Wednesday, March 28, 2012

My comments on a Telegraph article about Thomas de Wesselow's claim that the Shroud is authentic but Jesus was not resurrected #1

Here is part #1 of my comments (in bold) on an article in The Telegraph on a book, "The Sign: The Shroud of Turin and the Secret of the Resurrection," by an ex-Cambridge University art-historian, Thomas de Wesselow, who claims that Jesus was not resurrected, but

[Right: Thomas de Wesselow: The Telegraph]

instead His `resurrection' was actually the image on the Shroud!

"Mystery solved? Turin Shroud linked to Resurrection of Christ", The Telegraph, Peter Stanford, 24 Mar 2012 ... For centuries the Turin Shroud, regarded by some as the burial cloth of Jesus, by others as the most elaborate hoax in history, has inspired extraordinary and conflicting passions. ... scientists have dedicated their whole working lives to trying to explain rationally how the ghostly image on the cloth, even more striking when seen as a photographic negative, and matching in every last detail the crucifixion narrative, could have been created. And still a final, commonly agreed answer remains elusive, despite carbon-dating in 1988 having pronounced it a forgery. This is a very important point: the "medieval ... AD 1260-1390" radiocarbon date claimed in Nature (337: 1989) is not conclusive unless it can be shown how a medieval or earlier forger could have created an anatomically correct, photographic negative, full-length front and back image of a naked, crucified man, on linen, centuries before that anatomical and photographic negative knowledge existed! And also who was the forger? A great (if not the greatest) artist, as the forger would have to be, does not produce only one great masterpiece, and his other great works of art (as well as his teachers, pupils, and patrons), be completely unknown.

"That's what first attracted me," says Thomas de Wesselow, a... 40-year-old Cambridge academic. ... Eight years ago, de Wesselow was a successful art historian, based at King's College ... Today, he .. has thrown up his conventional career and any hopes of a professorial chair to join the ranks of what he laughingly calls "shroudies". ... But again it gets complicated, for the Vatican, since 1983 the owner of this hotly disputed icon, disappoints "shroudies" by limiting itself to declaring that the burial cloth is a representation of Jesus's crucified body, not his actual linen wrap. And it has accepted the carbon-dating tests as conclusive. This is simply false. When the then Archbishop of Turin, Cardinal Ballestrero, was in 1988 presented with the radiocarbon laboratories' "medieval ... 1260-1390" date of the Shroud, he naively stated that "he accepted the laboratories' findings," but this was sensationalised by certain British newspapers into a false claim that the Roman Catholic church admitted the Shroud was a forgery:

"Thus it was that on the morning of 14 October 1988 most of the world woke up to newspaper headlines - by no means always front-page news - that the Shroud had been `proven' to be a mediaeval fake. At his Turin press conference Cardinal Ballestrero, true to his earlier expressed insistence that the Church has nothing to fear from the truth, declared that he accepted the laboratories' findings even though, as he carefully added, `the problems about the origin of the image and its preservation still remain to a large extent unresolved'. England's Daily Telegraph newspaper duly translated this into the headline `Turin shroud is a forgery, says Catholic Church'." (Wilson, I., "The Blood and the Shroud," 1998, pp.7-8).
There is no space to go into it here, but the fact is that "the Vatican" did not agree with Cardinal Ballestrero's naive acceptance of the C14 laboratories' findings.

De Wesselow dismisses those tests as "fatally flawed". So, although he describes himself as agnostic, he now finds himself in the curious position of being more of a believer in the Shroud than the Pope. It is gratifying that de Wesselow has publicly stated that the 1988 carbon-14 tests were "fatally flawed". But if he really thinks that he is "more of a believer in the Shroud than the Pope," then his level of Shroud scholarship is seriously lacking. The fact is that the current Pope Benedict XVI in 2010 publicly all but endorsed the Sroud's authenticity:

"This is a moment that I have been waiting for for quite some time. I have found myself before the sacred Shroud on another occasion but this time I am experiencing this pilgrimage and this pause with particular intensity ... the Shroud ... is in fact a winding sheet, which covered the corpse of a man who was crucified, corresponding to everything that the Gospels say of Jesus, who was crucified about noon and died at about 3 in the afternoon." ("Pope's Remarks After Venerating Shroud of Turin,", TURIN, Italy, May 2, 2010).

