1.3 THE CENTRAL DILEMMA OF THE SHROUD
© Stephen E. Jones
The central dilemma of the Shroud is this: either the Shroud is a work of human art, deliberately designed to depict Jesus' burial Shroud with the imprint of His flogged, crowned with thorns, crucified by nails, dead, speared in the side, legs not broken,
[Left: Walsh, J.E., 1963, "The Shroud," Random House: New York NY.]
buried in a tomb, and resurrected body on it; or it is authentic, the very burial sheet of Jesus! There is no third alternative, because no other person would have had the same set of injuries (particularly having been crowned with thorns) which the Gospels record that Jesus had, nor would their burial shroud have survived intact to this day. Therefore, if the Shroud is not a work of human art, then it must be the burial sheet of Jesus!
Perhaps the most well-known statement of this dilemma was by writer John Evangelist Walsh, who stated it in the preface of his 1963 book, "Shroud" (my emphasis on each quote below):
"Only this much is certain: The Shroud of Turin is either the most awesome and instructive relic of Jesus Christ in existence-showing us in its dark simplicity how He appeared to men-or it is one of the most ingenious, most unbelievably clever, products of the human mind and hand on record. It is one or the other; there is no middle ground."
One of the earliest statements of this dilemma was by Jesuit historian Fr. Herbert Thurston (1856-1939), an implacable opponent of the Shroud's authenticity, who admitted in 1903:
"As to the identity of the body whose image is seen on the Shroud, no question is possible. The five wounds, the cruel flagellation, the punctures encircling the head, can still be clearly distinguished in spite of the darkening of the whole fabric. If this is not the impression of the Body of Christ, it was designed as the counterfeit of that impression. In no other personage since the world began could these details be verified."
Pro-authenticists Ken Stevenson and Gary Habermas in 1981 stated one arm of the dilemma quantitatively by conservatively estimating the probability that the image on the Shroud was "someone other than Jesus" was "nearly 83 million to 1":
"The gospels say that these eight irregularities were present in Jesus' death and burial. The Shroud evidence says they were also present in the death and burial of the man of the Shroud. We have estimated the probability that they happened to someone other than Jesus, deliberately using skeptical and conservative estimates. Yet, multiplying these probabilities, we have 1 chance in 82,944,000 that the man buried in the Shroud is not Jesus. This ratio of nearly 83 million to 1 is almost meaningless to many of us. Yet consider this practical illustration. 82,944,000 dollar bills laid end-to-end would stretch from New York to San Francisco more than three times. Suppose one of these bills is marked, and a blindfolded person is given one chance to find it. The odds that he will succeed are 1 in 82,944,000. These are the odds that the man buried in the Shroud is someone other than Jesus Christ. There is a chance that the man of the Shroud is someone else, just as there is a chance that the blindfolded person would find the marked bill. But the odds are practically infinitesimal. There is no practical probability that someone other than Jesus Christ was buried in the Shroud of Turin."
Microanalyist Dr Walter McCrone (1916-2002), also a leading opponent of the Shroud's authenticity, stated the dilemma in 1982:
"Finally, I can see no possible mechanism by which the shroud image could have been produced except as the work of an artist. The faithful representation of all of the anatomical and pathological markings, so well described in the New Testament, would be difficult to produce except by an artist. They are totally without distortion and, indeed, look exactly the way we would like to have them look."
Two other leading anti-authenticists, Steven Schafersman, and Joe Nickell quoting him approvingly, actually agree with Stevenson and Habermas' estimate of "the odds as 1 in 83 million that the man on the shroud is not Jesus Christ" and state the dilemma clearly, "there are only two choices: If the shroud is authentic [i.e. not "a product of human artifice"], the image is that of Jesus" and there is "[no possible third hypothesis":
"As the (red ochre) dust settles briefly over Sindondom, it becomes clear there are only two choices: Either the shroud is authentic (naturally or supernaturally produced by the body of Jesus) or it is a product of human artifice. Asks Steven Schafersman: `Is there a possible third hypothesis? No, and here's why. Both Wilson and Stevenson and Habermas go to great lengths to demonstrate that the man imaged on the shroud must be Jesus Christ and not someone else. After all, the man on this shroud was flogged, crucified, wore a crown of thorns, did not have his legs broken, was nailed to the cross, had his side pierced, and so on. Stevenson and Habermas even calculate the odds as 1 in 83 million that the man on the shroud is not Jesus Christ (and they consider this a very conservative estimate). I agree with them on all of this. If the shroud is authentic, the image is that of Jesus.'"
In a follow-up 1990 book, Stevenson & Habermas pointed out that if "human artifice" has been "virtually ruled out" as an explanation of the Shroud's image, then it is not "crazy or unscholarly or unscientific to suggest the image is likely that of Jesus":
"Oddly enough, the Shroud opponents have actually helped to make our case. Certainly the need to resort to a denigration of the scientists on the basis of their religious preferences shows a decided bias on their part. In addition, if critics feel the need to declare Jesus a myth, are they not actually suggesting that the Shroud evidence indeed matches the Gospel narratives of Christ's passion and death? At least a few of them are willing to admit this in print. For example, Schafersman states, `Stevenson and Habermas even calculate the odds as 1 in 83 million that the man of the shroud is not Jesus Christ ... a very conservative estimate'. I agree with them on all of this. If the shroud is authentic, the image is that of Jesus. Otherwise, it's an artist's representation..." The bottom line then is that either the image is that of Jesus of Nazareth or it was intended by its creator to portray Jesus. Since we've virtually ruled out human artifice, are we crazy or unscholarly or unscientific to suggest the image is likely that of Jesus?"
Since both Shroud anti- and pro-authenticists agree that there are only two realistic alternatives: 1. either the image on the Shroud is that of Jesus; or 2. it the work of a human artist intending to depict the image of Jesus; then the less likely the image on the Shroud is the work of a human artist, the more likely the image on the Shroud is that of Jesus!
1. Walsh, J.E., 1963, "The Shroud: The Authoritative, Comprehensive and Concise Report on the Single Most Fascinating Artifact in the Christian World," Random House: New York NY, pp.xi-xii. [return]
2. Thurston, H., 1903, "The Holy Shroud and the Verdict of History," The Month, CI, p.19, in Wuenschel, E.A., 1954, "Self-Portrait of Christ: The Holy Shroud of Turin," Holy Shroud Guild: Esopus NY, Third printing, 1961, p.40. [return]
3. Stevenson, K.E. & Habermas, G.R., 1981, "Verdict on the Shroud: Evidence for the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ," Servant Books: Ann Arbor MI, pp.127-128. [return]
4. McCrone W.C., "Shroud image is the work of an artist," The Skeptical Inquirer, Vol. 6, No. 3, Spring 1982, pp. 35-36, p.36.[return]
5. Wilson, I., 1979, "The Shroud of Turin: The Burial Cloth of Jesus?," Image Books: New York NY, Revised edition, pp.51-53. [return]
6. Schafersman, S.D., 1982, "Science, the public, and the Shroud of Turin," The Skeptical Inquirer, Vol. 6, No. 3, Spring, pp.37-56, p.42. [return]
7. Nickell, J., 1987, "Inquest on the Shroud of Turin," Prometheus Books: Buffalo NY, Revised, Reprinted, 2000, p.141. [return]
8. Stevenson, K.E. & Habermas, G.R. , 1990, "The Shroud and the Controversy," Thomas Nelson Publishers: Nashville TN, p.196. [return]
Continued in part 6, "2.What is the Shroud of Turin?"
Last updated: 27 February, 2013.