Monday, August 7, 2017

The question of the Turin Shroud

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

Special thank-you to a reader who recently sent me an important question about the Shroud of Turin.

The question had to do with whether I had considered and if so what I thought of the Turin Shroud, a piece of linen containing an amazing and thus far unexplained front-and-back image of a man who has apparently suffered from scourging with a whip over most of his back, as well as wounds consistent with crucifixion (through the wrists and feet). Additionally, rivulets of blood apparently dripping down from cuts to the top of the head (as though from a "crown of thorns") can be seen on the linen.

I felt that this was an important enough question to share with others, because it points towards a vital issue regarding literalism (a term which can mean lots of things, but which I am using here to designate the view that scriptures primarily describe literal, terrestrial, and historical events and personages). 

The Turin Shroud, it seems to me, powerfully illustrates the tendency of the literalistic approach to externalize the stories and characters found in the world's ancient myths and scriptures -- to see them as describing persons and situations outside of ourself, and to then venerate that externalized figure or situation, thus powerfully obscuring the possibility that the stories are actually about our own experience in this incarnate life.

I agree with Alvin Boyd Kuhn's assertion, in a passage I've quoted many times (from his address entitled "The Stable and the Manger," delivered in 1936), which declares:
Bible stories are in no sense a record of what happened to a man or a people as historical occurrence. As such they would have little significance for mankind. They would be the experience of people not ourselves, and would not bear a relation to our life. But they are a record, under pictorial forms, of that which is ever occurring as a reality of the present in all lives. They mean nothing as outward events; but they mean everything as picturizations of that which is our living experience at all times. The actors are not old kings, priests and warriors; the one actor in every portrayal, in every scene, is the human soul. The Bible is the drama of our history here and now; and it is not apprehended in its full force and applicability until every reader discerns himself [or herself] to be the central figure in it! The Bible is about the mystery of human life. Instead of relating to the incidents of a remote epoch in temporal history, it deals with the reality of the living present in the life of every soul on earth. 4.
Note how well the question of the Shroud of Turin resonates with the ringing assertions of Alvin Boyd Kuhn in the above passage. If we focus on this piece of linen as being the very cloth which shrouded the body of a crucified historical Jesus, and as now containing an image of a literal Jesus (miraculously burned into the very top layer of the linen itself, perhaps by the energy released at the moment of resurrection), and even as containing remnants of his blood, as well as molecules of the dirt and dust from his knees when he knelt, or remnants of the flowers with which his body was adorned in the tomb, then our focus is relentlessly external. 

Our minds are asked to obsess over the details of (as Kuhn might say) "a person not ourselves" -- how tall he was, what his facial features and physique looked like, how he wore his hair, and even what blood type he had. From this perspective, the stories and characters we find related in the ancient texts become accounts of outward events, in a remote epoch, involving ancient occurrences, instead of "the drama of our history here and now -- the reality of the living present in the life of every soul on earth (regardless of their own physique, or stature, or hairstyle, or blood type)."

I have written extensively about the abundant evidence found in the texts themselves which suggests that the stories in the Old and New Testaments (so-called) in the Bible are based upon celestial metaphor from first to last, and that they thus can be shown (in common with the rest of the world's ancient myths, scriptures, and sacred stories) to be describing events which take place in the heavenly realms -- representative of the Other Realm (the realm of spirit, the Invisible Realm), thereby pointing us towards truths regarding the invisible and spiritual realities of this world in which we presently find ourselves, as well as the invisible and spiritual realities of our own nature.

Previous posts (some containing videos) which demonstrate that the stories and characters in the New Testament texts are founded upon celestial metaphor include:
and many others. For an even more extensive exploration of the celestial foundations of the episodes in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, see my 2016 book "Star Myths of the World, and how to interpret them: Volume Three (Star Myths of the Bible)."

Based on the overwhelming abundance of evidence, I am quite convinced that the stories and characters described in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are based upon celestial metaphor and do not describe literal or terrestrial history. 

