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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Ascension Day: The DNA of God

Today is Ascension Day, commemorating Christ's ascension into Heaven. It's a "book end" to Easter. Jesus was said to hang around for forty days after He was crucified; sporting a new, deified body; appearing to, eating with, and teaching the disciples. 

Most Christians don't know much about the Resurrection or the Ascension. Some even see Easter as a kind of spiritual resurrection. For them, praying to Jesus in Heaven is like praying to the spirit of some dead relative. But His ascension is precisely the point where Jesus, in his actual body, returns to His rightful seat at the "center" of God's presence, for God is who Christ is. There, the God-Man is surrounded by tens of thousands of angels and the whole court of Heaven, so that, in His omnipresent Spirit, He can come to us and live within us all, at the same time. Ah, the mysteries of the Trinity!

Below is the image on the Shroud of Turin:

Photograph of the Shroud (positive image)

Image negative of the Shroud of Turin
To countless faithful the shroud is the greatest extra-biblical evidence of this very physical Resurrection. Some say the image of the crucified man would have taken a moment of great radiation-like energy to produce. It's like a photograph, before photographs were invented. The shroud has a front image of a crucified body and a back image on the second half of the linen that was wrapped over the head and back down to the feet. The complete relic, when observed with the naked eye or photographed, appears like this:

As you may imagine, it's the subject of intense controversy, too. Skeptics and believers still battle it out. Arguments for the Shroud's validity remain relevant today, especially because a lot of new research and thought has been done since 1988, when the Shroud was said to be carbon dated to the Middle Ages. This carbon dating produced a fire storm of controversy. For many, it was an open and shut case that the item was a forgery, and the relic's "sanctity" and the Catholic Church's protection have made frequent scientific study impossible. But recent studies give a small hint that the radio carbon dating may not have been so accurate. 

So, since I've just read a couple books on the subject and it's fresh in my mind, I decided to go a bit scientific today and list, for those who may not have time to read these books, some of the facts that lead me to believe the Shroud has, upon its fabric, the image of the Image of God.
  • Microscopic pollen found in the weave fibers has been found to be from plants existing only in the arid desert environments of the Middle East (as opposed to Western Europe, where the shroud was supposedly crafted and displayed).
  • Medical study of the stripes, piercings, and bruises on the body are consistent with what we know about Roman crucifixion, as opposed to Medieval art depicting the crucifixion, which is notoriously anatomically inaccurate.
  • Dirt particles embedded in the shroud and taken from the area of the feet were found to have a soil composition unique to Jerusalem, which has lime deposits in its soil that are easily distinguished from other areas in the world.
  • DNA has been extracted from what remains of the congealed blood that came from the man's wrists, side and feet. The blood is male, with an AB blood type. AB blood is present in less than 1% of the world population, but has a much higher concentration among Semitic populations, including Jews. The proteins and amino acid sequences found in the blood, along with evidence of blood serum, have left almost no doubt that it is true blood. Most importantly, the image does not exist underneath the blood stains; the blood went on the shroud first, and the image produced second.
  • The shroud shows evidence of being crafted on a style of loom found only in the middle east and used during the time of the Roman conquest of Israel. The weave style is also particular to that area. Medieval looms and weaving styles were decidedly unique when crafting fabrics and are different from what is evidenced on the Shroud.
  • DNA samples have been taken of microscopic wood particles found embedded in the shroud along the image's back and shoulder areas, and were identified as oak, consistent with the body being pressed and rubbed against a Roman oak cross.
  • No contemporary theory has been put forward to suggest what kind of craft or artistry could produce such an image that satisfactorily accounts for all of the shroud's attributes and explains the absence of pigment and the detail of both the body and the injuries present. There is no medieval contemporary image that comes close to the style of realism that would be used to create such an image.
  • Recent historical/archaeological documents from Turkey refer to what's called The Image of Edessa, a piece of linen with Christ's image on it (usually thought to be just the face - but this has never been the exclusive description of the relic) brought to the Turkish city of Edessa (now Sanliurfa) in the first half of the first millenium. Other historical accounts refer to a full-body image that was displayed in Constantinople all the way up to the 13th century until the city was sacked by Muslim invaders. Coincidentally, less than a century after this image disappears, the shroud as we know it appears in France. Because there have been no references to it before this time, skeptics have argued it's an obvious forgery. These recent discoveries, however, provide a possible explanation for the image's whereabouts up until then.
All this is just the tip of the iceberg on this fascinating subject. If you're interested in reading more, I suggest Ian Wilson's The Shroud or visiting The British Society for the Turin Shroud.

Happy Ascension Day!

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