© Stephen E. Jones
Introduction. The Shroud of Turin is a rectangular linen sheet, ~4.4 metres long by ~1.1 metres wide (~14.3 x ~3.6 feet), and about a third of a millimetre (~0.34 mm) thick. The colour of the cloth was originally white (as found by cross-sectioning fibrils). But it
[Right: Top left hand corner of the Shroud showing the sidestrip (left side with piece missing), one set of two large burn holes, and one set of small L-shaped `poker holes' (see "previous"): Shroud University]
has darkened with age and today its colour is variously described as "honey," "straw yellow," "yellowish," "cream," "off white" and "ivory," (see right).
Linen. The cloth is fine linen, which in the first century ranked in value with gold, silver and silk. The use of a fine linen cloth as a burial shroud for a crucifixion victim therefore indicates a high degree of wealth, which is consistent with the Gospels that "a rich man," Joseph of Arimathea, bought and wrapped Jesus' body in "fine linen" (Mt 27:57-60; Mk 15:42-46; Lk 23:50-53; Jn 19:38-42 HCSB).
Flax. The linen had been hand-spun and hand-woven from the common domesticated flax plant, Linum usitatissimum, which is native to a region from the eastern Mediterranean to India. The flax yarn had been hand-spun with a "Z" twist. Flax has a natural "S" twist, which was more common in Egypt. However, flax yarn with a "Z" twist was more frequent in the linen of the Roman Empire. Linen with a "Z" twist has been discovered in Syria and Judea, which points to a Syro-Palestinian origin of the Shroud.
Selvedge. Around the edges of the Shroud is a selvedge, or weaver-finished edge. The purpose of a selvedge is to prevent the woven cloth from fraying or unravelling.
Sidestrip. The sidestrip is the 8 to 9 (7.8 to 8.4) centimeter (~3½ inch) strip that runs the full length of the left hand side of the cloth, except for two pieces missing at each end (see above). The missing pieces were 14 and 36 cms long at the bottom and top left hand corners respectively. The sidestrip is also made of linen and the thread of the seam (see "Seam" below) joining it to the main body of the Shroud is also linen. Both the sidestrip and the main Shroud have the same herringbone three to one twill weave (see "Weave" below). Indeed, radiographs reveal that alternating high- and low-density banding structures continue from the main body of the Shroud, through the seam into the sidestrip (see below). This means that the side strip and the main body of the Shroud were part of the same larger linen sheet. But since it would make no sense to cut lengthwise an ~8.5 cm (~3½ in.) strip off a ~1.1 metre cloth and then sew the strip back on again, the most likely explanation is that of ancient textiles expert Mechthild Flury-Lemberg that the bolt of linen which the Shroud was
[Above (click to enlarge): Illustration of Dr. Flury-Lemberg's explanation of how the cloth from which the Shroud came was originally woven much wider than the Shroud. Then the cloth was cut lengthwise and the two pieces bordered by the selvedge (shaded) were joined together by a seam (see "Seam" below) to form the Shroud cloth.]
cut from, was up to three times the Shroud's width (~3.3 m) and the cloth was then cut twice lengthwise, and the two sections with a side selvedge were joined by a seam to form the cloth which became the Shroud, with the central section without side selvedges being used for other purposes. Ancient Egyptian linen looms were even wider, up to 3.5 m (~11.5 m) but no medieval European looms were that wide. Even medieval European tapestries were woven on looms that were only between 3 and 6 feet (~0.9-1.8 metre) wide.
[Right (click to enlarge): Magnified radiograph of an area containing the Shroud's seam, showing that weft (widthwise) threads continue from the sidestrip (left) through the seam and into the Shroud's main body (right), proving that the sidestrip and main body were part of the same wider cloth and exactly joined.]
The stitching of the seam is unusual, being nearly invisible on the image side of the Shroud, and on the obverse (non-image) side, closely resembling the stitching of Jewish textiles found only at Masada, the Jewish fortress which was overthrown by the Romans in AD 73 and never reoccupied. Moreover, other Jewish textiles found at Masada had the same unusual selvedge as the Shroud's. This alone is powerful evidence for the authenticity of the Shroud and against its 1988 radiocarbon dating as "mediaeval ... AD 1260-1390"!
the warp, or vertical, threads. This complex weave pattern givess strength and flexibility, but it would have been an expensive cloth in the first century, which again is consistent with the Gospels' account that Joseph of Arimathea, a rich man, bought the Shroud to bury Jesus (see above). While there is no herringbone twill weave in linen yet known from the first century or earlier, there are examples of such weaves in silk and wool from third century Syria (Palmyra ~AD 276) and Roman Britain (Holborough, Kent ~AD 250). And fragments of herringbone twill weave in wool, similar to the Shroud's weave, have been found at the early second century (AD 100-120) Roman fort of Krokodilo, in Egypt's Eastern Desert. So there is no reason why 3:1 herringbone twill linen weaves could not have been produced in Syria and Egypt, countries bordering Palestine, or in Palestine itself, by the first century. Moreover, there is only one known example of a herringbone twill linen weave from the medieval period (see next).
Problems of the forgery theory. In 1963, writer John E. Walsh pointed out the central dilemma of the Shroud, that it is either authentic, or it is a forgery, there being "no middle ground" (my emphasis here and 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".
Leading Shroud anti-authenticists accept this dilemma. In 1903, Fr. Herbert Thurston (1856–1939), admitted, "If this is not the impression of the Christ, it was designed as the counterfeit of that impression":
"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 ... If this is not the impression of the Christ, it was designed as the counterfeit of that impression. In no other person since the world began could these details be verified".
Leading modern day Shroud sceptics, Steven D. Schafersman (1948-) and Joe Nickell (1944-) also accept this dilemma, "Either the shroud is authentic ... or it is a product of human artifice" (i.e. a forgery):
"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.'".
Therefore problems of the forgery theory are evidence for the Shroud's authenticity. I will begin recording, in my next Encyclopedia entry, "Problems of the forgery theory," each problem of the forgery theory that I encounter in the course of writing this Encyclopedia, and assigning each different problem with a sequential number (e.g. §1, §2, §3 ...).
§1. Forger had to acquire a first century (or earlier) Jewish fine linen ~4.4 x ~1.1 metre cloth. That the very unusual stitching of the Shroud's seam and its selvedge is the same as that of Jewish textiles no later than AD 73 found at Masada (as we saw above), is problem §1 (in number order, not necessarily the greatest) of the forgery theory. Because the unknown 14th century, or earlier, forger would have had to acquire a first century (or earlier) Jewish fine linen ~4.4 x ~1.1 metre cloth (the alternative is even more unlikely) and imprint on it by some unknown means, the front and back image of a naked, crucified Jesus. But (as mentioned above) medieval herringbone twill linen cloths are exceedingly rare, and in fact there is only one known example of a medieval herringbone twill linen weave: a fourteenth century, block-painted linen fragment with a 3:1 chevron (herringbone) twill weave, in the Victoria and Albert Museum,
[Above: The only known example of a herringbone twill weave from the mediaeval period. The grey part is a reconstruction. Victoria and Albert Museum ref. no. 8615-1863.]
London. The texture of this lone example is very much coarser than the Shroud's. Further evidence of the extreme rarity of medieval linen cloths with a Shroud-like herringbone twill weave, was the fact that the British Museum's Dr. Michael Tite was unable to find any medieval linen with a weave that resembled the Shroud, to use as blind control samples for the 1988 radiocarbon dating. So how could a medieval forger have obtained the ~4.4 x ~1.1 metre 3:1 herringbone twill weave Shroud cloth?
Conclusion. The Shroud's cloth is consistent with it being the "fine linen" cloth that the "rich man," Joseph of Arimathea, bought and wrapped Jesus' body in, according to the Gospels. The "Z" twist of its flax yarn is also consistent with the cloth having a Syrian or Palestinian origin. A previously puzzling feature of the Shroud, its lengthwise seam, has together with its selvedge, turned out to be evidence for the cloth's first century origin. The Shroud's selvedge, together with the stitching of the seam visible only on its non-image side, being the same as first century Jewish textiles found at Masada and nowhere else, is evidence that the Shroud is first century Syrian or Palestinian. And therefore, it adds to the evidence that the 1988 radiocarbon dating of the Shroud as 1260-1390 was wrong.
