Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Shroud unshrouded…

I recently went on a Shroud-of-Turin jag and I thought I'd post a few good links.

This is the overview of the latest in "sindonology" which led me to the rest of the links, below.

If you were to travel to Italy before the exhibit ends on May 23, you wouldn’t see what’s truly stunning about the 14 ½- x 3 ½-foot cloth. For that, you have to see the negative version, as amateur photographer Secundo Pia did when he took the first photographs of the Shroud in 1898 and saw, as he lifted the photographic plate from its chemical baptism, the man’s face as a positive image on the negative. Pia had no doubt whose face it is, and his discovery launched “sindonology,” the scientific study of the Shroud.

For the 2010 exhibition, a new book and a fascinating documentary have been released, both of which deal forthrightly with the controversies that seem warp-and-weft with the fabric of the Shroud itself.

The Truth About the Shroud of Turin: Solving the Mystery by Robert K. Wilcox is the most current survey of the key issues about the Shroud and includes a brief description of the very recent discoveries of Dr. Barbara Frale, about which more in a moment. And the History Channel recently premiered (and offers now on DVD) “The Real Face of Jesus?” – which covers much of what’s in the Wilcox book but also chronicles the attempt by computer-graphics expert Ray Downing to reconstruct the face on the Shroud using modern wizardry and some old-fashioned artistry as well. The result of his forensic animation is stunning.

It's worth recalling one short migration the Shroud made during the Second World War, as this story explains:

The shroud was transferred for its safety to the Benedictine sanctuary of Montevergine in Avellino, in the southern Campania region of Italy in 1939 and was only transferred to Turin in 1946. The current director of the library at the abbey, Father Andrea Cardin, said the reason behind the move was because Hitler was "obsessed" with the sacred relic. … "Officially this was to protect it from possible bombing (in Turin). In reality, it was moved to hide it from Hitler who was apparently obsessed by it. When he visited Italy in 1938, top-ranking Nazi aides asked unusual and insistent questions about the Shroud."

This is part 1 of an excellent documentary (DVD), The Fabric of Time, about the Shroud, with a uniquely strong emphasis on theoretical physics. Follow the links for parts 2–6. "…a two-dimensional photograph of a two-dimensional artifact, but … there emerged three-dimensional information."

And hot dog I just managed to find the History Channel's very new The Real Face of Jesus? on Youtube. Here's part 1, then you can follow the links to parts 2–9. (Click-load-and-then-view it while it's still up!)

And while I'm at it, I should provide a link to part 1 (etc.) of Jesus and the Shroud of Turin, which I have watched more than once, and consider one of the finest resources on the Shroud, especially considering it is only an hour.

Moving along.

In this post, the Shroud of Turin Blogger (STB) insists, "…tell me how by faking a shroud, as the Italian Union of Atheists and Rational Agnostics, have done, proves that the possible real shroud is a fake. It is like faking the Mona Lisa to prove that the real one is a fake. All it proves is that these folks are not 'Rational.'"

Here STB cites approvingly a comment from a reader, arguing that "a forger only fakes something either preexisting or something which is known throughout the [sic] history. … Both conditions are not satisfied in the case of the Shroud of Turin, because neither the New Testament nor the apocryphal writings mention a single line about the existence of a cloth with the dorsal and frontal images of Jesus’ body."

In this video, we learn about how Barbara Frale, a scholar of the Knights Templar (how cool is that!), claims to have deciphered an inscription on the Shroud. This is the most astounding thing I've seen about the Shroud in a long time. Frale's inscription translates thus: "In the year 16 of the reign of the Emperor Tiberius Jesus the Nazarene, taken down in the early evening after having been condemned to death by a Roman judge because he was found guilty by a Hebrew authority, is hereby sent for burial with the obligation of being consigned to his family only after one full year." I think this sort of evidence dovetails nicely with the discovery of the burial ossuary of James a few years back. The more archaeologists unearth, the harder it is to dismiss the Gospels as sheer, unhinged religious fiction from the real times and places they describe.

But to continue. This story reports that

Dr Frale said that the use of three languages was consistent with the polyglot nature of a community of Greek-speaking Jews in a Roman colony. Best known for her studies of the Knights Templar, who she claims at one stage preserved the shroud, she said what she had deciphered was "the death sentence on a man called Jesus the Nazarene. If that man was also Christ the Son of God it is beyond my job to establish. I did not set out to demonstrate the truth of faith. I am a Catholic, but all my teachers have been atheists or agnostics, and the only believer among them was a Jew. I forced myself to work on this as I would have done on any other archaeological find."

