The Shroud of Turin is a linen cloth that some believe to have been used to cover the body of Jesus Christ after his death. The stories of Jesus’ disciples wrapping his body in a linen veil are mentioned in the four gospels (Matthew 27:59, Mark 15:46, Luke 23:53, John 19:40). The shroud, first mentioned outside the gospels in 1357, measures about 4m47 long by 1m13 wide. It is also called the Shroud of Turin simply because it resides permanently in the city of Turin, Italy, although it is regularly exhibited elsewhere.
The shroud bears markings that seem to be traces of a crucified man. Apparently, the fabric was folded over the body, half over the man and half underneath. Man’s wounds correspond to the wounds inflicted on Jesus during the torture he endured before his crucifixion, which is why he is associated with Jesus.
On this cloth, there appear to be wounds around the hairline, corresponding to the biblical description of the crown of thorns, several small wounds in the shape of lines extend from the shoulders to the lower legs, corresponding to the description of his whiplash torture and also a wound at the level of the chest, which corresponds to the description of the “piercing” wound inflicted on Jesus shortly after his death.
What do scientists and researchers think of the Turin Shroud? It depends on who you ask, for this subject is one of the most discussed and controversial topics around the relics of Christ.
So, some experts consider the Turin Shroud to be authentic, while others consider it a fairly sophisticated hoax. Some even claimed that the shroud was never intended to be more than a work of art. However, this explanation seems unlikely due to the unique design of the shroud, a style that had never been observed in any earlier major artwork. This fact leads most experts to conclude that the shroud is either authentic or deliberately designed to look authentic.
The main criticism against the authenticity of the shroud is based on carbon dating tests. Tests show that the shroud is no more than 700 years old, giving its origin in the 1300s, making it much too young to have been Jesus’ funerary vestment.
Despite this, other researchers suggest that this date could be distorted because the fibres of the shroud are soiled by microscopic bacteria and fungi, which have developed over the last hundreds of years. They believe that the presence of these microbes rejuvenates the test of the shroud by at least a thousand years, and this may not be totally false. There are, however, a large number of scientists who consider that these two arguments are irrelevant because of what they claim to be a lack of reliability in the carbon dating method.
The sceptics of the shroud also accuse that the facial and bodily features of man have strange proportions. However, other experts argue that many people have certain physical characteristics that are disproportionate, or that the tissue is involved.
There are literally dozens of arguments for and against the authenticity of the Turin Shroud. These contradictory claims may lead the casual observer to conclude that there is a scientific impasse regarding the shroud, and this seems to be the case.
Also, and unfortunately, when presented with opposing opinions in a debate on Christianity, the casual (mostly non-believing) observer tends to accept the non-Christian viewpoint because he believes that he is less influenced by religion, and therefore more scientific.
However, it is often the case that non-Christian scholars seek to refute the Christian point of view as fervently as Christian scholars seek to support it. A loop that doesn’t close…
The non-Christian point of view is therefore often very biased. A perfect example is the recent discovery of an ancient bone box engraved with the following message in Aramaic: Jacques, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus. When the news of this discovery was made public, some researchers, seeking to minimize the historicality of the Christian faith, declared that the box was a hoax before they had even seen and analyzed it.
Today, the reality is that no one can say with certainty whether the Shroud of Turin is authentic or a hoax. The best we can do is to analyze all the information and then decide for ourselves.