History of Photography And The Shroud Of Turin

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Dr. Robert Leggat has a website that discusses the history of photography. The site credits Sir John Herschel with coining the term photography. The article also mentions Paul de la Roche (1729-1774) and his work of fiction, Giphantie, which talks about capturing “images from nature, on a canvas”. Interestingly, while Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) has a drawing of a Camera Obscura (apparently dated 1519), there is a theory that the Shroud of Turin might actually be the first photograph in history. (If you have an interest in the history of photography, Dr. Leggat’s article mentions the many people that have had a direct or indirect hand in the resulting discovery of modern photography.)

In fact, during “Da Vinci Code Week” (Mon May 8 – Fri May 12) on the History Channel (Canada’s equivalent of History TV, I believe), they showed a variety of programming related to Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code”. (This book is a combination of fiction and fact, and implies that Leonardo painted information about the supposed bloodline of Christ into his own paintings. Thus, the Da Vinci code.)

One of the programs showed a demonstration, using a dummy hung outside over 12 hours, of how the Shroud of Turin may have been created, using canvas and a Camera Obscura – and a man. The host’s hypothesis is that because the man would have to have remained perfectly still for the entire time, he must have already been dead.

I’ve forgotten the exact date, but a corner of the Shroud has been carbon-dated around 1430 (predating Da Vinci).  However, other evidence, such as the unique weave of the fine linen cloth, indicates that the shroud must have been from the Masada plateau region of Israel around the 1st century AD. (An old TV mini-series from 1981 showed that the inhabitants of Masada, who were one of the 12 tribes of Israel, were completely wiped out. So how would the cloth have ended up in Turin, Italy?)

So why the 1400s for the corner of cloth from the Shroud? Apparently it’s due to some micro-organisms that contaminated the sample. I didn’t actually catch any program during Da Vinci Code Week that indicated that the Shroud had been re-dated from another sample. However, it’s still possible that the cloth itself had in fact wrapped Jesus.

Nevertheless, logic suggests that the Shroud’s actual image could not be of Jesus Christ simply because the necessary glass lens did not exist during his time. The image is more likely to have been created around the 1400s, so the image must be of some other male. Why anyone would do that, of course, is anyone’s guess. But one researcher suggested that the man in question had broken bones in his face. There was also evidence of pooled blood in the hair and forehead, consistent with a crown of thorns.

The mystery remains. I spent 25 years loosely researching the life of Jesus Christ, by talking to people of six or seven different faiths and hearing their culture’s knowledge of Jesus. I learned a great deal, but I had never previously heard of any tie-in to photography. Maybe the mystery of the Shroud will one day be revealed.

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