The Historical Jesus

The evidence of the Tomb, the Shroud and the Sudarium

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There is good reason to believe the tomb of Jesus and his family has been found including the ossuary containing the actual bones of Jesus which instead of being studied were given to ultra orthodox Jews to be reburied in a secret location. It is also quite likely that the Shroud of Turin is in fact the shroud of Jesus and carries his blood and the impression of his body and that The Sudarium of Oviedo is also the genuine cloth used to wrap the head of the crucified Jesus.

Below I present a synopsis of the evidence... It is a fascinating story with lots of interesting details.

THE TOMB OF JESUS AND HIS FAMILY: Israeli archaeologists excavated the tomb in the hills near Jerusalem in 1980. They found 10 ossuaries, one of which went missing. Six of the remaining 9 bore inscriptions labeled with the names Joseph, Mary, Jesus son of Joseph, and Judah son of Jesus. Another ossuary was labeled Mariamne, and some scholars say it might be that of Mary Magdalene, who could have been Jesus' wife. The 10th ossuary in the find report went missing but it is almost certainly the James ossuary, inscribed 'James, brother of Jesus'. The James ossuary which some have labeled a fake is with a high degree of certainty from this tomb also and is almost certainly genuine. Neither the ossuary nor the inscription is fake according to best evidence as reported for example in various issues of Biblical Archaeological Review. The legal case against Oded Golan for forging it was being dismissed by an Israeli court because it could not be proven a fake last I heard. See for a more complete discussion.

While all the names on the ossuaries in this tomb are fairly common Judaean names the likelihood of another family with all the same names in one group is enormously unlikely. The 'James, brother of Jesus' inscription also indicates that the brother Jesus had a recognized importance greater than the father Joseph which is very atypical as we would expect a usual 'James son of Joseph' inscription otherwise.

Experts are split on the supposed Jesus tomb. Archaeologists, biblical scholars and other experts met in Jerusalem in January 2008 to discuss the tomb that might be that of Jesus and his family. James Charlesworth, a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey, organized the conference, Time reported. Last year, the Discovery Channel aired a controversial program, "The Lost Tomb of Jesus," that some criticized for sensationalism and shoddy scholarship though others including myself were impressed by the evidence.

The conference ended with no firm conclusions and with experts divided on the likelihood of the tomb containing Jesus's family. Charlesworth has not made up his own mind. "I have reservations, but I can't dismiss the possibility that this tomb was related to the Jesus clan," he said.

The widow of Joseph Gat, who headed the excavation, told the conference that Gat thought Jesus was buried in the tomb but did not publicize his conclusion because he feared an anti-Semitic backlash.

I think there is quite a strong possibility that this is the tomb of Jesus and his family. Recall also that bones were found in the ossuaries, but according to Israeli law all these human remains were given to orthodox Jews for secret reburial. Certainly the greatest miscarriage of archaeological justice ever if in fact as is likely they were the bones of Jesus and his family. There should now be a tremendous outcry raised to track those bones down and subject them to proper forensic study. The Israeli antiquities authority should reopen the tomb which it has kept sealed since its discovery and allow proper study by an international team of experts. This is likely the most important archaeological issue one could possibly imagine and the fact that it is not being investigated is a tragic disgrace!

For example the size of the skeleton should be compared to the image on the Shroud of Turin to see if they are compatible. Also DNA should be recovered insofar as is possible. There should be an attempt to determine if the blood type was A negative or not. Apparently the blood traces on both the Shroud of Turin and the The Sudarium of Oviedo (the cloth said to have covered Jesus' head in death) are type A negative, which is a common Near Eastern blood type. A DNA match between the three sources would be strong evidence that they all are in fact relics of Jesus.

Of course the effort could easily be further subverted in various ways by the orthodox Jews who performed the burial and who are the only people who know where those bones were buried. Orthodox Jews could of course have a strongly vested interest in sabotaging any such investigation and strict safeguards are needed to prevent that in such an important case.

Determining with near certainty that Jesus died and was buried like other men would have a profound effect on Christianity and might help to bring it back into the realm of common sense. It is certainly the most fascinating of subjects!

