Why is one of the most enduring mysteries of mankind still unresolved?
With all the 21st century technology available to scientists, why does the faded image of a tortured man on a blood-stained cloth allegedly dating back 2000 years still baffle the scientific community?
Of course the mystery I am alluding to is the Shroud of Turin — an artifact that millions of Christians believe to be the burial cloth of Jesus.
For about 20 years I have been interested in the Shroud of Turin. Then in 2010, when it went on public display for only 44 days in Turin, Italy, I was fortunate to be among the two million people who saw it in person.
My two decades of reading about the Shroud culminated in a first-hand look and led me to believe that this is the physical evidence proving that Jesus Christ was in fact resurrected from the dead.
So why should you care about the Shroud of Turin, especially if you practice a faith that does not include Jesus or have no faith at all?
There are two answers: First, just plain intellectual curiosity about the world’s most studied and mysterious relic. Second, sometime in the not-so-distant future, technology will enable scientists to prove that this was the burial cloth of the resurrected Christ. So get ready.
In the meantime, what science has or has not been able to confirm about the Shroud is also instructive.
Yes, Jesus, that still-controversial figure whose very birth defines the time of man between B.C. (Before Christ) and A.D. (Anno Domini, Latin for “Year of our Lord”), is the central focus of the Shroud.
Now, if that is enough to deter you from continuing to read this piece or pursuing further exploration on your own, it is worth remembering that Jesus was also an historical figure mentioned in official Roman documents, in addition to all the New Testament books of the Bible.
But regardless of whether you believe Jesus lived, died, and was resurrected, it cannot be disputed that he was then and still is today the most influential being who has ever existed in all human history.
Jesus Christ’s influence on the world in terms of culture, history, kingdoms, religion, empires, war, art, music, architecture, printing, human relations, charity, literature, exploration, population relocation, medicine, education, holidays, etc., cannot be refuted.
In other words, if you live on this planet, Jesus has had an effect on your life whether you care to acknowledge Him or not. (An excellent book on this subject, What If Jesus Had Never Been Born?, was written by Dr. D. James Kennedy in 1994.)
Conversely, if Jesus had not been resurrected, the world’s largest religion, Christianity, would not have grown and thrived for centuries and Jesus’ influence on mankind would have been minimal or non-existent.
So that is why the mysterious Shroud, which could prove Christ’s physical resurrection — the foundation of Christianity, is still an open and active cause célèbre among believers in Jesus’ divinity and members of the scientific community who continue to study the Shroud and remain intrigued by its unique properties.
Some important questions about the Shroud that remain unanswered are:
Q. What force caused the man’s image on the cloth to be imprinted?
A. The latest theory from a 2012 study was that radiation was released in the form of an electrical discharge.
Q. What was the substance used to form the imprint of the man?
A. Scientists are in agreement that no paints, pigments, dyes, or stains have been discovered that could have made the image of that battered man. Furthermore, the substance forming the image sits on top and does not penetrate the cloth. This amazing finding only adds to the mystery.
Q. Why are the marks on the man totally consistent with the biblical account of the wounds suffered by Jesus Christ?
A. This is well-documented but still a mystery.
A. Scientists have discovered that the blood found on the cloth was there before the man’s image was imprinted.
Q. Why are the weaving and pollen found on the Shroud consistent with the type of cloth weaving and pollen dating back to the time of Jesus in the area around Jerusalem?
A. New studies point to this exciting fact leaving more clues as to the date of the cloth.
Q. How did the cloth survive numerous fires and wars over the centuries?
A. The history of the Shroud is marked with many close calls of potential destruction. For example, a fire in 1532 was responsible for the most extensive burn marks visible along both sides of the Shroud.
Q. Is the Shroud real?
A. The question for the ages for which there is still no answer.
However, the radiocarbon dating performed in 1988 on a small piece of the outer Shroud cloth “proving” that the Shroud dated back to only the Middle Ages was debunked by a noted American chemist named Raymond Rogers. Rogers proved conclusively that the sample used for dating was not part of the original image area but was sewn on during the Middle Ages after a fire damaged the outer edges of the Shroud.
Then back in March of 2010, just in time for Easter and a month before the Shroud was openly displayed in Turin, Italy, the History channel aired a special documentary on the Shroud using the latest 3D modeling technology. The documentary earned historic ratings, according to director Trey Nelson.
If you have not seen this program called The Real Face of Jesus?, it is worth viewing. (See the entire program embedded above.) The popular documentary was based on an “unprecedented feat of science and technology” and relied “on the most sophisticated electronic tools and software available.”
At the end of the film there is a face of a man, computer-modeled from the Shroud visage, that is presented as representing the true face of Jesus Christ if indeed the Shroud is the burial cloth of Jesus.
In the future you can expect to see more of these kinds of studies, since 3D-modeling technology is evolving quickly. Now since this science applied to the Shroud is especially intriguing (and profitable for the History channel) Sindonology — the term used to describe the formal study of the Shroud — will benefit greatly from any new modeling breakthroughs.
Therefore it is with full faith that I believe science and technology together will eventually unravel the great enduring mystery of the Shroud of Turin. Sometime in the coming decades (or maybe even sooner) there will be an unveiling of hard evidence (akin to a “smoking gun”) proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that this cloth bears witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.