That conviction absolutely does not mean that I believe that these scriptures are somehow "not true" because I don't take them as literal, terrestrial history. On the contrary, I believe that the Biblical stories, like the rest of the world's ancient myths, scriptures, and sacred traditions from around the globe, are using celestial metaphor in order to convey profound truths of vital importance to our lives -- but that they are doing so esoterically (along the lines of the way Mr. Miyagi taught Daniel-San in the original Karate Kid, or the metaphor of the "finger pointing a way to the moon" in Buddhist tradition, or the way that Montessori uses visual, three-dimensional representations to convey truths about invisible mathematical concepts such as the cubing of a trinomial).

But it does mean that I believe it is a mistake to become too focused upon the outward form of the metaphor rather than the esoteric meaning towards which it is pointing (this would be akin to becoming too focused upon the finger, thus missing all that "heavenly glory," or becoming obsessed with the types of cars that Mr. Miyagi has Daniel-San waxing in the "wax-on, wax-off" scene, as if the outward form of the cars themselves are a necessary component of the karate concepts that Mr. Miyagi is trying to impart).

In light of the foregoing, I believe that the Turin Shroud may be misleading in that it invites us to focus on those very types of external features and supposed historical settings (the composition of the dirt, the methodology of historical crucifixions), rather than pointing us towards the invisible and ever-present truths which the stories are intended to convey. 

Additionally, despite the fact that the image on the Shroud of Turin is indeed wondrous and mysterious, I am not at all convinced that it indicates that the characters and events described in the gospel accounts represent literal events that took place in terrestrial history. 

For one thing, the evidence that the stories in the Bible -- from Genesis all the way to Revelation -- are based upon celestial metaphor is extremely compelling, and what's more it is verifiable: open to examination by anyone who cares to consult the widely-available details in the stories, and look up into the night sky, where the constellations display characteristics that can be shown to match the details in the texts.

The same cannot be said for the Shroud of Turin. I cannot examine the object myself, and submit it to careful analysis. The Turin Shroud has occasionally been permitted to be examined, but only rarely, and not for many years. 

This inaccessibility, in and of itself, should raise serious questions about its authenticity. If the Shroud of Turin is indeed what it is claimed to be, then those who truly believe that it is what it is claimed to be should not be apprehensive about what detailed scientific study of the Shroud (with proper precautions to prevent damage) would discover -- especially because technological capabilities and methods of analysis pertinent to such an investigation have advanced at incredible rates over the past several years since close examination was last permitted.

Another reason that I am not convinced that the Shroud of Turin is the literal linen shroud which was once wrapped around the physical body of a literal and historical Jesus is the fact that it shows blood dripping down the forehead, presumably from the cuts inflicted by a "crown of thorns" as described in the gospel texts, but that these rivulets of blood create some serious doubts about the artifact's authenticity, in my analysis. 

As you can see from the image below, which shows the linen as seen by the naked eye on the left as we face the picture, and as seen in photographic negative on the right, there is a prominent trickle of blood descending from the area of the top of the head towards the right eye (on the left side as we face the image -- note that the full-length image at the top of this post appears to be inverted horizontally, compared to the images below):

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

You can see that the bright line of blood shown on the negative image on the right represents what is ostensibly an actual blood-stain on the linen, as seen in the image on the left (as we face the page).

The question this raises to my analysis is why the blood that dripped down from the crown of thorns would not have been cleaned-off prior to wrapping the body in a fine piece of linen, and deposited in its resting place in the tomb (with flowers, if you believe that the flower particles that have been said to have been found on the Shroud actually represent remnants of flowers accompanying the body at the burial).

As you can see from the image on the left, the trickle in question certainly appears to have been "downward" in its flow-direction, beginning at the hairline and descending to the eyebrow, where it ends in a "droplet" shape. However, one would assume that this blood would have been wiped away prior to the burial -- and that if blood were to have continued to flow after burial (which is not at all normal) that blood would not have flowed from the hairline to the brow once the body was laid out horizontally in the tomb. You can verify this for yourself by lying supine upon a flat surface and then tracing a line with your finger from the hairline area towards the eyebrow, and you will see that this would mean the blood was trickling uphill across the forehead towards the eye-region.

