Analysis: Jewish believer in the Shroud

By UWE SIEMON-NETTO, UPI Religious Affairs Editor  |  March 18, 2005 at 4:54 PM
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WASHINGTON, March 18 (UPI) -- Science photographer Barrie Schwortz considers it ironic that he, an Orthodox Jew, is spending much of his time trying to convince Christians that the Turin Shroud may well be an artifact of Jesus.

As Christendom is entering the holiest season in the church year, Schwortz joined a group of international scholars Friday appealing to Cardinal Severino Poletto, archbishop of Turin, to permit a new carbon dating of the 14-foot cloth bearing the features of a crucified man.

At the last test of this kind in 1988, a majority of scientists concluded that the Shroud was woven between 1260 and 1390 A.D. -- and that the images on it were the work of a medieval artist.

But earlier this year chemist Raymond N. Rogers, a retired fellow of Los Alamos National Laboratory, stated in a scientific paper that the 1988 test was "not valid for determining the age of the Shroud."

Rogers who died of cancer March 9 at the age of 80 was a close friend of Schwortz who runs an elaborate Web site called shroud.com. In a scholarly article in the journal Thermochimica Acta, Rogers explained that in 1988 only a sample the size of a postage stamp was tested.

This sample, he added, turned out to have been taken from a medieval patch that had "completely different chemical properties than the main part of the Shroud relic."

The patch contained cotton and had been dyed to match the rest of the Shroud whose threads were pure linen spun from flax. Rogers, a Protestant who had been involved with the Shroud project for decades, suggested that this cloth is between 1,300 and 3,000 years old.

Rogers was the leader of the chemistry group for the Shroud of Turin Research Project, a team of scientists who performed the first in-depth examination of the cloth in 1978.

Schwortz was STURP's "documenting photographer" then. "I am still Jewish," he said, "yet I believe the Shroud of Turin is the cloth the man Jesus was wrapped in after he was crucified."

"That is not meant as a religious statement," Schwortz cautioned, "but one based on my privileged position of direct involvement with many of the serious Shroud researchers in the world, and a thorough knowledge of the scientific data, unclouded by media exaggeration and hype."

In an interview with United Press International, Schwortz quipped it was "proof of God's sense of humor" that he as a Jew should have been given this task. "But I have no underlying bias. I am simply obligated to the truth."

But then, Schwortz went on, "God always chooses a Jew to be a messenger."

There was no word from Cardinal Poletto's office Friday about the scholars' request to reconsider proposal submitted by Rogers and William Meacham, a Hong Kong-based archaeologist for a new carbon dating of the Shroud.

"After the publication of Rogers' article this year, there has been a great renewal of interest in the Shroud, especially the possibility that it is older than the carbon dating indicates," the scientists' appeal states.

"All the world now wants to know whether the 1988 carbon dating result is in fact erroneous. We urge you, therefore, to grant the very small (amount) of material requested in the Rogers-Meacham proposal, consisting of 60 milligrams (about a spoonful) of carbon dust and fiber bits already removed from the Shroud."

In separate interviews with UPI, both Schwortz and Meacham complained about what Schwortz termed as "Italian stonewalling" of all outside attempts to reopen the case.

"Is it Italian pride?" Schwortz wondered, adding that there has been considerable resentment about the American involvement since 1978. "Americans dominated Shroud science," he said.

Cardinal Poletto could not be reached for comment Friday.

But Rogers and his colleagues were not spared the wrath of fellow Americans. Earlier this week, scientific consultant Steven D. Shafersman accused STRP of "shoddy science."

In a paper issued on The Skeptic World Site, a largely atheist Web publication, Shafersman blasts STURP for its "hopelessly incompetent and unscientific" analyses.

In the meantime though, other astonishing news is coming in about the Shroud. University of Padua researchers have detected a second facial image, though faint, on the back of the cloth.

According to researcher Daniel Porter, the nature of this second face is such that it virtually eliminates artistic methods, while giving credence to the hypothesis that a natural amino/carbonyl chemical reaction formed the Shroud's images.

Italian police experts have, meanwhile, used a computer to create a phantom picture of the young Jesus based on the facial images found on the Shroud. The result was the face of a 12-year-old boy exuding serene cheerfulness.

The face looked much like the portrayal of the young Jesus by the German Renaissance painter Albrecht Duerer (1471-1528), observed the Milan newspaper, Corriere della Sera. On the other hand, the paper mused, "it would probably also have pleased Tizian (Titian)."

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