The Shroud of Turin, the ancient 14-foot long piece of burial cloth which many believe holds the imprint of the face of Jesus Christ, continues to be an important artifact when it comes to examining the Christian faith, as a new book proposes that it was this very robe that convinced Christ's apostles that he had risen from the dead.
The controversial claim, which positions that the apostles never actually saw the resurrected Christ as Scripture records, is made in The Sign: The Shroud of Turin and the Secret of the Resurrection by art historian Thomas de Wesselow, who is based in King's College in England.
Although the contents and methodology of the book, which is set to be released on April 3 in the U.S., have mostly been kept a secret, the Telegraph shares de Wesselow's conclusion from the book:
"Finding a peculiar image on the inner surface of his burial cloth, the followers of Jesus became convinced he had been raised from the dead and exalted to heaven. This belief led to the emergence of a new sect within Judaism – Christianity-to-be. The real founder of Christianity was not Peter or Paul or even Jesus – it was the Shroud."
"Back then images had a psychological presence, they were seen as part of a separate plain [sic] of existence, as having a life of their own," de Wesselow said in an interview with the Telegraph.
The Bible reveals in several Gospel passages, including the Book of Acts, that Jesus Christ was not only seen and heard, but touched by followers, including Peter and Paul.
There is still much debate and discussion over the authenticity of the Shroud – some critics have claimed that it is a forgery created in the Middle Ages, somewhere between 1260 and 1390. Radiocarbon tests conducted in 1988 in Arizona, Oxford and Zurich seemed to prove that theory to be true, but were disputed due to claims that fibers from the cloth were used around that time period simply to repair the Shroud, which would explain the skewed findings.
In latest news regarding tests on the Shroud, Italian scientists from the National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Development managed to create a duplicate of the robe, but concluded that it would be impossible for anyone to have done the same with technology available in the Middle Ages, which suggests that the cloth might very well be from Christ's time.
"In academia, the subject of the Shroud is seen as toxic," de Wessow admits, citing discussions over its authenticity, "and no one wants to open the can of worms, but try as I might I just couldn't resist it as an intellectual puzzle."
The Sign: The Shroud of Turin and the Secret of the Resurrection author explains that he was brought up in the Anglican church, but is today an agnostic. Still, his fascination with the Shroud led him to delve deeper into the subject, and he reveals in his book:
"Throughout most of history images have been viewed as mysterious, metaphysical beings... Before the Enlightenment, images of gods, saints, spirits and ancestors were routinely credited with power, not only affecting the emotions of those who looked at them, but also influencing the course of events. In the premodern world images were perceived to be, in some sense, alive.
"The Shroud's envelopment of Jesus's body would have fostered the idea of the transference of his soul from flesh to cloth... Christ's clothing (like Peter's shadow) contained or conveyed something of his spiritual presence. The Shroud, which clothed Jesus in the tomb, would surely have been infused with similar power – a power focused and increased by its "miraculous" image."
In the interview with the Telegraph, the historian projects that he does not believe simply in leaving things alone, and he sees that the mystery behind the Shroud – if it is indeed the burial robe of Jesus Christ, will one day be solved.
"I'm an optimist. I think we have to try our best to understand things," he says.
The Shroud of Turin takes its name from the city of Turin, in Italy, where the purported relic is currently preserved in a temperature-controlled case in the royal chapel of the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist.