CNN’s “Finding Jesus,” which debuted on March 1, claims it will discover new and fascinating insights into the historical Jesus using the latest scientific technology. So what better way to start off a series with such a lofty objective than to dedicate its first hour to the Shroud of Turin.
It is a serious and well-made program where host and co-author of a companion book “Finding Jesus,” David Gibson, acts as a kind of Greek chorus along with other well credentialed experts with various opinions about the shroud.
The first 40 minutes of this hour-long program are rife with scientific documentation of the Shroud that all seems to point to authenticity … that this truly is the burial shroud of Jesus. There is real blood on the fabric, the wounds that are revealed in the image correspond not only with biblical accounts but are backed up by scientific facts … i.e., there are no thumbs visible on the hands.
The Romans were nothing if not very efficient executioners and they knew a nail through the palm would not support the weight of a man. When a person has a spike driven through their wrist, the nerve that is destroyed in the process causes the thumb of the victim to lock into the palm.
The shroud took hold of the world’s imagination when its photograph was first taken in 1898. The photograph revealed a negative image with much more detail, and all of it coincided with the reported biblical details of Jesus’ last hours — a horribly scourged body, blood stains around the head possibly caused by a crown of thorns, pierced side and feet to go along with the wrists.
Just when it looks like “Finding Jesus” is about to help believing Christians get a deeper meaning of the cross as it is personified in the Shroud of Turin, the program pulls the shroud right out from under our feet when we learn the results of the first carbon dating of the shroud in 1988 seemed to prove that it was nothing more than a 13th century forgery.
David Gibson immediately appears on screen and categorically states that the shroud is a fake. CNN locuta; causa finite est. The last third of “Finding Jesus” gets a little less focused, and includes investigations of the medieval camera obscura techniques and other experts who agree that the Shroud of Turin is not what some claim it to be.
Or is it? After telling us the Shroud is a fake, “Finding Jesus” brings up the topic of the Sudarium of Oviedo almost as an afterthought. This is the alleged burial cloth that covered Jesus’ head with a pedigree of discovery centuries older than the Shroud of Turin.
With very little fanfare on the part of any of the experts, other than the one who represents the Sudarium, we discover that blood stains on the Sudarium match the patterns of blood stains on the image of the head on the Shroud of Turin. I expected David Gibson to come back and retract his adamant pronouncement just a little. He did not.
The show actually left me with more questions than answers about the shroud, and in preparation for this article I started to do a little research. Whether my fingers were divinely guided or not as I Googled “Shroud of Turin,” I will leave for others to determine, but what I do know is that one of the first things that popped up was a notification of a presentation about The Shroud of Turin that was taking place the next night about three miles from my house.
And I knew the presenter. His name is Chris Knabenshue and he teaches religious studies at the Catholic high school my sons attended. Chris has also been lecturing about the Shroud of Turin for years and has amassed an array of artifacts and visual aids that go along with a deep and penetrating Lenten observance about our Lord’s crucifixion and incredible facts about the Shroud of Turin — some of which were included in “Finding Jesus,” and others that were omitted.
With regard to the 1988 carbon dating test of the shroud, I learned from Chris Knabenshue that the piece of the shroud that was tested was actually taken from a medieval repair that was not part of the original shroud.
We know this not by an act of blind faith, but from the results of scientific microscopic photography which shows the seam where the repair was made and shows how the weave of the repair that was carbon dated is completely different from the weave of the main shroud, which also happens to be consistent with the weaving style of first century Palestine.
I also learned in the presentation by Chris Knabenshue that the shroud was tested for pollen and around the image of the head the pollen of the Gundelia Tourrefortii plant was discovered. That is a plant native to the Holy Land that is notorious for producing three-inch spike-like thorns.
Knabenshue also incorporates the Sudarium of Oviendo into his presentation and describes, as the program “Finding Jesus” did, how the blood stains on the Sudarium of Oviendo and the Shroud of Turin match. But there is another fact “Finding Jesus” left out — both sets of stains are the same blood type … AB.
As part of his presentation on the shroud and the scientific evidence that seems to point to its authenticity, Chris Knabenshue brings up the Miracle of Lanciano. This refers to an eighth century monk who was in the thralls of doubt about the Real Presence.
During a Mass he was celebrating, the bread of the host turned to flesh and the wine in the chalice turned to blood. That flesh (which scientific investigation shows to be heart tissue with no indication of preserving chemicals) and blood, over a thousand years later, can still be seen in a reliquary in the town of Lanciano. The blood type is AB.
Even in its deficiencies as a documentary, “Finding Jesus” spurred me to deeper investigation into the subject matter, so for that I am grateful. And I plan on checking out other episodes that deal with the bones of John the Baptist and an account of Judas.
Although not all the questions about the Shroud of Turin are answered, I believe it already is a blessing regardless of what science may or may not find out or what CNN may think of who Jesus actually was.
The shroud is either a tremendous tactile gift to us of the risen Christ that demonstrates how much God loves us that he would suffer so greatly on our behalf, or it is a reminder of risen Jesus’ conversation with the Apostle Thomas (John 20:29): “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”
To find out more about the Shroud of Turin as presented by Mr. Chris Knabenshue, visit: www.crucifixionshroud.com