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Shroud of Turin: Why the shroud is not the ancient burial wrap of Christ

The Shroud of Turin: Could an ancient earthquake explain the cloth linen that is said to bear the image of Christ Jesus?

A recent report from LiveScience, as carried by Fox News on Wednesday, claims that “neutron emissions from an ancient earthquake that rocked Jerusalem could have created the iconic image.”

A group of Italian scientists, led by Alberto Carpinteri of the Politecnico di Torino, say that high-frequency pressure waves generated in the Earth's crust during an earthquake that occurred at the same time as Jesus’ death (as recorded in the Gospel accounts) could have produced significant neutron emissions that “etched” the image of the face and body in the shroud.

The researchers also claim that the reactions would have skewed the radiocarbon dating, which in 1988 showed the shroud was less than 800 years old, produced in the Middle Ages, between approximately A.D. 1260 and 1390.

The shroud is a linen cloth measuring 14 feet, 3 inches in length and 3 feet, 7 inches in width. It bears the superficial imprint of the body of a man who, it is claimed, met a violent death. The shroud is kept in a locked, airtight and bulletproof glass case filled with inert gas at the royal chapel of the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Turin, northern Italy.

The Shroud of Turn is considered the most famous—and most dubious—holy relic. Shortly after the carbon dating in 1988 showed the cloth to be a 13th or 14th century fake, the Roman Catholic Church announced that they too were on board with debunking the shroud.

And yet, Catholics at the time “were encouraged to continue their veneration of the shroud as a pictorial image of Christ, still capable of performing miracles,” states the New York Times in October of 1988.

The Shroud and the Gospels

But consider what the Gospel writers say about the burial of Jesus.

After being taken from the stake by Joseph of Arimathea, Jesus was wrapped “in clean fine linen.” (Matthew 27:57-61; Mark 15:42-47; Luke 23:50-56) The apostle John adds: “Nicodemus also... came bringing a roll of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds of it. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it up with bandages with the spices, just the way the Jews have the custom of preparing for burial.”—John 19:39-42.

The customary Jewish burial was to wash the deceased and then rub oils and spices on the body – a process of anointing. The Jews did not “embalm” bodies – a process practiced by the ancient Egyptians as a means to preserve the body. Jesus’ body was anointed, similar to the way that his friend Lazarus was prepared for interment.

On the morning following the Sabbath, friends of Jesus intended to complete the preparation of his body, which had already been laid in a tomb. However, when they arrived with their “spices to grease him,” they “beheld that the stone had been rolled away,” and the body of Jesus had vanished. – Mark 16:1-6; Luke 24:1-3.

Peter gives further insight, as reported on by the eyewitness John: “He viewed the bandages lying, also the cloth that had been upon his head not lying with the bandages but separately rolled up in one place.” (John 20:6, 7)

There is no mention of a long, solid piece of fine linen. Instead, Peter mentions only bandages and a separate headcloth. If a shroud had been there, would not that have been mentioned?

Additionally, if there had in fact been a gravecloth that bore such a resemblance to Christ, would that not have been a subject for discussion for centuries thereafter? Yet, other than what was written by Jesus’ Apostles, the Bible remains silent about his burial garb. No mention of the shroud is again made until the 15th and 16th centuries.

Shaky Science

Gordon Cook, a professor of environmental geochemistry at the University of Glasgow, said this recent theory about neutrons imprinting the image while skewing carbon dating cannot be argued in a vacuum. In other words, there is no other evidence of this happening, ever.

"It would have to be a really local effect not to be measurable elsewhere," Cook told Live Science. "People have been measuring materials of that age for decades now and nobody has ever encountered this."

Christopher Ramsey, director of the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, had a similar issue with the findings.

"One question that would need to be addressed is why the material here is affected, but other archaeological and geological material in the ground is not," Ramsey wrote in an email. "There are huge numbers of radiocarbon dates from the region for much older archaeological material, which certainly don't show this type of intense radiocarbon production (and they would be much more sensitive to any such effects)."

Whether you believe in the shroud or not, the Apostle Paul's words, penned in his second letter to the Corinthian congregation, come to mind: "We are walking by faith, not by sight."

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