Geeky Bob

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Minor Debates About the Shroud of Turin

Someone recently posted the following challenge about the Shroud of Turin in a forum that I follow:

"When somebody explains to me without supposition what process produced the image on the cloth with the characteristics that it actually has, I'll consider it conceivable that it was produced by medieval artists. Until that's understood, calling it a medieval forgery is effectively punting; it's an argument from ignorance. Why would anybody produce a forgery manifesting some characteristic with which nobody was familiar? E.g., why would a medieval artist who'd never seen a camera produce a photographic negative? Why would a modern artist produce an image that suggests imprinting by an unknown process? Forgers work by reproducing known characteristics, not unknown ones. The truth is that no MODERN artist could produce those images, nor would any of them try, because nobody understands how they got there. This does not prove that the image is authentic, but 'medieval forgery' isn't even plausible."

I thought that this was a worthwhile challenge/question, and I've actually studied a bit about that over the years. With that in mind, I posted the following two responses:

"There have been several documentaries over the past few decades wherein various scientists and archeologists have demonstrated how to achieve the same results; see How to Fake the Shroud of Turin [from the Smithsonian Channel] for just one such example. One particular documentary that I saw on the shroud many years ago went one step further with the assertion that this technique was commonly-used by medieval sculptors to create facsimiles of statues that they had created. When potential customers would come by their shops, they could look at the facsimile images that were captured on cloth in much the same way that present-day customers might look through a catalog."

"That being said, I make no claims where the Shroud of Turin is concerned. For starters, the shroud is double-sided, which would be atypical for the facsimile theory. In addition, the body depicted on the shroud would be a rather uninspiring statue for a sculptor to have made; the subject is lying on its back and nude, so if this was a facsimile of a sculpture, there would have been a very limited number of places where it could have been displayed. It is plausible that - if this was the facsimile of a statue - then it might have been for an effigy, which would explain the recumbent position, and effigies were quite popular in the Middle Ages. However, Medieval effigies were traditionally clothed, so that would also be a problem with the statue/facsimile theory."


My response seemed to anger the original poster, and he responded with the following retort:

"Never mind how it's done. Why would a Medieval forger produce a photographic negative, having never imagined, let alone seen, a camera?"

I found his response rather confusing, because his original challenge had been to explain how a medieval artist might have created the shroud, and I had just done so. With that in mind, I responded with the following series of responses:

"Did you not read what I just wrote? Put aside all thoughts of forgeries (which I did not suggest), as well as any present-day thoughts of photography or negatives or whatever. What I mentioned was that some historians have shown that there was a method by which sculptors recorded their works. It had nothing to do with being a 'negative,' it was just a way to record their work during a time when there was no other way to do so. Creating a duplicate of a sculpture would be too costly and take up too much space, and hiring someone to draw/paint a facsimile of a sculpture would be similarly expensive and not resemble the original. Whereas, taking a rubbing of a statue would produce a facsimile of the original, and people continue to employ similar techniques around the world when they make brass rubbings or gravestone rubbings."

"One additional point of note, we tend to think of the shroud as a negative, because when someone photographed it years later, the white-on-black 'negative' of the photo appeared to be a positive (and somewhat 3D-looking) image. However, sculptors used the black-on-white technique to record their work, because the resultant image looked more like their original artwork. So for them, it was never about a negative; to them, the facsimile was exactly what they were going for. Take a look at the following image; we tend to think of the shroud as the face on the right, because it seems 'corrected' to us based on our present-day presuppositions. However, the face on the left looks like a cloth-based representation of a bas-relief sculpture. Sometimes you need to put aside your modern interpretation and look at it from the perspective of someone who lived one or two thousand years ago."


"This brings me back to why I weighed in on this discussion; you had asked for someone to explain a way that medieval artists might have created the shroud. I have pointed out that several scientists and archeologists have done just that; they have positively demonstrated HOW this was possible. What's more, several historians have described the more important question of WHY medieval artists used this technique: to record their work as a means of future advertising. The part that seems the most-difficult for you to grasp is that none of this has anything to do with your modern-day understanding of photography and negative images; the appearance of the shroud as it exists is exactly what medieval artists were trying to create."

"Just to round out the discussion, I never said that I believed the shroud was the work of forgers. Actually, I never weighed in on the veracity of the shroud at all; I was simply answering your questions with several facts that it appears you were unfamiliar with. Which leaves this discussion with the question of whether I believe the shroud is genuine or not. And my answer is - I'm not sure; there is plenty of evidence either way. But that being said, whether the shroud was the burial cloth of Jesus or a medieval artist's record of a statue is immaterial to me. I believe whole-heartedly that Jesus died and rose again, and that's what's most-important here."

Not to beat a dead horse on the subject, but here are my personal thoughts about the Shroud of Turin:

I actually lean in the direction that it might be valid, though it's more like 70/30 split for me. I've studied a lot about it over the past few decades, and I've never been convinced either way. For the longest time I was more like a 50/50 split; I simply wasn't sure at all. When the carbon dating yielded an estimate of sometime around the 13th-century, that made me lean more toward a 20/80 split; but I still wasn't fully convinced either way.

Since then I have watched several documentaries and read several articles about how the carbon dating was done incorrectly, and also about the increasing scientific analysis of chemicals in the shroud that can only be found in Israel. Armed with that knowledge my opinion has shifted more toward the veracity of the shroud than at any other time in my life.

Outside of personal word from God, I am fairly certain that I will never be fully-convinced either way. With that in mind, I have no problems sharing facts that I have learned that either corroborate or negate the shroud; I try to remain open to either possibility. But in the end, the point I made in the discussion thread is still what's most-important: I believe whole-heartedly that Jesus died and rose again, and He is my personal savior.

Or as it is written in the Nicene Creed:

"I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible;

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father;

By whom all things were made;

Who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man;

He suffered, and the third day he rose again, ascended into heaven;

From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead."

That sums up what I believe quite nicely.

Posted: Apr 08 2019, 21:47 by Bob | Comments (0)
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