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Finding Jesus: Faith, Fact, Forgery - The Shroud of Turin

Aired March 1, 2015 - 21:00   ET


COREY JOHNSON, NARRATOR: Jesus Christ. He changed the course of world history. Yet, the most famous man ever to live left no physical trace. Or did he? More than 1,000 years pass, and the cloth appears in Europe. On its surface, the image of a man showing the same traumas Jesus enduring during his crucifixion. The Shroud of Turin.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is this the real burial shroud of Jesus, or fake?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It could be likened to a detective story, a scientific detective story.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The possibility that a piece of archaeology could prove to us that Jesus Christ was crucified, buried, and raised from the dead, this is the most significant moment in human history.

JOHNSON: Turin, northern Italy. In a specially built chapel in the city's cathedral lies the most famous religious relic in the world, the Shroud of Turin, the cloth that many believe wrapped the body of Jesus of Nazareth nearly 2,000 years ago.

Protected by bulletproof glass, the 14-foot rectangular cloth is so precious and so valuable, it's rarely seen by the public. The last time that the Turin shroud was displayed was in 2010. More than 2 million visitors were drawn to see it.

PROF. MARK GOODACRE, DUKE UNIVERSITY: The shroud is a fascinating object because it tells the story of Jesus's passion in one object.

JOHNSON: For believers, it's much more than a relic. It's evidence of Jesus rising from the dead.

PROF. CANDIDA MOSS, UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME: Some people think the Turin shroud was produced by radiation at the resurrection. In which case, that would be material evidence of the resurrection of Jesus. There could be nothing more important than that.

JOHNSON: For millions, the shroud is not only proof of the death and resurrection of Jesus, but the only record of what he looked like.

PROF. BEN WITHERINGTON III, AUTHOR, "THE GOSPEL OF JESUS": There are no physical descriptions of Jesus in the Gospel. None. We don't know what he looked like. We don't know how tall he was. We don't know what the set of his eyes was. But he had a face. He was a real person. PROF. MICHAEL PEPPARD, AUTHOR, "THE SON OF GOD IN THE ROMAN WORLD":

It fulfills almost a temptation, a temptation to fixate on the face of Christ. To fulfill that idea of the true likeness. What did the son of God look like?

JOHNSON: A week before his death, Jesus arrives in Jerusalem, along with thousands of pilgrims for the festival of Passover. Within days, he has been betrayed by Judas.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jesus of Nazareth!

JOHNSON: Arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane after he provokes the authorities. He's handed over to the Romans for trial and crucifixion. It's here that the story of the shroud begins.

All four Gospels talk about the burial cloth in which the crucified body of Jesus is laid to rest. The Bible tells that the cloth was given by Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy member of the Jewish council the Sanhedrin.

GOODACRE: The Gospels describe Joseph of Arimathea as being a sympathizer with the Jesus movement. He's fascinated by Jesus. So fascinated that even after the crucifixion, he wants to make sure that the right thing is done, that Jesus gets the right burial.

FATHER JAMES MARTIN, S.J., AUTHOR, "JESUS: A PILGRIMAGE": Everyone who encounters Jesus in the Gospels is in some way transformed. They're either healed or they want to follow him. And so simply meeting Jesus even for one time was life-changing. And that probably changed Joseph's life.

JOHNSON: But first, Joseph needs permission to take Jesus down from the cross.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you think that this is acceptable?

JOHNSON: He goes to see the Roman procurator of Judea, Pontius Pilate, to ask for the body.


MARTIN: Pontius Pilate is a central figure in the story of the Passion, because only he, as the Roman procurator in Judea, had the power to pronounce a death sentence. And so it was he who ultimately is responsible for Jesus's crucifixion and death.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've come for me, Rabbi?

WITHERINGTON: Pilate is famously anti-Semitic. He doesn't like Jews. He doesn't like being in Judea.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jesus of Nazareth, I've come to ask for his body.