A similar story, here, reports:

Barbara Frale, a researcher at the Vatican archives, says in a new book that she used computer-enhanced images of the shroud to decipher faintly written words in Greek, Latin and Aramaic scattered across the cloth.

She asserts that the words include the name "(J)esu(s) Nazarene" -- or Jesus of Nazareth -- in Greek. That, she said, proves the text could not be of medieval origin because no Christian at the time, even a forger, would have mentioned Jesus without referring to his divinity. Failing to do so would risk branding the writer a heretic.

"Even someone intent on forging a relic would have had all the reasons to place the signs of divinity on this object," Frale said Friday. "Had we found 'Christ' or 'Son of God' we could have considered it a hoax, or a devotional inscription."

In another story, here, we read:

“I [Dr. Frale] know practically every facet of all the scientific examinations conducted on the Shroud in the last 20 years, including the famous Carbon-14 test which was used to proclaim to the world that the relic was nothing but a medieval forgery. I have also studied carefully the claims of those who have tried to reproduce a similar relic in their laboratories using the same means and equipment that a medieval scientist had at his disposal. They claim that the Shroud could easily have been produced in a medieval laboratory. I can confirm to you and your readers that these claims are outdated. The latest discoveries on the relic turn the tables on these sceptics, and reaffirm what tradition has always maintained, that is, that the famous linen cloth kept in Turin really did cover the body of a man who lived at the beginning of our era.”

Barbara Frale has committed her findings to a bulky, 392-page volume called La Sindone di Gesù Nazareno, which was recently published in Italy and which we hope will soon be translated into English.

This same piece, which includes an interview with Dr. Frale, goes on to report that

Barbara Frale is an engaging 39-year-old, fair-haired woman, and a highly qualified scientist. She is married to an engineer and has two very beautiful children. After graduating in Medieval Archaeology, she went on to specialise in Palaeography, Diplomatics and Archives Administration, and then in Greek Palaeography, and in 2000 obtained a PhD in Historical Research at the Ca’ Foscari University in Venice. She has worked in important archives both in Italy and abroad, and for the last couple of years she is a historian on staff at the Vatican Secret Archives, where the world’s most important historical documents are kept.

In the interview, we read the following, which I find as intriguing as it is sober:

[Frale:] In 1994 research on the Shroud was taken up again as the shortcomings of the C-14 test came to light. Some French scientists stared examining the inscriptions discovered by Piero Ugolotti. Professor André Marion, who teaches at the Institut Superieur d’Optique d’Orsay in Paris, examined the Shroud with the aid of specific software capable of detecting old or ancient writings that are no longer visible to the naked eye. Now, right under the face he found the Greek word ‘HOY’ which could be interpreted as ‘IHOY’. This is the Greek translation of the Semitic original ‘Yeshua’, which stands for ‘Jesus’. This word, when placed next to the one deciphered by Marastoni, forms ‘IHOY NAZAPHNO’ that is ‘Jesus Nazarene’. Professor Marion also found other signs in Greek and Latin placed around the face, and published these findings on a scientific magazine. He then consulted with other specialists from the Sorbona University, who concluded that the inscriptions were from the first Christian centuries, perhaps even from before the third century after Christ.

Professor Marion’s studies were continued by other scientists, in particular by the French analyst Professor Thierry Castex, who was able to discern the fragment of a text with a central phrase, which could be translated as ‘we found’ or as ‘because found’. These words bring to mind the accusation which members of the Sanhedrin levelled against Jesus in the presence of Pontius Pilate, “We found this man perverting our nation…” (Luke 23:2).

Professor Castex sent me these words and asked for my opinion. I examined them carefully and then sough out the opinion of two renowned scholars of Hebrew. These inscriptions, along with the ones found by Professor Marion, really do give the impression of being the trace of an original document regarding the burial of a person called Jesus of Nazareth, which in the local idiom was ‘Yeshua Nazarani’.

My book is a long, detailed and meticulous study of those writings, and I have come to the conclusion that they lead us back to Jerusalem at the time of Emperor Tiberius, who reigned from AD 13 to 37. The inscriptions regard the burial of a man called Yeshua Nazarani. So my conclusion is that, from a historical point of view, there is a plethora of facts connecting the Shroud of Turin to the first thirty years of our era.

