This is part 1 of my critique of historian Charles Freeman's, "The Turin Shroud and the Image of Edessa: A Misguided Journey," May 24, 2012 [page 1]. Freeman's words in his article are bold to distinguish them from my comments and other quotes.
As it is about 20 pages long, I may at times leave out parts of Freeman's paper that I don't consider necessary to critique.
Freeman is evidently an atheist/agnostic having published papers critical of Christianity in the New Humanist online magazine, the
[Above (click to enlarge): Charles Freeman's page at New Humanist: Ideas for godless people listing his online papers, critical of Christianity, relics and the miraculous]
subtitle of which is "Ideas for godless people", and is "produced by the Rationalist Association ... dedicated to reason, science, secularism and humanism." Freeman in his review of philosopher James Hannam's book, "God's Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science" (2009), describes Hannam as "a Catholic convert," in contrast to himself, "(I have passed the other way)," so presumably Freeman is now an ex-Catholic and an anti-Christian.
Therefore, according to Freeman's presumed personal atheist/agnostic philosophy, Christianity must be false, supernatural miracles are impossible, and the Shroud of Turin must be a fake!
True to his philosophical prejudice, Freeman introduces "the Shroud of Turin" as just one of many "Relic cults [which] come and go" and he states that "the Turin Shroud is very much a cult of the past fifty years, not a medieval one":
Introduction When I was researching my book on medieval relics, Holy Bones, Holy Dust, How Relics Shaped the History of the Medieval World, Yale University Press, 2011, I decided to leave out the Shroud of Turin. Relic cults come and go and the Turin Shroud is very much a cult of the past fifty years, not a medieval one. The debates over its authenticity have been acrimonious and inconclusive. However, having been sent a copy of Thomas de Wesselow’s The Sign, the Shroud of Turin and the Secret of the Resurrection, Viking, 2012, I had strong reservations about much of the historical evidence presented to provide an narrative history of the Shroud before 1350. Despite many years of research de Wesselow uncritically accepts much of the work of the veteran Shroud researcher Ian Wilson whose latest volume, The Shroud, Fresh Light on the 2000-year-old Mystery, Bantam Books, 2011, is used here. So much has been written about the Shroud that I am unlikely to provide much new material but I hope to clarify some issues by placing the Shroud within the wider context of medieval relics.Freeman had already made this claim on the Yale University Press: London blog:
"When I was researching my book on medieval relics, Holy Bones, Holy Dust, I decided to leave out the Shroud of Turin. It is essentially a cult of modern times, not a medieval one." (Charles Freeman, "The pseudo-history of the Shroud of Turin," Yale Books Blog: Yale University Press London, May 25, 2012).
But this is simply false. Belief in the Shroud's authenticity is not "a cult" at all, let alone "of the past fifty years." The modern history of Shroud began in 1898 (114 years ago) when it was first photographed by Turin pioneer-photographer Secundo Pia, who in developing his large glass plate negative, discovered to his astonishment that the Shroud's image on his plate was positive. Which meant that the Shroud's image itself was a photographic negative. But the very concept of a photographic negative was not discovered until the early 19th century:
"After reading about Daguerre's invention, Fox Talbot worked on perfecting his own process; in 1839 he acquired a key improvement, an effective fixer, from John Herschel, the astronomer, who had previously showed that hyposulfite of soda (also known as hypo, or now sodium thiosulfate) would dissolve silver salts ... In 1839, John Herschel made the first glass negative, but his process was difficult to reproduce ... the Langenheim brothers of Philadelphia and John Whipple of Boston also invented workable negative-on-glass processes in the mid 1840s." ("History of photography," Wikipedia, 22 June 2012).
And it is also false that agnostic Cambridge art historian Thomas de Wesselow "uncritically accepts much of the work of the veteran Shroud researcher Ian Wilson." Although he is an agnostic, as an art historian de Wesselow was forced "to admit that Wilson's identification of the Shroud with the Mandylion was plausible and accounted for a good deal of evidence that, as far as I could see, orthodox opinion either ignored or dismissed without proper justification":
"One hot, bright morning in the early summer of 2004 I ambled out into the orchard beside my house in Cambridge, lay down on the grass and immersed myself in The Turin Shroud by Ian Wilson ... I had spent the previous few days reading up on the Shroud, my interest having been kindled by a TV documentary screened that Easter, which cast serious doubt on the reliability of the carbon-dating test. I was now thoroughly hooked on the subject ... I hoped Wilson's book, brought out into the fresh air, might act as a catalyst. It did. Leafing through its arguments and illustrations, I became caught up in the Shroud's mystery as never before, exploring its apparent paradoxes with a refreshing sense of intellectual abandon ... Though sceptical of the relic's authenticity, for all the usual reasons, I was nevertheless fascinated by some of the historical evidence Wilson presented. Various texts he cited - such as Robert de Clari's account of the Byzantine cloth on which 'the figure of Our Lord could be plainly seen' did seem to point to a Shroud-like relic existing long before the fourteenth century, the date indicated by the problematic carbon-14 test. Moreover, I was aware by then of the major clue first recognized by Andre Dubarle: the distinctive pattern of the 'poker-holes' found on the representation of Christ's burial cloth in the Pray Codex. Unable to dismiss this as a coincidence, I found myself forced to reckon with the heretical idea that the Shroud was already known in the twelfth century. I also had to admit that Wilson's identification of the Shroud with the Mandylion was plausible and accounted for a good deal of evidence that, as far as I could see, orthodox opinion either ignored or dismissed without proper justification. For a while I lay there in the shade of the apple tree, turning these issues over in my mind. If Wilson's theory was correct, the Shroud's provenance could be traced back to the sixth century. And if it was that old, the chances of its being a fake were drastically reduced." (de Wesselow, T., "The Sign: The Shroud of Turin and the Secret of the Resurrection," Viking: London, 2012, p.192).
But as we shall see, according to Freeman's presumed atheist/agnostic worldview, Christianity must be false, supernatural miracles cannot happen, the Shroud of Turin must be a fake, and therefore belief in its authenticity must be "a cult." And if de Wesselow, an agnostic art historian, happens to find Ian Wilson's evidence for the Shroud to be convincing, that must be because de Wesselow "uncritically accepts" it!
[Continued in part 2: "First century relics in Medieval Europe"]