MOSS: We have to wonder what Joseph is thinking. He's taking quite a risk. He's going to Pilate and he's asking for the body of a convicted criminal, a criminal who is guilty of political sedition. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have a tomb. Somewhere secure, somewhere we can

prepare his body.

MOSS: So by going to Pilate and asking for this rather personal favor, it's almost as if he might be guilty himself.

MARTIN: You can imagine it being a very tense meeting between the two men.


MOSS: Pontius Pilate gives Joseph of Arimathea the body, but he probably thought he was just letting some Jewish custom play out. So far as he was concerned, that was going to be the end of it.

JOHNSON: In allowing Joseph to take the body, Pilate had unwittingly started a journey that would turn Jesus's burial shroud into one of the most venerated and mysterious relics of all time.


JOHNSON: Good Friday, the Romans leave Jesus's dead body hanging on the cross. Wrapping any victim of a crucifixion in a burial shroud was very unusual.

ERWIN MCMANUS, AUTHOR, "THE ARTISAN SOUL": After you breathe your last breath, you were just garbage. You were left there to rot and to be eaten.

JOHNSON: But the Gospel of Mark tells that Jesus's body is wrapped in a fine linen cloth, brought by Joseph of Arimathea. The Bible also reveals that Joseph had help in burying Jesus. Another member of the Jewish council, Nicodemus.

REV. DR. DREW SAMS, BEL AIR PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH: Nicodemus, much like Joseph of Arimathea, was also a member of the Sanhedrin, a prominent man in Jewish society.

MARTIN: It's clear that not all the Jews in Jerusalem were behind Jesus's death for the simple reason that Jesus is Jewish, his followers were Jewish, the disciples were Jewish. But not only that, not even all the Jewish authorities were responsible for Jesus's death because you have people like Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus.

JOHNSON: The body is taken to Joseph's tomb and prepared for burial.

MOSS: Where Nicodemus is willing to get involved is in the burial. He's supplying really very expensive products to be used in the process of embalming the body.

SAMS: First Century Jewish law said that to touch a dead body would make you unclean. And so for Joseph and Nicodemus to actually go through the process of preparing Jesus for burial, there had to have been tremendous love and devotion, just to care for him.

JOHNSON: A rock is rolled across the entrance to seal the tomb shut. Three days after the crucifixion, John and Simon Peter, two of Jesus's disciples, visit the tomb. They find it empty.

According to John's Gospel, then Simon Peter came and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there. But the Bible doesn't mention what happens to the linen cloths next.

More than 1,300 years later, a shroud showing the crucified body of Jesus appeared from out of nowhere in a small village in northeastern France. When it was moved to Turin, 40,000 people were there to welcome it.

And then centuries later, in 1898, it became a global phenomenon, when Italian Secondo Pia took the world's first photograph of the shroud.

DAVID GIBSON, CO-AUTHOR, "FINDING JESUS": All of a sudden, a negative image of the man of the shroud pops out at him. And it's like staring at the face of Jesus. It suddenly turns the shroud from an object of religious devotion to an icon of scientific obsession. If you prove that the Shroud of Turin is real, you're proving that Jesus Christ existed.

JOHNSON: In 1978, former U.S. Air Force physicist John Jackson, from the Shroud of Turin Research Project, was given unprecedented access to study the relic.

JOHN JACKSON, PHYSICIST, SHROUD OF TURIN RESEARCH PROJECT, : You see the image of a human man, we can see, for example, the head, crossed arms, in fact, you can even see elongated fingers.

JOHNSON: Leading a team of 40 scientists, Jackson set out to investigate the shroud, using tools at the forefront of science.

JACKSON: We really didn't know what we were going to find. Was this going to be a painting? Was it going to be something else?

JOHNSON: Working around the clock for five days, the scientists reached conclusions that seemed to advance the authenticity of the shroud and deepen its mystery.

JACKSON: The fibers themselves are all individually colored, so there's no evidence of something that you would expect, say, from a paint medium. We don't see that. It doesn't penetrate through the thickness of the cloth. It lies just on the very surface. The question is, why is that?

