Turin Redux: Shrouded in Ignorance

“Italian study claims Turin Shroud is Christ’s authentic burial robe” – The Telegraph

The above quote is an actual headline that came across one of my news feeds late last night.  It caught my attention immediately in one of those “here we go again” sighs. But, being the skeptic that I am, I decided to click the link and check out what “new evidence” was uncovered that authenticates this particular garment as the very one worn by the mythical Jesus Christ. Later, I plan to do some research as to what material was used to manufacture Santa’s red suit, and then I will move on to find out if anyone has found a large set of wings that might belong to the tooth fairy…  But I digress (with a smile).

My immediate thought was a mental image of gaggles of Christians jumping for joy at this remarkable “proof” that Jesus existed.  What they fail to realize is that all of this research, all of the money spent and the countless hours of time devoted to studying this cloth has led nowhere other than revealing it is an old cloth that bears an image to a fictional character of Christian Mythology, of which no description exists.  Yes, that’s correct…  These people are actually discussing the validity of an image that has absolutely no real world point of reference.

Missing The Point…

It doesn’t matter how old the shroud is.  It could be a medieval forgery, or it could actually be an authentic burial shroud that is a couple thousand years old.  If it is a forgery, it would not (by far) be the first time a religious idiot tried to fool billions of people. If it is an authentic shroud from two thousand years ago?  Well, finding a burial cloth that belonged to a man who was crucified, with accompanying injuries, dating back to a time when crucifixion was a common “deterrent,” only proves that someone had a really bad day.

Unless there is stored somewhere the DNA of Jesus, as well as DNA on the shroud to compare it to, there is no way that this piece of cloth can be attributed to anyone.  This is, of course, along the same lines of discussing the validity of the image belonging to Jesus, when no physical description of him exists. More on that later…

Cha Chingggg….

Actually, this will end up being a sure money-maker for the church, as they will undoubtedly arrange for a public showing. The last time the shroud was displayed, roughly two million people (including the Pope) descended upon the Turin Cathedral over a six-week period, where the faithful fawned, bowed, cried, prostrated and crossed themselves over it.  They spent obscene amounts of money on air-fare, hotel rooms, tour fees and souvenirs. Of course, the obligatory stories were circulated about  being “touched by the divine.

This served to perpetrate the myth, but more importantly, it soothed the flock into forgetting about child abuse for a while.  Perfect timing.

Benefit Of The Doubt…

Let’s say that these new scientists have established that this is, indeed, a two-thousand year old burial cloth. Science has no problem with the formulations of new hypotheses. It’s just what makes science excellent. For the shroud to be claimed as the burial cloth of Jesus Christ, there needs to be evidence that Jesus even existed.

However, Jesus Christ was not a historical figure but a mythical one.  This poses a problem, because the driving reason behind the perpetuation of the shroud hoax is a validation of Christianity by virtue of proving that the biblical character portrayed as Jesus was an actual, walking demigod, capable of bending the laws of physics and instigating a massive zombie resurrection. By the way, there exist no contemporary and disinterested extra-biblical accounts of a huge number of people rising from their graves and walking around town, either.  Just sayin’…

Furthermore, regarding Jesus, there are no artifacts, dwellings, works of carpentry, self-written manuscripts or documentation by those who would have been his contemporaries.  As well, there are no Roman documents that record Pontius Pilate executing a man named Jesus or Yeshua. Romans, by the way, were excellent record keepers so you’d think they’d have some of these things written down somewhere, along with accounts of a divine mass murder of first-born sons and the sun stopping in the sky.  But what do I know, right?

What we end up with is nothing more than hearsay claims of a historical Jesus.  As is true in courts of law (and with modern scholarship), hearsay automatically renders any accounts of the existence of Christ as invalid because they provide no reliable or factual evidence.

Thus, as I stated earlier, even if they could prove that this cloth was two-thousand years old, the lack of evidence for the existence of Christ makes the attempted attribution of the Shroud of Turin to Jesus Christ totally pointless, even more pointless than finding out who it really belonged to.

What do you mean, no evidence of Christ…?

I have had many conversations about the lack of extra-biblical eyewitness accounts to the existence of a historical Jesus, and have written extensively about it. I reason that I successfully got my point across, but for you purists out there, here’s a quote from the book “Modern Thought,” by Moncure D. Conway [1832 – 1907] that states:

The world has been for a long time engaged in writing lives of Jesus… The library of such books has grown since then. But when we come to examine them, one startling fact confronts us: all of these books relate to a personage concerning whom there does not exist a single scrap of contemporary information — not one! By accepted tradition he was born in the reign of Augustus, the great literary age of the nation of which he was a subject. In the Augustan age historians flourished; poets, orators, critics and travelers abounded. Yet not one mentions the name of Jesus Christ, much less any incident in his life.

Christianity depends on establishing a historical Jesus and it will defend even the most unreliable sources, but no such evidence exists. The fictional demigod we call Jesus Christ is little more than an amalgamation of several contemporary and past Savior-Hero-Demigod archetypes.

Getcha Snake Oil Here….!

