Queries & Comments
Author Replies to Shroud Letters
In the last issue, we printed many letters commenting on Father Robert A. Wild’s article on the Shroud of Turin, which appeared in our March/April issue (“The Shroud of Turin—Probably the Work of a 14th-Century Artist or Forger,” BAR 10:02). Father Wild’s reply to these letters did not arrive from Italy (where he was studying on sabbatical) until after we went to press, so we are printing his reply in this issue.—Ed.
Father Wild replies:
If nothing else, the sheer quantity of recent publications supporting the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin has tended to create in the public mind, and even in the minds of some Biblical experts, the impression that this object surely must be the genuine burial cloth of Jesus. In my article in BAR I sought to challenge any such easy acceptance of the Shroud and to make it clear that the burden of proof still rests with those who defend its first-century origins. To judge by the volume of response to my work, my case has certainly been heard—if not always agreed to!
I will reply here to certain points made in the various letters printed in the last BAR. Space naturally restricts what I can say, and my correspondents will not be surprised if I do not take note of all their remarks.
1. Statements made about natural phenomena are only true in the end if they can be experimentally verified. There is nothing like a solid experimental fact to upset even the most elegantly constructed hypothesis. It follows, then, that one or another of the arguments I have advanced against the authenticity of the Shroud may eventually be overturned by such experimentally verified facts. In general, my correspondents seem not to have had such facts at hand to advance against the difficulties I have posed. This suggests that the set of problems I have presented in my article probably must be taken quite seriously in any further discussion of the Shroud’s authenticity.
2. Two theories to explain the character of the bloodstains found on the Shroud, each diametrically opposed to the other, have been referred to by my correspondents as possibilities for solving the difficulties I have set forth in this area. Pierre Barbet, a French surgeon who studied intensively the medical aspects of Jesus’ crucifixion, supposed that the dried clots of blood on Jesus’ body might have become moistened sufficiently in the tomb by the body’s own vapors, by vapors from the spices (John 19:39–40), etc., to transfer to the enveloping burial cloth. However, while Barbet’s hypothesis—he supported it with no experimental data—explains why the bloodstains on the Shroud generally correspond with Jesus’ bodily position on the cross, it does not explain why none of these stains shows any evidence of smearing, flaking or fragmentation.
In this respect I do not find convincing the variant of Barbet’s hypothesis that distinguishes between “encrusted blood” on Jesus’ body, which might flake or peel away, and “stains,” which would not. All the blood markings on the Shroud are clear and without apparent deformation. Where is the disturbed and damaged “encrusted blood” that we might reasonably expect to find if only after the difficult operation of removing Jesus’ body from the cross?
Barbet, a medical expert, insistently argued that the bloodstains recorded on the Shroud occurred while Jesus was on the cross and, at least for the most part, could not have been the result of post-mortem bleeding.
Frederick Zugibe, in advancing the view that all the bloodstains on the Shroud derived from bleeding that occurred after the dead body of Jesus was washed, stands squarely opposed to Barbet’s findings and to all previous scientific discussion of the Shroud. I will remain skeptical of his results until other competent professionals can confirm his findings. It is true that in a dead body, blood in a closed vessel, such as a ventricle of the heart or a vein, will not coagulate. Thus, certain types of post-mortem bleeding are possible. The bloodstain on the Shroud from the wound in Jesus’ side might, for example, be explained in this fashion. However, while Jesus’ dead body lay prone in the tomb, was it possible, for example, for blood to flow upward out of wounds in the forehead and then up to higher areas on the face so as to form the bloodstains in this area that appear on the Shroud? This is the problem that requires further scientific attention before Zugibe’s solution can be accepted.