JOHNSON: Jackson and his team also wanted to investigate the dark marks that appeared to be bloodstains.

JACKSON: So what we did is take micro samples from these bloodstained areas, which were then taken back to the United States for micro- chemical analyses. And the result was that these features are, in fact, blood.

JOHNSON: With no explanation for how the image was made, and the apparent presence of blood on the cloth, Jackson looked to the Gospels to see whether there was a connection between the last day of Jesus's life and the shroud. According to the Gospel of John, then Pilate took Jesus and had him


JACKSON: What I think stands out the most are the many marks that are all over the cloth. To me, this looks like blood residues of a person who was whipped or scourged.

GOODACRE: Everything about the Passion narrative speaks about the pain, the humiliation of Jesus's death. It begins with the most appalling flogging. Flogging that will have brought Jesus to within an inch of his life.

It's a really appalling spectacle, when you think about it.

DR. OBERY HENDRICKS, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: He was spat upon, laughed at, anything to just crush his spirit as much as possible.

JOHNSON: But the Shroud of Turin also bears witness to one of the most famous events of the crucifixion story.


JOHNSON: John's Gospel describes what happens next to Jesus. And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head. For 40 years, John Jackson has been comparing the Shroud of Turin with descriptions of Jesus's death in the Bible.

JACKSON: When we come to the frontal image, we see what looked like bloodstains that are coming from essentially puncture-type sources. They correspond to what the Gospels tell us what happened to Jesus, the crown of thorns.

HENDRICKS: The purpose of the crown of thorns was to crush all Jewish aspirations that they would ever have self-rule.

GOODACRE: They press it into his head so that you see blood trickling down his face.

MARTIN: I find that one of the most poignant parts of Jesus's life. To have anyone be mocked like that, it's very difficult to see.

JACKSON: After the scourging and the crown of thorns, the next thing that the Gospels tell us happened to Jesus was that he was taken away to the crucified.

JOHNSON: The cross Jesus carries through the streets of Jerusalem weighs more than 300 pounds.

HENDRICKS: When Jesus is carrying the cross, there was a crowd that followed. Some of the crowd would have been sympathetic. And others were jeering. It would have been a really horrible scene.

JOHNSON: Evidence for Jesus's final journey, Jackson believes, can be seen on the shroud.

JACKSON: Where the shoulder boundary would be, we find bloodstains. They seem to be more smudged, more smeared, as opposed to what we see down further on the back. Maybe what we're looking at is the action of that cross beam on the shoulders that are smearing the bloodstains from the pre-existing scourging that Jesus received.

JOHNSON: As he was pushed through the streets, it's believed that the weight of the cross became too much for Jesus to bear.

MOSS: At some point, the soldiers solicit Simon of Cyrene to carry the cross for him. This isn't out of the goodness of their hearts. We have to assume that Jesus is flagging. He's unable to carry the cross at this stage. He's that weakened. And this is why Simon of Cyrene is brought in to help him.

JOHNSON: Two criminals are crucified alongside Jesus.

HENDRICKS: They throw them on the ground. They're talking to them as roughly as possible. And they're showing him, he has no control at all. He has no protection.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.

HENDRICKS: Every part of the crucifixion experience was meant to cause further agony, further humiliation, and more fear and horror among those watching.

SAMS: At the crucifixion, we know that there was Mary, Jesus's mother, and Mary Magdalene, watching that horrendous scene unfold.

GOODACRE: If you were one of Jesus's sympathizers, if you were family or a friend of Jesus, then it must have been incredibly difficult to witness this event.

HENDRICKS: And he sees this big spike, and they're holding his arm out. And he's straining to pull his hand away. And they strike.

JOHNSON: But at this point, the mystery of the shroud deepens. The marks on the cloth challenge everything we thought we knew about crucifixion. The wounds appear to be in the wrong place.


GOODACRE: Each stage of the crucifixion process is designed to bring fresh pain and fresh humiliation.

JOHNSON: It's here, the Shroud of Turin tells an unexpected story. For centuries, artistic tradition has shown nails going through the palms of Jesus's hands. The figure on the shroud appears to have been crucified through the wrists.