THE CRUCIFIXION NAILS: The two iron nails found in the tomb could well be those placed in the hands of Jesus during his crucifixion. The size judging from the photos is about right. A human hand is around an inch thick and a hardwood backing board around an inch thick into which the nails were driven and crimped over would be consistent with the apparent two inch or so depth of these nails disregarding the crimp. It is also likely that the nails would have remained in the hands when the body was removed from the cross if they were driven tightly between the hand bones making it difficult to remove them. Only after the body had decomposed and the bones separated to place in the ossuary would they have likely come loose.

If these are not Jesus' crucifixion nails why are they in what is most likely his tomb? This style of crimped nail has no apparent independent function inside a tomb or ossuary and to my knowledge there were no wooden artifacts found. And why two and only two identical nails of the correct size found?

It is imperative that the bones found in the Jesus ossuary be exhumed and examined for evidence of crucifixion injury and connection to the two nails. That would be incredibly important evidence for the whole inquiry.

THE SHROUD OF TURIN: I'll only summarize evidence for the authenticity of the Shroud here and won't repeat the details which can be found at and other sources.

Though the certain history of the Shroud only goes back to the 1300's there is a possible history of the Shroud back to Roman times via King Abgar of Armenia who is said to have received a cloth with an impression of Jesus that healed his ailments. There is a possible history of this cloth from him through several steps through Constantinople and thence possibly to Turin.

The medieval carbon dating of the fabric is likely flawed as it was performed on an corner that was apparently repaired in medieval times, and there are also soot deposits from a fire in 1532 that caused the burns visible on the fabric that could have skewed the results.

Experts on ancient cloth have determined that the fine double weave of the Shroud is consistent with Ancient Near Eastern weaves and not those seen in Medieval Italy.

It is also reported that pollen grains from plants that grow in Judaea but not in Italy have been found lodged in the Shroud fabric.

There are two types of stains on the Shroud, blood stains in a pattern consistent with the Biblical description of Jesus' crucifixion, and a faint dull yellow impression of the face and body itself which forms the visible image of the body. There has been a lot of wild speculation as the source of this stain but I think the source is actually quite obvious. It is simply the familiar 'ring around the collar' stains produced by human skin on cloth. It is unlikely Jesus would have bathed for a number of days prior to his crucifixion. His body would have been dirty and the extreme stress of the scourging and crucifixion would most certainly have resulted in greatly increased skin secretions. When the body was taken down from the cross and wrapped in the Shroud it would have struck to these secretions and been stained by them in the familiar ring around the collar process producing the impression seen in the Shroud today. A very simple and scientifically reasonable explanation.

The A negative blood type of the blood stains on the Shroud are the same as those on the Sudarium of Oviedo and are much more common among Near Eastern peoples than Italian.

Lastly convincingly faking the Shroud seems far beyond the technology of the 1300's. In fact no one has convincingly reproduced it even in modern times. If it was a fake wouldn't it be likely to see similar examples of the technology used in other artifacts from that period? There simply aren't any. The only way to fake it in my judgement would be to actually crucify someone and wrap him in a piece of cloth and I don't think people were being crucified in the 1300's.

THE SUDARIUM OF OVIEDO: The blood stains on the Shroud of Turin have been typed to the same A Negative blood type as those on the Sudarium of Oviedo a separate cloth with documented history prior to that of the shroud and traditionally said to have wrapped the head of the crucified Jesus. Supposedly the stain pattern of both cloths are consistent.

CONCLUSION: The reasonableness of the evidence and cross consistency of these three physical relics said to be associated with the actual physical historical Jesus is very convincing. Whatever one's religious beliefs are there is no doubt that Jesus was an actual historical person who had a significant following at the time of his death and thereafter so that the preservation of relics associated with his death and crucifixion is entirely to be expected. Since Jesus is arguably the single most important figure in history the importance of a full and thorough objective investigation into these remarkable artifacts is of the highest importance.

A PERSONAL NOTE: Strangely around 1960-62 I was suddenly inspired to do the following drawing which I drew in positive on a letterhead from a small print shop where I worked in San Francisco. Using I believe some mimeograph process it came out as a negative when I reproduced it. So far as I know I had no knowledge of the Shroud of Turin at that time but I've always been struck by the rather mysterious correspondence of my image of Jesus descended from the cross as a negative of himself with the Shroud image which only shows up clearly in negative as it is usually depicted.