3. My statement that the Shroud depicts a relaxed body apparently is in need of correction. I am not at all certain, however, that this correction helps the case of those who advance the Shroud’s authenticity. The hands of Jesus on the Shroud are not bound or fastened with cloth or with a cord so as to hold them in place. Apparently rigor mortis is taken to be the sole agent retaining the body in what Dr. Jackson tells us was a quite unnatural and unrelaxed position. A very convenient type of rigor mortis, I would note—not yet so advanced as to prevent those who were burying Jesus from arranging his hands and arms freely in this fashion but just enough, supposedly, to permit Jesus’ body to retain this awkward and strained posture once placed in it. Since Jesus’ burial attendants knew as well as we do, further, that rigor mortis passes off, sometimes even in a much shorter period than 24 hours, it is puzzling that they nonetheless made no effort to bind Jesus’ wrists so that they might remain in the desired position. In my judgment, these considerations point all the more strongly to the artistic character of the Shroud. The body is subtly but definitely contorted to preserve dignity and modesty.
4. Neither the tension on Jesus’ arms as he hung on the cross nor a general pattern of image distortion caused by the draping of fabric over an irregular body surface would seem sufficient explanations for the fact that the right forearm and hand (the latter placed below the left) is so much longer than the left. This is one of the oddities of the Shroud image that points to the work of an artist. In this respect I think that Dr. Anderson’s observation is telling: Had the Shroud indeed been draped over Jesus’ actual body, it should have recorded not only the front of his face but also, for example, portions of the sides of the head.
5. We are told by one correspondent that the Shroud does reveal the presence of a face wrapping or soudarion but that this object is itself invisible. Now even if black holes in outer space do present such a conundrum, what is the reason here for supposing that the Shroud would have recorded the image of Jesus’ body but not that of the face wrapping?
6. Various correspondents rightly take me to task for not saying anything about the position of the wound seen on the left hand. This wound is admittedly somewhat lower than we might expect on the basis of the conventions of medieval and Renaissance art. But is it so clear that it is actually situated at the base of the hand, i.e., at the point where the “Space of Destot” is located between the hand and the wrist proper? I have carefully studied large-scale photographs and drawings of this area of the Shroud, and I have concluded that the wound mark remains situated on the hand itself and not at the base of the hand. If so, we 022do not have any attestation by the Shroud of an anatomical fact that could not have been known by a medieval artist or forger. But let others look at the evidence. Certainly the matter is not at all so clear as Barbet and his followers have supposed.
7. One correspondent expressed concern that in my work I cast doubt on the accuracy of the Gospel accounts. I would hope, as I am sure his concern indicates, that I would always treat the Gospels as God’s revelation. Yet the word “accuracy” is not one which we can simply apply to the Gospels in our modern scientific and historical sense. God entrusted his Word to concrete and culturally limited first-century human authors. The Gospels are “accurate,” but in a first-century, not a 20th-century, understanding of this term. I think that if I do not make a distinction of this sort, I end, ironically, by falsifying, or at least by significantly misusing, the Biblical texts.
8. To say that the Shroud of Turin is not the actual burial cloth of Jesus is not at all the same thing as to say that it has no religious value. Historical authenticity is surely not the sole criterion for assessing the overall worth of a relic, and on this point I suspect there has existed a good deal more sophistication through the ages than we moderns often suspect. The primary function of relics, a phenomenon known to most of the world’s major faiths, is to enable people to encounter the Divine in a more profound way. If the Shroud does this, it certainly retains its religious value, whatever its historical status. By the same token, to investigate this historical status is not simply by that fact to attack the religious significance of the Shroud.
9. When I spoke of divisions within the Shroud of Turin Project scientific team, I thought that I spoke on good authority. If I have been mistaken, I owe an apology to that group individually and severally and, under that condition, I do give such an apology. I hope it is not ungracious to add, however, that the collection of individually authored and previously published papers promised as the STURP final report is not a “final report” in the ordinary sense of this term, i.e., an agreed-upon common statement by a group.
10. Finally, two authors whose work I reviewed suggested courteously but firmly that I point out some of the errors of fact which I found in their books. Mr. Habermas provides a sample of such an error in his own letter—the term “Code of Jewish Law” simply has no applicability to the Palestinian Judaism of Jesus’ age. Another example from his book: Professor G. Raes is reported as saying that the weave of the Shroud’s linen was a type common in the first century A.D. This is quite misleading; the weave in question is common in many periods. Yet another: the Shroud is said to depict Jesus with a pigtail. STURP scientists had already disproven this contention by the time Habermas wrote.
