Shroud of Turin Image An Atomic Photo Caused By Massive Quake — What?

Jonathan Vankin

The Shroud of Turin, a centuries-old, 14-foot cloth imprinted with the mysterious image of a man widely believed to be Jesus, but also thought by scientists to be a fraud, may actually date from the time of Jesus after all, according to a new study.

But the way the most recent researchers to take a stab at figuring out the mystery of the Shroud believe that the image was created may be the most bizarre theory yet.

Traditional Christian belief — though by no means held by all Christians — is that the Turin Shroud is a cloth used to wrap the body of Jesus after he was crucified and was removed from the cross where he died. The Catholic church itself takes no position on the authenticity of the Shroud.

A close inspection of the image seems to reveal that whoever is represented in the Shroud image suffered injuries that appear to be consistent with a Roman crucifixion — a common form of execution for political dissidents in the ancient Roman empire.

The Shroud of Turin image, according to tradition, was miraculously transferred to the cloth. How the image was actually produced, however, has long puzzled scientists.

A 1989 radiocarbon test on small samples of the shroud provided what researchers at the time described as "conclusive proof" that the Shroud of Turin dated from the mediaeval period, meaning that it must be a forgery.

In fact, they dated the shroud as no more ancient than 728 years old, more than 1,000 years too young to have wrapped the body of Jesus.

There was a lucrative market in relics — supposed artifacts of Jesus — during medieval times, providing a strong incentive for forgers to create an item that could be passed off as an actual image of Jesus.

Now Italian scientists writing in the journal Meccanica say that the carbon dating is wrong and the shroud actually dates from Jesus' lifetime. The image, they say, was transferred to the cloth by "neutron radiation" generated by a massive earthquake in Israel, where Jesus is supposed to have died in or around the year 33 C.E.

The radiation emitted by the quake would also foil any effort to carbon-date the material, they say.

"We believe it is possible that neutron emissions by earthquakes could have induced the image formation on the Shroud's linen fibres," said Professor Alberto Carpinteri, an author of the new study. "Through thermal neutron capture on nitrogen nuclei, and could also have caused a wrong radiocarbon dating."

Seriously? Is there any evidence that such a massive earthquake occurred in ancient Israel about 2,100 years ago? The scientists don't say.

And even if there was, why weren't other objects affected in a similar fashion? Why only the Shroud of Turin?

"One question that would need to be addressed is why the material here is affected, but other archaeological and geological material in the ground is not," says Christopher Ramsey, director of the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit.

Ramsey said that "huge numbers" of objects from the same region have been carbon-dated and none show the same alleged effect as the Shroud of Turin.

University of Glasgow geochemist Gordon Cook raised similar questions, but he also made what perhaps may be the most relevant point of all, regarding the science applied to the Shroud.

"If you want to believe in the Shroud of Turin, you believe in it," the scientist said.