This is part 5, "The Image of Edessa" (1) of my critique of historian Charles Freeman's, "The Turin Shroud and the Image of Edessa: A Misguided Journey," May 24, 2012 [page 5]. The paper's words are bold. See previous parts 1, 2, 3 and 4.
[Above: Icon of King Abgar V (c. 25 BC - AD 50) of Edessa, holding the Mandylion or Image of Edessa, 10th century, Saint Catherine's Monastery, Mount Sinai: Wikipedia and Digital Journal. Abgar's face is actually that of Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus who reigned from 913 to 959, therefore the icon presumably dates from this time.]
Ian Wilson has been tackling the problem of the Shroud for many decades. The latest of his many works is The Shroud, Fresh Light on the 200-year old Mystery (2011). Wilson accepts the authenticity of the Shroud as the burial shroud of Christ, collected by the disciples, preserved, its linen remaining intact over the centuries. He has to go against gospel tradition, of course, as the Turin Shroud is one long piece of cloth which would have covered Jesus in ways not recorded elsewhere, with the body lying on the cloth which was then brought over its head and presumably fixed at the feet. I have already noted other problems, that of the Shroud being collected as a relic in the first place and survival of cloth over centuries when damp and molesting insects are such a threat. Still Wilson has created a narrative and we need to follow it.
Freeman's "Wilson ... has to go against gospel tradition" is not only false, it does not follow from Freeman's "the Turin Shroud is one long piece of cloth which would have covered Jesus in ways not recorded elsewhere ..."
But as against Freeman's first point, three out of four gospels mention the seemingly irrelevant fact that Jesus was buried in a sindon a large linen sheet:
"And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud" (Mt 27:59);with the fourth gospel, John, including the Shroud in the othonia "linen cloths":
"And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock." (Mk 15:46);
"Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid." (Lk 23:53);
"So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews."(Jn 19:40).
As for Freeman's "the Turin Shroud is one long piece of cloth which would have covered Jesus in ways not recorded elsewhere, with the body lying on the cloth which was then brought over its head and presumably fixed at the feet," this is misleading because there are no surviving intact Jewish first century burial shrouds to base a statistically valid comparison of them with the Shroud of Turin.
And either Freeman has not fully read Wilson's book that he refers to (which would be academic incompetence) or Freeman is again concealing relevant information from his readers (which would be academic dishonesty). Because as Wilson points out in his book, according to Jewish scholar Victor Tunkel, a first century Jew who died a bloody death (as Jesus had), would have been buried in a "sovev ... an all-enveloping ... single sheet ... used to go right round' the entire body" and "Such a sovev readily corresponds to the `over the head' characteristics of Turin's Shroud":
"Lazarus died a natural death. In accordance with normal Jewish practice he would have been washed, interred fully dressed in his Sabbath best, tied up with a few binding strips to keep his jaw and limbs suitably together, and provided with some kind of face cloth for screening purposes. Jesus, in contrast, died a very bloody death, and stark naked, his clothes having been removed from him at the time of his crucifixion. [Matthew 27:35, Mark 15:24, Luke 23:34, John 19:23] In his case Jewish law prescribed something very different. As has been carefully explained by Jewish-born Victor Tunkel [Tunkel, V., "A Jewish View of the Shroud," Lecture to the British Society for the Turin Shroud, London, 12 May 1983] of the Faculty of Laws, Queen Mary College, University of London, the belief among the Pharisees of Jesus's time, shared by Jesus's own followers, was that everyone's body would be physically resurrected at the end of time. This meant that as far as humanly possible everything that formed part of that body, including particularly the life-blood, should be buried with it. As expressed in the Jewish Code of Laws, `One who fell [e.g. in battle] and died instantly, if ... blood flowed from the wound, and there is apprehension that the blood of the soul was absorbed in his clothes, he should not be cleansed.' [Gansfried, 1927, Vol. IV, ch. CXCVII, Laws Relating to Purification (Tahara nos 9 and 10), pp.99-100] In these circumstances, therefore, those preparing the dead person for burial had to wrap a `sheet which is called a sovev' straight over any clothes, however bloodstained. This sovev had to be an all-enveloping cloth, that is a `single sheet ... used to go right round' the entire body. Such a sovev readily corresponds to the `over the head' characteristics of Turin's Shroud." (Wilson, I., "The Shroud: The 2000-Year-Old Mystery Solved," 2010, p.52).
Freeman commences his discussion of the Image of Edessa with yet another concealment of relevant information from his readers, in his statement that "Edessa may have been Christian as early as the beginning of the third century":
The Image of Edessa
Let us start with Edessa, the modern Sanliurfa in south-eastern Turkey, where a image of Christ was first reported by the historian Evragius Scholasticus in the 590s. Edessa may have been Christian as early as the beginning of the third century but its legends took Christianity back further. (This was quite common. In the fourth and fifth centuries many cities `discovered' a first century founding bishop, usually one who had been consecrated as such by one of the apostles.) The Edessa legend told the story of King Abgar who had received a letter from Christ that was preserved within the city. As late as the 540s this was recorded as giving protection to Edessa but by the end of the century a new relic, an image of Christ, took its place as the `top' protector relic of the city.