Mr. Tribbe also repeats at least one factual error from his book in his letter, that the type of fabric belonging to the Shroud could not derive from the 14th century. Another example: that the Gospels of Luke and John indicate the “special character” of Jesus’ burial cloth. John does single out the soudarion but not the cloth wrappings; Luke refers to Jesus’ burial cloth without elaboration. A third example: the Shroud as a legally “unclean” object had to be kept secret by the early Christians. This improbable theory, among other things, presupposes a uniform legal observance among all first-century Jews, a clear error. To be sure, errors are a part of the human condition, and we are all subject to them. Nevertheless, I do not think that I was unfair to either book when I said that they contain important errors of fact.
Common Logic and the Shroud
To the Editor:
No one could say your magazine is inexpensive, but I was always told that “things of true value are never cheap.” Each issue I read causes me to think, “They’ll never top this one; it’s the best yet.” However, with each issue, you satisfy another area of my curiosity, while opening up yet a new one. And I really don’t know which I derive more from—the articles or the letters inQueries & Comments! I am well-educated and realize that the hunger for knowledge is never sated. In these hectic times there are so many things vying for our pathetically limited time, and we must be wary of wasting that precious time. That is another reason why I treasure each issue of your magazine; never has anything I read in it been a waste of my time.
Father Wild’s article on the Shroud of Turin was such an article. Before I read it, I had no particular persuasions regarding its authenticity or lack thereof. Father Wild did a creditable job in taking his stand. Any claims for authenticity can be “shot full of holes” by using common logic. Yet, if the shroud IS authentic, one cannot relate to it logically anymore than one can prove scientifically the existence of God the Creator.
The image we see upon examination of the shroud would have been produced in that marvelous happening we refer to as the Resurrection of the Body, and we have no scientific criteria for examining such a miracle, since we know nothing of it other than acceptance by faith.
But here we confront another of the outstanding benefits to be derived from reading your fine magazine. Although some people study and do research in order to prove, and others study and do research to disprove, we all study together on this journey to eternity, and we are all better for it.
Barbara J. Anthony
Are Playing Cards an Ancient Calendar?
To the Editor:
Here is a challenge to your experts on calendars—whether Essene, lunar, solar or other. It is presented in the form of questions and answers.
Q. What were the first playing cards made of?
Q. What were the first playing cards used for?
A. As a calendar, to secretly teach new members of the “sect” how to keep track of time the “old” way.
Q. Why were cards first used to “play” games? And why were they not called a calendar?
A. Rulers often ordered their own calendars (that is, playing cards) but would not let their subjects keep or use the old calendars.
Q. Is a deck of cards a calendar?
Q. How many cards are in a deck?
A. 52. There are 52 weeks in a year.
Q. How many suits are in a deck of cards?
A. Four. There are four seasons in the year.
Q. How many cards are in each suit?
A. 13. There are 13 weeks in a season.
Q. What is the sum of the value of the cards in each suit? (1+2+3+4+5+6+7+8+9+10+11+12+13)?
A. 91. There are 91 days in a season.
Q. What is the sum of the four suits of the deck (4 × 91)?
A. 364. This is the sum of the four seasons in days.
Q. How many jokers in a deck?
A. Two. These equal two days.
Q. Why are there two jokers? Why is the second joker so seldom used?
A. The first joker adds the 365th day of the year. The second joker is used every four years to add the additional day in leap years.
Q. Who invented the deck of playing cards?
A. Do any of your experts know? I am not an expert at anything, not even poker. I am certainly not an expert on the calendar of the land of my God Jesus Christ, who has taught me that “All is vanity.”
Lorenzo Lee Bond
San Ygnacio, Texas
National Geographic Errs, Refuses to Admit Error
To the Editor:
The February 1984 issue of the National Geographic contained an article entitled “Jordan: Kingdom in the Middle” that included a picture of Herodium. According to the caption to this picture, there is a story that during the first Jewish revolt against Rome (66 A.D.–70 A.D.) Jewish defenders of Herodium were “among the last Jewish groups to fall [and finally] chose mass suicide over surrender.”
