12 Things You Need to Know about the Shroud of Turin

Ever since watching an episode of Unsolved Mysteries as a boy that chronicled the history and mystery of the Shroud of Turin, I have been fascinated with the fourteen-by-nine foot ancient Church relic. As a thoroughly Protestant Christian who later became a thoroughly Evangelical pastor, I probably shouldn’t have held onto this fascination. After all, us kind tend not to put much stock in such things for grounding our faith. And yet a verse from the book of Acts has always needled away at my mind and faith:

He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by [the apostles] during forty days and speaking of things pertaining to the kingdom of God. (Acts 1:3)

Think about that: Jesus Christ, the Son of God, bodily raised from the dead to new life, offered his followers many more “infallible proofs” that he was in fact alive! Another version says that Jesus “gave many convincing proofs that he was alive” (NIV), as if the disciples needed more evidence that Jesus rose from the dead than the fact he was standing in front of them with nail-scared hands and a gaping wound in his side.

So I’ve wondered, what if the Shroud was one of those convincing proofs?

Why not? Especially given the mountain of evidence that seems to point toward its authenticity. And that evidence is what this story is built upon, that the Shroud is real and that it preserves the memory of this vital aspect of the vintage Christian faith: the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which is proof positive that his sacrifice for the sins of the world worked and that his gift of new life is genuine.

Let’s review some of that convincing evidence that went into my novel Holy Shroud, which is based on my research using a few solid resources, including: The Resurrection of the Shroud, by Mark Antonacci; The Truth About the Shroud of Turin, by Robert Wilcox; and a scholarly journal article by Gary Habermas, titled “The Shroud of Turin and Its Significance for Biblical Studies.”

Based on this research, here are 12 facts about the Shroud of Turin you need to know about.

1) The Faces of Jesus

One of the interesting pieces of the history of the Shroud is that before the image was widely known beginning in the sixth century, icons or images depicting the so-called Savior looked dramatically different. Pre-sixth century images of Jesus were missing the beard, his hair was short, and he looked baby-faced. Almost angelic. After the sixth century when the image was more widely known the icons changed. Such religious images depict Jesus with a long beard, hair long and parted down the middle, and with a man’s face looking oddly similar to the image on the Shroud. This gives anecdotal evidence to not only how the Shroud impacted the early stages of Christianity. But also the story itself, of its origins in Edessa as told by the venerable early Church historian Eusebius.

2) History of the Shroud

That story about the Image of Edessa or Mandylion recounted by Silas Grey and Rowen Radcliffe in the book is true. Eusebius recalled the account about the ancient King of Edessa who had sent a letter to Jesus inviting him to visit. There was a more personal motivation to the invitation, though: he was suffering greatly from an incurable disease. And he had heard about the many miracles Jesus had performed south of his kingdom in Judea and Galilee. So he wanted in on the action. Who could blame him? Unfortunately, as the story goes, Jesus declined, but he promised the king that he would send along one of his disciples to cure him after his mission on earth was complete. And he did. Jesus’ disciples sent Jude Thaddeus, who had healed many while in Edessa. He also brought along with him something extraordinary: a linen cloth with a stunning likeness portrayed on its surface.

Again, Radcliffe’s reciting of the tenth-century account of the Shroud is real:

And so, receiving the likeness from the apostle immediately he felt his leprosy cleansed and gone. Having been instructed then by the apostle more clearly of the doctrine of truth he asked about the likeness portrayed on the linen cloth. For when he had carefully inspected it, he saw that it did not consist of earthly colors, and he was astounded by its power.

Subsequently, the linen travelled around the world to various sites, including Constantinople where it is thought by many to have ended up in the care of another religious order: The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, also known as the Order of Solomon’s Temple. And better known as the Knights Templar or simply as the Templars. The opening prologue somewhat reflects this genuine historical account of the Templars possession of the Shroud, and their eventual demise.

