Continuing from part #1 with this part #2 of my comments (in bold) on an article in The Telegraph about 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 accepts the Shroud is authentic but claims that Jesus was not resurrected, and
"Mystery solved? Turin Shroud linked to Resurrection of Christ", The Telegraph, Peter Stanford, 24 Mar 2012 ... At the risk of sounding like an accountant, that leaves us 500 years short of first century Jerusalem. "Yes," de Wesselow replies... [there] are plenty of objects whose exact provenance includes long gaps. That happens very often in art history. ... but we can use science and detective work ..." ... What is becoming plain in our discussion is that in making his claims, de Wesselow has done very little first-hand research himself. His contribution has to be to gather up the work of others, re-examine past investigations (he draws heavily on the digging done by British author, Ian Wilson, a key figure before the carbon-dating tests, now living in retirement in Australia), and then tease out new conclusions.
Agreed! See my comments on part #1 that de Wesselow's "scientific detective work" seems to have been to copy from Ian Wilson's research and claim (or imply) it as his own! And the journalist makes it sound like de Wesselow did not disclose that to him, but he knew it anyway.
He is, essentially, taking existing pieces of a jigsaw and assembling them in a new and startling pattern. It is not a description he particularly likes when I put it to him, but neither does he substantially contradict it. Sounds like the "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" mentioned earlier!
... Having established – at least for the purposes of argument – the Shroud in first century Israel, it is now time to turn to his potentially even more earth-shaking theory, namely that the Resurrection was a kind of optical illusion. Christianity teaches that Peter, James, Thomas, Mary Magdalene and up to 500 other disciples saw Jesus in the flesh, back from the dead, in the ultimate proof that he was God. De Wesselow rejects this "divine mystery" in favour of something that he believes is much more plausible. This is at the heart of de Wesselow's theory. As an "agnostic" he personally refuses to accept the Bible's own testimony that Jesus was raised from the dead, and so he tries to find a "plausible" (i.e. naturalistic) explanation, which he imposes over it. But this is not history, it is historical fiction. The Apostle Peter in his day called this:
"the ignorant and unstable twist[ing] to their own destruction ... the ... Scriptures" (2Pet 3:16).What the apostles were seeing was the image of Jesus on the Shroud, which they then mistook for the real thing. It sounds, I can't help suggesting, as absurd as a scene from a Monty Python film. A good analogy! De Wesselow's theory is "as absurd as a scene from a Monty Python film." But whether the buying public will think that remains to be seen. At least de Wesselow's book might raise the general public's acceptance of the Shroud's authenticity.
"I quite understand why you say that," he replies, meeting me half way this time, "but you have to think your way into the mindset of 2,000 years ago. The apostles did see something out of the ordinary, the image on the cloth.This is begging the question that absent Jesus' resurrection the disciples would "see ... the image on the cloth." See my comments in part #1 about the fatal flaws in de Wesselow's theory:
"And at that time – this is something that art historians and anthropologists know about – people were much less used to seeing images. They were rare and regarded as much more special than they are now. "There was something Animist in their way of looking at images in the first century. Where they saw shadows and reflections, they also saw life. They saw the image on the cloth as the living double of Jesus. "Back then images had a psychological presence, they were seen as part of a separate plain [sic] of existence, as having a life of their own." De Wesselow is just making this up. People in the first century would have been more used to seeing artistic images than we are today. Acts 17:16 says that "Athens ... was full of idols." On this point the historian Charles Freeman in a review of De Wesselow's book, wrote:
"I find De Wesselow's argument that the Shroud is the Risen Christ even less convincing . In fact I have not been able to find any relevant evidence in its support. To make the argument work both Paul and the Galilee disciples, from totally different cultural backgrounds, would have to 'mistake' the Shroud for the Risen Christ. De Wesselow's argument, expressed in an interview, that images were rare in the ancient world is nonsense. There were certainly Jewish inhibitions with images but classical cities were crammed with images and Paul in his travels would have continually been aware of them. Surely he would not have seen all images an [sic] animate and would the disciples, who had their differences with Paul, have shared the precious Shroud with him so that he could display it to the 500 of 'Corinthians'." (Charles Freeman, "Entertaining fantasies," Review of The Sign: The Shroud of Turin and the Secret of the Resurrection, by Thomas de Wesselow, Amazon.com, April 3, 2012).Also, the majority of people in the first century rejected Christianity and there were sceptics even among the disciples: Thomas, James and Paul believed that Jesus had been resurrected only after He appeared to them in person. And if people were so taken in by images back then, why is there only one Christianity and not more religions based on images on cloth (assuming for the sake of argument that Christianity was)?