And as "an agnostic" who accepts the Shroud as authentic, de Wesselow has no option but to deny Jesus' bodily resurrection. His position, while rare among those who accept the Shroud as authentic, is not unknown. The late Rodney Hoare, a past-President of the British Association of the Turin Shroud, wrote at least three books defending the Shroud's authenticity, but claimed that the Shroud showed that Jesus did not die on the Cross!

His historical detective work has convinced him, he insists, that it is exactly what it purports to be — the sheet that was wrapped round Jesus's battered body when it was cut down from the cross on Calvary. But that isn't the half of it. His new book, The Sign, the latest in a long line of tomes about the Shroud, makes an even more astonishing claim in its 450 pages (including over 100 of footnotes). It was, suggests de Wesselow, seeing the Shroud in the days immediately after the crucifixion, rather than any encounter with a flesh and blood, risen Christ, that convinced the apostles that Jesus had come back from the dead. This requires a wholesale rejection of what the Bible actually says, and replacing it with what the "agnostic" de Wesselow, imagines that it says. But the New Testament writers made it abundantly clear that Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to the disciples both singly and collectively. For example, Jesus' two appearance to the disciples in a locked Jerusalem room:

Jn 20:19-26 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, `Peace be with you.' When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, `Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.' And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, `Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.' Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, `We have seen the Lord.' But he said to them, `Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.' Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, `Peace be with you.' Then he said to Thomas, `Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.'

says nothing about the Shroud. Jesus not only appears to the disciples, but He speaks to them, something that an image on linen cannot do. So the Apostle John would have to be either a liar or massively deluded, if what really happened was that the disciples merely looked at Jesus' image on His burial Shroud.

Apart from its Biblical, psychological and moral problems, de Wesselow's theory itself is "fatally flawed." First, there wouldn't be a Shroud with Jesus' image on it for the disciples to see, in "the days immediately after the crucifixion." If Jesus was not resurrected and the Shroud covered His bloody, dead, and decomposing body, the disciples, being devout Jews, would have no reason (to put it mildly) to remove the Shroud from Jesus' ceremonially `unclean' corpse. The image is on the inside of the cloth, nearest Jesus' body, not the visible outside of it, so they would not know the image was there, even if it was. And if the disciples did remove the Shroud from Jesus' body, they would not be able to do it without breaking the blood clots adhering to both the body and the Shroud. But the blood clots on the Shroud are not broken:

"The second sign of the resurrection on the Shroud concerns the body's removal from the cloth. The facts militate against the body being removed from the Shroud by any human means because the bloodstains are intact. As we saw earlier, each bloodstain is characterized by anatomical correctness, including precisely outlined borders, with blood clots intact. If the cloth had been removed from the body, the blood clots would have smeared or broken. This precludes any separation of the body from the cloth by normal means. A moment's reflection will reveal some of the medical reasoning here. When the linen was wrapped lengthwise around Jesus' body, it contacted the shed blood flowing from the head, the open chest wound, and the left wrist, feet, and elsewhere. As the blood dried, the linen would have become loosely attached to the wounds. Removing the Shroud, however carefully, would require both the removal of blood clots and the disturbing of the edges of the bloodstains. Since this did not happen with the Shroud, we may assert the probability that the body left the cloth in some way other than normal unwrapping of the Shroud. The contact bloodstains indicate that the body was not moved, rewrapped, of unwrapped. " (Stevenson, K.E. & Habermas, G.R., "Verdict on the Shroud," 1981, p.156).

Second, why would there be an image of Jesus' body on His Shroud if it is not a "`snapshot' of the Resurrection"?:

"Even from the limited available information, a hypothetical glimpse of the power operating at the moment of creation of the Shroud's image may be ventured. In the darkness of the Jerusalem tomb the dead body of Jesus lay, unwashed, covered in blood, on a stone slab. Suddenly, there is a burst of mysterious power from it. In that instant the ... image ... of the body becomes indelibly fused onto the cloth, preserving for posterity a literal `snapshot' of the Resurrection." (Wilson, I., "The Turin Shroud," 1978, p.210.

