Mr. John Long has been a Maryland Parole and Probation Agent for 35 years. He has a 30 year interest in the Shroud and is past president of the Holy Shroud Task Force, a professional group devoted to research and education on the Shroud of Turin.
If you have a modest interest in the Shroud, then there is a perfect place to go to keep up with recent developments: www.shroud.com. This website is hosted by Barrie Schwortz, a Jew whose heart and mind were touched when he participated in the 1978 Shroud of Turin Research Project (STURP) investigation as a documenting photographer. The site is chock-full of pictures, recent news and especially articles on every aspect of Shroud research. I highly recommend it.
If you want just one book that summarizes the Shroud phenomenon with an emphasis on recent work, then Dr. Frederick Zugibe’s The Crucifixion of Jesus – A Forensic Inquiry (2005) is a good choice. Zugibe was the Chief Medical Examiner of Rockland County, New York for over 30 years and continues a century-long medical/anatomical consensus that the Shroud images are consistent with a crucified corpse. The first half of his book gives an in-depth medical analysis of Christ’s Passion, while the last half is devoted to the Shroud. Some of Zugibe’s medical views differ sharply with those of Pierre Barbet, a famous mid-20th century Shroud researcher, such as insisting that Christ’s death was not due to asphyxiation, but rather to “cardiac and respiratory arrest, due to hypovolemic and traumatic shock, due to crucifixion.” The numerous summaries (and brief analyses) of the theories of Christ’s death, image formation mechanisms, and reasons for the 1988 C14 dating anomalies are particularly helpful.
The 1988 radiocarbon test continues to be the hottest issue among many Shroud watchers. Zugibe gives a good summary of current opinions, but William Meacham, a professional archaeologist working in Hong Kong, recently (November, 2005) produced the most informative view. Meacham had no interest in the Shroud until he read a 1981 article in Archaeology Magazine. As STURP was publishing some of its most important papers at that time, Meacham studied the evidence and in June, 1983 his paper “The Authentication of the Turin Shroud: An Issue in Archaeological Epistemology” was published in Current Anthropology (reproduced on Schwortz’s website). His conclusion that the Shroud of Turin “is the very piece of linen described in the biblical accounts as being used to enfold the body of Christ”(1) was surprisingly gutsy for a secular journal with a largely secular audience. It also brought him an invitation to participate in the C14 planning occurring in the mid 1980s.
Meacham’s book, The Rape of the Turin Shroud (an unfortunate title), goes into considerable detail about the planners’ personalities and infighting leading to the 1988 test. Meacham complains that although the C14 labs knew how to test a sample once it reached their doors, field archaeologists knew that many details could go wrong beforehand, especially when trying to pick a sample characteristic of the total artifact. Meacham had submitted 150 samples for dating in his own non-Shroud work and found that more than 25% of the time the results were unreliable or problematic. Repeatedly Meacham warned scientists representing the Shroud’s custodians to choose multiple samples, from different locations on the cloth, and away from contaminated areas (fire damage, water stains and possible textile repairs). However, the single sample chosen suffered from all those problems; he believes no confidence can be placed in the 1988 dating. His book discusses in some detail the strengths and weaknesses of each of the three major competing explanations for what skewed the final results. Meacham also has unkind words, as many researchers do, for the Shroud’s 2002 restoration (removal of old patches, charred material, backing cloth, and smoothing of wrinkles) that probably destroyed subtle historical data. This is a book best suited for the more serious Shroud reader.
An issue ranking a close second in interest is image formation theory. How was the image made and of what does it really consist? A majority of the STURP scientists concluded that the blood was blood, and that the body image consisted of a “dehydrated, oxidized, conjugated carbonyl,” very similar to simple, aged linen. But could a corpse somehow produce those effects? Before his death in March, 2005 former STURP scientist Ray Rogers developed a theory that answered “yes.” In a 2003 paper, Rogers, with co-author Anna Arnoldi of the University of Milan, proposed that the body image could have been produced by trace chemicals left over from the linen manufacturing and bleaching processes; these then were stimulated into a long series of complex reactions by the vapors escaping from a corpse, and eventually resulted in an extremely thin, yellow carbohydrate “cast” on the surfaces of the image fibers. Rogers does not believe any “miracles” were involved, but admits the cloth probably did wrap a corpse. See his paper, “The Shroud of Turin: An Amino-Carbonyl Reaction (Maillard Reaction) May Explain the Image Formation” at http://www.shroud.com/pdfs/rogers7.pdf.
Meanwhile, critics continue to propose that some kind of late medieval photographic process, not documented anywhere, could have been used to produce the image. The December 2005 History Channel presentation, “Unraveling The Shroud of Turin,” reports that the show’s researchers produced such a Shroud-like image using technology available to a supposed medieval genius like Leonardo Da Vinci. However, Schwortz later learned that this and other claims made on the show were not true – see his comments in the Late Breaking Website News section. This “proto-photo” theory has been around for about a decade and is clever, but still convinces few Shroud experts. See Schwortz’s paper “Is the Shroud a Medieval Photograph?” at http://www.shroud.com/pdfs/orvieto.pdf.
The most important news, the most comprehensive theory yet to explain the 1988 C14 dating results, will be presented in part II of this article.
Recommended Resources for Further Study