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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

"The Shroud" Book Review and Verdict: Yep, It's Real

It was the late 1970s. There was a newspaper on the kitchen table. I gave its Shroud article a quick glance. I thought, even in that brief newspaper treatment, that I'd immediately discover the fact that proved the Shroud of Turin to be a moldy, embarrassing relic of a bygone era, the Catholic version of Bigfoot.

The newspaper article let me down. It introduced facts that boggled my mind. The Shroud of Turin can be described as a photographic negative. How did someone in the Middle Ages create a photograph? More importantly, why?

Teams of scientists from disciplines I'd never heard of were subjecting the Shroud to tests I had also never heard of, and they were not triumphant in denouncing an obvious fake; rather, they were in awe.

After much reading, writing, asking questions, and a lengthy conversation with STURP photographer and online archivist Barrie Schwortz, I am now 97% certain that the Shroud is authentic. We may all be missing something, but given the amount of research that's been done on the Shroud, I think there's only a three percent chance that it is a fake.

Ian Wilson's book "The Shroud: Fresh Light on the 2000 Year Old Mystery" is one of the sources of data that have convinced me. If you are at all interested in the Shroud of Turin, you must have this book. It's a one-volume encyclopedia.

"The Shroud" is a fascinating book by any measure. The Shroud of Turin has been rigorously tested by scholars in a wide array of disciplines; Wilson's book reflects that scholarship, traveling throughout time, space, and multiple ultra-modern laboratories, darkrooms, museums, archives, remote monasteries, obscure archives, hushed but impassioned clerical offices, and politically yeasty university campuses.

Readers learn about radiocarbon dating, identification of marble from Jerusalem, the Crusades, the Knights Templar, and ancient v. medieval textile fashions and manufacture. Readers visit a land that time has forgotten: the ancient, Christian Middle East. Indeed, Egypt, Iraq, and Turkey were once devoutly Christian. Caliph Muawiya, an immensely important figure in early Islam, actually had his hands on the Shroud of Turin, and is responsible for damage to it. The book touches on Islamic - Christian conflict occurring in the present day. One of Wilson's pieces of evidence was an ancient mural in a Macedonian monastery. The mural was destroyed by Albanian Muslims in a series of vicious desecrations extending from 2001-2002.

Wilson has an eye for the gem-like anecdote; you read of a wedding that took place as the bride's brother died in the next room; he received a fatal jousting injury while entertaining the crowds before the ceremony. Another aristocrat died of drinking cold wine after a hot hunt. Reading this book was an addictive pleasure and an intellectual adventure.

A measure of the rigor that Wilson and other Shroud proponents exercise is Wilson's treatment of new claims by Barbara Frale. As Wilson's book was going to press, Frale claimed that she alone had access to a document that could strengthen the link between the Shroud and the Knights Templar. Wilson included her claims in his book, with a proviso that he had not seen her evidence. After he did so, he assessed that evidence as unconvincing, and he said as much in a carefully worded publication on Barrie Schwortz's site.

This scholarly scrupulosity is, alas, not reflected on the side of Shroud detractors, as Wilson makes clear. The denunciation of the Shroud as fake after the 1988 radiocarbon dating was decidedly not scholarly. No other artifact would have been treated in a similar manner. Case in point: radiocarbon dating mistook the date on the linen wrappings of a mummified ibis by 550 years. No one jumped up and claimed that the date on the ibis was wrong; rather, they understood that radiocarbon dating made a mistake. The Shroud was not treated in a similar manner because militant atheists with an agenda masquerading as neutral scientists so desperately wanted to discredit the Shroud. They failed, and their failure is exposed in Wilson's chapter on the fiasco of the radiocarbon dating.

Wilson works through a massive amount of data. This is the kind of book that makes you grateful for the existence of the internet. You will want to read this book with Barrie Schwortz's Shroud website your constant companion. There you can find the full texts of the peer-reviewed articles Wilson cites.

The evidence Wilson works through includes the following: Mechthild Flury-Lemberg, a textile expert, attests that the Shroud is consistent with the size, quality, and stitching technique of the ancient world, not of the Middle Ages. Swiss criminologist Max Frei found Middle Eastern pollen on the Shroud. Physicians and other observers familiar with anatomy, going back centuries, attest to the Shroud's accurate depiction of Roman flagellation and crucifixion. Sampling of the foot area of the shroud image showed the presence of travertine aragonite, a form of marble typical of Jerusalem. There is more.

Wilson then walks the reader through a detailed, proposed history of the Shroud lasting two thousand years. Wilson makes a very strong case that what we today call the Turin Shroud was once known to history as the Image of Edessa. He argues that the notorious and shameful sack of Constantinople in 1204 by wayward Crusaders was the event that transferred the Image of Edessa, in Turkey, to Western Europe.

The Knights Templar, Wilson reports, were known throughout Europe for their banking and their fortresses. They were very good at storing valuables and secrets. The Knights Templar became too powerful and they were interrogated, tortured, and purged. The last Templars were burned at the stake. The victims included Geoffrey de Charny. The first man in recorded history to display what we now call the Shroud of Turin was another man named Geoffrey de Charny. There may be some connection, Wilson argues.

Thomas de Wesselow is a non-believer. His book "The Sign: The Shroud of Turin and the Secret of the Resurrection" pushed me very close to believing in the authenticity of the Shroud. De Wesselow's treatment of the blood stains on the Shroud is masterful. Wilson's book sealed the deal, for me. Read it. I really cannot imagine any intelligent person not being fascinated by this book, and awed by its implications.

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