[Interviewer:] Are you therefore telling us that the Shroud of Turin really is the original linen cloth that covered the body of Jesus?

I am a scientist; it is not my task to determine if that linen cloth actually enveloped the body of the Son of God, if the blood stains on it really are those of the God-Man. My task is to study all the documents regarding the Shroud, to interpret them, to arrange them in systematic order, and then to draw logical conclusions from them.

On the Shroud of Turin there are words. If we find a tombstone on which the words Minucio Felice are inscribed, we say that that is the tombstone of Minucio Felice. On the Shroud we have found the words ‘Jesus of Nazareth’, so we are authorised, from a historical point of view, to conclude that that is the shroud of Jesus of Nazareth. Now, to determine if the Jesus of Nazareth that was enveloped in that Shroud is the same individual of whom the Gospels speak is beyond my task and competence as a historical scientist.

A brief article from the Knights Templar Vault, the author of which is ultimately skeptical of Frale's findings for now, writes:

In 1997 two French researchers, Marion and Courage, claimed to have discovered previously unseen characters on the surface of the Shroud of Turin, using certain image processing techniques. The letters did not make a whole lot of grammatical sense, and few were convinced that they really exist. In 2009, Barbara Frale published a book where she gave her own reading of these words. She also provided additional support for the theory that the Shroud was in the possession of the Knights Templar. Possibly this relic was the actual object that started the rumors about a mysterious "head" worshiped by the Templars.

As this post by the STB indicates, not all "Shroudies" are sold on Frale's findings, as the following excerpt from a Shroud-blog makes evident:

Frale claims she has "discovered" inscriptions on the Shroud that prove it is authentic. However, she is basing her conclusions on the work done by French researchers Marion and Courage (published in the late 1990′s) which made these same claims. Rather than submitting her work to a journal that could review and verify her research, she too, like Garlaschelli, is publishing her work in a commercial book (and only in Italian). In fact, the recent press coverage seems to be mainly designed to promote the sale of that book. Once again, we are seeing "science" reported by press releases rather than in the conventional scientific literature.

As for the Marion and Courage inscriptions themselves, these were carefully evaluated from a linguistic point of view in 1999 by Shroud scholar and language expert, Mark Guscin, who published his results in the British Society for the Turin Shroud (BSTS) Newsletter in November 1999. That article, titled, ‘The "Inscriptions" on the Shroud,’ was ultimately reprinted on this website and can still be found at this link: http://www.shroud.com/pdfs/guscin2.pdf.

In the end, Guscin concluded:

"So none of the inscriptions which some claim to be able to see make enough grammatical or historical sense. This in itself is enough to doubt their very existence on the cloth, but the clinching point was evident in the presentation of the work in the symposium at Nice (1997). The slides that Marion and Courage used showed the areas of the cloth where they could see the inscriptions, and then the various optical treatments they had subjected it to, and finally the inscriptions written in over where they were meant to be. They were only visible on these last slides. There was absolutely nothing visible on any of the other slides.

Finally, this piece provides nice large images of the incriptions in question, which must be read in conjunction with this site, as the latter provides detailed analysis (albeit in Italian) of and images of the inscriptions in the Shroud itself. Letters are clearly visible in the images in the Italian webpage, but STB's complaint is that the "raking" orthochromatic photographs taken by Enrie in 1931 were too harsh, or crude, and distorted the linen's 'contents' by making grays into falsely contrastive blacks and whites.

Nonetheless, I would point out that the same thing has occurred many times in the Shroud's history, namely, aspects of it have only become detectable with the advent or application of different technologies. The image of the corpse, for instance, really only became lucid in 1898 when the Shroud was photographed by Secundo Pia. This, combined with the high likelihood that the Shroud was folded up and seen only as a face, does away with the objection that there was no long-standing devotion to the Shroud as a burial cloth until many centuries after Christ's death. As the documentaries, Fabric of Time and The Real Face of Jesus, indicate, some of the richness of the Shroud has been literally invisible until our own day, when techniques like 3D imaging and holographic analysis give eyes to a world of Thomases. Even so, I side with the Church that the Shroud is neither an article nor a pillar of the Faith. But fair-minded skeptics are hard-pressed to deny its historical veracity as an authentic first-century burial shroud of a crucified man in Israel.

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