The Shroud of Turin is the most controversial artifact in the world. Many claim that it is the original burial cloth of Jesus while others argue that it is a medieval forgery. I will argue here that it is without question a forgery. A glaring fact that is often ignored by those who support the genuineness of the Shroud is that there is no evidence for its existence prior to the fourteenth century. Even sites that support the Shroud admit this. And the known history of the Shroud corresponds exactly with its radiocarbon dating to the fourteenth century. There is also literary evidence that the Shroud is a forgery. In 1389, Bishop Pierre D’Arcis wrote a letter to Clement VII in which he claimed that the Shroud is a forgery:
“The case, Holy Father, stands thus. Some time since in this diocese of Troyes, the dean of a certain collegiate church . . . falsely and deceitfully, being consumed with the passion of avarice, and not from any motive of devotion but only of gain, procured for his church a certain cloth cunningly painted, upon which by a clever sleight of hand was depicted the twofold image of one man, that is to say, the back and the front, he falsely declaring and pretending that this was the actual shroud in which our Savior Jesus Christ was enfolded in the tomb. . . . Eventually, after diligent inquiry and examination, he discovered how the said cloth had been cunningly painted, the truth being attested by the artist who had painted it, to wit, that it was a work of human skill and not miraculously wrought or bestowed.”
The Shroud is also contrary to Jewish burial customs. Jesus’ body would have been washed before burial so that no blood would have been left on the Shroud.
Another problem with the Shroud is that the physical dimensions of the face of Jesus do not match that of a real person. As Tim O’Neal explains:
“The anatomical proportions of the figure depicted on the ‘Shroud’ do not match those of an actual human being, but conform to the proportions of the Gothic art of the Fourteenth Century. On a typical human the head from the top of the eyebrows to the top of the skull forms around 40% of the head, or about 80-100 mm. But on the ‘Shroud’ the head from the eyebrows up forms only 25% of the head or no more than 60 mm or less. This shortening of the upper part of the head is a typical anatomical mistake made by first-time life artists, and it is common for early lessons in life drawing to teach new artists not to make this naive mistake by showing that the proportions of the head are actually quite different to the way people tend to see them at first.”
This is an often overlooked argument against the authenticity of the Shroud which is completely ignored by those who believe in the genuineness of the Shroud.
In response to the carbon dating of the Shroud to the fourteenth century, many people have argued that the dating is inaccurate or that the portion of the Shroud which was tested comes from a medieval reweaving after the edges of the Shroud were damaged by fire. But scientists intentionally chose a portion of the Shroud that was not patched so that their results would be accurate. Scientists who specialize in carbon dating have refuted all of these charges. As H. E. Gove explains:
“Along these same lines is the claim that the 10mm x 70mm strip, cut from the edge of the shroud just above the place where a sample had been removed in 1973, contained stitching threads or possibly pieces of the backing cloth of much later than first century vintage. Not only would this have been spotted by the two textile experts present but subsequent examination by members of the dating laboratories would have instantly revealed such extraneous material. All the laboratories examined the textile samples microscopically and removed any foreign material. Another argument has been made (G Hoyas, pers commun May 2, 1989) that the part of the shroud from which the sample was cut had possibly become worn and threadbare from countless handlings and had been subjected to medieval textile restoration. If so, the restoration would have had to be done with such incredible virtuosity as to render it microscopically indistinguishable from the real thing. Even modern so-called invisible weaving can readily be detected under a microscope, so this possibility seems unlikely. It seems very convincing that what was measured in the laboratories was genuine cloth from the shroud after it had been subjected to rigorous cleaning procedures. Probably no sample for carbon dating has ever been subjected to such scrupulously careful examination and treatment, nor perhaps ever will again.”
But there is a simple solution to this problem: allow pieces from the rest of the Shroud to be carbon dated as well. But the Catholic Church does not want this to happen because they are afraid that the rest of the cloth will be dated to the fourteenth century as well. If that were to happen, it would be the final nail in the coffin for the veneration of the Shroud.
This is what Protestants who use the Shroud as evidence for the resurrection of Jesus don’t seem to understand: the Shroud is an icon which is venerated by the faithful in the Catholic Church as an aid to worship. For the Catholic Church to admit that the Shroud is a forgery would be to admit to the faithful that their veneration has been misplaced. It is an aid to worship because the picture of Jesus in the Shroud has become the mental image Catholics bring to mind when they think about and worship Jesus. If this is not what Jesus looks like, then they have a false image of Jesus in their mind when they worship. The depiction of Jesus in the Shroud is based on the artwork of the early church and medieval period which is additional evidence that the Shroud comes from an artist.
The papacy has always advocated for the historicity of the Shroud. Pope Paul VI declared that the Shroud is “the most important relic in the history of Christianity.” Pope Sixtus IV said that in the Shroud “men may look upon the true blood and the portrait of Jesus Christ Himself.” If the Shroud is a forgery, it would prove that the papacy has misled people and undermine the credibility of the Catholic Church. The Shroud of Turin is nothing more than a medieval forgery used to bolster the claims of Roman Catholicism. If it is a forgery, it calls into question papal infallibility since previous popes have declared that the Shroud is genuine.
As Joe Nickell concludes:
“Scholarship and science have proven the Turin ‘shroud’ a fake, from its incompatibility with first century burial cloths and procedures, its lack of historical record, and a bishop’s report that the forger had confessed, to the suspicious-looking ‘blood’ that is really tempera paint, pigments making up the body image, and the radiocarbon dating that confirms the cloth originated at the time of its documented appearance in the fourteenth century.”
I could not put it any better than Antonio Lombatti who laments at how unprofessionally many scholars have acted when it comes to whether the Shroud is authentic or a fake:
“The behavior of professional Bible scholars on this relic has been deplorable. It’s true, the Turin Shroud may be seen as a ridiculous topic to deal with. So, apart from Joe Zias, James Tabor, Rachel Hachlili, Shimon Gibson, and Levy Rahmani – experts on Second Temple Jewish burials and Early Christianity – scholars have rarely tackled the fancy claims made by the Shroud authenticity supporters. And this has left room for popular quackery both on library shelves and, above all, on the web. Lurid falsehoods and distorted reasoning have been repeated so many times that the common people and some scholars too may think they are facing the real burial cloth of Jesus. The method used by these ‘shroudologists’ bends the mind the wrong way, an insidious and real corruption, and it has nothing to share with scholarly analysis and philological tools. The Gospels don’t mention this double full-length image of Jesus left on his burial cloth. The Second Temple Jews used to bury their dead in a completely different way. There’s no historical record on the relic until 1355. When it was first displayed in France, the owner, the diocese bishop and even the pope called it a ‘representation’ of Jesus’ burial shroud. Finally, when the linen of cloth was carbon 14 dated in 1988 it turned out to be from 1325 circa. So, despite the fact that the historical and scientific data do match, the Turin Shroud enthusiasts, usually pushed by their faith, couldn’t stop and admit that the relic was a medieval forgery. They kept on finding all sorts of causes responsible for a wrong radiocarbon date: fire, smoke, fungi, bacteria, and even Jesus’ miraculous radiation emitted during his resurrection. As you can imagine, no scientist who performs carbon dating as a profession has ever imagined questioning the validity of the medieval date of the Turin Shroud.”
Christian apologists who use the Shroud to argue for the resurrection of Jesus need to stop immediately because they are undermining their own credibility in the process. There are far better arguments for the resurrection of Jesus. In an upcoming article, I will give my defense of the bodily resurrection of Jesus.