But that’s not all, because all of the physical properties of the Shroud are 100% real and scientifically validated. Here are ten more reminders of the fascinating facts giving scientific and historical credence to the Shroud of Turin:

3) The Image Is of a Crucified Man

The faint imprint visible on the linen is that of a real corpse in rigor mortis. In fact, the image is of a crucified victim. This was the conclusion of multiple criminal pathologists during one of the most pivotal periods of dissecting and testing the Shroud in the 1970s.

4) The Blood Is Real

One of the pathologists, a Dr. Vignon, said the anatomical realism of the image was so precise that separation of serum and cellular mass was evident in many of the blood stains. This is an important characteristic of dried blood. Which means there is real, actual dried human blood embedded in the cloth.

5) The Man Was Mutilated Like the Bible Says

Those same pathologists detected swelling around the eyes, the natural reaction to bruising from a beating. The New Testament claims Jesus was severely beaten before his crucifixion. Rigor mortis is also evident with the enlarged chest and distended feet, classic marks of an actual crucifixion. Which means the man in that burial linen was mutilated in exactly the same manner that the New Testament says Jesus of Nazareth was beaten, whipped, and executed by means of crucifixion.

6) The Image Is A Negative One

One of the more fascinating aspects of the Shroud is that it is a negative image, not a positive one. That technology was not even understood until the nineteenth century with the invention of the camera when photography became a modern reality, which blows holes in the oft purported theory that the Shroud is merely a Medieval forgery that was stained or pained; it would be a thousand years until such ideas as negative images were understood, which no Medieval artist could have painted!

7) The Positive Image Reveals Historic Details

The positive image taken from the negative one left on the Shroud shows in detail many of the historic markers that connect to the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ death. You have the scourging marks from a Roman flagrum on the arms, legs, and back. Lacerations around the head from the crown of thorns. His shoulder appears to be dislocated, probably from carrying his cross beam and falling. According to scientists who examined the Shroud, all of these wounds were inflicted while he was alive. Then, of course, there is the stab wound in the chest and the nail marks in the wrists and feet. All consistent with the eyewitness accounts recorded in the Gospels.

8) Nothing Like It on the Planet

The image of the man, with all of his facial features and hair and wounds, is absolutely unique. Nothing like it in all the world. Totally inexplicable. And given there are no stains indicating decomposition on the linen itself, we know that whatever body was in the Shroud left before the decomposition process began. Just as the Gospel writers testify about Jesus’ resurrection from the dead on the third day.

9) Reflects Historic Burial Customs

The man was interred according to Jewish burial customs at the time, being laid in a sail-like linen shroud in the manner they required. Yet, he did not receive the ritual washing, as the New Testament indicates Jesus didn’t, because of the Passover and Sabbath requirements for burying the dead.

10) The Faces of Jesus

Then there is the cloth itself, which is entirely unique. Nowhere has any other cloth been found to have depicted the image of a dead man on its surface. Again: in the history of archaeology and the study of historical artifacts, no where have we come across a burial linen with a body imprint.

11) The Linen Is Old

The imprinted cloth is old. The linen itself has existed for over 600 years as the so-called Shroud of Turin, and nearly 2,000 years as the Image of Edessa, named after a small town outside of ancient Antioch in modern Syria. While carbon dating in the 80s placed the Shroud’s age in the middle ages, around AD 1300, new evidence has roundly discredited both the results and method of that dating. Newer evidence places the date comfortably within the timeframe that Jesus was said to have been crucified and buried in AD 33.

The linen used of this cloth is a herringbone twill most likely manufactured and distributed throughout the Mediterranean world at least two thousand years ago. This is crucial, because it discredits the notion that the Shroud was a medieval forgery concocted by some confidence artist.

12) The Odds Are Astronomical

The odds against this image being someone other than Jesus are astronomical. 225…billion to 1, according to Paul de Gail, a French Jesuit priest and engineer. Which means it is not unreasonable to conclude that the man in the Shroud is indeed the historical person we know of as Jesus of Nazareth, around whom—his life, death, and resurrection—the Christian faith was launched and built.

That the man imprinted on the Shroud is that of Jesus of Nazareth doesn’t in and of itself prove or disprove that Jesus came back to life and rose from the dead. But there are strong indications that, at the very least, something extraordinary and very unusual occurred in the cloth.

