Wednesday, December 31, 2003

THE OCCUPANTS OF THE TOMB where the Jerusalem Shroud was found have been subjected to DNA analysis. The Jerusalem Post reports:

The underground area contained pieces of bone dated by carbon-14 to 2,000 years ago. The team found a "non-descript black mass" of wool fabric. The fabric, proven by radioactive dating techniques to be an authentic burial shroud from two millennia ago, contained "well-groomed hair."

The microscopy techniques revealed the nature of the fabrics and weaving techniques. [Charles] Greenblatt [professor emeritus of parasitology at the Hebrew University medical school] said that though the "Shroud of Turin" - which allegedly showed the shadow of the body of Jesus after his crucifixion" - was proven a fraud, the Jerusalem remains are authentic.

But the most interesting results were of the bones from the closed niche. These bones had not been gathered up for a secondary burial in an ossuary, which had been the practice of that time. DNA testing showed the handful of individuals were genetically related. "Two were perhaps a mother and son or brother and sister, and there were three other siblings, plus two related individuals in a closed stone casket," said Greenblatt, who added that an archeologist with the Antiquities Authority lent the team some fragments for DNA analysis.

The man found in the closed niche was clearly upper class, asserted Greenblatt, and may have been a kohen. He suffered from leprosy, which can weaken the immune system and thereby lead to tuberculosis, which was the actual cause of his death. The niche was probably sealed because the family that buried him feared getting infected with leprosy.

Read the whole article.

UPDATE: There are more details in the Ha'aretz article "2,000-year-old leper found in Jerusalem." Excerpt:

"Up until now, the oldest archaeological findings of leprosy were from the Byzantine period, in the fifth century C.E.," says [archaeologist Shimon] Gibson. "This is the oldest archaeological finding of leprosy in the Middle East. Leprosy is mentioned in the Bible, but until now, we could not be sure whether these biblical references are to the disease we know as leprosy, or to something

And the headlines just get more lurid. Ireland On-Line says: "Ancient leper remains found in valley named Hell."

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