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Books & CultureMarch/April 2005



Father Brown Fakes the Shroud
Start with a piece of glass and some white oil paint


I am not an expert on the Shroud of Turin. But then what would it mean to be an expert on the Shroud? Spending months firing gamma rays at linen? Attempting the discoloration of linen through a controlled release of gases? I have not done these things, nor have I paid too much mind to those who have. I am not a scientist at all. I am not even an expert in hagiography and relics. I have not received a single grant or spent a dime on Shroud research that wasn't taken directly out of my wife's shopping budget. What I am, is an outlier. And, as luck would have it, I was reading the right collection of short stories at the right time. I am as unqualified to work on such a mysterious cloth as any medieval forger. And yet, like that unknown, unwashed villain of the past, I can place an image on linen using such sophisticated tools as glass and sunlight.


Sometime in 2000 I sat in a graduate school classroom at Liberty University and watched an amazing slide show on the Shroud. Dr. Gary Habermas presented what he knew about the sacred cloth—which was a lot. I would have liked to simply brush the issue of the Shroud aside, laugh and wonder why time was being wasted on the subject, but that was impossible. The Shroud was too complex, and there was too much weirdness surrounding it to be casually dismissed.

Habermas was careful to point out that he had not landed on one side or the other of the authenticity debate (nor did he think that he could). No one had ever shown how an image like this could be produced, and yet science had weighed in with carbon dating placing the Shroud firmly in the twelve to thirteen hundreds, a date overwhelmingly considered legitimate until very recently.

The image on the Shroud is of a man of moderate ...

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