For these and other reasons, I am not at all convinced that the Turin Shroud represents physical evidence of a literal burial and literal resurrection -- although, as I explain in Star Myths of the Bible and in some of the posts linked above, I certainly believe in the truths that these ancient texts are conveying to us, in the language of the stars.

This still leaves the question of how the remarkable front-and-back image came to be burned-in to the very upper layers of the linen of the Shroud of Turin. The image itself has amazing properties, properties which only came to be appreciated hundreds of years after the Shroud of Turin was famous. 

Some of these properties include the fact that the image acts as a sort of "photographic negative," preserving data that could only be fully appreciated with the advent of modern photography in the nineteenth century, when photographs of the image revealed this remarkable property. 

Later still, in more recent decades, it has been discovered that the image even encodes three-dimensional data -- a fact which led to the creation of a physical model of these three-dimensional properties by professors at the US Air Force Academy (the model is on display in the cadet chapel at the Air Force Academy).

These amazing properties certainly argue that the image on the Turin Shroud is extraordinary -- but they do not necessarily indicate that it is supernatural, nor do they indicate that it is necessarily the literal shroud in which the body of a literal and historical Jesus was wrapped prior to the moment of resurrection. 

Note that, for the sake of argument, it could be conceded that the image with all its remarkable properties was burned into the surface texture of the linen by means beyond those known to materialist science without necessarily indicating that this cloth was wrapped around a literal and historical Jesus -- I certainly believe in the reality of what is called the "energy body," and would concede that it might be possible for certain advanced practitioners of certain ancient disciplines to accomplish remarkable feats that are not widely known and would not be easily understood by materialist science, even (theoretically) the ability to create burn-marks on the outer surface of fine linen, perhaps. 

In fact, I believe that the cultivation of disciplines involving these "invisible" aspects of our incarnate condition might be one of the layers of meaning that the celestial metaphors in the ancient myths of the world may be designed to esoterically teach.

However, I do not personally believe that the image found on the Shroud of Turin was created by supernatural or even "extra-normal" means at all. Some researchers have posited a very plausible hypothesis by which the image could have been burned into the linen, not by heat but by the activation of a light-sensitive chemical treatment in an early example of photographic technique.

This video series (and there may be others) describes this hypothesis, along the way giving a good overview of the amazing properties of the image on the Shroud of Turin and the reasons to believe that it was indeed created using extraordinary methodologies, although not necessarily supernatural in nature: 

The entire presentation is divided into six videos: each should start automatically after the preceding clip finishes, but if not, you can use these links for parts two, three, four, five and six.

One of the most astonishing aspects of the above hypothesis, of course, is the assertion of the possibility that Leonardo da Vinci may have been intimately involved in the creation of the images on the Shroud of Turin. Leonardo da Vinci, of course, was unquestionably endowed with unmatched intellect, deep learning and astonishing artistic and inventive powers. Less well-known, however, is the fact that his art also contains clear references to the celestial aspects of the Biblical characters and stories he painted -- indicating the possibility that he understood the esoteric (as opposed to literal and historic) nature of the ancient wisdom.

Previous posts have touched on this aspect of da Vinci's art -- for example, see "Scott Onstott reveals the profound message of Leonardo da Vinci and his art," as well as the extended discussion of the apostle Philip in the video on the zodiac and the disciples referenced earlier and linked again here.

To be sure, other artwork depicting Biblical scenes by other artists down through the centuries appears to contain clear references to the celestial connection to specific constellations, and it is very possible that artists were taught certain conventions regarding different characters, without even knowing that these conventions of depicting the characters related directly to the celestial outlines of specific constellations in the night sky. For numerous examples of this phenomenon, see for instance this previous post, and this video, as well as those presented in the Star Myths of the World books, particularly Volumes Two and Three.

