Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Argument From the Shroud 3-A: 'O Death, where is thy sting? O Hades, where is thy victory?'

At this point in the argument I am going to assume that the Shroud of Turin is indeed the burial shroud of Jesus Christ. The posts up to this point have largely been a justification for this assumption. The real excitement about the Shroud is when we start to examine it in the light of Pascha.

There already exists voluminous studies on the Resurrection and what the apostles saw, largely in the camps of criticism and apologetics. My contention all along is that the Shroud adds unprecedented weight to the claims of the apologists, not only confirming the written record of the Gospels but giving us a primary document which supplies us with far more information than we had previously.
Why then, a Resurrection? Couldn't we just say that the image of Christ was made via a naturalistic process and that as eerily and unique it may be (eerily perhaps because of it's uniqueness) it does not prove the Resurrection? Yes and no.

Yes in the sense that I am not arguing that this proves the Resurrection. I don't know if I can do that, or if anyone can do that, but what I will say is that it makes it seem logically possible. So much so to the point where I believe that the Resurrection is a more powerful explanation for both the events surrounding Easter and the Shroud than any naturalistic one.
No in the sense that even if there were to be a purely naturalistic explanation for the image, it would be irrelevant to what I just claimed. I will elaborate on this further when I talk about the properties of the Shroud and how they pertain to the different image forming hypotheses. However, first we must lay the context of the claim.

To explain the rise of early Christian belief, there are some key factors that any hypothesis must take into account. I will essentially be touting the typical evangelical apologetic given by figures such as William Lane Craig, Gary Habermas, etc.

Firstly, the apostles of Christ claimed to have seen their Rabbi after His death and believed that He was truly Risen from the dead. I am putting emphasis on 'Risen' as there have been many theories that the early Church did not believe in a bodily resurrection, but that such a dogma came later and was anachronistically forced upon earlier writings.[1] However, scholars such as N.T. Wright have shown this to be an erroneous claim.[2] In a similar vein, there's been many (bad) attempts to show that Christ was just a copycat savior from preexisting mythology. However, the very concept of the bodily resurrection – the word 'anastasis' – flew in the face of everything that the Hellenic world imagined.[3] Also, there have been many works that have debunked such theories, such as the apologetics of James Patrick Holding, or Edward L. Winston's criticism of the popular internet movie 'Zeitgeist'.[4]
Yet, the visions themselves wont convince most skeptics. After all, people have visions of things frequently, and in an ancient world that did not have the sciences people had to of been more prone to be duped by hallucinations, right?

While the assertion may seem reasonable to us in our post-modern age, the ancients were actually quite skeptical themselves of any kind of vision or hallucination.[5] But rather than delve too deep into this subject, there is a key point I'd like to make. In the ancient world, whenever someone saw a recently departed person it was their soul that came back to talk, or a vision of some kind. Never was it the entire person, both body and soul, who returned.[6] To the pagan mind this was pure foolishness; the body was something that was shed after death. This is why the Greeks found Christianity to be “foolishness” as St. Paul says, and why many of them laughed at him when he preached the risen Christ.
Secondly, coupled with this message was the fact that Christ was Risen. While many, though not all, Jews believed in the resurrection of the body, the idea that the resurrection had already begun was what was so unique about the message.[7] This did not sit with the ideas of the Jews that everyone would be resurrected at once – no one would resurrect before anyone else. Yet, as the disciples clearly preached, Christ was Risen – the resurrection had begun.

Thirdly, the empty tomb. Some contest that the empty tomb is a legendary embellishment . Mark's gospel in the earliest copies we have, ending with the women telling “no one” what they saw seems to fit with this. Indeed, the later gospels seem to be covering up this error by saying that they did tell the apostles, trying to fix an obvious blunder. For indeed if the empty tomb were true, why would the women disciples tell no one?

Yet, there are problems with this train of thought. If the tomb was indeed a legend, why have female disciples be the ones who discover it? Female testimony in Jewish law was non-existent – they simply were not seen as reliable witnesses. True, the disciples did verify their message for themselves, not solely relying off their testimony (in fact they distrusted them from the outset). Yet why, if inventing a story, have the women disciples be the ones to discover it at all? Perhaps its supposed to be a reversal of sorts: while the men ran away after Christ's arrest, the women stayed. Where it was Eve who first disobeyed, it was the women who now first believe. While this is certainly true, and is even how it is seen in the Tradition of the Orthodox Church, why are we to believe that such a theological premise was to be invented, one with much profundity, but that then the disciple who inaugurated it completely botched everything up by saying they told “no one”? Is such a blatant error consistent with one who could 'invent' such a theological reflection?

