Here is part 8, "The Image of Edessa" (4), of my critique of historian Charles Freeman's, "The Turin Shroud and the Image of Edessa: A Misguided Journey," May 24, 2012 [page 7]. See previous part 7.
[Above (click to enlarge): Fifth century depiction of the crucifixion of Christ between the two thieves, without crosses, on the wooden door of the Basilica of Saint Sabina, Rome. This is one of the earliest surviving depiction of the crucifixion of Christ: "Santa Sabina," Wikipedia, 3 September 2012]
Freeman continues with his reasons why he thinks the Image of Edessa is not the Shroud of Turin (doubled four times with only Jesus' head visible in landscape aspect):
There are two reasons why this could not be the Shroud of Turin (quite apart from the lack of water damage on the eyes of the Shroud!). The first is that no one knowing the legend that gave the image its authenticity, as a cloth wiped by Christ himself on his face while he was alive, would have stared at the face we see the Turin Shroud and have believed that this was an image of a living man. We can assume that the image, if extant, in the sixth century, would have been brighter than it is now. It might have been possible to fold the Turin Shroud up to conceal the image of a naked lifeless body but this could hardly have been kept secret for long. The Turin Shroud is of a dead man, the Edessa image is, like all the other images of this time, a living Christ. They cannot be one and the same.
Freeman's first- mentioned reason why the Image of Edessa cannot be the Shroud, "the lack of water damage on the eyes of the Shroud," doesn't hold water (pun intended)! First, as we saw in part 7, art historian Hans Belting's report that on feast days the people of Edessa approached the Edessa Image and sprinkled water on its eyes, is anonymous, vague, and not contemporaneous. And as I pointed out, it is highly unlikely that the Edessan clergy would have let the common people get close enough to their holiest relic for them to be able to sprinkle water on its eyes, let alone allowing them to do it.
Besides, even if water was sprinkled on the Image of Edessa's eyes (which are the Shroud image's eyes), the Shroud has been through at least two fires in 1532 and 1997, when water was used to put out those fires, and yet the Shroud's image was not affected. That is because it is not a chemical but a physical change to the cloth. Indeed, Freeman confirms that (despite those two fires and the copious amounts of water used to extinguish them), there is a "lack of water damage on the eyes of the Shroud." So again Freeman shows his ignorance of the topic he is criticising, that the Shroud's image is not affected by water.
Freeman's second-mentioned reason why the Image of Edessa cannot be the Shroud of Turin, because "no one ... would have stared at the face we see the Turin Shroud and have believed that this was an image of a living man" ignores the fact that the Shroud's image is very faint, it is a photographic negative, and there is not the unmistakable evidence of the Shroudman's torture, crucifixion and death on His face as there is on His body. So it would be precisely those who were brought up "knowing the legend" that the Image of Edessa was "a cloth wiped by Christ himself on his face while he was alive" who "would have stared at the face we see the Turin Shroud and have believed that this was an image of a living man"!
Freeman presents no evidence for his assumption "that the image ... in the sixth century, would have been brighter than it is now." Again, either Freeman has not read Ian Wilson's latest book he is criticising (as he implied he had), or Freeman conceals from his readers that in it Wilson mentioned that the Shroud's image was so indistinct back in 944 that some of those who had the luxury of examining it closely, such as the Emperor's sons and son-in-law, could not perceive some of the Image's facial features:
"Amid so much ceremony and self-evident excitement it is difficult to determine when and where, if at any point at all, anyone meaningfully saw the Image removed from its casket in a way that could enable proper study. Nevertheless, that this actually happened is confirmed by an independent contemporary account, not part of the Story of the Image of Edessa. According to this, 'A few days beforehand, when they [the imperial party] were all looking at the marvellous features of the Son of God on the holy imprint, the Emperor's sons [i.e. Stephen and Constantine] declared that they could only see the face, while Constantine his son-in-law said he could see the eyes and the ears.' [Migne, Patrologia Graeca, CIX, 812-13, in Guscin, 2009, p.180.] Given the extraordinary efforts that had been made to obtain the Image, several historians have expressed puzzlement that it should have appeared so indistinct to the few who were allowed to view it directly ... If the Image of Edessa was genuinely one and the same object as today's Shroud of Turin, no such explanation is of course necessary. The Shroud's watery-looking impression and its uncertainty of detail would readily explain Romanos's sons' perception difficulties." (Wilson, 2010, p.165).
Freeman's third-mentioned reason, "It might have been possible to fold the Turin Shroud up to conceal the image of a naked lifeless body but this could hardly have been kept secret for long" is just an unsubstantiated assertion. Sixth century Edessa was not open democratic society, and people back then would have believed what they were told by the clergy. Even if there were rumours that under the Edessa Cloth's face image lay the image of Jesus' naked lifeless body", it would be dismissed by most Edessans as both preposterous and blasphemous. While a select few among the clergy must have known that behind the image of Jesus' face was His double body length burial shroud, bearing the image of Jesus' bloodstained, naked and crucified body, Freeman himself has given compelling reasons why the Edessan clergy would have kept this a very closely guarded secret.