I wrote to the National Geographic stating that such an event had occurred at the rock fortress of Masada, not at the Herodium.
National Geographic’s reply seems to me rather confusing. [See below.]
I consider you as the best source to help me in clarifying the concept of those events.
Agustin Torres, M.D.
The National Geographic’s reply to Dr. Torres follows:
April 11, 1984
Dear Dr. Torres:
Thank you for your letter concerning the photograph on page 260 of our recent article “Jordan: Kingdom in the Middle.”
The historian Josephus states that a Roman army “took that citadel which was in Herodium together with the garrison that was in it.” However, there is a persistent story on the West Bank that a similar heroic defense to that at Masada occurred at Herodium. Since we could not confirm it, we said that it is a story.
We appreciate your taking the time to write, be assured that your remarks have been read by senior members of the magazine’s staff.
Joseph R. Judge
National Geographic Magazine
Washington, D. C.
Like Dr. Torres, we knew the story of mass suicide at Masada but not at Herodium. To check our own recollection, we asked archaeologist Ehud Netzer who is currently excavating at Herodium (see “Searching for Herod’s Tomb,” BAR 09:03) and probably knows more about the site than anyone else.
Here is Dr Netzer’s reply:—Ed.
Nonsense! Never have I heard such a story about Herodium, either on the West Bank or elsewhere.
The only story that has the slightest association with this subject was current in the 15th century. It involves the Franks who settled in Herodium after Jerusalem fell to Saladin. The story is that the Franks held out at Herodium. The story was told by Felix Fabri but was rejected by all later scholars as unrealistic (and of course it is also disproved by archaeology). According to Edward Robinson’s account: “The earliest direct mention of the mountain [Herodium] in modern times, as well as of this story of the Franks, is apparently by Felix Fabri in A.D. 1483. According to him, the Franks had plenty of water in the cisterns and land enough within the fortress to raise corn and wine and fruits sufficient for each year; and they might have held out indefinitely, had not a pestilence broken out among them after 30 years and destroyed most of the men, and all their wives and daughters; after which the remnant withdrew to other lands” (E. Robinson, Biblical Researches in Palestine [London: 1881], pp. 171–172).
According to Josephus, Herodium was captured by the Romans in the first century, probably peacefully: “To Judea a new legate had been sent, Lucilius Bassus, who took over the command from Cerealius Ventianus. He first secured the submission of the fortress at Herodium together with its defenders …” (War VII, 6, 1).
So altogether there is no basis whatever for the National Geographic statement. It must be a mistake.—Ehud Netzer
An Intellectual Giant at BAR
To the Editor:
There is a contradiction in your “Plea for Owner of Temple Relic to Identify Himself” 074(
First you say, “Please come forward with this archaeological relic.”
Then you say, “And if you do, we will punish you.”
Whoever wrote this plea must be an intellectual giant!
John Pascal Paddock
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Not a Flamingo, but a Purple Heron
To the Editor:
Thank you for the magnificent reproductions of the mosaics from Tabgha and Hammath Tiberias in the May/June BAR (“Loaves And Fishes Mosaic Near Sea Of Galilee Restored,” BAR 10:03). I want to take issue with your ornithology, though. Granting the occasional difficulties of making definite identifications of flora and fauna in ancient art, frequently the representations, while by no means perfect, are remarkably accurate. The photos are good examples of the latter. One bird, for instance, is correctly identified as a heron. It is almost certainly a Grey Heron, ardea cinerea. The bird identified as a flamingo, however, has little resemblance to such a creature except for its long neck. It is, rather, a quite accurate depiction of a Purple Heron, ardea purpurea, a bird found, like ardea cinerea, through much of the warmer parts of Eurasia and Africa. The colors of the bird in the picture reproduce well the combination of violet-grey on the body and the warm tones of the brown plumes that cover the folded wings, or, since the bird lacks a crest (compare the heron), the artist may have intended the browner tones that characterize nonbreeding adults and immature birds of this species.