Furthermore, as historian N. T. Wright points out, the empty tomb is a necessary condition for explaining the Paschal story.[8] If the Apostles only had visions of a risen Jesus, this alone wouldn't of brought them to their belief; like I said previously, despite our normal assumptions, the ancient world had a firm grasp on the difference between reality and visions. As Wright points out, “the response to reported visions of this kind might of course have been, in the ancient as in the modern world, to question the mental balance, or perhaps the recent diet, of the witnesses.”[9] To add on to this, visions of those recently departed were always seen as a sign “that the person was dead, not that they were alive”, yet the claim of the early Church was that Christ was alive.[10] Had the apostles only seen visions, they, like most of the ancient world, could have just written them off. However, it is – as Wright again points out – that the visions had a “Jesus who was bodily continuity with the corpse that had occupied the tomb”.[11]

Now, when we look at the Shroud we must remember that any hypothesis about the image and the end result of Christ's body has to also account for all the other data I just went over. It's no good if a theory can account, for example, the source of the image but have no way of explaining the empty tomb. First, let's see some of the things the Shroud seems to vindicate in our previous apologetic.
First, the empty tomb. My reason for this is how else should we have access to the Shroud unless the Apostles found it as they describe in their accounts? Now skeptics may argue that it was indeed recovered but not necessarily from an empty tomb. However, the travertine aragonite located at Christ's feet on the Shroud has an incredibly “similar [signature] to limestone samples from ancient [Judaic] tombs”.[12] This obviously does not prove the empty tomb, but it is certainly powerful evidence for it's validity.

Second, a historical Jesus. The reason I mention this is that though 'Jesus-myth' theories are not generally given the time of day, certain works and views by authors such as Earl Doherty and Richard Carrier as well as serious laymen such as Neil Godfrey are gaining more of an audience. However, if we're accepting that the Shroud of Turin did indeed wrap Jesus Christ, then the idea that He was a myth is soundly gutted.

So then, how can we explain the empty tomb, the rise of early Christian beliefs, and the image on the Shroud? The first theory we can look at is that the body was stolen from the tomb. Immediately though, we run into problems because of the blood clots on the Shroud. Vignon noted that these clots “showed the characteristics of authentically dried or 'clotted' blood – separation of serum and darker cellular mass”.[13] Though a few of the stains had broken borders, “most were smooth” indicating “they must first have dried and separated on a non-absorbent surface, such as the skin of a corpse, before being transferred to the cloth.”[14] This would be possible due to the sweat released by Christ during His torture, which then would have lingered longer if His body was placed in a cool environment such as a tomb[15] (hence giving even more evidence to the fact that the empty tomb was not a developed legend). However, the perfect quality in which the wounds are transferred are the real problem for the stolen body theory; if the body was stolen from the Shroud we would not see the perfection we do – instead things would have been messy and haphazard.[16] This makes sense as a wound that hadn't fully clotted yet would have smeared on the Shroud while one that had clotted to the linen would have broken a-new. We see neither of these on the Shroud, though.

Second, the Shroud does away with 'swoon theory', or the idea that Christ didn't die on the Cross. This is very hard to take seriously even without the Shroud, and most skeptics don't hold to it. However, there is no doubt of its invalidity when we remember that the image of Christ on the Shroud is in rigor mortis. The reason I bring this up is for a more inter-religious apologetic than a theist-atheist one. To my understanding, most traditional forms of Islam hold that Christ never died while on the Cross. This seems to fly directly in the face of said claim. The implications spell themselves out. 

Third, the idea that Christ was buried in a common grave. The first problem with this theory is the aforementioned data of both the limestone and the blood. Any theory that claims that Christ was buried instead in a common grave has to deal with these facts. Second, the weave as I had mentioned in my second post was only one that could be purchased by those with wealth. Why, if Christ was going to be subjected to a common grave, would someone have bothered to bury such an expensive cloth with Him? Such a cloth makes sense if the story about St. Joseph of Arimathea is true, but doesn't seem to be the case if it is false.