This also poses a problem for the medieval (or earlier) forgery theory, because the unknown, hypothetical forger would have had to somehow acquire a first century Syrian or Jewish ~4.4 x 1.1 metre fine linen cloth with a 3:1 herringbone twill weave (despite there being only one known example of a much smaller medieval cloth). The even less plausible alternative is that the forger would have had to obtain a medieval ~14.3 ft (~4.4 m) long by ~6 ft (1.8 m.) wide fine linen sheet (the maximum width of known medieval looms), and then, to simulate a first century Syrian-Egyptian extra wide cloth (that he somehow knew about), the forger cut the sheet lengthwise and then rejoined it with stitching to match first century Jewish stitching like that at Masada (Masada itself was only discovered in 1838-42)). And then, whichever implausible way the forger obtained the cloth which is the Shroud, the forger would have had to, after first applying real human blood (see "Shroud: Bloodstains"), somehow, by some unknown means, imprint the now bloodstained cloth with a front and back image of the naked, crucified Jesus. And as we shall see, this is just the start of the problems of the forgery theory!
1. Wilson, I., 2010, "The Shroud: The 2000-Year-Old Mystery Solved," Bantam Press: London, p.72. [return]
2. Adler, A,D., Whanger, A. & Whanger, M., 1997, "Concerning the Side Strip on the Shroud of Turin," Shroud.com. [return]
3. Damon, P.E., et al., 1989, "Radiocarbon Dating of the Shroud of Turin," Nature, Vol. 337, 16th February, pp.611-615, p.611. [return]
4. Walsh, J.E., 1963, "The Shroud," Random House: New York NY, pp.x-xii. [return]
5. Thurston, H., 1903, "The Holy Shroud and the Verdict of History," The Month, CI, p.19 in Wilson, I., 1979, "The Shroud of Turin: The Burial Cloth of Jesus Christ?," , Image Books: New York NY, Revised edition, p.52. [return]
6. Wilson, 1979, pp.51-53. [return]
7. 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.121-129. [return]
8. Stevenson. & Habermas, 1981, p.128. [return]
9. Schafersman, S.D., "Science, the public, and the Shroud of Turin," The Skeptical Inquirer, Vol. 6, No. 3, Spring 1982, pp.37-56, p.42 in Nickell, J., 1987, "Inquest on the Shroud of Turin," , Prometheus Books: Buffalo NY, Revised, Reprinted, 2000, p.141. [return]
10. Extract from, "Weaving, block printing: Techniques: Facets: V&A Spelunker by Good, Form & Spectacle." [return]
11. "Masada: Archaeology," Wikipedia, 7 January 2015. [return]
• Adams, F.O., 1982, "Sindon: A Layman's Guide to the Shroud of Turin," Synergy Books: Tempe AZ, p.5.
• Antonacci, M., 2000, "Resurrection of the Shroud: New Scientific, Medical, and Archeological Evidence," M. Evans & Co: New York NY, pp.36, 72, 115, 120, 212.
• Baima-Bollone, P. & Zaca, S., 1998, "The Shroud Under the Microscope: Forensic Examination," Neame, A., transl., St Pauls: London, p.6.
• Bennett, J., 2001, "Sacred Blood, Sacred Image: The Sudarium of Oviedo: New Evidence for the Authenticity of the Shroud of Turin," Ignatius Press: San Francisco CA, pp.67, 146.
• Cassanelli, A., 2002, "The Holy Shroud," Williams, B., transl., Gracewing: Leominster UK, p.15.
• Danin, A., Whanger, A.D., Baruch, U. & Whanger, M., 1999, "Flora of the Shroud of Turin," Missouri Botanical Garden Press: St. Louis MO, pp.3,5.
