Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Shroud of Turin and the Mystery Surrounding Its Authenticity

Historical and Religious-Based Theories

For hundreds of years, there has been much speculation concerning the actual age of the cloth and whether it coincided with historical and biblical accounts. Scholars, religious bodies, historians and sindonologists (linen experts) concentrated on the Jewish burial of Jesus and early representations of Christ in an attempt to gain further insight. These areas have been of interest because understanding how Jesus was buried and how he had been historically represented provided valuable insight into the identity of the man in the shroud image, its date and origin.

One of the main arguments made by skeptics concerning the Turin Shrouds alleged holiness is that there is no mention of its existence, or at least the existence of one with the image of Christ, in the entirety of the New Testament. Many skeptics believe that if the shroud was indeed genuine, then it would have been mentioned in the Bible. Supporters of the shrouds authenticity claim that just because it wasnt mentioned in the Bible doesnt mean that it did not exist. 

Another view that had been argued amongst shroud advocates and skeptics was the way in which Jesus was buried. According to the John 19:40 Jesus body was wound in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury.   Skeptics refer to the Bible when they refute the authenticity of the shroud because it is clearly stated that Jesus was wrapped in clothes in the plural not a cloth as the shroud depicts, being that an entire image is represented. Moreover, it is suggested that spices were used in preparing Jesus for burial, yet there was no evidence of spices on the Shroud of Turin during analysis in the latter part of the 20th century. 

Shroud of Turin, relic
Shroud of Turin, relic

However, according to an article by Orthodox America titled The Shroud of Turin: A Mystery Across the Ages, it could have been that the Turin Shroud was merely a preliminary burial cloth to be replaced when full absolutions and anointings could be completed. Furthermore, the article suggested that because Jesus was prepared for burial in great haste there is even more likelihood that the preliminary burial cloth was used, at least until proper burial rites could have been observed, which involved the traditional use of a separate face cloth and body cloth. Although this could have been a possibility, there is no evidence in the Bible that suggested there was ever a preliminary shroud. Therefore, the argument remains unsubstantiated.

Another point brought forth by shroud advocates is that the weave of the cloth indicated the shroud was undoubtedly from the Middle East. Thus, further supporting their argument that the shroud was possibly from the area where Jesus once lived. Yet, skeptics claim that there is no precise way to determine in what exact region the cloth came from. Therefore, although the cloth could have originated in Jerusalem, it is just as likely that it came from some other Middle Eastern country. Moreover, they claimed that even if the shroud was from Jerusalem, the pattern of the weave was indicative of those used at a much later date, possibly from the Middle Ages and not from the era in which Jesus lived. If that were the case, it would explain why there had been no mention of a shroud with the image of Christ before that time.

If the shroud is from a later date, the entire theory of it being the burial cloth of Jesus must be entirely dismissed. There are those who believe that the mere image represented on the cloth is testimony to it having been produced centuries after the crucifixion of Christ. Most skeptics agree that although the man in the shroud was likely a representation of Jesus, it was one that was probably from the Middle Ages. Nickell further supported this theory when he stated that the depiction of Christ on the shroud was, merely characteristic of medieval Gothic art and quite unlike the earliest known representations of him from the third century, which depicted Christ as young, beardless and with cropped hair. Years later scientific tests would support the theory of the shroud being a product of the Middle Ages, a fact that forever changed the way in which many viewed the relic.