I’m reminded of something the late Nabeel Qureshi said, a Muslim who gave his life to Christ: the resurrection isn’t the what of our belief, it’s the why of the Christian faith. The idea that Jesus conquered death and rose to victorious new life isn’t merely a doctrine or theological belief we mentally ascribe to; the resurrection isn’t merely what we believe. No! Christians believe in Jesus and put their faith in him because he rose from the dead; Jesus’ resurrection is why we give our lives to Christ, just like Nabeel. Because if Jesus is still dead, we’re all still screwed, Christian faith is useless and futile, and Christians are of all people most to be pitied.

Now, whether or not the Shroud is genuine (I think it is) doesn’t matter to the Bible’s historical witness to the truth of Jesus’ resurrection. As the Evangelical scholar Gary Habermas argues, “True, we do not have absolute proof for the identity of the man of the shroud. Neither do we need it to demonstrate the reality of the death and resurrection of Jesus (or for anything else in the Christian faith).” Yet he goes on: “But it appears to provide strong empirical corroboration for Jesus’ resurrection, and when combined with the historical evidence for this event I would submit that we have a twofold apologetic from both science and history….It appears that it can provide continuing confirmation of the most treasured of our beliefs: the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ” (54).

Something monumental happened nearly two millennia ago. So much so that it compelled a bunch of scared twentysomething peasants and other followers of Jesus to give it all for the sake of the good news of Christ—to the point of death. There’s no way these men, and eventually women, would have sacrificed themselves for a fairy tale. As Nabeel also says: why die for a lie? No, the reason why the disciples and others went on mission was because Jesus came back from the dead. No, not as a zombie! As a real, live human being. And he offered many more “infallible proofs” that he was alive. Perhaps the Shroud of Turin was one of those proofs.

That’s why I hope you’re not just entertained by this story, as well as not merely informed about the fascinating history and evidence of the Shroud of Turin and the doctrine of Christ’s resurrection. I hope that in this novel you discover why the resurrection is so important and that it inspires you trust Jesus with every ounce of your life. Because if he can conquer the grave, there’s nothing he can’t do! As the old Church hymn declares:

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow,

Because He lives, all fear is gone;

Because I know He holds the future,

And life is worth the living,

Just because He lives!

Research is an important part of my process for creating compelling stories that entertain, inform, and inspire. Here are a few of the resources I used to research the Shroud of Turin:

For further reading

  • Mark Antoniacci, The Resurrection of the Shroud of Turin. New York: M. Evans and Company, Inc., 2000. http://bouma.us/shroud1
  • Robert Wilcox, The Truth About the Shroud of Turin. Washington, DC: Regnery, 2010. http://bouma.us/shroud2
  • Gary Habermas, “The Shroud of Turin and Its Significance for Biblical Studies”. Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 24 (March, 1971), 47–54. http://bouma.us/shroud3

Get the book inspired by the facts

Holy Shroud

Order of Thaddeus • Book 1

An ancient threat. A sacred relic. A belief that hangs in the balance.

Ex-Army Ranger and professor Silas Grey is on the verge of proving a central belief of the Church that will rock the religious and non-religious worlds to their core: scientific proof of Jesus Christ’s resurrection. But before he can, a series of devastating blows not only threaten Silas and those close to him, but the Christian faith itself. 

Coming to his aid is an ancient religious order, the Order of Thaddeus, that has been battling an ancient cultic threat, Nous. Spanning the globe from Washington to Paris to Jerusalem, Silas and the Order combine forces to embark on an urgent mission for the very survival of the Church. Can they save the Church’s most important sacred relic before the memory of its central belief is destroyed forever?

Holy Shroud is the first book in the Order of Thaddeus action-adventure thriller series that combines the religious conspiracy suspense of Dan Brown with the historical insight of Steve Berry, and wraps it in the special-ops muscle of James Rollins and inspiration of Ted Dekker.

Explore this innovative new adventure by emerging author J A Bouma that straddles thrill and thought, faith and doubt.


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