Monday, May 17, 2010


The Turin Shroud, attracting enormous visitor numbers at the city's cathedral in a rare exposition currently taking place until May 23rd, is a fascinating and enigmatic piece of artwork. Artwork, since there is no archaeological nor documented evidence of a historical Jesus, any more than there is for Zeus, Isis, Apollo or Odin, discounting the clearly astrotheological and mythological fables contained in the canonical and apocryphal gospels. Shroudman's height is around 7 feet and I, for one, certainly don't recall in the gospel of Luke mention of a bearded colossus shambling around the banks of the Dead Sea, nor of donkeys being helplessly crushed by freakishly large sons of gods. Indeed, there are no references at all to JC's earthly appearance in any of this literature.

The shroud appeared (and for a while disappeared) around the mid-14th century, in one of the most productive eras for the highly lucrative Jesus relic industry. In fact there were dozens of these things kicking about all over Europe, and this particular one was then, perhaps ironically now, given far less credence than the disingenuous documentaries the History Channel, C4, and Discovery keep churning out. You might wonder how that burnt piece of Virgin Mary toast sold on eBay will be revered in centuries to come.

I digress. Having just read the generally excellent Turin Shroud: In Whose Image? by Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince, and despite their also getting bogged down in historical Jesus nonsense (which, it has to be said, they've built a living writing about), I found two aspects especially intriguing.

Defenders Of The Faith
It's simply extraordinary the lengths to which believers will go to defend the historicity of their faith. There are vast resources applied to discovering where Noah's Ark is, or Solomon's Temple, or the Holy Grail, or Jesus' tomb; hundreds of books, films, and archaeological expeditions of mythical constructs.

They might as well be looking for Thor's hammer. But they're not. And that's because since Christianity played the historical figure card so early in its gestation, allowing great power to be enjoyed by priests over followers of inferior 'less authentic' pagan religions, it implicitly and instinctively knows that the notion of historicity has to be emphasised and protected at all costs. Similarly, compare those lunatic creationists that maintain that Adam and Eve were real people and that the world is but 6,000 years old. Thus, having committed yourself to one big lie, you find yourself forever condemned to reinforcing it with an infinite number of small ones.

As is evident in the book, the Turin Shroud perfectly symbolises this phenomenon. What was dismissed even by the Church as a fake in the Middle Ages, now boasts scores of organisations devoted to 'scientifically' proving it's a bona fide Jesus relic. And ever since 1988 when it was oh-so-predictably carbon-dated to the 14th Century, the theories have become ever more byzantine and unbelievable, ranging from nuclear flashes to international conspiracies.

Since the imprint has the amazing qualities of a photographic negative, the real mystery is how the hell was the shroud created? And by whom?

The book convincingly proposes that today's Turin Shroud is the work of Da Vinci. That it is in fact a composite image of Leonardo's own head superimposed on the body of a man that was genuinely crucified. And that it was done using early photographic experiments using a camera obscura to project and capture images. It was a process that alchemists had, at grave danger from the Church to accusations of heresy, long been interested in and experimenting with. If this is indeed the case, and there's plenty of evidence to suggest that it was technically and logistically feasible, then Da Vinci's mischievous genius is even more astounding than we previously thought.


Sypha said...

I'm kind of charmed by the idea of a super-sized Jesus... the Nephilim indeed!

William, I know you're well-read in this area, I was wondering if you could recommend a book which, in your opinion, laid out the best argument against Christianity (or religion/religious belief in general). All my life I've kind of drifted in between a sort of vague agnosticism and hazy spirituality. Recently I've been seeking out books that are supposedly the cream of the crop in regards to Christian apologeticism (C.S. Lewis for example) but I'm also curious to read an opposing viewpoint. And I wonder if there's a book out there powerful enough to completely shatter the (admittedly irrational) "faith" that I was raised with.

LJP said...

Didn't know the image on the shroud was seven feet(!) My mother should've picked up on that fact...

William Bennett said...

Sypha, despite the tenor of things I sometimes write, I'm not particularly anti-religion (nor pro- for that matter); that said, De Sade's 'Dialogue Between A Priest And A Dying Man' I find very moving (link below); I certainly find atheist cheerleaders like Richard Dawkins ('The God Delusion') pretty unpalatable and arguably belonging to the same tradition that they profess to oppose; would be curious to know what others think

Sypha said...

William, that Sade story is actually the only thing of his that I've ever read the whole way through (never was able to make it through "Justine" or "120 Days of Sodom"). It makes a lot of good points, I think.

Lemuel Talon said...

William Lane Craig is one of the greatest offenders in the historicity debate. He seems to leap from the Jesus Was Real premise to the Jesus Was Divine conclusion with little to no effort.

For Sypha:

Unfortunately, most of the literature espousing the point of view you seek is going to have the didactic tone referenced by William. Christopher Hitchens' "God Is Not Great" is fairly readable, despite those weaknesses.

Jeff said...

Is it important whether Jesus existed? Isn't it more important to pay attention to what people actually believe at this point? Like following a code of behavioral attitudes that are generally perpetuated and accepted (unconsciously) by a mass of security guard/behavioral psychologist phonies?

Have you ever read this book?

guyonlinepgh said...

Never having read a full book about the shroud, I don't know all of the arguments for and against it. There is one I've never encountered in any magazine or television article however.

The shroud is a two-dimensional representation of a figure. If one was to drape a cloth over a person and have that image transferred, the image would be a flattening out of the surface area. The gauntest face would spread out to look rounder than Alfred E. Neuman.

Couple this with the fact that it *looks* like a Renaissance era painting, and this "miracle" artifact clearly is a hoax. Not that I need convincing of the inauthenticity of Jesus! (or at least of his divinity.)