Friday, November 7, 2008

Are the three Hebrew letters on the Shroud tsade-'aleph-waw: `you will come out'?

See update below. Further to my Shroud of Turin News-September 2008 comments on the article, "Plant life traces on Shroud of Turin draws local interest," St.Louis Review, September 5, 2008,

[Above (enlarge): 3D hologram showing three Hebrew letters under the beard of the man on the Shroud: "The Shroud of Turin: The Holographic Experience," Missouri Botanical Garden]

by Jennifer Brinker, where I showed that there were major problems with Dr Petrus Soons' identification of the three Hebrew letters on the Shroud as (from right-to-left) ayin-'aleph-nun, meaning, according to him, "small cattle, sheep, sheep and goats ... lamb." Nothing I said there and say here is meant to take away from Dr Soons' very important achievement of converting the Enrie photographs into a hologram of the man on the Shroud and finding that there are three Hebrew letters on His body.

As I had further stated in my comments:

I had thought the third (left-most) letter was gimel which made a word tsade-'aleph-gimel. I had then found what I thought was that word in one of my Hebrew lexicons, and it meant, "you will come out," which may have been the very Hebrew or Aramaic word that Jesus used when He commanded Lazarus to "come out" from the tomb (Jn 11:43). But alas, on closer inspection the word in my lexicon is tsade-'aleph-waw and the left-most letter on the Shroud does not look like waw. I will keep working on this, trying to accurately identify the letters and then check to see if they spell a Hebrew word. Of course it may be that the three letters are not a word but an acronym.

However, I had not then looked at the above 3D holographic image with 3D red and green spectacles, not owning any. But after I borrowed a pair of 3D spectacles and looked through them at the 3D image above, I saw that the left-most letter does in fact look like waw, if the indistinct

[Right: tsade-'aleph-waw (from right to left)]

blob at the bottom of that letter is not part of the letter itself but the raised edge of the amulet or plaque. So I will now largely reinstate what I originally posted, but had removed, substituting waw for gimel.

After many hours looking at Dr. Soon's holographic images (albeit via the Internet and not directly as Dr Soons can), especially the 3D image above, it seems to me that the first (right-most) letter is tsade, the middle letter is definitely 'aleph and the third letter seems to be waw, i.e. tsade-'aleph-waw (from right-to-left), forming the Hebrew word tse'w.

I then found in one of my Hebrew lexicons that tse'w was an imperative imperfect plural masculine verb of the Hebrew root yatsa' (yodh-tsade-'aleph). Yatsa' in turn means "to go out, come out, exit, go forth" (Davidson, 1966, pp.638,336; Strong's Concordance 3318; Tregelles, 1949, pp.359-360; Harris, et al., 1980, pp.1:393-394). And according to R.K. Harrison's, "Teach Yourself Hebrew," 1955, p. 69, the meaning of yatsa' in the imperfect plural masculine, i.e. tse'w, would be, "you will come out." So this may well be the very Hebrew or Aramaic word that Jesus used when He commanded Lazarus to "come out" from the tomb (Jn 11:43)!

If this identification of the Hebrew letters, the word they form and its meaning is correct (and I freely admit I am far from an expert in Hebrew), then the word tse'w may have been on an amulet or plaque placed on Jesus' body by the disciples as a prayer that He would indeed "come out" of the tomb on the third day, as He had predicted (Mt 12:40; 16:21; 17:23; 20:19; 27:63-64; Mk 8:31; 9:31; 10:34; Lk 9:22; 18:33; 24:7; Jn 2:19-21). The gospel accounts of Jesus' burial (Mt 27:59-60; Mk 15:45-46; Lk 23:52-53; Jn 19:38-42) do not mention this, but they are very brief. Also, the letters appear to be raised, so the amulet or plaque probably would not be something hastily made on the day of Jesus' death specifically for Him, but rather may have been a generic Jewish burial plaque, the equivalent of our R.I.P.

Whether specifically for Jesus, or generic, the very presence of Hebrew letters on the Shroud (and the middle letter is definitely and unmistakably aleph') no European 14th century forger would have gone to the trouble of inscribing Hebrew letters onto the Shroud, which could not be seen until a 21st century hologram revealed them, even if he could do it. Remember that artists down through the centuries have faithfully copied many incomprehensible marks on the Shroud but none of them, as far as I am aware, has depicted these Hebrew letters.

All this is necessarily speculative, but the fact is that the three Hebrew letters are there on the Shroud, and therefore require explanation. If there are any other suggestions, including corrections to my self-taught Hebrew, or a plausible three-letter acronym, I would appreciate being advised of them in comments below this post.

After this was posted, I received an email from Bishop Jacob Barclay of Jerusalem, an expert in Hebrew and Aramaic, who is cited in Dr Soons' "The Shroud of Turin, The Holographic Experience," as his Aramaic language authority. Bishop Barclay confirmed that ayin-aleph-nun means "flock" not "lamb," and that the last letter is unlikely to be nun because when it is at the end of a word it has a long, straight stem. However, Bishop Barclay also confirmed that while tsade-'aleph-waw would be the second person plural masculine imperative of yatsa', i.e. "go out, come out," it would never be used in addressing one person in the masculine. Bishop Barclay hopes, as I do, that experts in Israel (I suggested the Israel Antiquities Authority), may be able to decipher the three letters and then derive their meaning, whether that be a word or an acroynym.