I am struggling. I have this picture in my mind of the apostles, gathered in an upper room in Jerusalem, being inspired to go out on missionary journeys that resulted in a Church that now numbers a third of the planet in its ranks. And they are looking not at the astonishing sight of Jesus himself, back from the dead, but at a cloth. It's obviously absurd! The disciples did claim that Jesus appeared to them. It would be more faithful to the historical evidence of their writings to dismiss them as deluded or liars, than for de Wesselow to claim that what they really meant was that they merely saw Jesus' image on His burial sheet.
"If you think yourself into the whole experience of the apostles," de Wesselow persists, "going into the tomb three days after the crucifixion, in the half-light, and seeing that image emerging from the burial cloth..."Again, de Wesselow is just making this up. The New Testament states that what Peter and John saw when they entered the tomb was that there was no body, only graveclothes:
Jn 20:1-9. Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him." So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.But, I interrupt, if his logical approach is to be taken at face value, wouldn't they also have seen the decomposing body of Jesus, and know that far from coming to life again, he was well and truly dead? "But that isn't how they understood resurrection. The earliest source we have on Jesus is Saint Paul [his epistles predate the writing of the gospels] and there in 1 Corinthians 15:50 — the reference is seared on my memory — you have him saying explicitly that resurrection is not about flesh and blood." De Wesselow claimed earlier that he was "not a theologian" yet here he is claiming to be able to say authoritatively what Paul meant by:
"I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable." (1Cor 15:50)But his is a misunderstanding of what Paul means in that verse. In the context, beginning with 1Cor 15:3-8 Paul first states the fact of the death and bodily resurrection of Christ, listing as evidence Jesus' personal appearances to the disciples, including to Paul himself who saw the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3-8; 22:6-11; 26:12-15) not the Shroud:
For I delivered unto you first of all that which also I received: that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried; and that he hath been raised on the third day according to the scriptures; and that he appeared to Cephas [Peter]; then to the twelve; then he appeared to above five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain until now, but some are fallen asleep; then he appeared to James; then to all the apostles; and last of all ... he appeared to me also.Note the symmetrical "buried ... raised," not "buried, his body left to decay in the grave, and his spirit raised." Since "buried" is bodily, so is "raised" bodily.
Paul deals next in 1Cor 15:12-15 with the future general bodily "resurrection of the dead":
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raisedAgain since Christ's "buried ... raised" was bodily, so is the general "resurrection of the dead" bodily. Now one can reject this as impossible, but nevertheless, that is what Paul taught. It would be better to say that Paul was wrong than to twist his words to make him say something more naturalistically "plausible" that he didn't say.
But someone will ask, "How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?" ... What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.Note that in all of the above, it is a "body" (repeated six times) that the raised believers will have. The same "it" is both buried and raised: "It is sown ... it is raised" (three times). It will be the same body, but changed from "perishable" to "imperishable."
With that setting of the context, we can now see what Paul meant in 1Cor 15:50, "I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable," in the immediate context of 1Cor 15:50-53:
I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.It can be seen above that Paul is talking about the believer's body being "changed" from "perishable" to "imperishable," not that his body will not be raised at all. The words "flesh and blood" are for Paul the equivalent of "perishable": "flesh and blood" is paralleled with "perishable," just as "kingdom of God" is paralleled with "imperishable." Our resurrection body won't be "flesh and blood" but it will be the same body changed from "perishable" to "imperishable"!
