The Rational Basis for Easter—Part 1

The central belief of Christianity is this:  Jesus died on the cross on Good Friday, was placed in a tomb, covered with a burial cloth and on Easter rose from death in a resurrected body.  Believers celebrate that, taking it on faith.  

Here’s good news for the faithful.  The resurrection is now confirmed on the basis of scientific and scholarly research.  Believers can now—as St. Peter suggested his Second Epistle (1:5)—add knowledge to their faith.

According to tradition, the burial cloth of Jesus is the Shroud of Turin.  This piece of linen cloth measures about 4’ x 14’ and shows the image of a naked, bloody, bearded man.  It resides in the Cathedral at Turin (or Turino), Italy (and can be viewed on line at its official web site:  Also see The Shroud of Turin web site,, which archives nearly all the scientific and scholarly reports about Shroud research.)  

Some critics have said the Shroud is a medieval hoax.  But the nature of the Shroud and its provenance, or documented history of ownership, have now been established well enough to say with great certainty that it did indeed cover Jesus in the tomb.  Moreover, scientific research confirms that the image of the Man in the Shroud is likewise authentic.  That makes the Shroud the most important religious relic in the world.

The Provenance of the Cloth.  Until 2009 there was a gap of one and a half centuries during the Middle Ages when the Shroud’s location was unknown.  In 2009 the Vatican announced that a newly discovered letter showed the Knights Templar held the Shroud from 1204 to 1351.  That confirmed what many scholars had long thought was the case and filled in the gap, giving a documented history of the cloth from the time of the crucifixion until it was presented by a Templar-descended family in France to the Cathedral at Turin in the mid-1500s.  On the basis of scholarly research, it can be said with great certainty that the Shroud is not a medieval hoax.  

The Age of the Cloth.  A 1988 carbon-14 dating test, performed on a sample of the Shroud to determine its age, yielded results of 1280 to 1430 A.D.  The widely publicized report seemed to establish the Shroud as a medieval forgery.  However, more recent research discovered that the test used a cutting from the Shroud which is now recognized as a 16th century “patch” or Invisible repair—invisible to the naked eye but seen clearly under high magnification.  The repair used cotton thread, which is found nowhere else in the Shroud.  Nuns performed the repair to a section of the cloth which had been damaged in a 15th century fire.  The carbon-14 test was unwittingly performed upon a sample which included both new and original threads, thus yielding the apparently medieval age.  New chemical tests on samples from the original linen move the age of the Shroud back in time to the first century A.D. 

Furthermore, the weaving of the linen Shroud is now recognized as consistent with the weaving of first century Palestine but not 14th century Europe.  Moreover, new research has identified pollen grains on the Shroud that could only have come from the vicinity of Jerusalem during March and April—Passover time—when such vegetation is in bloom.  

For these and other research-based reasons, the Shroud cloth is now clearly established as an authentic first-century relic from the Near East.

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