But as Wilson pointed out in his latest book, which Freeman implies he has read, there are several lines of historical evidence which indicate Christianity was flourishing in Edessa from at least the second century:
"In its entry for the year 201, the Chronicle of Edessa included a very detailed description of a lethal flood in Edessa during which the floodwaters 'destroyed the great and beautiful palace of our lord king and removed everything that was found in their path - the charming and beautiful buildings of the city, everything that was near the river to the south and north. They caused damage, moreover, to the nave [Syr. haikla - which can also mean 'shrine'] of the church of the Christians ... This is one of those tiny nuggets of information indicating that Christianity genuinely must have arrived very early in Edessa, to the extent of its having an officially recognized Christian church building as early as AD 201. As such this is a world first for Edessa, yet historians all too often sit on their hands over acknowledging this." (Wilson, 2010, p.118. Emphasis original).
"A second nugget is Abgar VIII's coinage. In a recent article describing the evidence for Abgar VIII's conversion to Christianity as 'extremely flimsy', distinguished Oxford Syriac scholar Professor Sebastian Brock remarked that 'important ... in this connection is the negative evidence of the coins of the kings of Edessa, none of which bear any hint of a Christian symbol'. [Brock, S., " Transformations of the Edessa Portrait of Christ," Journal of Assyrian Academic Studies, Vol. 18, 2004, pp.227] When I pointed out to him that on several examples of Abgar VIII's coins, some of them housed in London's British Museum, there is an unmistakable Christian cross on the king's head-dress ... , Professor Brock very graciously acknowledged, 'It certainly looks as if I was too categorical.' [Email to the author, 12 March 2009] Abgar VIII, who issued his coins in close liaison with the Romans, seems to have dared to be open about his Christian affiliations only during the reign of Emperor Commodus, whose wife/mistress Marcia had Christian leanings. As the earliest-known instance of a monarch displaying the Christian cross symbol on his head-dress, this was another Edessan world first. It also sets Abgar VIII's adoption of Christianity back in time to no later than AD 192, because Commodus died in that year." (Wilson, 2010, pp.118-119).
[Above: Abgar VIII coin depicting a Christian cross on his head-dresss, probably issued during Emperor Commodus's reign (AD 177-192): Wilson, 2010, plate 15a.]
"A third nugget is an archaic-looking sculpted stone lion ... that stands forlornly in the open-air, outdoor section of Sanliurfa's [Edessa's] present-day museum, typically with no accompanying explanatory information. Judging by the hole drilled in the animal's mouth it clearly once served as a city fountain; but our interest is in what stands on top of its head: an unmistakable sculpted Christian cross, an all-too-rare sight in present-day Sanliurfa. In Syriac, the word for `lion' is aryu - the name of Edessa's ruling dynasty. This fountain has to have stood in Edessa when the city was ruled by a Christian king of the Abgars' Aryu dynasty, a line that ended for ever when the Romans took over in AD 215." (Wilson, 2010, p.119).
[Above: A stone lion, the symbol of the Abgar dynasty, bearing a Christian cross, in Sanliurfa (Edessa), which must have been erected before AD 215: Wilson, 2010, plate 15b.]
• Edessa is only 180 miles (290 km) from Antioch, on a direct trade-route to it, and spoke the same Syriac language, making it highly likely that Edessa would have been evangelised by the mid-first century:
"That Addai's Image-bearing missionary journey ... happened in the first century rather than the second is further indicated by any glance at a map of the missionary journeys of St Paul. Every one of Paul's journeys started from Antioch, modern-day Antakya in south-eastern Turkey, from which he ventured five hundred miles westwards to Ephesus, a further five hundred miles westwards to Malta, and ultimately even further, to Rome. In contrast to these far-flung destinations, Syriac-speaking Edessa lies only 180 miles to Antioch's east, and on a direct trade route from both Antioch and Jerusalem. Is it really likely that throughout Christianity's first 150 years the first Christians should have ignored Edessa as a target for their missionary activities? That they did not is further indicated by the chronicle of one of Edessa's further-flung neighbours, the small border kingdom of Adiabene, whose capital was Arbela, today the large Iraqi city of Arbil. Arbela's ancient lineage of bishops began with one Pkhida, who can reliably be dated to the year 104. And according to Arbela's chronicle it was Addai who converted Pkhida to Christianity, thereby again indicating that Addai belonged to Abgar V's first century rather than Abgar VIII's second. As has been pointed out by the Estonian-born American scholar Arthur Voobus, if Christianity had reached as far as Adiabene by the year 100, there can be 'no doubt' that in Edessa 'the Christian faith had been established before the end of the first century'. [Voobus, A., "History of Asceticism in the Syrian Orient," Vol. 1, 1958, p.7]" (Wilson, 2010, pp.121-122).
So Freeman's claim that, "Edessa may have been Christian as early as the beginning of the third century" is misleading because, as the above evidence from Wilson's latest book, "The Shroud: The 2000-Year-Old Mystery Solved" (2010) shows, Edessa would have been Christian much earlier than that, beginning from the mid-first century.
And again, all the above is in Wilson's book, which Freeman implies that he has read. So either Freeman withheld this above important information from his readers (which would be a form of academic dishonesty); or Freeman did not read Wilson's book thoroughly (which would be a form of academic incompetence-considering this is all in Wilson's chapter on Edessa: Chapter 9, `Blessed City', pp.114-126).
Continued in part 6: "The Image of Edessa" (2)
Posted: 7 August 2012. Updated: 31 July 2016.