Just when I thought I had a centuries-old topic neatly wrapped up, inconvenient facts turned up to unravel my neat and logical tapestry.

I stand by the fact that the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin does not affect the Gospel of Jesus one whit. Nonetheless, my faulty memory gave me to believe that I’d discovered the coup de grâce to the debate. A couple of verses in John’s Gospel (20:3-8), I thought, laid the dispute to rest.

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed.

There were strips of linen, not a single cloth, and the cloth around Jesus head was separate rom the rest of the linen; plus, it was “folded up”, which means the cloth was still in the shape of Jesus’ head. The Shroud, on the other hand, bears on it the imprint of an entire man, from head to feet. QED, surely?

So I thought. But, blast it all, the Synoptic Gospels would have to say that it was a sheet that wrapped Jesus — all three use the Greek sindōn, and it is singular .

Hmm; not quite back to square one, though. There seems have been both the linen cloth and the linen strips. In his article “The Resurrection in Contemporary Theology”, Colin Brown suggested that the shroud covered Jesus and the strips were used to bind it closely around His body. But if this were so, then Jesus’ headcloth would not have been “by itself”, would it? We can infer that if there was a shroud wrapped around Jesus, there was a space between Jesus’ shoulders and head: His neck was not covered by cloth.

Is this likely? Would a dead body be imperfectly shrouded, so that one or several body parts are uncovered? Look at John 11:44, which tells of Lazarus’ apparel—

The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

Would Lazarus have stopped to unwind first, if he were totally bound up? He might have: the text doesn’t say. Whatever else he took off, surely it would have been the cloth around his head: you wake up in darkness, you’re smothered in a linen cloth impregnated with spices — you can’t breathe. Surely your first action on waking up would be to tear off the veil so you can breathe again? Having your hands bound up would make it quite difficult, though. It’s unlikely that Lazarus would have taken off the cloth around his body, or even been able to, and left all the others in place.

Well, I think that is a wrap after all.

copyright Troy Grisgonelle 2007.