Freeman's gives as his fourth-mentioned reason why the Image of Edessa is not the Turin Shroud, the Byzantines had a taboo about showing Christ, who was God incarnate, dead:
There is another important reason why this is not the Turin Shroud. There was a taboo in the Byzantine world about showing Christ, no less than God, of course, dead. Of course, most images avoided the problem by showing Christ while alive as the Edessa image surely did. What about the Crucifixion? There is a fascinating wood panel of the Crucifixion from about AD 420 on the door of Santa Sabina in Rome. It shows Christ and the two thieves. Christ has his arms outstretched but they are in the orans or praying form and he is standing as if alive. There is simply no cross behind him. So Christ can be shown `on the cross' while still being alive. This was one way of getting around the theological problem of showing Christ dead. Even if the Turin Shroud did show the face of the real dead Christ, it could not have been displayed without causing immense controversy. None is recorded among the accounts of the veneration of the Edessa image.
But this is a non sequitur, i.e. "it does not follow." That is, while it is true that the early Eastern Byzantine Church, and indeed the early Western Roman Church, was very reluctant to depict Jesus as dead, as evidenced by there being no extant early depictions of Christ on the cross, as the above 5th century depiction of Jesus crucified between two thieves, without crosses, attests.
But it simply does not follow that because the Byzantines had a taboo on showing Christ dead, the Image of Edessa cannot be the Shroud of Turin (folded eight times, mounted on a board and framed, so that Jesus' face only is visible in landscape aspect). That would only be the case if the bloodstained Shroud of Turin, bearing the image of a naked, crucified Christ, was a Byzantine forgery. But if the Shroud is authentic, and its bloodstains, and its naked, crucified image, really are of Jesus Christ, then that the Byzantines had a taboo on depicting that reality is beside the point.
Indeed, that the Byzantines had a taboo about depicting a dead Christ would explain why the Image of Edessa is the Turin Shroud! That is, why the Edessan clergy doubled the Shroud in four, mounted it on a board and framed it, so only the face of Jesus was visible in landscape aspect, hiding the unmistakable marks of Jesus' torture, crucifixion and death on His body, on the remaining 7/8ths of the cloth.
Freeman's "the face of the real dead Christ ... could not have been displayed without causing immense controversy" and "None is recorded among the accounts of the veneration of the Edessa image," would only apply if: 1) the Edessan public could perceive the face image as that of "a dead Christ"; and 2) it was widely known among the general Edessan populace that behind the face of Jesus on the Image of Edessa was folded His full burial shroud, bloodstained and bearing the image of His naked, crucified body. So again, Freeman has given a good reason why the burial shroud of Jesus was folded eight times, and mounted in a frame so only His face could be seen in landscape access. And then Byzantine artists `airbrushed' out signs of death on Jesus' face, a prime example being the "reversed 3" bloodstain on Jesus' forehead was depicted by Byzantine artists as a double or triple wisp of hair.
The next fallacy Freeman commits is "begging the question," that
is, assuming in his premise the conclusion of his argument:
The earliest known representation of Christ dead on the Cross comes from an eighth century icon of the Crucifixion in St. Catherine's Monastery, Sinai. Christ's eyes are closed although the blood is still flowing from his hands, feet and side, with a separate stream of water from his side. This icon is also notable as it is the very first to show the Crown of Thorns. (See the entry/illustration of the icon in the catalogue of the Byzantium and Islam exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum, New York, 2012, catalogue entry 27, page 55.) This is another representation clearly based on the gospel accounts. The earliest example known in the west is the Gero Crucifix of c. 970 from Cologne Cathedral. Christ's suffering then becomes a major element of medieval thinking, which is why many would believe that only in the Middle Ages would a relic such as the Turin Shroud with its emphasis on suffering be created. If it were created earlier, it would not have been venerated. The theological counter-attack would have been overwhelming.
That is, Freeman first assumes that the Turin Shroud was "created" and then he concludes that it could only have been created "in the Middle Ages." With his mind taken captive (Colossians 2:8) by the philosophy of Naturalism ("nature is all there is-there is no supernatural") Freeman apparently cannot conceive that the image on the Shroud was not "created" by man in any age, but was imprinted on Jesus' burial Shroud at the moment of His resurrection:
"Although many wonder why anyone should find a few stains on an old piece of linen so fascinating, it is the character of those stains ... which is so compelling. The plain fact is that no normal human body leaves behind an image of itself, certainly not one with the extraordinarily photographic character of that on the Shroud. Can it be by accident, therefore, that this phenomenon has happened uniquely in the case of Jesus Christ, the one man in all human history who is accredited with having broken the bounds of death? If the Shroud really is two thousand years old, could whatever happened at that moment in time quite literally have flashed itself on to the cloth that we have today, a now permanent time-capsule of how Jesus's body looked at the very moment of his resurrection?" (Wilson, 2010, p.293).
But Freeman does not go far enough: if the Turin Shroud had not already existed in every age since the first century, depictions of Christ naked, bloodstained, and having died an horrific death by crucifixion, would never have been created at all, let alone venerated, because "The theological counter-attack would have been overwhelming"! An artist in the Middle Ages or earlier, who forged the Shroud, showing Jesus for the first time totally naked, front and back, and with the horrific marks of His scourging, crucifixion and death, which the Gospels do not depict in detail, would have been burned at the stake for blasphemy and his forgery would have been included in his pyre!
Posted 4 September 2012. Updated 23 December 2023