After all, no other known burial shroud from antiquity has such an image of the corpse it covered. Then there is the fact that the Shroud's image "is extremely thin, around ... one fifth of a thousandth of a millimeter":

"Furthermore, the color of the image resides on the outer surface of the fibrils that make up the threads of the cloth, and recent measurements of fragments of the Shroud show that the thickness of staining is extremely thin, around 200 nm = 200 billionths of a meter, or one fifth of a thousandth of a millimeter, which corresponds to the thickness of the primary cell wall of the so-called single linen fiber." ("The Shroud is not a fake," The Vatican Insider, 12 December 2011).
but no chemicals or vapours emitted from a corpse could stain linen uniformly to that extremely superficial depth, which has only been able to be replicated on a small sample of linen using a very high power and frequency ultraviolet radiation laser.

If true, I point out, he is overturning 2,000 years of Christian history. But he doesn't even blink over his teacup. He's either ... out to make a quick buck with an eye-catching theory that caters for gullible readers of the likes of The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail ... or he's absolutely sincere. If de Wesselow is sincere (bearing in mind that he has proposed his theory via a no-doubt very lucrative Easter market book contract, not in the normal non-paying Shroud literature), then as Billy Graham once put it, he is "sincerely wrong."

"I am an art historian," he responds calmly, "not a theologian, so I can approach the problem from a new angle." This is arrogance, born of ignorance. As pointed out above, while it is comparatively rare on the pro-authenticity side, there is nothing new in de Wesselow position that: 1) the Shroud is authentic; but 2) Jesus was not resurrected. The agnostic Yves Delage believed that in the early 1900s. And more recently so did Rodney Hoare (see above).

It feels like we've reached a moment for laying our cards on the table before we start examining the details of his theory. The exact nature of the Resurrection troubles me, as it does many Christians. Was it physical, against all the laws of nature but as the Church claims, or was it "symbolic", as the Bishop of Durham, David Jenkins, famously suggested in 1984? Jenkins's ... willingness to question a "literal" resurrection did not put him so far outside the Christian mainstream as is often suggested. The resurrection is a cardinal doctrine of the historic Christian faith. Jesus predicted His own bodily resurrection:

Jn 2:18-22 So the Jews said to him, "What sign do you show us for doing these things?" Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." The Jews then said, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days? But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken" (my emphasis)
so if that didn't happen, then Jesus was either deluded or a liar. Also St. Paul told the church at Corinth that:
1Cor 15:14 if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.
and in the context Paul makes it clear that he means a bodily resurrection (see part #2). A `Christian' who denies the bodily resurrection of Jesus is as oxymoronic as someone who claims to be a Muslim but who denies the existence of Allah! Jesus Himself warned that there would be "many" on the Day of Judgment who thought they were Christians but will find out (too late) that they never were (Mt 7:21-23).

... The first challenge he faces is how to place the Shroud in first-century Jerusalem. The standard historical record of the Shroud – broadly endorsed by carbon-dating – traces its first appearance back to the 1350s in rural France, when a knight called Geoffrey de Charny put it on display in his local church. "But where did he get it from?" de Wesselow asks, perfectly reasonably. He highlights a connection between the French knight and the Crusaders who sacked Constantinople in 1204. "And we have a description of a cloth, that sounds very like the Shroud, that had been seen before that in Constantinople, described as the burial cloth of Jesus, that then goes missing and is never heard of again." So, de Wesselow's theory is that it was taken to France by the Crusaders as looted bounty. But what were the origins of the cloth in Constantinople? This brings us to the oddly named "Holy Mandylion" (man-dill-e-on), a long lost relic in Eastern Christianity, said to be the imprint of Jesus's face. "The Mandylion was brought to Constantinople in 944," says de Wesselow. "That is recorded. It was an object of fascination, said not to be made of paint but of blood, and described as a landscape shape, rather than a portrait."