One may opt that Christ was wrapped in the Shroud and then buried in a common grave after wards rather than a tomb (or just reburied). Again, this fails to deal with the evidence we have (the clots and our possession of the Shroud), but even if this were not the case we run into a different problem. The body would have necessarily had to of been formed by contact in this case since there would have been no proper environment for gasses to diffuse as perfectly as one sees on the Shroud in this naturalistic hypothesis. Let me extrapolate:

One set of naturalistic theories that attempt to explain how the image was made comes from gases that proceed death. The most popular theory is the Maillard reaction proposed by Raymond N. Rogers. The theory in brief states “that [the] colour [on the Shroud] can be produced by reactions between reducing sugars, left on the cloth by the manufacturing procedure, and amines deriving from the decomposition of a corpse.”[17] This is because “decomposing bodies start producing ammonia and amines...fairly quickly, depending on the temperature and humidity [of their surroundings]. The ammonia and many of the amines are volatile, and they rapidly undergo Maillard reactions with any reducing saccharides they contact.”[18] However, as Fanti and others pointed out, “the image resolution and the uniform coloration of the linen resolution seem to be not compatible with a mechanism involving diffusion.”[19] Even if this weren't the case though, such a reaction would take at least a day[20], hence making us run into the problem of the blood clots once again.[21]

The image on the Shroud could not have been made by contact with the body for a few reasons. Firstly, there are areas on the image that would not be visible if the image formation resulted solely from contact. In other words, there had to be some kind of vertical projection from the body in order to create the image in these places, whether we want to say gas, radiation, light, etc. Furthermore, “thermography proved that the emittance of the image was the same in all areas. The entire image formed by the same mechanism. Spectra and photography confirmed this observation.”[22]

Secondly, as I had previously mentioned the Shroud when analyzed by a VP-8 image analyzer comes up as a 3-Dimensional image, meaning it maps the distance of the Shroud from the body.[23] This would not be the case if the image was formed by contact since all areas of the body would have to be on an equal plane, and thus the VP-8 analyzer would have showed it as all being level instead of 3-Dimensional. However, for the image to have been 3-Dimensional in the first place there had to be space between the Shroud and the body as that is how a 3-Dimensional image is made in such a case as this.[24] This is because of the aforementioned reasons – if the cloth had been touching the skin directly then any place where the cloth was touching would be equal in distance to another area in which the cloth was touching. For example, if the cloth was touching Christ's nose at two points, they would be at the same level in a 3-Dimensional image. However, this is not found to be the case. The implication then is that somehow the cloth wasn't touching Christ's body during the image formation process.
I've derailed a bit from my initial point which is that if the body had been buried somewhere other than the empty tomb and wasn't a reburial, then the image must have been formed by contact since this seems to be the only naturalistic explanation. However, we know the image wasn't formed by contact. Hence, the theory is inadequate.

Fourth, what if Christ's body had simply rotted away and the Shroud was taken later on. There's a whole bunch of problems with this to begin with, for instance why the Apostles would even bother to think their Savior had risen if they removed the Shroud from His decayed body. However, these reasons are irrelevant when we remember that there are no signs of putrefaction on the Shroud of Turin. The image was made and the body was removed before any signs of liquid decomposition kicked in, which at such a temperature would have been roughly 30 hours.[25]

So far, naturalistic explanations for what happened to Christ's body while forming the image have not fared well. This, of course, isn't even taking into account the Apostle's visions, or their twist in Second Temple Judaic belief: that the Resurrection had already happened to an individual. There is, of course, a theistic explanation.

Every Pascha, or Easter, in the Eastern Orthodox Church there is a certain troparion that is sung: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and on those in the tombs bestowing life!” This message, that Christ is risen, or in Greek, Christos Anesti, is what I believe can explain all of what we have covered. The Resurrection of an individual, the inexplicable image, the missing body, the empty tomb, the appearances to the Apostles, etc. The Resurrection is a far superior explanation to any of a naturalistic origin.

But aren't I saying “God did it?”. Well, I believe He did do it, but my point is not to just throw my hands up because of this incredible image and stop thinking. My point is that all the data is better explained if we allow ourselves to admit that Christianity could be true than if we a priori rule it out. That is why at the very beginning of these essays I said one must keep an open mind and be open to the possibility that Christianity may be true, and that “Truly, He is risen!” – “Alithos Anesti!”
Furthermore, a naturalistic explanation does not necessarily discount the Shroud as evidence for the Resurrection. For instance, let's say that there was some sort of gas theory that could fit all the parameters required and could occur fast enough so that the body could be stolen before the clots were too hardened. We still have the problem of either robbers or re-burialists having to remove the cloth in such a way that there is no signs that it was removed – an incredible feat, maybe even impossible. But even if this was done, that doesn't mean it necessarily happened. Even if we had such evidence, which we don't, the body still could have been in the tomb and then resurrected.

This is why I will not go as far as to say the Shroud of Turin proves the Resurrection. It, if accepted as Jesus' burial shroud, can only act as evidence. However, what I do submit is that this evidence in its historical context is good enough for a Christian to be logically justified in his or her belief that Christ is Risen. I don't see how, unless God is ruled out a priori, a non-theist can honestly look at all what we have covered (which isn't close to the full body of literature) and think that the Christian is somehow deluding himself or is using wishful thinking.

