(Most of the text below, and in the following pages, is made up of quotes from the sources below. The color of the text is supposed to match the color of its source, but don't take such for the Gospel just yet -- I'm struggling with my website program.)
Turin Shroud Center of Colorado (8/6/10) http://www.shroudofturin.com/shroud.html
Wikipedia (7/12/10) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shroud_of_Turin
Thoughtful skeptical inquirer (7/16/10) http://www.skepticalspectacle.com/
Skeptics Dictionary (7/17/10) http://www.skepdic.com/shroud.html
Story Guide 2010 (7/19/10) http://www.shroudstory.com/
Shroud Mania (7/30/10) http://blog.ecso.org/2010/04/shroud-of-turin-mania/
9News.com (8/9/10) http://www.9news.com/rss/article.aspx?storyid=146967
Center for Inquiry (4/6/10) http://www.centerforinquiry.net/blogs/entry/the_fraud_of_turin/
Here, I'm trying to present both sides of the story (even though, I personally think that the naysayers are being foolish...).
Like the obligatory ghost story that materializes at Halloween, the Shroud of Turin seems perpetually to be, well, resurrected for Easter. This usually occurs when shroud propagandists advance a new claim, or the popular media puts out a new publication or broadcast timed for Easter consumption. Often both occur. The result is that the possibility of the shroud's authenticity is kept in play until next year when new claims will be put forth--never mind that the previous ones have been exposed as wishful thinking, pseudoscience, or even pious fraud.
The physical Shroud is remarkable in its own right and worthy of continued scientific and historic research. It is a rectangular piece of cloth woven from linen with the approximate length dimension of 14’ 3’’ by a 3’ 7’’ width dimension. The Shroud is not believed to have been woven to these particular specifications. Instead these English dimensions are only approximate measurements given to the nearest inch. The more accurate specification dimensions of the Shroud, that is the dimensions used by those who crafted the Shroud, is 8 cubits long by 2 cubits wide. This specification conforms with a cubit equivalent to 21.6 inches. Interestingly, a cubit of 21.6 inches corresponds to the ancient Assyrian cubit. Assyrian culture, but not the empire of course, survived well into Christian times, so there are at least hints that the Shroud may have been woven outside of Palestine proper in some other area once part of the Assyrian Empire. In any case, the linen of the Shroud is a textile made from the fibers of the flax plant, linum usitatisismum. Such linen textiles appear to be some of the oldest in the world: Their history goes back many thousands of years.
The weave used to manufacture the Shroud linen is of a particularly elegant, and apparently rare, 3 over 1 herringbone weave. When the carbon dating of the Shroud was performed in 1988 a concerted effort was made to find a control sample of linen from the Middle Ages that matched the weave of the Shroud. None could be found. Neither has anything comparable been found from the first century. Highlighting the rarity of the Shroud was a news story that circulated around the world in the popular press in late 2009. The story concerned the discovery of a first century burial garment or shroud in Jerusalem. Archaeologist Shimon Gibson who excavated the site for the Israel Antiquities Authority stated that, “in all of the approximately 1,000 tombs from the first century AD which have been excavated around Jerusalem, not one fragment of a shroud has been found”, until now. “We really hit the jackpot”, he said. The newly discovered burial cloth was a simple plain 1 over 1 weave, nothing like the Shroud. Some experts have claimed the new study cast doubt on the Shroud of Turin as Jesus’ burial cloth. We concur with that opinion. The Shroud is even rarer than the 1 in a 1000 find in Jerusalem, and more importantly as the study shows, is simply too fine a cloth to have been woven for the purpose of being a burial garment. When the Institute’s John Jackson first worked hands-on with the Shroud back in 1978 as a leader of the STURP (Shroud of Turin Research Project) team he recalls that he was moved by the beauty of the Shroud and that it seemed to “flow out on the table like water”.
One is now prompted to ask, if the Shroud was not woven as a burial cloth, for what purpose might it have been made? The New Testament statement (Mark 15:46) that the “sindon” was purchased by Joseph of Arimathea, who, according to the Gospel account, was a “wealthy man” and the fact that Jesus directed his disciples to secure the “upper room” for the Last Supper from an “owner” who he somehow knew raises some intriguing possibilities. We believe there is important empirical evidence associated with the Shroud itself concerning the cloth’s use prior to its being used as a burial cloth. We will share our findings with you on this subject in future postings in months to come.
One theory devised by the Jacksons [John and Rebecca of the Turin Shroud Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado] was based on a collaboration between their own heritages. Rebecca Jackson, who was raised Jewish, converted to Christianity three years before meeting her husband, John. Rebecca's faith in existing research told the shroud once covered a middle-eastern Jewish man who had been crucified. However, her Jewish traditions suggested there might be a deeper story to the shroud. Simply put, it was the type of fabric that makes up the shroud that led the Jacksons to believe it was once used as something other than a burial shroud.
"[The idea] comes from consideration of the liturgy [as well as] the mass as it's celebrated throughout the world," John Jackson said. "Interestingly, [Communion] is celebrated on a linen cloth called a corporal in the Roman Rite, which is understood to be the burial shroud of Jesus. That's exactly what we study."
John Jackson led an expedition of scientists to research the Shroud in 1978. However, John had not met Rebecca at that time, and their collaborative theory about the Last Supper had not cross John's mind. He now looks at a collection of suspect spots and food stains as possibly being from the Last Supper. However, he has not had access to the Shroud since his first trip more than 30 years ago.
"If it is authentic, and if this idea is, in fact, truth, it would touch the cornerstone belief of Christianity, namely the resurrection of Jesus himself," Jackson said. "This cloth would have been a witness to [the Last Supper, death and resurrection of Christ] simultaneously. Not that the Shroud should replace faith. It shouldn't do that. But it could bring us to a sense of scientific inquiry to help us perhaps understand what the events of these three days really were and what they were like."
There is another fairly recent development concerning the “fineness” of the Shroud worth mentioning here. After the 1532 fire that partially damaged the Shroud a protective backing cloth was stitched to the Shroud to help preserve it. In 2002 a team of textile historians and preservationists removed the backing cloth to promote the preservation of the Shroud. Yes, needless to say, there was controversy. Although the work was done in good faith, some Shroud researchers including some from the Shroud Institute, believe the project may have compromised some empirical Shroud data. Nevertheless, an interesting and valuable finding was made. In the course of the restoration a peculiar stitching pattern in the seam of one long side of the Shroud, called a selvedge, was revealed. The stitching was the work of a “professional” stated restoration team leader and Swiss textile historian Ms. Mechthild Flury-Lemberg in a PBS interview. More interesting still, she found the stitching to be quite similar to stitching found in cloth fragments found in the tombs of the Jewish fortress of Masada. The Masada cloths date to between 40 BC and 73 AD when the fortress of Masada fell to the Romans. Flury-Lemberg further stated, corroborating John Jackson’s first impression, that the Shroud “weave was special in antiquity because it denoted an extraordinary quality”. Flury-Lemberg wrapped up her PBS interview with the statement that “the linen cloth of the Shroud of Turin does not display any weaving or sewing techniques which would speak against its origin as a high quality product of textile workers of the first century.”
The most remarkable thing about the Shroud is not the linen itself of course, although much more needs to be said about the linen including a thorough discussion of the carbon dating done in1988 that dated the linen to the 14th century. The most remarkable thing about the Shroud is that imprinted on the fabric is what appears to the naked eye to be a faint, ghostly image of a crucified man.