Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Leper Wrapped in Cloth Buried in Jerusalem

The headlines on the web this morning are a little more sensational:

The tomb was found nearly a decade ago, and all of the sensational results have been known for years.  Two of the excavators, Gibson and Tabor, have both written extensively on this discovery in books they have published.

What is new is the publication of an article in the US Public Library of Science Journal, with the finding that this was evidence of the first human known to have leprosy.  That’s good, but it’s not news.  Maybe the news is buried in the details, and the publication of this article provides an opportunity to review an important discovery.  That’s fine, but it should be noted that news outlets lead you to believe that there are more discoveries than they actually are because they report the same items time after time, particularly during the Christmas and Easter seasons.

If you read only one article, I’d suggest the one in the Jerusalem Post.  But the best photos are in the Daily Mail.  Here are the important facts:

  • A man was buried in this tomb between AD 1 and 50.
  • The rock-hewn tomb was located on the south side of the Hinnom Valley, in a cemetery used by the wealthy.
  • The man was wrapped in a burial shroud with a different weave from that of the Shroud of Turin.
  • The deceased suffered from tuberculosis and leprosy.  (Apparently even the rich got sick.)
  • A significant portion of the dead man’s hair was recovered and analyzed (it was clean, short, and lice-free).
  • The man did not receive a secondary burial in an ossuary, as was typical at the time.

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 Shroud 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.)

You can read the rest in the articles linked to above. The books that I alluded to by the archaeologists are these:

UPDATE (12/17): James Davila at Paleojudaica responds to the Jerusalem Post statement quoted above:

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?

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3 Comments:

  • I do think two things are interesting:

    1. The actual DNA identification of Hansen's Disease. Before we seemed to wonder if this form of bacteria was what the Bible talked about when it mentioned Leprosy. Now we know it was extant there and at the time.

    2. The shroud was in several pieces, with a seperate headpiece. This matches the description of the buriel cloths in John, and not the Turin Shroud.

    By Blogger Al Sandalow, at Wed Dec 16, 05:39:00 PM  

  • I have to chuckle every time I read someone stating the Turin shroud is a medieval forgery. Personally, I don't know whether it is or not; I just know that it's completely stumped modern science for decades now (How did medieval people make it? Why do we only have one? Etc.)

    As for the arguments about the Turin one being a single sheet vs. this one being two, they mention that it was common to have a separate one for the head in case the person was not actually dead. Well, two things. 1) A guy drained of blood with a gaping hole near His heart is not likely to resuscitate. 2) The people who buried Jesus were in a hurry in an unusual situation, so it might have been an occasion for an unusual burial.

    My point is that I'm with Todd on these types of "buried" assumptions.

    By Blogger G.M. Grena, at Thu Dec 17, 12:18:00 AM  

  • There is this new television series called The Generations Project. Tonight they are showing an episode about a Hawaiian woman who learns about her great grandmother who was exiled to a leprosy colony.

    You can watch in online http://www.byu.tv/ or on BYU Television
    It airs on Monday night at 8pm MST

    Here's the show's website. http://www.byub.org/thegenerationsproject/

    I just thought you might be interested. It's a really great show about family history.

    By Blogger maryjane, at Mon Jan 25, 01:32:00 PM  

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