A Grossly Misleading Documentary About a Medieval Artifact
I'll pose the question in simple terms: Is the Shroud of Turin real or a fake? The answer is yes, it is a real medieval artifact possibly depicting Jesus Christ probably produced sometime in the 14th century. Is it an ancient shroud which wrapped the dead body of Jesus after his execution by crucifixion? The answer is, even if this was proved to be an ancient shroud, the likelihood that this linen wrapped Jesus' body is probably nil. But the shroud shows the image of a scourged and possibly crucified man; isn't this sufficient evidence this shows Jesus because this is the method by which he was executed? In the following paragraphs, I'll explain some of the problems with the documentary's intent to "prove" this was the shroud of Jesus.
First off, let's explore the first question: Is the shroud real or fake? Well, it depends upon the definition of "fake". I keep hearing in this documentary and others concerning this subject that the Shroud of Turin is either a "fake" or it's "real". A fake is an object which is meant to deceive people, implying the creators were trying to pull a "fast one". After everything I've heard of this artifact, there's nothing to tell me that someone in the Middle Ages decided they would create something to fool people for centuries into believing this was a contemporary image of Jesus Christ. The idea of creating fakes of something purporting to be something else is certainly not a new one, but it's not clear to me the intent was to create a deceiving object.
We have scant evidence for the Shroud's history dating before 1357 when it was first exhibited. This year is consistent with the carbon dating of 1988 which gave a time-frame for its creation as 1260 to 1390. More than likely, it was created probably circa 1300 to 1350 and eventually displayed. As the documentary describes, there is some evidence of a shroud of some kind with an image depicting Jesus dating back before the 14th century, but there's no definitive link between the Shroud of Turin and some of the stories concerning shrouds. As correctly pointed out in the documentary, the image of a face wasn't revealed until 1898 by photographer Secondo Pia. If this were a "fake" in the sense of trying to deceive, it wasn't a very good one since it took about 550 years for anyone to discover an image!
Could this be the shroud which wrapped Jesus' body? Wrapping a deceased person in a shroud was common practice in Ancient times, the Middle Ages and up to the present time in some traditions. If you consider the thousands upon thousands, perhaps millions of deceased people who were wrapped in shrouds and placed in ossuaries during the period 100 BCE to 100 CE (200 years), the likelihood this particular shroud is that of Jesus is astronomically minuscule. However, there are other problems, mainly a misunderstanding of crucifixion as the most brutal form of execution in ancient times.
Another interesting observation made by the players in the documentary is the scourging of the body. One of the commentators says the scourging is highly "unusual" because of its brutality. Actually, scourging was almost always a precursor to crucifixion in Roman practice. The condemned were scourged by flogging to subdue the poor victim into a helpless state of shock to prevent resistance. The brutality was intentional. Shortly thereafter, the condemned would carry the cross-beam to the place of execution, not the entire cross, while in a dazed state caused by scourging. So even in the remote chance this is possibly the image of a crucified man from ancient times, having been scourged would be expected. This wouldn't be unusual, although by modern standards, scourging followed by crucifixion is a terrifyingly horrible way to be executed.
The New Testament states Joseph of Arimathea went to Pilate and requested the body of Jesus. Most scholars believe this scenario is probably apocryphal, i.e. did not happen. Why not, the gospel writers say it did? The trouble is, this was part of the point of crucifixion as execution. The humiliation and degradation of crucifixion was not only during the time of the execution itself which was painfully slow, but it was also humiliation after death. Bodies were left to rot on the uprights, often subject to the elements. As a way to deter would-be dissidents, particularly among slaves and lower classes, victims were denied burial. During extensive research, only one instance was ever found of a crucified body found in an ancient ossuary. The Joseph of Arimathea story was probably written to create a resurrection scenario. Sad to say, the episode of Jesus' body taken down from the cross and prepared for burial is probably a storytelling device rather than an historical event.
The main problem with this documentary is the filmmakers obviously desire to prove the shroud is the real image of Jesus. I don't think scholars believe the image is a "fake" just not a real image of Jesus from ancient times. Crucified people were almost never given the dignity of burial. In the remote possibly this is an image of a crucified man from ancient times, evidence he was scourged does not offer any further evidence that the image is that of Jesus. Thousands of people were crucified. Many more were buried in shrouds. According to this and other docs, there is blood on the shroud. Why not carbon date the blood? One thing it could be: a medieval image upon an ancient cloth. Is that not possible as well?
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