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Friday, November 8, 2013

"The Shroud: Fresh Light on the 2000-Year-Old Mystery" by Ian Wilson; An In Media Res Report. Full Review Later

I'm reading Ian Wilson's 476-page, 2010 book "The Shroud: Fresh Light on the 2000-Year-Old Mystery." I'm about three quarters of the way through the book. Even though I haven't finished it yet, I want to talk about it before I post a review.

This is one of the most fascinating books I've ever read. I am getting up early, at four, say, and going to bed late, in order to get in reading time that I can't scrimp from my daily schedule. When I wake up, I reread the pages my foggy brain read before I fell asleep. I use a highlighter pen to be sure to pick up all the arcane information.

I remember the very first moment I was introduced to the Shroud of Turin, decades ago. It was the late 1970s. There was a newspaper on the kitchen table of the house I grew up in. 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 an embarrassment, a moldy 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.


I didn't think about the Shroud for a long time after that newspaper article. Contrary to atheist stereotypes, Catholics generally don't think much about it. It is, rather, scientists who do. They do because it confounds them, and they want to solve the puzzle.

When the carbon dating came out in 1988, I was living in Poland, participating in the riots that helped bring down the Soviet Empire, and the Shroud was the last thing on my mind.

It wasn't till a televised documentary in the late 1990's that a friend recorded and sent to me (thank you Don Freidkin) that I really got bitten by the Shroud bug. I read two Shroud books, one by Mark Antonacci (review here) and an earlier book by Ian Wilson (review here.)

I loved both of those books but they left me fifty percent convinced that the Shroud was what its adherents say it is, and fifty percent willing to be convinced that we were missing something terribly obvious and it really wasn't all that.

I watched documentaries on youtube. Barrie Schwortz, Shroud expert, Orthodox Jew, and STURP photographer, allowed me to grill him long distance in an interview that lasted over an hour, during which Barrie insisted, "After years of study, I am absolutely certain that the Shroud is the burial cloth of Jesus Christ."

Thomas de Wesselow's book "The Sign" pushed me ever closer to believing that the Shroud is genuine. Interesting, because de Wesselow is not a believer. (Review of his book here.)

The book that is pushing the needle to 99% certainty is the one I'm reading now, and can't wait to talk about, even though I'm not finished with it yet. Ian Wilson's "The Shroud: Fresh Light on the 2000-Year-Old-Mystery."

The book is fascinating. Addictive reading. I wish I could push the world away and just hole up until I finish it, reading chapters twice in a row, once for the general idea, then again to highlight and ponder. Then I'd want to go to Goggle and read up more on all the historical, scientific, and art scholarship Wilson references.

The book is richly illustrated with both black and white diagrams and color plates. The images run from science to art history. There are building plans and tenth century frescoes and Christian mosaics rescued from Muslim marauders by being buried under centuries of pigeon dung (really).

There are obscure manuscripts holed up in isolated Syrian monasteries.

This research references a world most of us never think of at all – the Ancient CHRISTIAN Middle East. Yes, that's right. Before the Muslim Conquest, the Middle East was a devoutly Christian place.

Byzantium. Christian Jerusalem. Christian Turkey and Iraq.

Muslims typically destroyed "infidel" images venerated by Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, etc. That process is still ongoing. The Bamiyan Buddhas are one famous example, but one of the artworks Wilson references is in Europe and was destroyed in recent years by Muslim Albanians. Muslims Turks are also continuing the destruction of Christian artifacts.

The Shroud was not destroyed. Caliph Muawiyah himself, one of the most important figures in early Islam, is recorded as having tested a Christian image by fire, and found it worthy. Wilson makes the case that that very image is what we know as the Shroud of Turin.

The book references hard science as well. One can differentiate various types of marble through scientific tests of dust-size marble particles. As one Shroud website discusses this evidence:

"Experts at the Hercules Aerospace laboratory in Salt Lake, Utah, carried out a study of a sample of dirt taken from the foot region of the Shroud. They identified crystals of travertine argonite, a relatively rare form of calcite found near the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem. Would a mediaeval forger have taken the trouble to impregnate the linen with marble dust from the ground near Golgotha? Hardly" (source).

Part of me still stares at the Shroud, pages through the evidence, and says, "This cannot be. It's too perfect. That a photographic image of Jesus would gain worldwide recognition during the era of photography. That that image survived the Sack of Constantinople, the Muslim Conquest, three separate fires, dousing with water … "

Another part of me, and it's moving closer to 99% of me, says, "The evidence is in. Occam's Razor demands that this be the burial shroud of Jesus Christ."

And that just blows one's mind, does it not?

1 comment:

  1. Some things refuse to give up their true nature and will not be forced or finessed into revealing themselves until the correct questions are asked. The Shroud may indeed be one of those guarded objects.