A few nights ago, as I lay in bed trying to fall asleep, I happened to start thinking about the shroud of Turin. Don’t ask me why, it was kind of just a random thing. But I realized something that I hadn’t thought of before: the shroud is an obvious fake.
Now, don’t misunderstand, I’ve never thought that it was real. But the ignorance (or audacity?) of its creators should be apparent to anybody who understands first-century Jewish culture—or really, anybody who has read the Bible and paid any attention.
So, here is the backdrop of actual history that the shroud has to try to fit into:
First, let’s go back to the Old Testament, when God gave Moses the Law. In addition to the ten commandments, there were may other laws and ordinances about ceremonial cleanliness and religious rites. Of interest to us is the fact that dead bodies were considered unclean:
Numbers 19:11 He that toucheth the dead body of any man shall be unclean seven days.
12 He shall purify himself with it on the third day, and on the seventh day he shall be clean: but if he purify not himself the third day, then the seventh day he shall not be clean.
13 Whosoever toucheth the dead body of any man that is dead, and purifieth not himself, defileth the tabernacle of the LORD; and that soul shall be cut off from Israel: because the water of separation was not sprinkled upon him, he shall be unclean; his uncleanness is yet upon him.
14 This is the law, when a man dieth in a tent: all that come into the tent, and all that is in the tent, shall be unclean seven days.
15 And every open vessel, which hath no covering bound upon it, is unclean.
16 And whosoever toucheth one that is slain with a sword in the open fields, or a dead body, or a bone of a man, or a grave, shall be unclean seven days.
17 And for an unclean person they shall take of the ashes of the burnt heifer of purification for sin, and running water shall be put thereto in a vessel:
18 And a clean person shall take hyssop, and dip it in the water, and sprinkle it upon the tent, and upon all the vessels, and upon the persons that were there, and upon him that touched a bone, or one slain, or one dead, or a grave:
19 And the clean person shall sprinkle upon the unclean on the third day, and on the seventh day: and on the seventh day he shall purify himself, and wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and shall be clean at even.
20 But the man that shall be unclean, and shall not purify himself, that soul shall be cut off from among the congregation, because he hath defiled the sanctuary of the LORD: the water of separation hath not been sprinkled upon him; he is unclean.
21 And it shall be a perpetual statute unto them, that he that sprinkleth the water of separation shall wash his clothes; and he that toucheth the water of separation shall be unclean until even.
22 And whatsoever the unclean person toucheth shall be unclean; and the soul that toucheth it shall be unclean until even.
So not only would a dead body be unclean, so would a grave, or anything else associated with the dead, that is, anything that had touched a dead body.
Let us ask ourselves then: would a first-century Jew grab and save a shroud worn by the dead?
Of course not! Just touching it would mean that they’d have to go through a seven day cleansing process. And this would have to be repeated each time that they handled it.
And although even the Jewish Christians later realized that we are no longer under the Law, we know that they continued to keep the rites of ceremonial cleanliness for decades after Christ’s death and resurrection.
Acts 21:20 And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord, and said unto him, Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law:
21 And they are informed of thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs.
22 What is it therefore? the multitude must needs come together: for they will hear that thou art come.
23 Do therefore this that we say to thee: We have four men which have a vow on them;
24 Them take, and purify thyself with them, and be at charges with them, that they may shave their heads: and all may know that those things, whereof they were informed concerning thee, are nothing; but that thou thyself also walkest orderly, and keepest the law.
25 As touching the Gentiles which believe, we have written and concluded that they observe no such thing, save only that they keep themselves from things offered to idols, and from blood, and from strangled, and from fornication.
26 Then Paul took the men, and the next day purifying himself with them entered into the temple, to signify the accomplishment of the days of purification, until that an offering should be offered for every one of them.
This may also be one reason why John did not initially enter the Lord’s tomb: he knew that if he touched it or entered it, he would be unclean. He would then feel compelled to go to the temple to be cleansed, and would no doubt come in contact with the very people from which they were hiding for fear of their lives.
Even postulating that they no longer felt it absolutely necessary to keep these rituals of ceremonial cleanliness, it is silly to suggest that people who had for centuries held graves and everything associated with them as unclean, would suddenly start treating the items as sacred relics. That is a 180° flip!
This goes not only for the shroud of Turin, but for many of the other frauds perpetrated during the middle ages: pieces of the cross, bones of the saints, etc. All of these would have been considered unclean by early Christians, not sacred. They would never have been saved to survive to the present day.