The Shroud of Turin—Burial Cloth of Jesus?
BY AWAKE! CORRESPONDENT IN ITALY
From April 18 to June 14, 1998, the shroud, or cloth, said to have wrapped the body of Jesus of Nazareth following his death was exhibited in Italy at the Cathedral of San Giovanni Battista, in Turin. It was kept in an airtight, bulletproof glass case filled with an inert gas. There it was maintained under stable climatic conditions.
VISITORS passed before the well-protected shroud on three raised walkways at slightly different levels. This enabled all to get the best view. Visits were limited to two minutes and were on a strictly reservations-only basis. Emotions ranged from ecstatic, tearful meditation to simple curiosity. There were reportedly about 2.5 million visitors.
“What is the shroud to you?” was the oft-asked question. For anyone fond of discussing religion, the occasion provided opportunity to examine the subject more closely and to reread the pages of the Bible that refer to Jesus’ burial.—See the box on the following page.
The shroud is a linen cloth 14 feet 3 inches long and 3 feet 7 inches wide [436 x 110 cm] that bears the superficial imprint of the body of a man who, it is claimed, met a violent death. But the question is, Was this Shroud of Turin the one used to wrap the body of Jesus over 19 centuries ago?
“There is no evidence of a shroud during the first centuries of the Christian era,” says the New Catholic Encyclopedia. In 544 C.E., an image reputedly not made with human hands turned up at Edessa, a location in modern-day Turkey. The image was said to depict the face of Jesus. In 944 C.E., it was claimed that the image was in Constantinople. Most historians, however, don’t believe this was what is now known as the Shroud of Turin.
In France, during the 14th century, a shroud was possessed by Geoffroi de Charny. In 1453, possession of it passed to Louis, Duke of Savoy, who transferred it to a church at Chambéry, the Savoyard capital. From there, in 1578, Emmanuel Philibert took it to Turin.
In 1988 the then archbishop of Turin, Anastasio Ballestrero, had the Shroud of Turin examined by radiocarbon dating to determine its age. The tests, conducted by three prestigious laboratories in Switzerland, England, and the United States, revealed it to be medieval, thus belonging to a period long after the death of Christ. Ballestrero accepted the verdict, declaring in an official statement: “In entrusting the evaluation of these results to science, the church reiterates its respect and veneration for this venerable icon of Christ, which remains an object of devotion for the faithful.”
The present archbishop, Giovanni Saldarini, declared: “We cannot say that the image is the image of Christ lowered from the cross.” Yet, at the same time, he asserted: “There is no doubt that the believer can see in that imprint the image of the man described by the Gospels.” On May 24, 1998, while the shroud was on exhibit, Pope John Paul II called the image “the imprint left by the tortured body of the Crucified One.”
As can be seen, the evidence weighs heavily against the Shroud of Turin being the burial cloth of Jesus. But what if it were? Would it be proper for someone who wants to obey the teachings of the Bible to venerate that cloth?
Consider the second of the Ten Commandments, which says, according to a Roman Catholic translation of the Bible: “You shall not make yourself a carved image or any likeness of anything in heaven above or on earth beneath or in the waters under the earth. You shall not bow down to them.” (Exodus 20:4, 5, New Jerusalem Bible) Indeed, true Christians take to heart the words of the apostle Paul: “We are walking by faith, not by sight.”—2 Corinthians 5:7; 1 John 5:21.
[Box on page 24]
The Shroud and the Gospel Accounts
The Gospel writers say that the body of Jesus, after being taken from the stake by Joseph of Arimathea, 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 Jews customarily washed the dead and then used oils and spices to anoint the body. (Matthew 26:12; Acts 9:37) On the morning following the Sabbath, women 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,’ the body of Jesus was not in the tomb!—Mark 16:1-6; Luke 24:1-3.
What did Peter find when he came shortly afterward and entered the tomb? The eyewitness John reported: “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) Notice that there is no mention of the fine linen—only of bandages and the headcloth. Since John specifies the bandages and the headcloth, would it not seem likely that he would have mentioned the fine linen, or shroud, if it had been there?
In addition, consider this: If the graveclothes of Jesus had his image upon them, does it not seem that it would have been noticed and would have become a subject for discussion? Yet, beyond what is in the Gospels, there is complete silence in the Bible about the graveclothes.
Even the professed Christian writers of the third and fourth centuries, many of whom wrote about a host of so-called miracles in connection with numerous relics, did not mention the existence of a shroud containing the image of Jesus. This is hard to understand, since 15th- and 16th-century viewers, according to Jesuit scholar Herbert Thurston, “describe the impressions on the shroud as so vivid in detail and colouring that they might have been quite freshly made.”
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