When something as ambiguous as the shroud comes along, it provides the perfect venue for the perpetuation of Christian mythology, because all it takes is a religious leader holding up an artifact and declaring it holy, from Jesus – be it a nail, a piece of wood, a burial cloth – and then put the burden of proof that it is not from Jesus on the atheists.  Typical request for proof of a negative, and as we all know, those who ask for evidence of non-existence ask a fool’s question.

To a local Pastor, this is like a salesperson’s dream come true of walking into the office and being handed a stack of qualified leads.  The congregations would have already heard about this new Italian study from a very skewed Fox news-like point of view because it has already hit most of the main religious blogs, websites and RSS feeds.  They are now primed and ready for their weekly fleecing of IQ points as the Pastors preach about the glorious shroud that holds the image of the passion of the Christ, and glory be, hallelujah and pass the collection plate.

The faithful need to understand that belief is not a scientific discipline, and while beliefs can survive without evidence, facts depend on it.  People are entitled to their beliefs, they are not entitled to their own facts, and the fact is that there is no proof that Jesus ever existed, and as I stated earlier, there is no reason to even put the shroud under any close examination.

If you want an expansion on my statement about there being no evidence for a historical Christ, go here.

Turin, Toast and Talismans…

The Shroud of Turin is nothing more than an old burial cloth. So does Jesus toast, Mother Mary murals, Christ on a nacho chip, holy water, the plethora of crying saints and all the other religious talismans and snake oils that pop up from time to time.

  26 comments for “Turin Redux: Shrouded in Ignorance

  1. December 20, 2011 at 3:11 pm

    Umm – but Jesus Toast is real! It’s a miracle! Or a sales opportunity…

  2. sqlrob
    December 20, 2011 at 3:19 pm

    The Shroud of Turin is nothing more than an old burial cloth

    That may even be pretty generous according to some of the things I’ve seen about it. Better described as an art project – image looks right but is actually wrong with bad proportions.

  3. December 20, 2011 at 3:41 pm

    At least is WAS and actual headline (I checked).

  4. Randomfactor
    December 20, 2011 at 4:21 pm

    Regarding that sun-standing-still thing, I think you’ve got the mythical Yeshua crossed with the mythical Joshua. You know, where the NASA computer noted something wrong with the calculation of the earth’s spin back in the distant past or something (where’s that tongue-in-cheek smiley icon again?)

    Yeshua’s was a sudden total solar eclipse (at the time when the moon was full, not new). Which of course they failed to note in their complete records, having their hands full handling the Jerusalem zombie uprising (also unrecorded in the Roman histories.)

    • sunnydale75
      December 21, 2011 at 1:37 am

      >Which of course they failed to note in their complete records, having their hands full handling the Jerusalem zombie uprising (also unrecorded in the Roman histories.)<

      I never thought of this before, but it might be humorous-and downright blasphemous (worth the price of admission alone)-to make a Zombie Jesus horror movie. Imagine actual hordes of zombies overtaking the Roman Empire. It could have Zombie Jesus alternating between eating brains (metaphorically speaking, that’s what religion has consistently been very good at) and proselytizing. Now that I think about it, I’m not sure which of those 2 forms of torture is worse…


  5. Newfie
    December 20, 2011 at 4:22 pm

    His hometown of Nazareth never existed in his non-existant lifetime either. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nazareth

    • CJO
      December 20, 2011 at 5:18 pm

      It’s going to be difficult to prove definitively that there was no settlement on the site of the modern day city in the first century. But even if there was, there’s no way to say for sure that it was known by that name. There is certainly no evidence from written sources or inscriptions that there was a settlement by that name in 1st century or earlier Galilee. And the name itself is problematic. It doesn’t make sense as a Semitic place name, and the resulting grammatical confusion in the gospels over how to construct the Greek term rendered in English “Nazarene” is a fairly clear indication that the name did not originate as a toponym, but as the name for a pre-Christian Jewish sect. English translations of the gospels are misleading here because they almost always render Ναζωραῖος nazoraios (& var.) as “of Nazareth” when it’s unclear that this was meant rather than “Nazarene,” which does not obviously mean “from a place called Nazareth”.

  6. HughWillRidmee
    December 20, 2011 at 4:50 pm

    Reading further than headlines suggests that the reporter’s (scientist’s?) idea of the science is “We couldn’t create something like this other than by using a laser – there wasn’t a laser that could be used to fake it in medieval times so god must have done it nearly two thousand years ago”.

    • sqlrob
      December 20, 2011 at 5:01 pm

      I’ve seen a hypothesis that it is actually a photograph from a camera obscura. Don’t know how much they’ve tried to verify that though.

  7. December 20, 2011 at 5:16 pm

    I’ve always thought an integral part of selling the Shroud of Turin was in the appeal of its name. Turin sounds like such an exotic place. Tolkeinesque even. Nobody would pay two bits to see the “Shroud of Torino”.

    • AlanMac
      December 23, 2011 at 12:53 am

      That’s because they are going to see La Sindone di Torino.

