‘It Was the Science That Convinced Me’: How a Scientist Came to Believe the Shroud
BY ANN SCHNEIBLE
Barrie Schwortz, an observant Jew, says, ‘There’s no way a medieval forger would have had the knowledge to create something like this, and to do so with a method that we can’t figure out today.’
The Shroud of Turin has different meanings for many people: some see it as an object of veneration, others a forgery, still others a medieval curiosity. For one Jewish scientist, however, the evidence has led him to see it as a meeting point between science and faith.
“The Shroud challenges (many people’s core beliefs) because there’s a strong implication that there is something beyond the basic science going on here,” Barrie Schwortz, one of the leading scientific experts on the Shroud of Turin, in an interview with CNA.
Admitting that he did not know whether there was something beyond science at play, he added: “That’s not what convinced me: It was the science that convinced me.”
The Shroud of Turin is among the most well-known relics believed to be connected with Christ’s passion. Venerated for centuries by Christians as the burial shroud of Jesus, it has been subject to intense scientific study to ascertain its authenticity, and the origins of the image.
The image on the 14 feet long, three-and-a-half feet wide cloth is stained with the postmortem image of a man — front and back — who has been brutally tortured and crucified.
Schwortz, now a retired technical photographer and frequent lecturer on the shroud, was a member of the 1978 Shroud of Turin Research Project which brought prestigious scientists together to examine the ancient artifact.
As a non-practicing Jew at the time, he was hesitant to be part of the team and skeptical as to the shroud’s authenticity — presuming it was nothing more than an elaborate painting. Nonetheless, he was intrigued by the scientific questions raised by the image.
Despite his reservations, Schwortz recounts being persuaded to remain on the project by a fellow scientist on the team — a NASA imaging specialist, and a Catholic — who jokingly told him: “You don’t think God wouldn’t want one of his chosen people on our team?”
And Schwortz soon encountered one of the great mysteries of the image that still entrances its examiners to this day.
He explained that a specific instrument used for the project was designed for evaluating x-rays, which allowed the lights and darks of an image to be vertically stretched into space, based on the lights and darks proportionately.
For a normal photograph, the result would be a distorted image; wiith the shroud, however, the natural, 3-D relief of a human form came through. This means “there’s a correlation between image density — lights and darks on the image — and cloth to body distance.”
“The only way that can happen is by some interaction between cloth and body,” he said. “It can’t be projected. It’s not a photograph — photographs don’t have that kind of information, artworks don’t.”
This evidence led him to believe that the image on the shroud was produced in a way that exceeds the capacities even of modern technology.
“There’s no way a medieval forger would have had the knowledge to create something like this, and to do so with a method that we can’t figure out today — the most image-oriented era of human history.”
“Think about it: in your pocket, you have a camera, and a computer, connected to each other in one little device,” he said.
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