Baker Academic

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Surprising New Proof for the Historicity of Jesus! - Le Donne

I apologize for the title of this post... I couldn't resist. This is a post about the Shroud of Turin, which is not "new" and I almost always avoid the use of the word "historicity". But boy howdy - the traffic it will generate!

I had the great pleasure of meeting a very fine Jesus scholar and film-maker last week: Simon J. Joseph. Here is his IMDb page for you documentary nerds. Simon is a Claremont grad and writes on a wide variety topics including Q, Jesus, and comparative religion. Today (by chance) I learned that he also has interest in the Shroud of Turin. This is a really fascinating read.

I confess that I've always avoided shroud talk for all of the reasons that Joseph lists in this paper. Perhaps I've associated the shroud with bogeymen like sasquatch, chupacabra, and William Lane Craig.

Full disclosure: a very prominent shroud scholar taught one of my almae matres and I've since had the impression that this was a topic for Christian apologists. I readily admit that my reluctance to taking the shroud seriously (while perhaps warranted) has been without due consideration. It has been a knee-jerk reaction on my part.  Simon Joseph is a serious scholar and not an apologist or (as I saw him drink liquid) an apparition.

I have no idea what to do with the shroud, but dismissing it altogether will not do either.



  1. I haven't read the paper, yet, but I read recently that the the Shroud proponents were maintaining that the sample used for the C14 tests was taken from a cotton patch that had been sewn into the Shroud in the 13the century or so, and that if samples had been used from the the original linen, then chances were good that it would date to the 1st century CE. If so, then one must now play the waiting game for the Vatican to allow that experiment to take place.

    If it dates from the 1st century I would think NT historians might find it relevant.

  2. I would say the shroud is really a 'too good to be true' scenario. It's there any credible evidence that it existed before the 14th century? None that I've heard of. I don't dismiss it out of hand, but after looking into the theories and evidence, I would say it is just as un-credible as Ned Flanders owning a piece of 'the true cross'.

  3. interesting... I've never known what to make of the shroud. I guess I just share what seems to be the sensible (precautionary?) opinion that it is a medi-eval artifact (a forgery of sorts).

    However, if there really is blood on the cloth. I would want to see DNA extracted from that blood (if possible) and from that we could determine who the blood belonged to (that is, their likely geographic ancestry and their place in chronological history). If it turned out that the blood belonged to someone from the Palestine region in the first century, then I suspect the shroud would gain some credibility - at least as far as it's dating is concerned.

  4. Very interesting.

    Perhaps Simon Joseph himself put it best in his conclusion:

    "Given the 1988 radiocarbon dating test’s demonstrated
    unreliability, a new radiocarbon dating test is clearly in order."

    Until then, can anything really be done with it? Simon Joseph did an excellent job with showing all the current facts, and I have no doubt that if he was really that interested and had an answer or at least something close to an answer, he probably would have written it in this paper.

    You're right. It can't be dismissed, but what has Simon Joseph not done right now without another carbon test that another scholar can do?

  5. I'm curious. What if the shroud could be proven to be Jesus' burial shroud. I don't see how anyone could prove that, but let's say it WAS proven. So what? Would it add anything to scholarship? Would it mean anything more than the shroud is a true relic?

    1. Well I suppose it would help us imagine the practice of crucifixion better.

    2. Maybe, but I don't see how. Isn't it accepted that most crucified bodies remained on the cross after death?

  6. One little-talked-about Shroud issue is the height of the man in the image. He was about 6 inches taller than a typical first-century Galilean man. Conclusive? Of course not, but it nudges the probability toward unlikely.

  7. This article brings up an interesting aspect of Historical Jesus research. While one often associates research with language, literature, and theology, I think that a major component that could aid in historical Jesus research is the use of science and technology. The use of scientific research can be used to obtain a greater understanding of who Jesus was as a living historical figure. I like that the author clarifies what is meant by the "Historical Jesus." It's important to note that this Jesus is a figure which must be reconstructed to the best of our abilities using the historical evidence that we have.

  8. I feel like if scientific research became more involved in understanding who Jesus was as a historical figure, then it would bring assurance to those who don't necessarily believe 100 percent but who believe that something greater is out there. I know for me that scientific research and the results that come from it persuade me into believing what they discovered. If there was more research that revealed the living historical Jesus, then I think I would be much more convinced that he was a real man. Of course, science can't explain everything. Some things have to be left on their own, and whether people believe or not is up to them.

  9. It is hard to take seriously a paper that says in the conclusion that the shroud bears an uncanny resemblance to Jesus. Does he have any photos?

    A commenter above talked about the image's unusual height. What's more, the man in the image has long hair and a beard, which is what a medieval person might have thought a first-century Jew looked like. But based on what we know, Jewish men in the first century almost certainly wore their hair short and probably shaved.

    What's more, the shroud is based on a completely speculative idea of the impact of a resurrected corpse on a piece of fabric. Why exactly would a resurrection leave physical evidence? Absurd.