Thursday, December 17, 2009

THE JERUSALEM SHROUD STORY continues to be recycled in the news. Here's one article of many:
DNA of Jesus-Era Shrouded Man in Jerusalem Reveals Earliest Case of Leprosy

ScienceDaily (Dec. 16, 2009) — The DNA of a first-century shrouded man found in a tomb on the edge of the Old City of Jerusalem has revealed the earliest proven case of leprosy.

The burial cave, which is known as the Tomb of the Shroud, is located in the lower Hinnom Valley and is part of a 1st century C.E. cemetery known as Akeldama or 'Field of Blood' (Matthew 27:3-8; Acts 1:19) -- next to the area where Judas is said to have committed suicide. The tomb of the shrouded man is located next to the tomb of Annas, the high priest (6-15 C.E.), who was the father in law of Caiaphas, the high priest who was said to have betrayed Jesus to the Romans. It is thus thought that this shrouded man was either a priest or a member of the aristocracy. According to Prof. Gibson, the view from the tomb would have looked directly toward the Jewish Temple.

Details of the research will be published December 16 in the journal PLoS ONE.

The molecular investigation was undertaken by Prof. Mark Spigelman and Prof. Charles Greenblatt and of the Sanford F. Kuvin Center for the Study of Infectious and Tropical Diseases at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Prof. Carney Matheson and Ms. Kim Vernon of Lakehead University, Canada, Prof. Azriel Gorski of New Haven University and Dr. Helen Donoghue of University College London. The archaeological excavation was led by Prof. Shimon Gibson, Dr. Boaz Zissu and Prof. James Tabor on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

The renewed attention to the shroud seems to have been generated by the (welcome) publication of this journal article on the DNA evidence, which is available online here (as noted by Joe Lauer on his list). This is the abstract:
Molecular Exploration of the First-Century Tomb of the Shroud in Akeldama, Jerusalem

Carney D. Matheson1,2,3*, Kim K. Vernon3,4, Arlene Lahti1,5, Renee Fratpietro1, Mark Spigelman3,6, Shimon Gibson7, Charles L. Greenblatt3, Helen D. Donoghue6

1 Paleo-DNA Laboratory, Lakehead University, Thunder Bay, Canada, 2 Department of Anthropology, Lakehead University, Thunder Bay, Canada, 3 Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, The Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School, Jerusalem, Israel, 4 Department of Anthropology, Department of Zoology, University of Queensland, St. Lucia, Australia, 5 Department of Biology, Lakehead University, Thunder Bay, Canada, 6 Department of Infection, University College London, London, United Kingdom, 7 University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Charlotte, North Carolina, United States of America
Abstract Top

The Tomb of the Shroud is a first-century C.E. tomb discovered in Akeldama, Jerusalem, Israel that had been illegally entered and looted. The investigation of this tomb by an interdisciplinary team of researchers began in 2000. More than twenty stone ossuaries for collecting human bones were found, along with textiles from a burial shroud, hair and skeletal remains. The research presented here focuses on genetic analysis of the bioarchaeological remains from the tomb using mitochondrial DNA to examine familial relationships of the individuals within the tomb and molecular screening for the presence of disease. There are three mitochondrial haplotypes shared between a number of the remains analyzed suggesting a possible family tomb. There were two pathogens genetically detected within the collection of osteological samples, these were Mycobacterium tuberculosis and Mycobacterium leprae. The Tomb of the Shroud is one of very few examples of a preserved shrouded human burial and the only example of a plaster sealed loculus with remains genetically confirmed to have belonged to a shrouded male individual that suffered from tuberculosis and leprosy dating to the first-century C.E. This is the earliest case of leprosy with a confirmed date in which M. leprae DNA was detected.
Background on the (non-)relationship to the Shroud of Turin is here. Background on the leprosy connection (from 2003) is here.

Also, Todd Bolen has a post at the Bible Places blog which summarizes current coverage. He is skeptical of the debunking of the Shroud of Turin based on the Jerusalem Shroud:
Here’s an important statement in the JPost article:
Based on the assumption that this is representative of a typical burial shroud widely used at the time of Jesus, the researchers conclude that the Turin Shroud did not originate from Jesus-era Jerusalem.
That gives you the basis for the researchers’ conclusion that the Turin Shroud is fake. As long as there was only one shroud maker in town in the first century, we can be absolutely sure that the Turin crowd [read "shroud?" JRD] is from the medieval period. (I have no interest in or knowledge about the Shroud, but I do care about assumptions necessary for conclusions. The conclusions are in the headlines; the assumptions are always buried if not omitted.)
That's not quite what it says in the Daily Mail article quoted in my post yesterday. The claim there is that "[i]t was made with a simple two-way weave - not the twill weave used on the Turin Shroud, which textile experts say was introduced more than 1,000 years after Christ lived." That is a more general claim that ought to be verifiable or falsifiable based on the reasonably ample surviving textile evidence from antiquity. If it is true that this type of weave is only attested much later, that would severely weaken any case for the genuineness of the Shroud of Turin. Are there specialists in first-century textiles out there who would like to speak up?

UPDATE (24 December): Reader Evy Nelson points me to a textile expert who headed up a 2002 restoration of the Shroud and who was featured in a PBS segment of Secrets of the Dead:
And yet, when [Mechthild]Flury-Lemberg finally did agree to head the restoration and conservation of the linen in the summer of 2002, the Shroud had a far different story to tell her. She first noticed that the entire cloth was crafted with a weave known as a three-to-one herringbone pattern. "This kind of weave was special in antiquity because it denoted an extraordinary quality," she says. (Less fine linens of the first century would have had a one-to-one herringbone pattern). That same pattern is present on a 12th century illustration that depicts Christ's funeral cloth, which, she says, is "extremely significant, because it shows that the painter was familiar with Christ's Shroud and that he recognized the indubitably exceptional nature of the weave of the cloth." Flury-Lemberg also discovered a peculiar stitching pattern in the seam of one long side of the Shroud, where a three-inch wide strip of the same original fabric was sewn onto a larger segment. The stitching pattern, which she says was the work of a professional, is surprisingly similar to the hem of a cloth found in the tombs of the Jewish fortress of Masada. The Masada cloth dates to between 40 B.C. and 73 A.D. The evidence, says Flury-Lemberg, is clear: "The linen cloth of the Shroud of Turin does not display any weaving or sewing techniques which would speak against its origin as a high quality product of the textile workers of the first century."
(Cf. here for a still stronger statement.)

But Evy also notes that Joe Zias did not think highly of this PBS show. According to USA Today:
Joe Zias of Hebrew University of Jerusalem calls the shroud indisputably a fake. "Not only is it a forgery, but it's a bad forgery."

Zias says the shroud depicts a man whose front measures 2 inches taller than his back and whose elongated hands and arms would indicate he was afflicted with gigantism if it were real.
So that leaves us about where we started, with conflicting confident evaluations attributed to specialists and with none of those evaluations put in a peer-review publication. If any other ancient-textile experts want to weigh in, drop me a note.