Who is this Man?

Neither painting nor burn mark nor photograph

Rev. José Mario O. Mandía

“Peter then came out with the other disciple, and they went toward the tomb. They both ran, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first; and stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; he saw the linen cloths lying, and the napkin, which had been on his head, not lying with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed.” (John 20:3-8)

What did John see?

Did you notice how many times this passage mentions “linen cloths”? I didn’t, until Fr Andrew Dalton, LC, pointed it out in a talk he gave on March 31st at the Club Lusitano in Hong Kong upon the invitation of the St Thomas More Society. Fr Andrew Dalton, LC is currently studying Biblical Theology at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross and teaching Biblical Hebrew at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum.

The linen cloths (in Greek othonia) must have been of importance to John and to the early apostles. “He saw and believed.” What did John see? Not Jesus. But he believed. What was it with the linen cloths that made John believe?

Scripture experts point out that in the Greek original, the verb “see” is rendered in three different ways. In verse 5, John “saw (Greek ‘blepei’ ) the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in”. In verse 6, Peter “saw (Greek ‘theorei’) the linen cloths lying”. In verse 8, John “saw (Greek ‘eiden’) and believed.”

‘Blepei’  is a casual look; ‘theorei’ (related to English “theory”) implies a more observant and thoughtful gaze; and ‘eiden’ involves perceiving and delving into the matter more deeply, seeing and understanding something beyond what was obvious.

As John contemplated the linen cloths, he must have seen something in them that led him to believe. What is it that he saw?

Is it the same cloth?

Fast forward to the 21st century. We now have “a winding sheet, which covered the corpse of a man who was crucified, corresponding to everything that the Gospels say of Jesus, who was crucified about noon and died at about 3 in the afternoon.” (Benedict XVI, May 2, 2010) This 4.4 X 1.1 meter sheet which Benedict XVI venerated in 2010, is now enshrined in Turin, Italy. Pope Francis will go to Turin on June 21 to venerate this piece of cloth (aside from commemorating St John Bosco on the 200th anniversary of his birth) which had not been displayed in public since the Pope Emeritus’ visit.

The question on everyone’s mind is this: could this be the same burial cloth that John saw? No artifact has probably been as subjected to scientific studies and argued about as much as this one.

When he went to see the Shroud of Turin on May 24, 1998, Saint John Paul II stressed, “Since it is not a matter of Faith, the Church has no specific competence to pronounce on these questions. She entrusts to scientists the task of continuing to investigate, so that satisfactory answers may be found to the questions connected with this Sheet, which, according to tradition, wrapped the body of our Redeemer after He had been taken down from the Cross. The Church urges that the Shroud be studied without pre-established positions that take for granted results that are not such; she invites them to act with interior freedom and attentive respect for both scientific methodology and the sensibilities of believers.”

One of the tests carried out on the Shroud was carbon-14 dating. This was performed in 1988 by British scientists Professor Edward Hall, Dr Michael Tite, and Dr Robert Hedges. On October 13 of that year, they declared at a press conference held at the British Museum that the Shroud was a a medieval forgery, and must have been crafted between 1260 and 1390.

That seemed to settle the question of the authenticity, but other scientists have cited serious flaws in the tests.

Moreover, the 1988 verdict created further vexing questions like how in the world could they – in the Middle Ages – create an image that was neither a painting, a burn, or a photograph, and which modern science cannot replicate? Indeed, the Shroud has some very peculiar characteristics. One of them is that it is possible to create a three-dimensional image based on data that is “encoded” in the Shroud.

“You will know them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:16)

One of the people who thought the that the Shroud was a fraud was Barrie Schwortz. Jim Graves of Catholic World Report, who interviewed Schwortz recently, writes, “In 1978, Schwortz, a technical photographer, was invited to participate in the first ever in-depth scientific examination of the cloth, known as the Shroud of Turin Research Project (STRUP). A non-practicing Jew at the time, he reluctantly agreed to be part of STRUP, fully expecting the team to prove that the Shroud was a painted image from the Middle Ages. But after many years of study and reflection he came to believe in its authenticity.”

He had agreed to participate in the study thinking that it was a painting. “But after 10 minutes studying it, I knew it was not [a painting]. As a professional photographer, I was looking for brush strokes. But there was no paint and no brush strokes,” he said.

Schwortz realized that many people were ignorant about the Shroud, so he set up a website which contains all the latest findings: www.shroud.com. If you care to know more about this piece of cloth, check his website out. But if you are one of those who get dizzy reading scientific reports, you can search YouTube for documentaries on the Shroud by Discovery Channel and the BBC.

Moreover, the Shroud helped Schwortz discover his own faith. In an interview with Zenit on March 22, 2012, Schwortz admitted: “It’s just that I had virtually ignored it through the first part of my adult life, and there at age 50, I suddenly came face to face with God in my own heart.” 

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