Update: I have been subsequently advised by Bishop Barclay that there actually is an Aramaic word ayin-'aleph-nun which means "flock" and that its Hebrew equivalent is tsade-'aleph-nun. But that does change the main facts: 1) that Aramaic word is not in the four Hebrew-Aramaic lexicons I consulted; 2) neither that Aramaic word ayin-'aleph-nun nor its Hebrew equivalent tsade-'aleph-nun means "lamb"; and 3) the last (left-most) letter is probably not nun.

The `tagline' quotes below (emphasis bold mine) are hyperlinked to inline references above.

Posted: 7 November 2008. Updated: 17 June 2017.

"tse'w ...Kal. imp. pl. masc.; waw bef. yatsa' ... yatsa' fut. yetse', imp. tse', inf. c. tse't (§ 95. No. 2d) -I. to go out, go forth; with sin, also acc. of the place whence, with b (rarely sin) of the place through or by which. one goes out.-II. to come forth, to issue, descend, of children, posterity.-III to escape, as danger, with 'et Ecc. 7:18.-IV. to rise, as the sun, stars, &c.-V. to shoot forth, spring up, as plants; to spring forth, of water.-VI. to go forth, be issued, published, as a decree.-VII. to go out, to end, of a period of time. Hiph. hotsiy'. to cause to go, come out or forth, to lead, bring forth or out.-II. to cause to spring up, to yield, as the earth plants.-III. to cause to lay out, as money, to exact, with `al, 2 Ki. 15:20.-IV. ta spread abroad, to publish, with `al, le of the person. -V. to produce, make, Is. 54:16.-VI. to take out, to separate, Je. 15:19. Hoph. to be led, brought forth or out." (Davidson, B., 1966, "The Analytical Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon," Samuel Bagster & Sons: London, pp.638,336. My transliteration).

"yasa' ... go out, come out, go forth.... yasa' ... has the usual causative meaning `cause to go out, bring out, lead out.' ... The basic notion of yasa' is `to go out.' It is used literally of going out from a particular locality or from the presence of a person. It is used of nature, i.e. water out of a rock, sun rising out of the east, etc. For our purposes we shall note the following uses. First, it is used frequently of the great exodus event which forms the major focus of theological attention in the OT. The Hiphil with its causative function is used extensively. .... `I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery' (Ex 20:2). The record shows that history is theologically related, the great `going out' event was to symbolize the mighty redemption of God's people from the shackles of sin by his sovereign powerful grace. ... Throughout Israel's history, the covenanted people of God are called to remember this God-initiated redemption and to live accordingly. (Cf. Deut 6:12; 26:8; Jud 2:12; I Sam 12:8; I Kgs 8:16; Jer 11:4; Dan 9:15 ... Ps 136:11, ... 106:6-12.) ... Another theological usage of yasa' is an extension of the exodus theme. The prophets see the irremediable corruption of Israel and Judah which inevitably leads to exile but after that a return. Ezekiel ... quotes the Lord's promise of a new exodus-like redemptive activity from the exile. `As a soothing aroma I shall accept you, when I bring you out from the peoples and gather you from the lands where you are scattered' (20:41; cf. v. 34). Its true fulfillment may only come after the good shepherd `will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries and bring them to their own land' (34:13). Hence, an eschatological note of hope is introduced." (Harris, R.L., Archer, G.L. & Waltke, B.K., eds, 1980, "Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament," Moody Press: Chicago IL, Twelfth printing, 1992, Vol. I, pp.393-394).

