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The Shroud of Turin: Resurrecting the Evidence (Part 3)

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The life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most attested and contested narrative in history. The eyewitness testimony, archaeological evidence, historical analysis and mountain of evidence alone are convincing. Many a skeptic has set out to prove the narrative false and instead became a believer.

After all, IF Jesus did resurrect then it proves His claims of Divinity. And if Jesus was truly God then every other religion, ideology and philosophy fails. It’s no wonder Christ (and Christianity) is viciously attacked, lampooned and persecuted. It’s no wonder evidence that proves Christianity true is routinely ignored, revised or shrouded.

And no archaeological evidence has faced more scrutiny and shrouding than a piece of cloth known as the Shroud of Turin.

I’ll be honest, for years I never gave this evidence much attention. I’m not sure why, except that I never have been forced to fully evaluate it’s narrative and analyze the proofs for it’s veracity.

And yet, if this shroud is real it unequivocally proves not just the existence of Jesus, but supports his crucifixion and the power of resurrection. It’s entirely reasonable that of all the relics the disciples would’ve kept, treasured and memorialized it would be the burial cloth that wrapped their resurrected Messiah.  Surely a cloth that held the Messiah wouldn’t be abandoned (since the rest of Jesus’ earthly belongings were gambled away and in others’ hands).  We could also expect a disciple, like Peter and John, to retain the burial shroud as evidence Jesus was no longer in the tomb (John 20:3-10)–especially if that evidence showed markings of Resurrection.  It’s also reasonable, in the days, months, years and centuries that followed the resurrection of Jesus that this memorabilia would be properly preserved and occasionally displayed.

The fact it exists does not surprise me.  What’s shocking is the skeptic’s response.

They only answer they’ve got is the Shroud of Turin is fake. Somehow a medieval prankster, in their view, created a cloth bearing the crucified likeness of Jesus Christ and featured all the finer details of scourging and crucifixion. It’s a plausible option until you realize that no one TODAY can replicate this burial shroud, including its detractors! If it was so easy to do a thousand years ago why can’t we do it today? But the shroud is not art (there is no paint or other applied substance on it).  The image is burned into the cloth and yet no one can explain how it was done.

What do we know for sure about the Shroud of Turin?

First, we know it depicts graphically a crucified person.  It’s a cloth that shows a complete body–a scourged and crucified body (including bloody marks in the ankles and wrists, in the chest, on the back and head).

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Second, it’s the only known archaeological example of a burial cloth. Ancient ossuaries or bone boxes are a dime a dozen, but how many preserved burial cloths do we possess? It’s also fascinating because few crucified people were wrapped in shrouds (and given proper burials). The crucified were the lowest of the low in ancient culture.  And why would anyone retain a bloody burial cloth of a crucified person anyway?  The crucified were cremated.  In fact the ONLY evidence we possess for an ancient Roman crucifixion is one nail and ankle bone fragment.

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It’s why the Shroud of Turin, if nothing else, provides amazing evidence for the brutality of a Roman execution.

Third, a burial cloth proves Jesus was given a burial fit for a king. Only the rich and royal enjoyed the luxury of a sepulcher (Jesus was buried in a borrowed tomb owned by the wealthy Joseph of Arimathea), as Matthew 27:57-61 records:

As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away.  Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb.

The biblical narrative clearly speaks to a burial cloth. In fact, it gives a reason for its existence and preservation. Perhaps Matthew’s inclusion of this detail is a tip to his readers about a piece of evidence that early Christian believers surely would’ve have secretly and proudly mentioned.

After all, it’s clear evidence that Jesus was both dead and buried.

Ironically, it was two Pharisees who secured Pilate’s consent and performed the burial rites for Jesus.  John’s gospel adds that Nicodemus, a Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin, accompanied Joseph, also a member of the Council, and helped him wrap his body (John 19:38-42).  This is significant as none of Jesus’ disciples had such social and political standing to access Pontius Pilate but these two high-ranking Pharisees (who equally consented to Jesus’ execution). Without Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, Jesus probably never would’ve been buried. No good Jew (properly cleansed for Passover) would touch a dead body and definitely no right-thinking Pharisee would risk it (as everything he touched would also be defiled). Yet Joseph and Nicodemus were secret believers. And they were clearly aware of Jesus’ claims of resurrection. Consequently, they willingly risk reputation and forfeited their right to Passover.

These two Pharisees used two pieces of linen: a large piece of cloth to wrap the body and a facial cloth that covered the face. Most people have heard of the Shroud of Turin, but have you heard of the Sudarium of Oviedo? It’s a bloodier piece of cloth with no image and a harder historical timeline to follow than the Shroud, but remains another compelling evidence to the biblical narrative. The entire body was wrapped tightly (with up to 75 pounds of burial spices!).   John also explains how this burial shroud had strips woven into it that tied off the body.  This is significant because John records only Peter and John completely entered the tomb and handled the burial cloths.  Could the shroud have still been tied up but flat, absent a body?  It’s hard to steal a body, leaving behind the shroud, without unwrapping it.  Furthermore, again, who would risk becoming ceremonially unclean on the highest Jewish Sabbath just to steal the body of a dead man (and remove the shroud to do it)?  Rome had no motivation to steal.  The existence of this burial cloth suggests the body wasn’t moved or removed, but rather simply vanished!

Joseph secured the body of Jesus in a new tomb protected by a large rock.  The “new tomb” is significant as tombs often contained more than one body in various states of decomposition. Families often owned a tomb to share for loved ones.  Sepulchers were not permanent residences for the dead.  They only served to “rest” and decompose the body.  Once fully decomposed, the bones were transferred to an ossuary and stored elsewhere. The point here:  Jesus was dead. Joseph handled him as dead and wrapped Jesus as a dead body.

Two additional witnesses observed Joseph burying Jesus: Mary Magdalene and another Mary.  This is an interesting legal fact that Matthew inserts, as it takes two witnesses to corroborate any story in a Jewish court of law (Deuteronomy 19:15).  Surprisingly, it was the wrong sex to confirm this historical event, as women were considered unreliable witnesses.  So why would Matthew cite women?  First of all, because it adds two more witnesses to the burial (four witnesses is very strong testimony). Secondly, women plus two members of the Sanhedrin (Joseph and Nicodemus) gave them credence.  And, finally, if there were any doubt, you’d never confirm your story with women as your witnesses.

So the Shroud of Turin is compelling evidence to corroborate the burial narrative. It’s the type of evidence admissible before a court of law.

It is the BEST archaeological evidence for Jesus’ death, burial and Resurrection.

If you only choose to believe it is what it is.

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