A Cambridge art historian Thomas de Wesselow has proposed a new theory that purports to explain the resurrection of Jesus. He claims that the image on the Shroud was the optical illusion that fooled the Apostles into believing that Jesus had risen.
The mystery of the Turin Shroud with its ghostly image considered by many authorities an authentic photographic negative that matches the details of the biblical crucifixion narrative has fascinated Christian Europe since it first surfaced in the thirteenth century. Even in the twenty first century, the Shroud continues to inspire devotion and a sense of divine mystery for many although the official position of the Catholic Church is that the Shroud is only a representation of Jesus' crucified body and not his actual linen wrap.
After centuries of debates and conflicting claims, serious scholars and academics are now wary of making further pronouncements on the Shroud. But Wesselow's new explanation follows physicist Giulio Fanti's December 2011 review of the major hypotheses that have been proposed regarding the formation of the image on the Shroud. Fanti concluded with the assertion that "none of them can completely explain the mysterious image."
A debate that has raged over the claim that the image on the Shroud is a photographic negative is how any supposed medieval forger could have made such an image, anticipating the invention of the camera by 500 years. Some have attempted to show that Lenoardo da Vinci had the technical and scientific knowledge to produce a photographic negative. Others have even argued that the face on the Shroud is remarkably similar to da Vinci's and that the image is da Vinci's photographic self-portrait.
The Turin Shroud: Was it a photographic image of Leonardo da Vinci?
Wesselow's theory: The resurrection as optical illusion
Fanti's assertion may have helped strengthen the faith of some in the authenticity of the Shroud but Wesselow's theory is based on the premise that to ancients, images had a special mystical significance lost in modern times. According to Wesselow, images were seen as belonging to a spiritual plane of existence and have a unique reality of their own.
Wesselow, according to The Telegraph, responds to criticism that his theory is absurd: “I am an art historian not a theologian, so I can approach the problem from a new angle.” He claims that encountering the extraordinary likeness of Jesus in a photographic image was the single experience that convinced the Apostles Jesus had resurrected.
We may find Wesselow's theory difficult to comprehend in a twenty first century technological culture in which we are familiar with life-like images generated by modern technology, but according to Wesselow, for first century people, an encounter with the photographic image of a dead man on his burial shroud would have made a powerful impression unimaginable to the modern mind. But Wesselow invites us to put ourselves in the shoes of the Apostles. He says: “You have to think your way into the mindset of 2,000 years ago. The apostles did see something out of the ordinary, the image on the cloth. And at that time – this is something that art historians and anthropologists know about – people were much less used to seeing images. They were rare and regarded as much more special than they are now. There was something Animist in their way of looking at images in the first century. Where they saw shadows and reflections, they also saw life. They saw the image on the cloth as the living double of Jesus. Back then images had a psychological presence, they were seen as part of a separate plain of existence, as having a life of their own...If you think yourself into the whole experience of the apostles. Going into the tomb three days after the crucifixion, in the half-light, and seeing that image emerging from the burial cloth."
He argues that St. Paul is the earliest source of information about pristine Christian theology and that Paul's epistles predate the writing of the gospels. The Christian doctrine of physical or bodily resurrection, Wesselow implies, was the outcome of further development of Christian theology in the first century. He said: "That isn’t how they (the earliest Christians) understood resurrection." Wesselow defends his thesis by reference to 1 Corinthians 15-50 in which St. Paul says "the resurrection is not about flesh and blood." This, to Wesselow, implies that the Apostle's faith in the resurrection was based on the evidence of the photographic image which they considered a supernatural manifestation and conclusive proof of the resurrection. What follows, namely, the idea of a bodily resurrection of the man is mere historical development and elaboration in their minds of the pristine encounter with the "living image."
He marshals his argument in a new book "The Sign: The Shroud of Turin and the Secret of the Resurrection," which he says he spent eight years writing.
Turin Shroud: full length
The Turin Shroud: Historical origins
One of the challenges facing those who believe the Turin Shroud is authentic is explaining its historical origins and tracing it back to first century Jerusalem. The official historical account is that the Shroud first appeared in the 1350s in rural France when it was put on display in a local church by a knight called Geoffrey de Charny . Wesselow traces the appearance of the Shroud to French troops of the Crusades who sacked Constantinople in 1204, and claims that the Shroud was part of the loot from the fall of Constantinople. He said: “And we have a description of a cloth, that sounds very like the Shroud, that had been seen before that in Constantinople, described as the burial cloth of Jesus, that then goes missing and is never heard of again.”
He associates the origin of the Shroud in Constantinople with a relic called the "Holy Mandylion," that was brought to Constantinople in 944. The relic was said to have an imprint of the Jesus' face on it. He said: "It was an object of fascination, said not to be made of paint but of blood, and described as a landscape shape, rather than a portrait.” Acccording to The Telegraph, Wesselow claims that the "cloth looted in 1204 was also the Mandylion. Its landscape format...was the result of it being the top fold of a bigger cloth – what we know as the Turin Shroud."
Image of Edessa or Holy Mandylion
According to the Daily Mail, Wesselow argues that the Turin Shroud is genuine in the sense that it really is the photographic outline of Jesus' body. The scholar believes that an earlier radiocarbon dating of a sample of the Shroud carried out in 1988 by scientists from the Universities of Oxford and Arizona, and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, that said the material dated to 1260-1390 A.D. was mistaken. According to Wesselow, the sampling of the cloth, the procedure and method of carrying out the dating was flawed and the test result, therefore, unacceptable. Many other believers in the authenticity of the Shroud say the sample taken from a corner of the Shroud may have been repair to the Shroud in the medieval period.
Wesselow cites a study published in 2005 that showed that pollens lifted from cloth fibres were more than 1,300 years old. He also cites evidence that seam used in the linen was found to be uniquely identical to another found in a first-century cloth from Judea. According to Wesselow, the observation of parallels between the Shroud's warp and weave and first century Jewish cloths was made in 2002 by a textile expert. He cites evidence that the wound marks on the cloth have been found to be real blood.