Jackson believes the shroud is the historically accurate version.

JACKSON: You want the person who is crucified to stay up on the cross until they die. There have been experiments performed on cadavers, both with the placement of the nail hypothetically in the palm and in the wrist. And these experiments have shown that the weight-bearing value always settles upon the wrist, like you see on the shroud, rather than the palm. The palm will just simply tear through.

HENDRICKS: Then he's raised up. And imagine the agony of being raised up after your feet and your hands are nailed in. Every little movement is agony. The cross was lifted up by ropes and then dropped into a hole to keep it from falling. Imagine what that's like.

GOODACRE: One of the difficulties with imaging crucifixion is that we've had 2,000 years of Christian tradition, which sanitizes the cross. We've put Jesus in nice church buildings, and we have crosses made of gold, and it prevents us from really thinking through what crucifixion actually involved.

But when we actually pause and actually look at the historical nature of the crucifixion and remember what the Romans were trying to do by humiliating and torturing people, then for a moment, we really see it as something quite different, something appallingly painful and utterly humiliating.

JOHNSON: The weight of the body pulls on the arms, making breathing increasingly difficult. Most victims of crucifixion finally die of asphyxiation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is finished.

MARTIN: Imagine your mother or your father or your best friend nailed to wood, hung out in the open sun, and die a terrible death of asphyxiation. It's hard to find words to explain what it would have been like to see that.

MCMANUS: This had to be the darkest moment of their life.

JOHNSON: The final mark on the shroud would have been made after Jesus died.

JACKSON: This blood mark is not part of a normal crucifixion. But in the case of Jesus, the Gospels tell us that it was delivered by a Roman soldier to ensure that he was dead so that his body could released and taken down from the cross before Passover.

JOHNSON: In the Gospel of John, a soldier stabs Jesus's dead body in the side. Blood and water leaked out.

JACKSON: We see clear areas, which some have hypothesized might be due to these fluids that's associated with the blood, the blood and water, as the Gospel says.

JOHNSON: The Shroud of Turin appears to be a silent witness to all the final sufferings of Jesus. And then, according to the Gospels, after he was laid to rest, Jesus is resurrected.

The only thing left behind in his tomb, the linen used to cover his body.

MARTIN: The crucifixion is among the most powerful parts of the Gospel, simply because it's the death of Jesus, the son of God. But it's also his entry into new life. MCMANUS: It is extraordinary to find an archaeological piece that is

proof of his existence, of his death, and of his resurrection.

JACKSON: Based on the research that I've been involved in, I think that we are looking at the historic burial cloth of Jesus 2,000 years ago.

JOHNSON: But there was one part of the investigation that Jackson had been unable to complete, an accurate dating of the material. Then in 1988, the Catholic Church took the unprecedented step of giving permission for pieces of the cloth to be removed for carbon testing.

Samples were cut from the edge of the shroud and sent for testing in three independent laboratories in London, Zurich, and Arizona.

MCMANUS: The possibility that a piece of archaeology could prove to us that Jesus Christ was crucified, buried, and raised from the dead, this is the most significant moment in human history.


JOHNSON: Turin, 1988. Three small pieces of the shroud have been cut off and sent to laboratories around the world for carbon date testing.

GIBSON: This is really the moment of truth for the Shroud of Turin. Is it fake, or is it real?


TOM BROKAW, NBC ANCHOR: For hundreds of years, the Shroud of Turin has been a powerful symbol of faith for Catholics and other believers around the world. Today, the archbishop confirmed the results of recent tests that the piece of linen bearing an image of Christ does not date from the time of Christ.


GIBSON: The shroud dates to the 13th Century. It's a medieval forgery. There is no way this could have been the burial shroud of Jesus Christ. This is huge. I mean, people, to this day, look at this and say, this is Jesus. This is our lord. This is what he went through.

To say, no, sorry, it's a very clever forgery, that's painful.

