Christ’s burial cloth

Ross Douthat was tweeting about the Shroud of Turin the other day, and that pointed me to this piece from Fr. Dwight Longenecker on various evidence for the authenticity of the shroud as Jesus Christ’s true burial cloth:

A verse in the epistle to the Hebrews asserts that faith is “the substance of things hoped for – the evidence of things not seen.” The resurrection of Jesus Christ is an event forever hoped for, but it is also an event unseen.

Believers in the Shroud of Turin, however, insist that the Shroud is the substance of this hope and the evidence of this unseen event. It is, they believe, the burial cloth of Jesus Christ. It has been venerated as such for centuries, and since the 17th century, when it came to Turin, has been the cathedral’s best-known treasures. Popes have come to gaze on the Shroud; Benedict XVI said when he visited in 2010 that “we see, as in a mirror, our suffering in the suffering of Christ”. …

We are not obliged to believe in the Shroud; it is undeniably mysterious. Having said that, it is also mysterious how dismissive most sceptics are. They cry out for scientific evidence, but when evidence is produced few really examine it closely. They simply shrug and say, “Well, we just don’t know. Nothing has been proven. All we have is an old cloth for which there is no explanation as yet.”

One of the principles of creative scepticism is that the obvious answer is usually the right one. The obvious answer, to my mind, is that the Shroud of Turin is the burial cloth of Jesus Christ.

I believe the Shroud is authentic, but if sceptics come up with a convincing answer to the questions the Shroud presents I am open-minded. My faith is rooted in the Resurrection, not the Shroud itself. The fact that the Shroud remains a mystery is a reminder of that other verse from the New Testament that “we walk by faith and not by sight.”

Fr. Longenecker cites the shroud’s more convicting/perplexing aspects. The image isn’t stained or painted, but seared into the cloth. The image can be read by 3D imaging tech, which is unusual. The image’s wounds are consistent not only with crucifixtion, but with the specifics of the details of Christ’s crucixition, and the bloodstains are human blood whose lasting hue indicates torture. The shroud carries pollen from near Jerusalem, and is consistent with first-century Jewish burial customs. The cloth itself is consistent from that period, too.

Douthat’s position is basically mine; paraphrasing/combining from Twitter: “I’m skeptical of the Shroud because as evidence of the resurrection it seems almost too dispositive to be real. It would be a tricky God who left behind hard evidence of the resurrection that only the scientists of 2000 years hence would recognize. He’s not a tame God, as Lewis says, so He can do as He likes. And it’s certainly one of the strangest objects in the world. If I were a skeptic its strangeness would unsettle me. But as a believer its directness seems unlikely.”

He later shared a memory from his last encounter with Christopher Hitchens, infamously atheistic: “Suppose Jesus did rise from the dead—what would that prove, anyway?”

Whether the Turin shroud is really Jesus’s burial cloth, Christians know Christ lived, died, was buried, and rose again. How difficult it is to believe in Christ—whether you’re Thomas who should have recognized him, or a Thomas living 2,000 or 10,000 years later in chronological time—is a testament to our basic inability to easily answer the question, “What is truth?”

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