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"Write out of love, write out of instinct, write out of reason. But always for money."
Louis Untermeyer


The Blood and the Shroud

By Ian Wilson
A Touchstone Book, 333 pp, 1998

If you're like me, you don't know much about the Shroud of Turin. You've probably heard of it, know it's some kind of ancient relic that supposedly bears the image of Christ. Perhaps you're even aware that radiocarbon dating pegged its origins in the 13th or 14th centuries, meaning that it's a fake. 

That's about all I knew when I bought this book a couple years ago at Barnes & Noble for four bucks (the discount racks rock). I meant to read this last Easter but overlooked it. Not this year. I started plenty early so I wouldn't miss Easter, and here I am a few weeks early. Oh well.

Anyway, no matter what your position on the Shroud (real, fake, or don't care), you'll enjoy reading about it. Wilson is a fine writer, careful and thorough. He wrote a book about the Shroud in 1978, in which he declared the cloth to be real, and the radiocarbon dating in 1988 threw him for a loop. So he started his investigation anew, and the result is this book.

Though a believer in the Shroud's legitimacy, Wilson does not proselytize. He painstakingly examines all the arguments, for and against, and offers an honest explanation. He does not call names or cast aspersions on his opponents. He is candid when the evidence is lacking. In other words, this is no heavy-handed attempt to convince readers of his viewpoint. Instead, it's a serious work of scholarship.

I don't want to give too much away about the actual arguments, but let's just say there is a lot of evidence that the Shroud is real. For example, the blood patterns on the cloth are remarkably consistent with how they should appear, adhering to the laws of gravity and medicine. A forger in the 1200s or 1300s would have lacked that same precise knowledge and yet somehow accurately reflected it.

Although the Shroud as we know it today doesn't appear in the historical record until the 1350s, there is evidence that something remarkably like it appeared much farther back in history. French crusader Robert de Clari wrote this about his sightseeing trip in Constantinople in 1203: "There was another church which was called My Lady St Mary at Blachernae, where there was the shroud in which Our Lord had been wrapped, which every Friday raised itself upright, so that one could see the figure of Our Lord on it."

But what about the radiocarbon dating? For many people, that decided the issue, although there are several outstanding questions that must be answered for that to be true. The forger lacking knowledge of gravity is just one of them. Wilson presents many more and offers good reasons why the radiocarbon test could have been wrong.

The whole issue demands more inspection, but the Vatican, who now owns the Shroud, has declared it off-limits. That's a shame. Its secrets should be revealed.

Real or not, and as interesting and tantalizing as the Shroud is, Christians should not let it determine their faith. Even if the Shroud is a clever fake, it changes nothing about Christianity and the Bible. It would be wonderful if the Shroud were proved to be real, but it's not necessary for salvation. And that is what really counts.

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