TARPON SPRINGS, Fla.—Many of the “mysteries” surrounding the Shroud of Turin that have puzzled scientists for years can best be explained by one hypothesis, according to a growing body of scientific evidence.
The hypothesis: It is the burial shroud of Jesus.
New evidence announced in St. Louis on Aug. 2 by botanist Avinoam Danin of Jerusalem, along with other recent findings, suggest the cloth was used in the Jewish burial of a man from northern Palestine who was crowned with thorns and crucified before the eighth century and buried in a garden tomb by a wealthy man.
Last week's Register reported that plants and pollen embedded in the Shroud of Turin, as well as newly discovered imprints of flowers on its surface, have been traced to the area around Jerusalem and dated to before the eighth century by Danin, of Hebrew University. In an interview, shroud expert John Iannone also explained new doubts scientists have about the accuracy of 1988 carbon dating tests that suggested the shroud dated to the 13th or 14th century.
This week, Iannone, the author of The Mystery of the Shroud of Turin: New Scientific Evidence (Alba House, 1998), puts those findings into the context of other recent evidence supporting the authenticity of the shroud.
The Shroud of Turin is a yellowing linen cloth measuring 14 feet 3 inches long by 3 feet 7 inches wide. It bears the image of a man's face and body and what appear to be bloodstains.
It is named for its present home in Turin, Italy. Written accounts of its history track it to Lirey, France, in 1354. Iannone points to earlier written histories that he says could refer to the shroud, including legends about King Abgar (circa A.D. 40), works by the historians Eusebius and Evagrius, the sixth century Acts of Holy Apostle Thaddaeus, and accounts of the presence of a shroud in Constantinople in the 10th and 13th centuries.
The image that appears on the shroud is unique, and its cause is unknown. It is a photonegative image with a scorched look and bears none of the signs of painting. Shroud devotees often attribute the unusual quality of the image to unknown physical aspects of the Resurrection.
Pope John Paul II has expressed his own attitude toward the shroud. During an April 1980 visit there, he called Turin, “the city that preserves an unusual and mysterious relic … the Holy Shroud, an extraordinary witness—if we accept the arguments of so many scientists—of Easter: of the Passion, the Death and the Resurrection. A silent witness, but at the same time surprisingly eloquent!”
Iannone is also president of the Holy Shroud Task Force of Tarpon Springs, Fla. He spoke with the Register about recent evidence related to the shroud.
Register: Pollen from flowers and from thistles was found on the shroud. Could the thistles be the crown of thorns mentioned in the Gospels?
John Iannone: Yes. There are flowers present which were used in burial, and Dr. [Alan] Whanger [of Duke University] said that in his investigation of both the Oviedo cloth in Spain [believed to be a face cloth used in Jewish burial, it shares many characteristics of the shroud] and the Shroud in Turin that this thistle … is most likely related to the crown of thorns.
The floral images on the shroud are pretty substantial, as are the pollen that match those flowers. I think Dr. Danin [the Jerusalem botanist] and Dr. [Uri] Baruch [of the Israeli antiquities authority] have shown that the pollen is not just “random.” There are pockets of pollen on the shroud identified with specific flowers that they say had to have been placed there.
So it's also one of the identifiers of the fact that this is the historical Jesus, because we know that very often in Roman crucifixions … individuals would be given a mass grave. But this individual was obviously treated in a very respectful fashion by being laid in a shroud which is a very fine fabric. This individual also had been given a private “garden” tomb, being entombed with flowers. It makes it a much more dignified funeral, certainly, one we would correlate with the New Testament verses. It provides one of the signatures that we use to identify it with the historical Jesus.
I understand that among the flowers used are some that only bloom in March and April.
Dr. Danin has pointed out 28 species of flowers … identified from the pollen [that are] grown in the Holy Land, and more specifically within the 5-kilometer area he calls the Jerusalem-Hebron area. So these are flowers that grow very close to Jerusalem. He said they grow principally in March and April and May. That would correlate with the time of the Passover and the Passion. He said they would be flowers that would be fresh in the fields around Jerusalem at that time of year and could easily have been picked at the time of the crucifixion. Some would even be in the markets of the city.
Have we learned anything new about the blood in the shroud? Some have argued that it is dye or paint, and not blood.
Some of the latest studies that have been done on the blood have been done at the University of Texas and also in Europe, but I'll work with what's been done in the U.S. right now.
Dr. Victor Tryon and his wife, Nancy, run the DNA lab at the [University of Texas] Health Science Center. They have now pointed out that in samples of the blood they studied from … the back of the head, they have been able to identify X and Y chromosomes which tells them that this is in fact a male's blood.
And they have identified a very small strand of DNA. They can't say if it's … Jesus' blood or not because they have no comparison, but what they can say is that “this is degraded DNA which is consistent with the supposition of ancient blood.” That's the way they phrase it, and that is pretty serious.
Prior to 1978 when the blood studies really began in earnest, there were those who would say that this is just a medieval painting, this is red ocher paint, and there are still a few die-hards today. But [the information shows] that this is a blood where you can identify DNA, where we can type it as AB, where we can say it's degraded, ancient blood and it even has high concentrations bilirubin as Dr. [Alan] Adler has pointed out at the University of Western Connecticut. Bilirubin is very common with individuals who die under traumatic circumstances with high stress and that is certain with crucifixion.
When you get into all of that you clearly dismiss the concept that this is any kind of paint or die or ink or chalk. There is no substance that constitutes the image, and the blood is real, it's ancient, and it's human.
What's the significance of AB blood type? Does it offer any clues?
Of the four types of blood—A, B, O and AB—AB is the most uncommon. About 3.2% of the world population have that. It's very specific to the Middle East and even more specific to northern Palestine. [There are] high concentrations of AB blood there. So that really helps identify the area where the shroud is from. It's very hard to deny that this is a cloth that can be traced to ancient time.
What other signs do we have that trace it to Jesus' time?
Another very interesting thing: the shroud is 14 feet and 3 inches long by 3 feet and 7 inches wide. People say that's a kind of odd measurement. Why would they cut a cloth that way? The fact is that if you take the shroud and you translate it into cubits (cubits are about 21.6 inches), which is the ancient Jewish method of measurement, it becomes exactly 2 cubits by 8 cubits.
And there is a real consistency with ancient Jewish loom technology. What we know of how they wove cloth, it's a very fine weave, a three-over-one as opposed to a common weave. We know that Joseph of Arimathea, for example, was a wealthy man. He's the one who purchased the shroud and loaned his garden tomb. So the fabric is very consistent with everything we know of ancient Jewish weaving, and the type of cave tombs and the individuals involved in the burial of Jesus.
Rich Rinaldi is director of Register Radio News.