubt the Servant would take on the Mosaic law curse for God’s people (Gal 3:10).
What does help is looking at the ancient Greek Septuagint text. It reads,
“Just as many shall be astonished at you– so shall your appearance be without glory from men, and your glory be absent from the men” (Isaiah 52:14 NETS version).
Once again, the Septuagint, which was the favorite of the NT writers (over 2/3 of OT quotes are from the LXX), provides a clear understanding of the Isaiah text. This makes great sense especially as it comes to understanding the nature of Jesus. We learn in Philippians 2:3-11 that Jesus came as a lowly servant without glory who died a humiliating death. He wasn’t born in a palace nor was raised wealthy. He came in a very lowly and humbled state. Yet because of His obedience, Jesus was exalted to the highest name just as the previous verse stated (Isaiah 52:13). Jesus had the glory of a servant/slave while doing His earthly ministry, but was exalted to His previous glory that He had shared with the Father after His resurrection (John 17:4; Rev 1). We also got a glimpse of the hiddenness of Jesus’s glory, just as the LXX reads, when He allowed Himself to be transfigured and His true glory was revealed (Matt 17:1-13).
If we take the linguistic and contextual evidence of Isaiah 52:14, we learn that this Servant was not predicted to be “beat up” beyond human comparison, but instead the Servant was predicted to be unattractive, non-glorious, unappealing, and undesirable among humanity. There was nothing appealing about Him physically (or from a human perspective) that He would be desirable (Isa 53:2).
If we understand the true interpretation of Isaiah 52:14, then the objection to the man on the Shroud potentially being Jesus of Nazareth disappears. This is another reason that we should continue to evaluate the Shroud as the possible genuine burial cloth of Jesus.
I will close with this. Researching the Shroud is extremely rewarding. One of the comments that Russ Breault mentioned in our interview was that he thinks the Shroud is God’s receipt for the transaction of Jesus paying for our sins and God accepting the payment. The Bible does use transaction language (redeem, purchase, bought, ransom) and some of Jesus’s last words on the cross were “It is finished” (tetelestai in the Greek). That is certainly transaction language which was well known ancient times to be used as a phrase to show that a person’s debt was “paid in full.”
A recent article on the Shroud writes, “Only in very recent times have scientists found a way to discolor linen strands as they are found in the Shroud of Turin, discolorations penetrating only to a tiny fraction of the width of a human hair. It was done with microbursts from high energy lasers. A burst of high energy! This carries suggestions of its own about the man of the Shroud, because if it is Jesus, he is proclaimed to be raised from the dead. Is the Shroud a “snapshot of the resurrection?”
If the Shroud is genuine, not only is it a receipt of the past in Jesus’s resurrection, but it points to our future resurrection. Paul said that Jesus was the first fruits and that we would follow in His footsteps (1 Cor 15:23)!
I am reminded of the Bible’s description of when the saints are resurrected in that our new bodies will actually shine with luminescence like Jesus’s body (Phil 3:21). Amen!
“Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear” (Matt. 13:43).
“And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. 3 And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever” (Daniel 12:2).