"yatsa' ... TO GO OUT, TO GO FORTH .... In Syriac and Chaldee the word which radically corresponds ... to germinate, to expand, as a plant, they use in the sense of going out, when speaking of men and other things ... Specially to go out, to go forth, is used--- (a) of soldiers-(a) to war, 1 Sa. 8:20; Job 39:21; Isa. 42:12; Zechariah 14:3 (and similarly shepherds against wild beasts, 1 Sa. 17:35).-(B)out of a city in order to surrender it, Isa. 36:16.-(b) merchants and sailors for purposes of trade, Deut. 33:18.-(c) slaves manumitted by their owners, Ex. 21:3, 4, 11; Lev. 25:41, 54 ... (d) children, descendants are said to come forth from their father, or the ancestor of the race; Gen. 17:6, ... to come forth from the womb, from the loins of any one, Job 1:21 ; Gen. 46:26.-(e) those who are delivered from danger are said to come forth ... Ecc. 7:18, ... 1 Sa. 14:41 ... It is applied to inanimate things. So- (f) the sun is said to go forth, i.e. to rise, Gen. 19:23; Ps. 19: 6; the stare, Neh. 4:15; the morning, Hos. 6:5. -(g) to plants which spring forth, 1 Ki. 5:13; Isa. 11:1 ; flowers, Job 14:2... (h) water flowing, gushing forth from a fountain, Gen. 2:10 ; Deut. 8:7; ... Isa. 41:18. It is used also-(i) of a boundary, terminus, running on, running through, Josh. 15:3, 4,9,11- (k) of money which is laid out, expended, 2 Ki. 12:13. ... (l) of things which go forth to the people, are promulgated; of an edict, Hab. 1:4; of the sentence of a judge, Ps. 17:2; compare Gen. 24:50.(m) of the outgoing, i. e. the end of a period of time; Exod. 23:16, ... Ezek. 7:10; hence of the end, the destruction of a city, Eze. 26:18. ... to cause to go out, or come forth, hence of animate beings; to lead out, e. g. the people from Egypt, Ex. 12:51; 16:6; of inanimate beings, to carry out, Gen. 14:18; to draw out, to take out, Ex. 4:6,7; Job 28:11; to take out as from a case, Gen. 24:53. Specially it is (a) causat. ... to put forth plants (as the earth), Gen. 1:12, 24; Isa. 61:11.-(b) .... to cause to lay out, to exact money, followed by .., to lay on a tribute, 2 Ki. 15:20 ... (c) ... to publish a report, followed by ... of the pers. concerning whom the report is spread, Nu. 14:37; Deu. 22:14, 19; to report words, followed by ... of the pers. to whom they are brought, Neh. 6:19; to promulgate doctrine, Isa.42:1, ... ... Isa. 42:3.-(d) to produce as an artisan, Isa. 54:16.(e) to lead forth, i.e. to separate, Jer. 15:19. ... to be brought forth, to be taken out, Eze.38:8; 47:8." (Tregelles, S.P., transl., 1949, "Gesenius' Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament Scriptures," Eerdmans: Grand Rapids: MI, Eighth Printing, 1967, pp.359-360. My transliteration. Emphasis original).


Anonymous said...

From Malaga (Spain),thanks for this interesting blog.

Stephen E. Jones said...


>From Malaga (Spain),thanks for this interesting blog.

Thank you.

Stephen E. Jones

Adrie van der Hoeven said...

Hello Stephen,

I’d like to offer you a new interpretation of the three Hebrew letters on the flat oval object beneath the beard on the Turin Shroud.

In accordance with what Bishop Barclay says, the Jastrow Dictionary of the Targumim, Talmud Bavli, Talmud Yerushalami and Midrashic Literature (2004, p. 1034) indeed says on the word ayin-aleph-(final)nun: f. = h. tson-aleph-(final)nun, small cattle, sheep. Targ. Job I, 3 (ed. Wil. ayin-(qametz)-(final)nun). Ib. XLII, 12; a. fr. – V. ayin-(qametz)-(final)nun. – Cant. R. to III, 6 ayin´ aleph-waw-chet-resh-yod more sheep; v. ayin-(qametz)-(final)nun.

But, the inscription on the flat oval object on the Shroud seems to me ayin-aleph-(non-final)nun. So, a possible explanation is that the three letters aren’t one word, but that the ayin-aleph are the Hebrew numerals: 70 + 1 = 71, and the non-final nun is the first letter of the Hebrew word Nasi (= ruler) or Nesiim (= rulers): the Great Sanhedrin’s seventy ordinary members plus the president.
The flat oval object probably is John’s petalon: the Jewish flat and oval (petal-shaped) ornament, which was engraved with protuberant Hebrew letters, and which distinguished him, and all other members of the Great Sanhedrin, as a ruler. The evangelist John was called "a priest wearing the petalon" by Polycrates (Bishop of Ephesus in 130-196 AD).

This interpretation corresponds with the cylinder-shaped object on the hand, also seen on the hologram by Dr Soons, and which seems to be a cylinder seal with its axis and neck cord (cf. “your seal and its cord” Gen 38,18). Just as the petalon, the seal may have belonged to John Mark, the secretary of the Great Sanhedrin.

These interpretations and this identification are elaborated and illustrated in my updated article The seam and missing corners of the Turin Shroud as characteristics of John Mark’s temple garment and in my longer article John Mark – Author of the Gospel of John with Jesus’ mother, both on my site

I hope you and Bishop Barclay will enjoy reading them!

(The articles are also available in Dutch and the shorter article is available in Italian.)

Ms. Adrie van der Hoeven, The Netherlands

Stephen E. Jones said...


>I’d like to offer you a new interpretation of the three Hebrew letters on the flat oval object beneath the beard on the Turin Shroud.

Thanks for your comment. But it seems to me to be based on too much weakly supported speculation.

And as I stated in my blog post above, whatever the three Hebrew or Aramaic letters may mean, the important point is that they ARE Hebrew or Aramaic letters, and thus further evidence that the Shroud is authentic (i.e. Jesus') and not the work of a 14th century European forger:

"... the very presence of Hebrew letters on the Shroud (and the middle letter is definitely and unmistakeably aleph') no European 14th century forger would have gone to the trouble of inscribing Hebrew letters onto the Shroud, which could not be seen until a 21st century hologram revealed them, even if he could do it."