This is not "de Wesselow's theory" but Ian Wilson's (see in part #2 where the journalist points that out to de Wesselow), first proposed in a paper to a Shroud conference in 1977 and then promoted in at least five of his books since 1978. But de Wesselow makes it sound like it is the result of his own "historical detective work," in which case, if he does not acknowledge in his book (as he evidently does not to this journalist) that Wilson's was the real "historical detective work" and all de Wesselow has done is copy it, then this would a case of plagiarism by de Wesselow.

The legend of the Mandylion is also given a reworking by de Wesselow. That cloth looted in 1204 was, he proposes, also the Mandylion. Its landscape format, he suggests with the aid of diagrams, was the result of it being the top fold of a bigger cloth – what we know as the Turin Shroud. It is an intriguing theory, with plenty of circumstantial evidence in those 100 pages of notes, and even mention of possible sightings back in the mid-sixth century, but nothing more precise.

Again, that the Shroud is the Mandylion (i.e. the Image of Edessa) "doubled in four" is Wilson's discovery:

"For me a crucial breakthrough in overcoming this objection surfaced in the 1960s, when I noticed how a sixth-century Greek version of the Abgar story, the Acts of the Holy Apostle Thaddaeus', describes the Edessa cloth as a tetradiplon. In all the corpus of Greek literature tetradiplon is an extremely rare word, and totally exclusive to the Edessa cloth. Yet, because it is a combination of two common words, tetra meaning `four' and diplon meaning `two fold' or `doubled', its meaning is actually very clear: `doubled in four', suggesting four times two folds. This immediately raised the thought: `What happens if you try giving the Shroud four times two folds? When I tried this, using a full-length photograph of the Shroud, I was dumb-founded by the result - as I continue to be today. There was the Shroud face, front-facing and disembodied-looking on a landscape aspect cloth, exactly as on the earliest artists' copies of the cloth of Edessa. Whenever the Shroud is presented in this manner - and it is a very logical way to present and make manageable a 437 cm length of cloth - its nature as a `shroud' is in fact subordinated to its rather more socially acceptable nature as a `portrait'. And historically such an arrangement finds ready support in the description of the Edessa cloth, on its arrival in Constantinople, as `fastened to a board and covered with the gold which is now to be seen'. It therefore readily explains the many centuries of silence about an image-bearing `shroud' as such." (Wilson, I. & Schwortz, B., "The Turin Shroud: The Illustrated Evidence," 2000, pp.110-111).
and if de Wesselow did not tell the journalist that, before (as we shall see), the journalist told de Wesselow, then that would be a form of plagiarism. Note that I do not claim that de Wesselow has committed plagiarism in his book, since I have not read it, but if this article is a true record of what he said to this journalist, then he did not up-front acknowledge Ian Wilson's historical research into the Shroud-Mandylion identity, while giving the impression to The Telegraph's readers that it was the result of his own "historical detective work."

[Continued in part #2]

Posted: 28 March 2012. Updated: 13 July 2021.


  1. If this "professor" really thinks that the Shroud doesn't prove the ressurection can be explain the lack of putrefecation of the orfices, no decomposition stains and the fact that the blood stains are intact and the fact the serum Halos remain unbroken. More people should pay attention to the blood stains on the Shroud which is a bigger sign of the ressurection than anything else. Whether athiests like it or not that is the reality of the blood stains.

  2. C

    >If this "professor" really thinks that the Shroud doesn't prove the ressurection

    As an agnostic, de Wesselow doesn't believe in God, let alone Jesus' resurrection.

    But as an art historian, he has become convinced by the evidence that the Shroud is authentic.

    So, to avoid becoming a Christian, de Wesselow he has chosen the rare, but not unknown position, that the Shroud is authentic, but Jesus was not resurrected.

    That requires de Wesselow to "twist to [his] ... own destruction" (2Pet 3:16) all the many Bible verses which make it plain that Jesus was resurrected and to force them to say that the disciples were merely looking and Jesus' image on the Shroud, and they made up (i.e. lied or were deluded) all the accounts of Jesus appearing to them.

    >can be explain the lack of putrefecation of the orfices, no decomposition stains and the fact that the blood stains are intact and the fact the serum Halos remain unbroken.

