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THE SHROUD OF TURIN

A possible explanation on how the shroud could have been created during medieval times

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One explanation of the Shroud's manufacturing process:

In our love affair with the number two, many people allow only two alternative explanations for the Shroud: either the shroud dates back to 1st century CE Palestine, or it is a forgery. The overlook the third possibility: that it was created by an artist as a religious image, an icon.

Many scientists have accepted the Carbon-14 dating measurements as proof of a 13th or 14th century origin of the linen. But they have failed miserably in their attempts to explain how the image was created by a medieval forger or religious artist:

bulletThey have not found a way whereby a forger/artist could have painted the image of a man on linen without leaving visible brush strokes.
bulletThey have been unsuccessful in explaining how a negative image of a man could be created on cloth, centuries before photographic were discovered. Even today, there is no method by which an artist can paint a credible negative image. N.D. Wilson, managing editor of Credenda/Agenda magazine and a Fellow of Literature at New St. Andrews College, points out that "The production of a photo negative by an artist is so counter intuitive to our nature and experience that professional artists cannot even accurately make a copy of a negative that sits before them."

Believers in a medieval origin for the shroud need an explanation of how an image could have been produced, using processes, techniques and materials available to a person in the 13th or 14th century. Wilson likened the problem to that of the Gordian knot -- a knot that allegedly cannot be undone, except by cutting a thread. He also draws an analogy to the Roman astronomer Ptolomy's system of planetary motion which grew to involve an immensely complex system of epicircles built upon epicircles. It collapsed when Copernicus' theory of a sun-centered solar system was suggested. 1 The latter was a simple concept which was a much better fit to all of the observations.

Wilson appears to have had a flash of intuition about the Shroud. He found a possible method that did not involve an artist painting the image on linen at all. It involved simply painting an ordinary image on glass with ordinary paints, and using sunlight to transfer the image to a piece of linen. !

Wilson suggests a relatively simple process:

bulletA medieval artist painted a positive image of a crucified man onto a piece of glass using white paint. This would not have been a difficult for a person in the 13th or 14th century. "...windows with figurative scenes are known from St. Remi in Reims from around the year 1000." 2
bulletThe piece of glass was placed over the linen material which he assumes was relatively dark in color.
bulletThe sun bleached most of the linen surface whiter, leaving a darker color in those areas protected by the painted image. "Whatever had been painted white would remain dark beneath, while what had been left dark would bleach light."
bulletThe sun would bleach the linen over a range of angles as the sun apparently moved across the sky. This could be about a 180º span from sunrise to sunset if the linen and glass was simply laid out on the ground. Or it could be a lesser angle if the linen and glass were only exposed for a few hours every day. This would blur the image, eliminating any visible brush strokes and softening the image.
bulletThe cloth was then inverted and its back fully exposed to the sun to bleach it thoroughly.

Someone during medieval times could have accidentally found a piece of dirty glass placed on top of a piece of paper or a cloth and exposed to the sun. The resultant image could have suggested the avove process as a method by which a religious image could be created on linen.

Wilson actually tried to duplicate this process. He comments: "Sitting and looking at photos of my own faux shrouds lying next to photos of the original, it is obvious, to my eyes at least, that my production is far inferior. Mine is a photo negative. It is a photo negative that looks vaguely human. But it lacks some of the finesse of the original....But the principle has been demonstrated. A painting on glass produces a photo negative." Presumably, further experimentation will produce a better simulation of the Shroud's image.

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One explanation for some of the details of the image:

There are two features of the Shroud image which have seemed difficult to explain:

bulletThe image clearly shows that a nails used to attach one of the the victim's arms to the crosspiece penetrated his wrist and not his palm.

The Bible states that Jesus' hands -- not his wrists -- were nailed to the cross:
bulletLuke 24:39-40: "Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have. And when he had thus spoken, he shewed them his hands and his feet."
bulletJohn 20:20: "And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord."
bulletJohn 20:25-27: "...Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe....Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing."

Ancient and medieval religious artists presumably followed these texts when they created images and sculptures of the crucifixion. Their artwork universally showed Jesus' palms as being penetrated by the nails. This is common even today. It is only in more recent times that physicians have realized that the weight of a body would would rip open the flesh if the nail went through the palm. The hand would pull free. The nails had to go through the gap between the wrist bones -- the radius and ulna -- in order to be able to bear the weight of a victim.

The shroud painting shows a hole in one wrist with an intact hand. The other wrist is not visible. How would a medieval forger or artist have known this? Wilson suggests that simple experimentation would suffice. The need to nail the victim in place through his wrists would be quickly found. He writes: "It only requires a willingness to commit murder and a bit of poking around." He further suggests that Knights Templar could have beaten and crucified a Jew as an experiment. The army of Crusaders exterminated many tens of thousands of Jews. The life of a Jew or Muslim was not particularly important in those times.

bulletIt was only in 1930 that Dr. Pierre Barbet, a French physician, found that when a nail penetrated a person's wrist, the thumb contracted and pulled into the palm. The Shroud shows this: no thumbs can be seen; they are pulled out of view. How would a medieval forger or artist know this? Again, actual experimentation on a living victim could have revealed the phenomenon. 3

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Rebuttal:

Focus on the Family, a fundamentalist Christian activist group reports that scholar Daniel Porter regards the Shroud of Turin to be genuine. He concludes that Wilson's technique lacks scientific credibility. Porter said: "You cannot create the image that's on the shroud with the sun, You can create an image that looks like it, that has one or two visual characteristics of the image, but if you were to look through a microscope, it is not like the image on the shroud." 4

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References:

  1. "Motion (epicircles = WRONG!!)," University of California, at: http://bubba.physics.ucdavis.edu/
  2. Hartmut Schäfer, "How were stained glass windows made?," http://home.bawue.de/
  3. N.D. Wilson, "Father Brown Fakes the Shroud: Start with a piece of glass and some white oil paint," Books & Culture, 2005-MAR/APR. See: http://www.christianitytoday.com/
  4. Steve Jordahl, "Biblical Artifact Once Again Under Scrutiny," Family News in Focus, 2005-APR-01, at: http://www.family.org/

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Copyright © 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2005-FEB-09
Latest update: 2005-FEB-09
Author: B.A. Robinson

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