As some may or may not know, I used to be an atheist, and I was a fan of the new atheist movement. Admittedly I avoided the literature of Dawkins, Hitchens, etc (though I'm hoping to get to them) because I had heard that they attack a fundamentalist view of Christianity – the most vocal in this country. It makes sense as when I do hear from such areas, their own biblical hermeneutic seems to be that of a fundamentalist Sola Scriptura – something completely foreign to an Orthodox praxis. Many atheists, though certainly not all, that I knew personally had never heard of let alone read of William Lane Craig or Alvin Plantiga. “The Kalam Cosmological argument? The modal Ontological argument? Isn't philosophy just a bunch of rubbish?” The irony, of course, is that the empirical method was born from epistemological assumptions – from philosophical thought.

This isn't to just attack the new-atheists or skepticism; I understand why it exists having lived through it, and the example that many of us Christians give – whether or not we are Orthodox – can be quite appalling and hypocritical. Many of us, as Archbishop Lazar Puhalo of the OCA points out, act just as self-righteous (if not more) than the pharisees. However, an often forgot fact is that the Christendom is made of sinners. Obviously we're battling the passions – we wouldn't be Christians if we were not[26].
But to return to my point is to end this series (though I may revisit it someday). I have given the reason as to why I believe in Christ's Resurrection. I also believe, since I must be firm, that any Christian could use this as their reason for believing and be justified in doing so. I thank you all for your time and patience in these essays.

"If any man be devout and love God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast. If any man be a wise servant, let him rejoicing enter into the joy of his Lord. If any have labored long in fasting, let him now receive his recompense. If any have wrought from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If any have come at the third hour, let him with thankfulness keep the feast. If any have arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; because he shall in nowise be deprived therefor. If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near, fearing nothing. If any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness; for the Lord, who is jealous of his honor, will accept the last even as the first; he gives rest unto him who comes at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who has wrought from the first hour.
And he shows mercy upon the last, and cares for the first; and to the one he gives, and upon the other he bestows gifts. And he both accepts the deeds, and welcomes the intention, and honors the acts and praises the offering. Wherefore, enter you all into the joy of your Lord; and receive your reward, both the first, and likewise the second. You rich and poor together, hold high festival. You sober and you heedless, honor the day. Rejoice today, both you who have fasted and you who have disregarded the fast. The table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously. The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away.
Enjoy ye all the feast of faith: Receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness. Let no one bewail his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one weep for his iniquities, for pardon has shown forth from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Savior's death has set us free. He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it. By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive. He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh. And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry: Hell, said he, was embittered, when it encountered Thee in the lower regions. It was embittered, for it was abolished. It was embittered, for it was mocked. It was embittered, for it was slain. It was embittered, for it was overthrown. It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains. It took a body, and met God face to face. It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.
O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and you are overthrown. Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigns. Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave. For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen."
- The Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom[27]

[1] i.e., the whole Gnostic revival in biblical academia – though there position is probably different than how I phrased it
[2] cf. N. T. Wright The Resurrection of the Son of God, Chapter 13
[3] Ibid, pp. 32-84. I know that this is a grand sweeping of many works, but I do not have room in this essay to engage with all the material. There were a few exceptions to this claim, but Wright deals with these in his book.
[5] cf. N. T. Wright The Resurrection of the Son of God and Dale Allison Resurrecting Jesus
[6] Wright, pp. 83
[7] Wright, pp. 689
[8] Ibid, pp. 687. A necessary condition is “something that has to be the case for the conclusion to follow: it is a necessary condition of my computer working properly that the house be connected to an electricity supply.”
[9] Ibid, pp. 690
[10] Ibid, pp. 690-1. It's hard to emphasize how radical the idea that Jesus was alive once again was in a pagan setting.
[11] Ibid, pp. 692
[13] Robert K. Wilcox, The Truth About The Shroud of Turin. pp. 15
[14] Ibid, 15-16
[15] Ibid, 16
[16] Ibid, 77
[18] Ibid, pp. 6
[19] referencing G. Fanti et alii, Microscopic and Macroscopic Characteristics of the Shroud of Turin Image Superficiality, Journal of Imaging Science and Technology—July/August 2010—Volume 54, Issue 4, p. 040201-6. I know it isn't good to cite things from Wikipedia, but I'm, at least currently, not willing to pay $20 for the article just to get the citation first hand. There are some posters on Dan Porter's blog who don't necessarily see this as completely ruling out Rogers' theory, but that his discovery is just part of the puzzle.
[20] Rogers, THE SHROUD, pp. 4. I'm more or less inferring this point rather than Rogers' having of stated it himself.
[21] It's also worth pointing out that, for those who are interested, theology doesn't allow for the corruption of Christ's body by death. The lack of any signs of putrefaction back this up which make me ponder if the Maillard reaction would even be viable theologically. This isn't as much a point to my argument as a thought done out loud.
[22] Raymond N. Rogers, FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQs). pp. 16
[23] Joseph Amalraj, Evidence of “Resurrection of Jesus” in the Shroud of Turin. pp. 1  I'm a bit weary in including this information, not because of Amalraj, but because I'm not sure if it's been peer-reviewed or if there are any critiques of it. Nevertheless, food for thought.
[24] Ibid, pp. 1
[25] Ibid, pp. 1
[26] Or we'd already be saints and the charge of self-righteousness would be non-existent