De Wesselow can quote the relevant gospel passages as readily as any Christian preacher. In the book, he takes each and every New Testament reference to the risen Christ – plus a few from the extracanonical texts of the first and second centuries that were excluded from the Authorised Version of the Bible – and rereads them to fit in with his thesis.
De Wesselow is deluding himself. That he needs to resort to "extracanonical texts" only shows that he cannot support his thesis from the canonical texts, the New Testament. Presumably those "extracanonical texts" were written by Gnostics, who denied the resurrection of the body. De Wesselow can re-read the Bible verses as much as he likes "to fit in with his thesis" but the fact remains it is crystal clear that the New Testament writers believed that Jesus had been raised bodily from the dead.
"In the same way, if somebody wants to believe that Jesus survived the crucifixion, they are perfectly entitled to do so, although they have all the evidence against them. They will never be able to prove that he survived from texts written by people who knew and believed that he had died. It seems ridiculous even to try it ... Working backwards from this unfounded theory, the authors encounter all sorts of obstacles. ... The Bible clearly teaches that Jesus was both God and man, even though this may seem unexplainable and irrational. As with the death of Jesus, and with Julius Caesar's invasion of Britain, nobody is obliged to believe anything, and everybody is free to think whatever they want. This does not mean, however, that historical sources can be altered or changed. All Christian sources have always believed that Jesus was both God and man, and this is the teaching of the Bible. You can accept this or reject it, but nobody will ever be able to prove the opposite from the Bible itself, because the people who wrote it were convinced of this fact ... their message is clear and obvious. This message can be freely accepted or rejected, but not altered or changed." (Guscin, M., "The Oviedo Cloth," 1998, pp.90-91, 97-98).After eight years working on it, Thomas de Wesselow could go on and on into infinite detail, far too much to take on board at one sitting. Yet for every answer – or "new way of understanding" as he prefers to put it — another question inevitably arises. The Jehovah's Witnesses have been working on their "new way of understanding" of the Bible since 1879, but they are just as wrong, if not more so, than when they first began. Their and de Wesselow's fundamental delusion is that the Bible must be made to fit their pre-existing views, instead of the Bible changing their pre-existing views.
That, of course, has long been the pattern with all attempts to explain the Shroud. So when, for example, carbon-dating located it between the 13th and 14th centuries, scientists then tried – and so far have failed – to show how any medieval forger could have made such an image, with its effect of a photographic negative anticipating the invention of the camera by 500 years. Perhaps, I venture, the Turin Shroud is destined always to remain a mystery "No," replies de Wesselow, suddenly fierce and passionate. "I'm an optimist. I think we have to try our best to understand things. I don't believe in just leaving problems alone." If by not "leaving problems alone" de Wesselow means the Shroud, he hasn't done any original work on it. All he has done is read the pro-Shroud literature, particularly Wilson, and he seems to have convinced himself, that he has done that research!
But if by "I don't believe in just leaving problems alone" de Wesselow means the "problem" that Jesus' bodily resurrection is to an "agnostic" like him, then no amount of his `twisting the Scriptures' (2Pet 3:16) to make it fit with his non-Christian worldview will make that "problem" go away. To paraphrase Mark Guscin:
"If somebody wants to believe that Jesus was not bodily resurrected, they are perfectly entitled to do so, although they have all the Biblical evidence against them. They will never be able to prove that Jesus was not bodily resurrected from texts written by people who knew and believed that he had been. It seems ridiculous even to try it. Working backwards from his unfounded theory, the author will encounter all sorts of obstacles. The Bible clearly teaches that Jesus was bodily resurrected, even though this may seem unexplainable and irrational. As with the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and Julius Caesar's invasion of Britain, nobody is obliged to believe anything, and everybody is free to think whatever they want. This does not mean, however, that historical sources can be altered or changed. All Christian sources have always believed that Jesus was bodily resurrected, and this is the teaching of the Bible. You can accept this or reject it, but nobody will ever be able to prove the opposite from the Bible itself, because the people who wrote it were convinced of this fact. Their message is clear and obvious. This message can be freely accepted or rejected, but not altered or changed."Posted: 29 March 2012. Updated: 13 July 2021.