Shroud of Turin

Despite scientific claims to the contrary, the Shroud of Turin may be the real thing.

The shroud of Turin is in the news again because for the first time in twenty years it is now on display for two weeks. On May 28, 1998 the Pope showed up to venerate the relic. (In the year 2000 it will again be on display.) Since it last made headlines there have been interesting developments.

Tens years ago some swatches of the linen of the cloth were given to scientists to be radio-carbon dated. The three independent laboratories doing the testing unanimously agreed - the shroud dated to 1260-1390. This seemed decisive - the shroud was a fraud in that it could not possibly be the burial cloth of Jesus. The scientists later cited odds of a trillion to one that they could not be wrong.

However, Time Magazine of April 20, 1998 ran a cover story on the shroud and revealed that possibilites had since arisen that meant, to the contrary, the shroud could possibly be real. One reason was:

Tainted samples? The strongest and most obvious technical critique of the radiocarbon dating, springing from an indisputable weakness in the testing procedure, is that since all three labs' specimens came from a single swatch of cloth, all would be affected if the swatch were atypical or contaminated. The mantra for this position, quoted fervently by shroud proponents who might otherwise have little to do with one another, is the "the tests could have been precise without being accurate."

Though not mentioned in the article, there exist centuries old pictures showing human beings holding the cloth in just the area being tested! A second possiblity for error mentioned by the Times article is:

A deceptive coat of Varnish? One challenge to the readiocarbon dating that has received a good deal of publicity is that of Dr Leoncio Garza-Valdes, a San Antonio, Texas, pediatrician with interest in microbiology and archaeology. In 1983, while examining a Mayan jade artifact that art experts claimed was a recent forgery, Garza-Baldes discovered that it was covered by a lacquer-like coating produced by bacteria. Since it also had traces of ancient blood on it that should have been datable by the radiocarbon method, he took it to the University of Arizona dating lab, where scientists scraped off a sample of the natural "varish" as well as the blood underneath it. They came up with a date of about AD 400 - definitely not modern, but still 600 years younger than the carvings's style suggested. Several years later, when the three labs, the University of Arizona among them, produced their wet-blanket dates for the Turin shroud, a possibility flashed through Garza-Valdes' mind. What if the shroud too had a "Bioplastic" varnish - and the labs had been fooled into decreeing an object hounger than it actually was?

Later Garza-Baldes visited Turin with microscope in hand and was allowed to examine a piece of the shroud. "I knew immediately", he says, "that the coating was there." Futhermore, this coating - which is transparent and thus invisible to the naked eye - cannot be removed by the conventional cleaning methods of most readicarbon labs. Today, this is still a valid possible objection but it has not been resolved. The church has recalled all outstanding samples of the cloth.

The Times article notes favorably The Blood and the Shroud: New Evidence That the World's Most Sacred Relic is Real by Ian Wilson. When one reads this entire book, the total weight of all kinds, when all placed together on the scales, makes it highly likely that this is the shroud of Jesus.

But how does this relate to Theosophy? Blavatsky asserts that there actually was an individual around whom the biblical story of Jesus has been fashioned. However she notes that this "Jesus" had a different name, was born at a different time, was not fully Jewish, and that the current biblical version is a stubstantial distortion of the truth. Yet he existed, was an initiate and a great teacher. Provocatively, Blavatsky predicts that the figure of Jesus will loom larger in future centuries.

When all the details are considered we think it possible that this shroud could be part of the evidence that will cause "Jesus" to loom larger in future centuries.

One further note that we cannot fully expound upon here. The Theosophical story of Jesus is complicated. But from studying it at some length, we feel that the Theosophical version of Jesus is compatible with this shroud being genuine. And we rather think it is genuine. At a later time we may write more on this subject.

Certainly this issue, now before the public, can have long term repercussions on the belief system of the times.

R.C. May 29, 1998


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