  8. Bill Daniels
    December 20, 2011 at 5:23 pm

    This is certainly not the burial shroud of Jeebus, but I think it may not be a forgery. As someone above noted, it may have been someone’s art project and the Church got hold of it and tried to pass it off as the real thing.

    • sqlrob
      December 20, 2011 at 6:56 pm

      Chances are it was presented to the church as the real thing. There were a ton (probably literally) of relics around.

  9. Jim Jones
    December 20, 2011 at 8:25 pm

    “The Shroud of Turin is nothing more than an old burial cloth.”

    Not that either. It’s a painting, and not that well done. It makes no sense as a burial cloth, a point made by the church themselves when it was introduced.

    Who would ‘wrap’ a body in such a peculiar fashion?

  10. jj7212
    December 20, 2011 at 11:46 pm

    I’ve seen recent documentaries about the Shroud of Turin on The Discovery Channel, Nat Geo Channel, and/or The History Channel (can’t remember which). The tv shows present known facts about the shroud and interview many people with various viewpoints, but the evidence of it being Jesus just wasn’t there either. Probably why the show was on late night and not a breaking news report on CNN or BBC. I thought this Shroud of Turin thing has already been debunked. Really surprised to read this article (as good as it was, Al!)

    • Anonymous Atheist
      December 21, 2011 at 8:59 am

      Sure, the Shroud has been debunked repeatedly, for years and years. But just like anything else religion-related, it keeps popping back up, because most religious people and religion-catering journalists dismissed or never noticed the other debunkings.

  11. jj7212
    December 20, 2011 at 11:49 pm

    …ready for their weekly fleecing of IQ points

    You kill me, Al! That one even tops ‘douche-baggery’! I love it!

  12. December 21, 2011 at 1:55 am

    DNA? No problem. Just take one of the fifteen or so sancta praeputia (i.e. Jesus-foreskins)…

  13. kantalope
    December 21, 2011 at 2:12 am

    And the study in question was in 2008? weird

  14. concernedjoe
    December 21, 2011 at 7:53 am

    I thought several true scientific (objective and truthful) experiments have validated that methods, means, materials existent in the mid-centuries could have rendered the image?!?

    Said a different way: even it the cloth is old that does not falsify that clever artistry in the mid-centuries or whenever rendered it – does it?!?!?

    Of course not.

    In other news: scientists cut and shape metal with lasers; lasers did not exist 2000 years ago therefore scientist conclude all metal work was miraculously done by god 2000 years ago.

  15. December 21, 2011 at 9:47 am

    I am not interested in the supernaturalism of Christianity, but am very interested in the study of the early history of the group. I am always happy to talk to others that are also interested in this topic. My interest specifically is up till perhaps a generation or two after Irenaeus. But I would say I am interested in anything from the Maccabean revolt up till about 384CE when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman empire.

    Cheers! richgriese.net/religion

  16. Dunc
    December 21, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    So, what they’re saying is that Jesus was severely deformed and suffered from extreme microcephaly? Hmmm…

  17. The Lorax
    December 21, 2011 at 12:36 pm

    Wait, hasn’t the shroud been carbon dated three times to the late 13th to early 14th century? Isn’t that enough to say that it could clearly not have belonged to Jesus?

    The article also reeks of stupidity: “But as scientists, we were concerned only with verifiable scientific processes. We hope our results can open up a philosophical and theological debate but we will leave the conclusions to the experts, and ultimately to the conscience of individuals.”

    Fuck me. So they’re scientists, but not experts, and are allowing a conscience of individuals to determine the truth? They are concerned with verifiable scientific processes, but they are making the bold assertion that it really is Jesus’ burial shroud? They hope to open up philosophical and theological debate, instead of searching for more data?

    … Ladies and gentlemen, I have invented a new word: tist. I have removed the word “science” from the word “scientist” just as these people have removed science from their activities. I shall no longer refer to individuals such as these as “scientists”, but as “tists”, as they have nothing to do whatsoever with science.

  18. rapiddominance
    December 22, 2011 at 1:39 am

    This is a semi-related question for you, Al. You could answer me here with a reply, or you might find the topic worthy of an entire post.

    Do historians, to your knowledge, have some sort of general idea about how the Christian religion came into existence? If there is not a consensus explanation, could you, instead, mention a few competing ideas that have merit to them; ideas that might help an interested reader start his own pursuit?

    I saw a Venn-Diagram here at the Thoughtblogs some few days ago comparing/contrasting religions and cults and it got me thinking about how our major religions were once infants, themselves. I also got to thinking that whether or not there was a historical (and more realistic) Jesus, SOMEBODY(IES) had to get the thing off the ground and running.

    Thank you for your continued efforts and your hustle.

  19. ildi
    December 23, 2011 at 5:06 pm

    I thought several true scientific (objective and truthful) experiments have validated that methods, means, materials existent in the mid-centuries could have rendered the image?

    I can’t remember the authors, but there was a book documenting how they replicated photographic methods that Da Vinci could have used on old cloth. Don’t know if their methods have been discredited or not.

    I also got to thinking that whether or not there was a historical (and more realistic) Jesus, SOMEBODY(IES) had to get the thing off the ground and running.

    Short answer: Paul of Tarsus.

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