Even if the vast majority of artists were not privy to the actual connection between the artistic conventions they were using and the specific constellational features of the characters (matching the constellations to which those characters correspond), if we had to posit an artist who would have known of those connections, Leonardo da Vinci would be a pretty good candidate.

The bigger point to keep in mind, however, is the one with which we began this brief examination of the question of the Turin Shroud, and that is the assertion by Alvin Boyd Kuhn (with which I agree) that the "full force and applicability" of the world's ancient scriptures and myths is not apprehended by any man or woman until he or she realizes the story describes the experience of his or her soul, sojourning in this incarnate life.

Da Vinci himself might have urged us to marvel, not at the bodily image of someone else's body, transmitted onto a piece of linen and thus preserved in remarkable detail, with a beatific expression intended to convey the dignity and divinity of the Christ, but instead to contemplate the miracle of the fact that we ourselves are possessed of a body, filled with miles and miles of veins and arteries and capillaries, with a heart that has been steadily pumping inside our chest without our conscious direction, and lungs that by their incredible design enable the transfer of oxygen to our corpuscles and the subsequent expulsion of carbon dioxide. Even more remarkable, this body in which we find ourselves in this incarnate life is animated by our consciousness, and imbued with the power of sight, and hearing, and taste and smell and touch. We can form thoughts in our minds and transmit them into words, something we take for granted but which is really so miraculous as to be almost inexplicable.

And beyond all of this, we too -- and everyone we ever meet -- are also possessed of the same dignity and divinity which the artists depict in their artwork, according to the testimony of the ancient wisdom given to humanity in the form of the myths. One of the central messages of the ancient myths, I'm convinced, is that a goal of our incarnate journey is the recognition and elevation of this divine nature in ourselves and in others.

To the degree that contemplating the beauty of the myths, or the beatific expression of the image on the Turin Shroud, can assist us in doing that, I believe such contemplation is beneficial. But, to the degree that we persist in externalizing that message -- in focusing only on the divinity and dignity of an external figure, and failing to work on recognizing and elevating that nature in ourselves and in others, then I believe it is possible that we are "focusing too much on the finger" and missing "all that heavenly glory" (in the words of the character played by Bruce Lee, in the movie linked above, and linked again here).

So, as you can see, I believe it was a very important question that was asked, and I am grateful to Mr. M.-H. for sending it to me, all the way from Western Australia! I hope other readers are also grateful for the question about the Turin Shroud, because it illuminates (I believe) some very significant points.

One other thought came to me as I watched the video series linked above describing the hypothesis that the image might have been burned-in to the top layer of the linen using an early and ingenious photographic technique, and that was prompted by the observation that the spectra of the image does not indicate that it was burned-in by heat, but rather by some other means (the researchers in the video believe it was burned-in by light, rather than by heat). It occurs to me that this mechanism might possibly be at work in some crop circles.

I recently (while at the Great Serpent Mound in Ohio) had the opportunity to meet with and see presentations from some of the world's premiere researchers of crop circles, and one of the things they showed me were close-up high-magnification photographs of the stalks of the individual plants which appear to have been burned on one side only, in order to cause them to fall over. It was also related to me that some observers have reported seeing the patterns in the crops actually "going in" by some unseen force, with the plants just falling over as if by themselves. Is it possible that some sort of "light-activated" burning mechanism, similar to the one described in the Leonardo da Vinci hypothesis for the creation of the Turin Shroud in the video above, might be at work in the formation of crop circles? Perhaps the application of some light-reactive agent, which causes the circles to form as the sun comes up and the light strikes the fields?

In any case, whether or not Leonardo da Vinci was responsible for creating the images we see today on the Shroud of Turin, the very possibility (and the achievements exhibited by da Vinci and, each in his or her unique way, every other man and woman) should remind us that each and every one of us -- and humanity in general -- are "fearfully and wonderfully made," as the ancient text of the Psalms declares (Psalm 139).

To conclude by repeating the insight of Alvin Boyd Kuhn: "The Bible is about the mystery of human life. Instead of relating to the incidents of a remote epoch in temporal history, it deals with the reality of the living present in the life of every soul on earth."