• de Wesselow, T., 2012, "The Sign: The Shroud of Turin and the Secret of the Resurrection," Viking: London, pp.108-109.
• Dickinson, I., 1990, "The Shroud and the cubit measure," British Society for the Turin Shroud Newsletter, No. 24, January, pp.8-11, pp.10-11.
• Drews, R., 1984, "In Search of the Shroud of Turin: New Light on Its History and Origins," Rowman & Littlefield: Lanham MD, p.11.
• Guerrera, V., 2001, "The Shroud of Turin: A Case for Authenticity," TAN: Rockford IL, p.1.
• Heller, J.H., 1983, "Report on the Shroud of Turin," Houghton Mifflin Co: Boston MA, pp.138.
• Humber, T., 1978, "The Sacred Shroud," , Pocket Books: New York NY, p.34.
• Iannone, J.C., 1998, "The Mystery of the Shroud of Turin: New Scientific Evidence," St Pauls: Staten Island NY, pp.1-2, 13.
• Meacham, W., 1983, "The Authentication of the Turin Shroud: An Issue in Archaeological Epistemology," Current Anthropology, Vol. 24, No. 3, June.
• Oxley, M., 2010, "The Challenge of the Shroud: History, Science and the Shroud of Turin," AuthorHouse: Milton Keynes UK, p.169.
• Petrosillo, O. & Marinelli, E., 1996, "The Enigma of the Shroud: A Challenge to Science," Scerri, L.J., transl., Publishers Enterprises Group: Malta, pp.161-162, 197.
• Ruffin, C.B., 1999, "The Shroud of Turin: The Most Up-To-Date Analysis of All the Facts Regarding the Church's Controversial Relic," Our Sunday Visitor: Huntington IN, p.11.
• Schwalbe, L.A. & Rogers, R.N., 1982, "Physics and Chemistry of the Shroud of Turin: Summary of the 1978 Investigation," Reprinted from Analytica Chimica Acta, Vol. 135, No. 1, pp.3-49, Elsevier Scientific Publishing Co: Amsterdam, pp.40-41.
• Sox, H.D., 1981, "The Image on the Shroud: Is the Turin Shroud a Forgery?," Unwin: London, p.77.
• Tribbe, F.C., 2006, "Portrait of Jesus: The Illustrated Story of the Shroud of Turin," , Paragon House Publishers: St. Paul MN, Second edition, pp.4, 110.
• Tyrer, J., 1983, "Looking at the Turin Shroud as a Textile," Shroud Spectrum International, No. 6, March, pp.35-46, pp.38,40.
• Vial, G., 1991, "The Shroud of Turin: A Technical Study," Shroud Spectrum International, No. 38/39, March/June, pp.7-20, p.9.
• Wilson, I. & Miller, V., 1986, "The Evidence of the Shroud," Guild Publishing: London, p.36.
• Wilson, I. & Schwortz, B., 2000, "The Turin Shroud: The Illustrated Evidence," Michael O'Mara Books: London, p.41.
• Wilson, I., 1979, "The Shroud of Turin: The Burial Cloth of Jesus?," , Image Books: New York NY, Revised edition, p.69.
• Wilson, I., 1979, "The Shroud of Turin: The Burial Cloth of Jesus?," , Image Books: New York NY, Revised edition, p.31.
• Wilson, I., 1986, "The Evidence of the Shroud," Guild Publishing: London, p.2.
• Wilson, I., 1990, "Recent Publications," British Society for the Turin Shroud Newsletter, No. 26, September/October, pp.14-16.
• Wilson, I., 1998, "The Blood and the Shroud: New Evidence that the World's Most Sacred Relic is Real," Simon & Schuster: New York NY, pp.67-73.
• Wilson, I., 2000, "`The Turin Shroud - past, present and future', Turin, 2-5 March, 2000 - probably the best-ever Shroud Symposium," British Society for the Turin Shroud Newsletter, No. 51, June.
• Wilson, I., 2010, "The Shroud: The 2000-Year-Old Mystery Solved," Bantam Press: London, pp.71-76, 315.
Created: 22 January 2015. Updated: 8 December 2015.