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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Update and an Apology

Dear (few existing) readers,

I just would like to apologize again for the time between each essay. My current job with inner city youth takes up a large chunk of my day, and with my free time at home I try and give a good amount of it to my religious life. Hence, when the weekend comes, sometimes the last thing I want to do is research and write (Arkham City is just too much fun).

That said, I've been finishing up the final essay of the series which deals with the Shroud in the light of the Resurrection. This is very out of order to what I had initially stated. There's a few reasons for this. The first is the aforementioned schedule of my current life. The second is that, truth be told, I've grown slightly tired of using the Shroud as an apologetic tool -- not because I think its ineffective, but because my interest is theology and dogma and it's ecumenical implications. This blog, in all my arrogance, was originally made with such things as its intent (though I now, and thanks be to God for it, realize I was way in over my head (and arrogant) to think I could write about such subjects knowing as little as I do). I don't want to be caught up with the Shroud forever. The third is that any historical reconstruction I'd post would essentially be a giant 'Cliff Notes' version of Ian Wilson's book (much like the first essay was). For anyone wishing for a historical reconstruction, I highly suggest you buy it if you have a Kindle. If not, Robert Wilcox's book is a good substitute. That said, expect an update within the week!

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Sunday, January 1, 2012

Joe Nickel -- c'mon guy

So I'm sure that everyone who keeps up to date on the Shroud has heard about the recent experiments by ENEA which were able to reproduce the superficiality of the Shroud image using bursts of light. My point in writing this though is to show the blatant fallacious writings of skeptic Joe Nickell, who is repeating the same false facts that I heard far too many Shroud skeptics tout:

Given the tremendous evidence against the 'shroud' — its incompatibility with Jewish burial practices, lack of historical record, bishop's report of the forger’s confession, the still-bright-red 'blood' which failed forensic serological tests, the presence of pigments and paints throughout the image, three laboratories' radiocarbon dating of the cloth to the time of the confession (1260–1390), and much additional evidence — it would seem that Di Lazzaro is straining at a gnat and attempting to swallow a camel. Let him produce a shroudlike image according to whatever theory he can muster, and we'll talk again.”

Let's break this down line by line.

“Its incompatibility with Jewish burial practices” is patently false. Ian Wilson shows in his book how the word the synoptic writers (Mark, Matthew, and Luke) use – sindon – refers not to a burial cloth but just a general linen cloth. Furthermore, even though John said he saw 'the soudarion which had been over His head', the word he used for over – epi – doesn't necessarily mean that it had to cover only Christ's head, but that it could have covered His entire body as well (which is reinforced with what Jewish law mandated: that one who had blood pour forth from wounds would be wrapped in a sovev, a cloth that would wrap an entire body in the same way that a soudarion could).1

While the “lack of historical record” is true in a sense, the history of the Shroud has been reconstructed through various hints in records, alluding to an image of the Savior being venerated. We know of this happening in Constantinople all the way back to Edessa since the Shroud is probably what we knew as the Image of Edessa.2

The “bishop's report of the forger's confession” has long been seen as suspect because of power struggles surrounding the parties. People, unfortunately, can lie.3

The still-bright-red 'blood' which failed forensic serological tests” has been shown to be utterly false by the works of Adler and Heller, and can be read about in the article by David Ford that I posted on this blog earlier.

The presence of pigments and paints [found] throughout the image” has also shown to be false. See the above mentioned article.

The “three laboratories' radiocarbon dating of the cloth to the time of the confession (1260–1390)” are useless once we factor in that the piece that they tested was most likely a re-weave.


1cf. Ian Wilson The Shroud: Solving the 2000-year-old Mystery. Chapter 4: Window on the Passion
2cf. the above or Robert K. Wilcox's The Truth About the Shroud of Turin
3cf. the above mentioned