JOHNSON: In Medieval Europe, there was a lucrative trade in creating religious relics. People were willing to pay to get close to Jesus, and forgers were prepared to take advantage.

But despite being revealed as a fake, fascination with the shroud intensified.

GIBSON: How did that image get on the shroud? Nobody could explain that. There are still all kinds of theories out there that we need to test. JOHNSON: But South African art historian, Professor Nicholas Allen

thinks he knows the answer. He believes it's the world's earliest surviving photograph.

PROF. NICHOLAS ALLEN, NORTH-WEST UNIVERSITY, SOUTH AFRICA: I looked at the shroud and I said, how were you made? And the shroud tells us that it is acting like a negative photograph.

I'm quite aware that that might sound like a crazy idea, to think that somebody was able to make a photograph 600 years ago. But when I started to look at the technology that was available at that time, I realized they had everything already.

JOHNSON: From his study of art history, Allen knew that medieval artists already used an optical device called a camera obscura.

ALLEN: Camera obscura works exactly like a human eye. What we have here is a box which is sealed. No light can enter into it, except through this big hole over here. Like a human eye, there is a lens. Whatever is outside this box is focused through this lens and forms an image on the back wall of the camera. And it's inverted, in other words, it's upside-down.

JOHNSON: The lens at the front of the camera ensures a sharp image is projected on the back wall.

ALLEN: We know for a fact this is very ancient technology. So there is no doubt that this technology was available in the late 13th and early 14th Century, exactly when it would have been needed to make something like the Shroud of Turin.

JOHNSON: Allen positions a model in front of his camera obscura, and faces it to the sun.

ALLEN: So the whole setup has to be calculated very, very carefully before you can start the exposure.

JOHNSON: A medieval artist would need to ensure that any image projected on a sheet could be permanently fixed. The sheet would be soaked with photographic chemicals. Today, this means using silver salts.

ALLEN: Now both silver nitrate and silver sulfate have been around in Europe from at least the 13th Century. And it's very easy to make.

JOHNSON: A sheet is soaked in silver sulfate solution, dried, and then mounted in the camera.

ALLEN: After eight hours exposure, you will notice a discoloration on the linen. And that discoloration would be a negative image of what was outside the camera.

JOHNSON: The silver sulfate would have been washed out of the cloth to complete the process using a chemical in plentiful supply.

ALLEN: To remove silver sulfate from a piece of linen, one can use urine, since urine contains levels of ammonia. Whoever made the Shroud of Turin didn't do this on their first attempt. This probably took a lot of organizing, a lot of planning, and a lot of trial and error before they got it right.

JOHNSON: When the image is analyzed, Allen's method is shown to produce astonishing results.

ALLEN: The resultant image has all the characteristics of the image that is found on the Shroud of Turin. And those are that it is negative, there are no dyes, pigment stains, or powders.

Here, we have the image that has been produced after three days using the camera obscura. To turn this into the Shroud of Turin image you would have to add blood to it. You would simply take a paintbrush and you would artistically paint your stigmata on to the image.

In my opinion, this is the oldest example we have of a phenomenon that we now call photography. And it dates back to medieval times.

JOHNSON: But Allen's work has divided opinion and left even more questions unanswered.

GIBSON: If it is a medieval photograph, then where are all the other medieval photographs? That's the other problem with the shroud. It's unique. There is nothing else like it.

JOHNSON: And there are some who, despite the carbon dating, continue to believe in its authenticity.

GIBSON: Some people refuse to believe the result. They question the samples that were taken. They weren't taken from the very center of the shroud. They were taken from the edge of the shroud.

JOHNSON: And recent work on another mysterious relic has introduced new doubts into our understanding of the Turin shroud. It's an artifact that may suggest the shroud is far older than claimed.

In the small annex of a cathedral in northern Spain is the cloth believed to have covered Jesus's face after he died on the cross, the Sudarium of Oviedo.

MARK GUSCIN, SPANISH CENTER OF SINDONOLOGY: What we are looking at in front of us are bloodstains of Jesus of Nazareth. This is his actual blood in front of us.


