Another Shroud — Don’t Buy the Hype

Okay, if there’s one thing that really, really annoys me about the media it’s when they don’t take the time — whether on purpose or out of simple negligence — to do a bit of research about something. This a.m. as I was waiting for my triple grande sugar-free-vanilla soy latte to be constructed, a news alert from the BBC crossed my iPod screen, to wit:

A team of archaeologists and scientists says it has, for the first time, found pieces of a burial shroud from the time of Jesus in a tomb in Jerusalem.

The researchers, from Hebrew University and institutions in Canada and the US, said the shroud was very different from the controversial Turin Shroud.

Some people believe the Turin Shroud to have been Christ’s burial cloth, but others believe it is a fake.

The newly found cloth has a simpler weave than Turin’s, the scientists say.

The body of a man wrapped in fragments of the shroud was found in a tomb dating from the time of Jesus near the Old City of Jerusalem.

The tomb is part of a cemetery called the Field of Blood, where Judas Iscariot is said to have killed himself.

The researchers believe the man was a Jewish high priest or member of the aristocracy who died of leprosy, the earliest proven case.

They say he was wrapped in a cloth made of a simple two-way weave, very different to the complex weave of the Turin Shroud.

The researchers believe that the fragments are typical of the burial cloths used at the time of Jesus.

As a result, they conclude that the Turin Shroud did not originate from 1st Century Jerusalem.

The Turin Shroud has been the subject of much controversy.

Tests 20 years ago dated the fabric to the Middle Ages, but believers say the cloth bears the imprint of a man’s face that is an authentic image of Christ.

Coverage from other sources is quickly adding to the pile, with more or less detail. What needs to be mentioned is that this really isn’t a new discovery. We mentioned this ‘first leper’ story back in 2004, when rogueclassicism was still trying to find its voice — it was mentioned in the context of Shimon Gibson’s claims about the ‘John the Baptist Cave’. At least one of the links we mentioned back then is still alive, and contains this excerpt:

Although he made the discovery three years ago, he said he held off from publicising the find until exhaustive examination of the bones, DNA and fibres in the skeleton’s shroud were complete.

So this piece of cloth was actually found back in 2000 or 2001 but at the time the ‘first leper’ story was breaking, you might recall that this find was being touted as a piece of shroud belonging to someone who might have witnessed the crucifixion (alas, my link to that isn’t working still).
“We didn’t want to make a spectacular announcement and then find we hadn’t done our homework,” he told The Associated Press.

Orit Shamir, a textiles expert at the Israel Antiquities Authority, said the leper’s linen shroud was also unique.

“This is the first time we have found a shroud of that age in the Jerusalem area,” she said, adding that the man’s clothing indicated his social status.

“He was from the upper level of society,” she said.

Gibson said that although leprosy weakened the man’s immune system, it was tuberculosis that actually killed him.

He said that contrary to the local custom at the time of burying a corpse and then later re-interring the bones, the leper was left untouched in his niche, away from the bones of his relatives.

“People were very frightened of leprosy,” he said. “They were afraid of being contaminated.”

That fear may have led to the preservation of the shroud, Gibson said, keeping the cloth in its niche above the cave floor away from the rotting effects of rainwater.

“Such things have previously only been found in arid or semi-arid areas such as the Jordan Valley or Egypt.”

We might note that the BBC themselves also mentioned this discovery early in 2005 (I’ll skip the link to rc). Whatever the case, this isn’t ‘new’ and it is clearly deceptive to pass it off as a “new” discovery. I honestly am not sure whether the ‘weave analysis’ is something new or not; it’s clearly a response to the claim a few weeks ago of a researcher’s discovery of text on the Shroud of Turin that authenticate it (which received tons of press attention, of course)… please enlighten us in the comments if you can point us to a source about these ‘recent’ tests.

UPDATE (an hour or so later): I note that Antonio Lombatti points to the original research article in the comments to Jim West’s post on this.

Additional coverage (there’s much more):


2 thoughts on “Another Shroud — Don’t Buy the Hype

    • That’s the 2005 BBC piece, of course; not the latest. My link is for abstract and full text of Proc. R. Soc. B, 22 February 2005, vol. 272, no. 1561, pp. 389-394.

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