    Not having read de Wesselow's book, I would be surprised if he deals at any depth with the evidence on it that Jesus was resurrected.

    >More people should pay attention to the blood stains on the Shroud which is a bigger sign of the ressurection than anything else.

    Those who don't want to believe that Jesus was resurrected, because that would mean a huge change in their worldview and lifestyle, would prefer not pay attention to the signs of the ressurection on the Shroud!

    >Whether athiests like it or not that is the reality of the blood stains.

    Agreed. The historical evidence that Jesus was resurrected (and therefore for Christianity being true) was already overwhelming without the additional evidence that Jesus was resurrected on the Shroud of Turin.

    Stephen E. Jones

  3. There is one point that de Wesslow makes that I find nonsensicle...Especially from one who claims to be an Art historian...He states that 1st century Jews would not be accustomed too 'visual' stimulations, hense the reasoning for thier interpretation of the Shroud image as being a 'risen' messiah..HogWash! The Romans had been in Palestine for almost a century and were huge on 'images' such as frescos, statues, paintings etc, etc;...A first century jew would then be quite used to images and to suppose they took an image as 'proof' is rediculous. I'd bet at first notice they probably just thought the impression was a secretion of sweat and blood, nothing else (as many others have in the past). Then also to assume hundreds of people were also fooled or dillusional enough to believe an image on a Shroud is the 'raised messiah' is just plain lunacy.


  4. Flagrum3

    >There is one point that de Wesslow makes that I find nonsensicle...Especially from one who claims to be an Art historian...

    Given de Wesslow lack of honesty in not admitting up front to the Telegraph journalist that his Shroud "detective work" consisted of reading Wilson; and his claim that the resurrection appearances were just the disciples looking at Jesus' image on the Shroud is "as absurd as a scene from a Monty Python film," I also wonder what weight to give to his claim to being a Cambridge University art historian.

    >He states that 1st century Jews would not be accustomed too 'visual' stimulations, hense the reasoning for thier interpretation of the Shroud image as being a 'risen' messiah..HogWash!

    Agreed. No reputable art historian would make such an unfounded claim. 1st century people were probably more accustomed to visual art than 21st people!

    And it is indeed "hogwash" that they could not tell the difference between a resurrected Jesus and His image on cloth.

    >The Romans had been in Palestine for almost a century and were huge on 'images' such as frescos, statues, paintings etc, etc;...

    And the Greeks and Persians in the centuries before that. They were also huge on art images.

    >A first century jew would then be quite used to images and to suppose they took an image as 'proof' is rediculous.

    Agreed. de Wesselow has just made this up to support his Monty Pythonesque theory. I wonder if any art historians will contradict him?

    >I'd bet at first notice they probably just thought the impression was a secretion of sweat and blood, nothing else (as many others have in the past).

    A good point. If the disciples did not know that Jesus had been resurrected, the Shroud image (assuming: 1. it would even be there; and 2. if it was the disciples would have seen it on the hidden inside of the Shroud) would have been dismissed by them as caused by sweat, as the Veronica legend actually states.

    >Then also to assume hundreds of people were also fooled or dillusional enough to believe an image on a Shroud is the 'raised messiah' is just plain lunacy.

    Or just a way for a little known art historian to gain fame and fortune (at Christianity's expense)?

    De Wesslow and all those like Dan Brown, Picknett & Prince, Baigent & Leigh, etc, who seek to make money out of debunking Christianity, had better be right that Christianity is false.

    Because if it isn't, and Jesus really did rise from the dead (and the evidence is overwhelming that He did), then the answer is "Yes" and "Yes" to Wilson's questions:

    "For if that face, however subjectively, seems as though it has transcended two thousand years, it is as if neither time, nor the grave, have any meaning. It bespeaks the very same questions as those that wracked the pilgrims to the Veronica: `Were those the lips that spoke the Sermon on the Mount and the Parable of the Rich Fool?'; `Is this the Face that is to be my judge on the Last Day?'" (Wilson, I., "Holy Faces, Secret Places: The Quest for Jesus' True Likeness," Doubleday: London, 1991, p.189).

    Stephen E. Jones