JOHNSON: Mark Guscin and a team from the Spanish Center of Sindonology have been studying the Sudarium of Oviedo for over 25 years. Legend says that this was another separate cloth also mentioned in the Bible. And he saw the linen wrappings lying there and the cloth that had been on Jesus's head.

GUSCIN: We've taken this cloth into the laboratory, analyzed what the stains are made of, and most of them are one part blood and six parts pleural edema fluid, which is a liquid that collects in the lungs when somebody dies of asphyxiation.

JOHNSON: Scholars believe that most victims of crucifixion would have died of suffocation and the fluids associated with this would be left in the lungs. Guscin's studies appear to shine new light into a part of the Jesus story that was previously unknown, using a near perfect replica of the cloth.

GUSCIN: Now, what these experiments showed us is that, first of all, the cloth was placed on a dead body because all the blood stains coming out are absolutely incompatible with any kind of breathing movement.

JOHNSON: If Guscin is correct, then Joseph of Arimathea would have wrapped this cloth around Jesus' face while he was still on the cross.

GIBSON: The face cloth was used in Jewish burial custom because the face is really the seat of the soul when that person dies. The face is the first thing that is covered. It must be treated with the greatest respect.

MCMANUS: The reason Joseph became proactive in making sure Jesus had a proper, honorable burial, I think this was Joseph's own way of saying, I did not do what I should have done. I should have spoken on your behalf.

JOHNSON: Guscin believes that marks from the sudarium where the forehead would have been help explain how Joseph removed the body from the cross.

GUSCIN: The only way that we could reproduce these was if the body was lying face down on the ground so that all of this liquid and blood trickling out of the nose would move down on to the forehead.

But then the body was carried face down for between five to 10 minutes while somebody was holding the cloth to the face.

JOHNSON: In the tomb, the sudarium would have been removed. And Jesus then wrapped in the shroud.

GUSCIN: So this teaches us what happened between the death of Christ and when the body was laid in the tomb.

JOHNSON: But Guscin believes that there's an even more important reason to study the sudarium. For him, the stains on the cloth are like a fingerprint, unique to one person.

GUSCIN: If this cloth was wrapped around the head of another person who had maybe even suffered the same kind of torture and wounds, then the stains would have a different shape and a different format.

JOHNSON: For Guscin, this was to prove critical because when the team compared these bloodstains on the sudarium with those on the shroud, they made an extraordinary discovery. The bloodstains appeared to match.

GUSCIN: So we can conclude that the two cloths were used at the same time for the same event to cover the same body.

JOHNSON: Carbon testing of the cloth has not delivered any clear results, but the first written record of the relic tied it to Jerusalem just over 500 years after Jesus's death.

For Guscin, these records suggest it is at least 700 years older than the shroud. How could that be? Guscin believes the dating of the shroud must be wrong.

GUSCIN: Now, that is an incredible conclusion because they could only have coincided in Jerusalem some time before the 5th Century, which says an awful lot about the dating of the Shroud of Turin and how it does not date from the medieval times and is, in fact, a much earlier cloth.

JOHNSON: Despite decades of scientific scrutiny, for many, the mystery and power of the Shroud of Turin still remains.

MARTIN: I do think it would be possible for the shroud that wrapped Jesus to survive until now. Clearly it would have been an important artifact for the disciples and then for the early Christians, and so the notion that it would have been preserved makes total sense to me.

My gut tells me that it's real.

MOSS: It doesn't seem likely to me that it's real, but it focuses our attention on something unavoidable about the Jesus story, just how much he suffers. Jesus may be glorious, enthroned in heaven, lord of lords, king of kings, but this moment of suffering and pain is etched into the Turin shroud. It's his most human moment.

JOHNSON: For many, the shroud is also a poignant reminder of a man trying to do the right thing.

MCMANUS: I think a part of Joseph's story is our story. Even though he didn't understand the outcome, even though he didn't understand how the story was going to play out, what he knew was being on the side of Jesus was being part of God's story in human history.