In any case, the long thin (but mistakenly curved) bill is nothing like the great, bent proboscis of a flamingo, and the colors are totally different from that bird’s. There are flamingoes depicted on the magnificent and neglected mosaic floor of the Armenian church dedicated to St. Polyeuctus just off the Street of the Prophets north of the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem (see The Holy Land [guide] by Jerome Murphy-O’Connor , p. 106).
I am also fascinated with the reference to the so-called bearded titmouse on the same picture. Though I have seen the mosaic at Tabgha, on five separate occasions, I never noticed it. Unfortunately, the bird was partially decapitated in my copy of BAR. But several comments occur to me. The bird is grey, not brown like a Bearded Tit (titmouse is not a designation for any Eurasian bird that I am aware of). It does have that small dark tessera close to where the “beard” would be, but the dark marks on the wings do not correspond to any mark on a Bearded Tit. Actually the “beard” in the mosaic is more likely to be an eye. At this point I am unable to identify it.
Bird identification in ancient Near Eastern art, Egyptian hieroglyphs; and tomb paintings as well as ancient mosaics in the Holy Land is a hobby of mine. They’re also easier to photograph than live birds.
Thomas A. Hoffman, S.J.
Department of Theology
A BAR Index Is Coming
To the Editor:
I really enjoy BAR, but I have a suggestion. Have you considered a good index of all published BAR magazines? I find it most time consuming to have to look at all BAR magazines to check out any references.
It’s coming after Volume X.—Ed.
Who Chiseled Out the Siloam Inscription?
To the Editor:
A statement in the May/June issue (“Clumsy Forger Fools The Scholars—But Only For A Time,” BAR 10:03) needs correction. You state that the Siloam Inscription, discovered in June 1880, was chiseled out of the rock by “Turkish archaeologists.” The removal of the inscription was described shortly after it happened by H. Guthe, at that time the editor of the Zeitscrift des Deutschen Palästina-Vereins, in volume 13 (1890), pp. 286–288. He reported that it was done in July 1890 by some villagers of Silwan (later he speaks of only one villager) by orders of a “distinguished citizen of Jerusalem.” D. Diringer claims that it was a Greek who had given the order and that this man probably acted in collusion with a European museum to which he wanted to sell the inscription (Le iscrizioni antico-ebraiche palestinesi [Florence, 1934], p. 82, n. 3). Guthe furthermore reported in the article mentioned above that the Turkish governor apprehended the villager of Silwan who had chiseled out the inscription from the rack, and retrieved the stone which in the process of removal had broken into one large piece and five or six small pieces. Before it was shipped to the imperial museum in Constantinople (now Istanbul), the inscription was put on public display in Jerusalem for several months. Guthe also reports that the villager was expected to be sentenced to an imprisonment of six months but does not mention whether the “distinguished citizen of Jerusalem” in whose pay the crime had been performed was expected to receive any punishment.
Siegfried H. Horn
Pleasant Hill, California
Professor Horn is Emeritus Professor of Archaeology and History of Antiquity at Andrews University, and a member of BAR’s Editorial Advisory Board.—Ed.
BAR on Tour
To the Editor:
Earlier this month I traveled with a group of Lutherans on a tour of the Holy Land, a tour sponsored by Wholesale Tours International. It was an excellent tour—almost no complaints. Even the weather cooperated.
Almost as popular as the tour itself were four or five copies of BAR that I took with me as reference material. If half the people who copied the address of your subscription department follow through, I will feel I have done my part to compensate for those occasional letters you receive that begin—or end—with “Please cancel my subscription. … ”
Lew B. Stearns
Pico Rivera, California
A Shofar on Passover?
To the Editor:
The May/June 1984 BAR, as usual, is of the highest quality. Hershel Shanks’s article, “Synagogue Excavation Reveals Stunning Mosaic of Zodiac and Torah Ark,” BAR 10:03, reviewing Moshe Dothan’s report was extremely enlightening. The photography was topnotch. I believe there was one error, however. It refers to a ram’s horn as being associated with Passover. It should read that it is associated with Yom Kippur. This in no way detracts from the excellence of the article. Keep up the good work!
Lawrence Kobak, M.D.
Brooklyn, New York
Obviously gremlins were at work.—Ed.
Author Replies to Shroud Letters