After the crucifixion of Jesus, the Gospels tell us Joseph of Arimathea buried him. Mark says, “Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock” (Mk. 15:46). While we direct most of our attention to the empty tomb, rightfully so, what became of the linen cloth Joseph wrapped Jesus in? Let’s see how this linen cloth, or shroud, became shrouded in controversy during the Middle Ages with the discovery of the Shroud of Turin.

We adapted this article from the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. This resource helps you understand the culture, customs, and literature of the biblical times. It is also available with the NKJV or NRSV translation.

The Shroud of Turin Controversy

No artifact in the history of scholarship has been the subject of as much debate and study as the Shroud of Turin. This piece of linen cloth is said to bear the front and rear images of a man apparently crucified in Roman fashion. His injuries correspond to those suffered by Jesus, in that he appears to have had his hands (and possibly feet) pierced, as well as his side wounded. In addition, his legs were not broken. Proponents argue that this is the actual burial cloth of Christ, while opponents refer to it as a clever hoax.

The History of the Shroud

Even the history of the shroud is mysterious. The basic details, as we know them, are as follows:

  • Its first known appearance was in France in the 1350s. The original owner died in 1356 without revealing where or how he had acquired the cloth.
  • A fire in 1532 damaged the cloth, and repair patches were added.
  • It has been housed in Turin since 1578.
  • Some theorize that the shroud is the same as the Mandylion, a sacred relic of Constantinople that was said to have borne the divine and miraculous imprint of Jesus’ face.

The Mandylion is said to have been discovered in 525 in Edessa, an early Christian city in eastern Turkey. It found its way to the Byzantine capital in AD 944.

The shroud disappeared from Constantinople in 1204, when a crusader army looted the city. The leaders of the expedition were French, which could explain the shroud’s westward journey.

Basic Facts About the Shroud

The shroud is a swath of linen cloth measuring 14 feet 3 inches (4.34 meters) by 3 feet 7 inches (1.09 meters). The figure on the cloth is naked, with hands folded across the pelvic area. He is bearded and between 5 feet 10 inches (1.78 meters) and 6 feet 1 inch (1.85 meters) in height. The cloth bears a number of extraordinary features.


  • Purple stains on it may have originated from blood.
  • Potsherds or coins may have covered the eyes. Some argue that the outline of a coin from the time of Pontius Pilate is present, but the fabric is so coarse and the image so unclear that many doubt this claim can be substantiated.
  • The image is barely visible up close, and only a rough outline can be discerned by standing farther away. However, when photographed and viewed in negative, the shroud reveals a clear image, formed in such a way that a three-dimensional reconstruction of the man’s appearance is possible.
  • The image, on the very surface of the cloth only, is said to be no more than two fibrils (filaments or fibers) deep.
  • It was not painted on. Rather, some of the threads were themselves changed to produce the image. Adherents suggest that at the moment of the resurrection Jesus’ body radiated energy and fixed his image upon the shroud.
  • The traces of flogging on the body are said to accurately depict Roman scourging. The Romans used a flagrum with two or three leather thongs with a pair of barbed lead balls or sheep bones at the end of each. During whipping, the scourge would tear out pieces of flesh. The 100-plus lash marks evident on the image have a dumbbell shape, conceivably reflecting the use of a flagrum.
  • The shoulders of the individual are said to exhibit abrasions that could have been the result of his having carried the crossbar of a cross.
  • Studies on the soil and pollen preserved in the fibers suggest that the cloth originated in or near Jerusalem.

Recent Developments

Supporters of the shroud’s authenticity argue that no individual in the Middle Ages could have had the expertise to deliberately create such a piece. In 1988, however, British scientists released the results of carbon 14 testing that dated the cloth to between 1260–1390. The shroud was judged to have been proven a fraud, yet subsequent researchers have argued that the sample for the carbon 14 test was taken from a part of the shroud that had been repaired and not from the original fabric.

In 2002 the shroud underwent substantial restoration, including the removal of the repair patches from 1532. Some researchers fear that this process will limit or invalidate any further testing. The enigma of the shroud continues. It remains either the most significant archaeological artifact ever found or one of the most ingenious forgeries in history.

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Leave a comment: What do you think about the Shroud of Turin? How would you make a biblical argument for or against its validity?  


  1. Ann Kirui Reply

    The Bible is full of information,someone buy me a copy 🫣

  2. Wasn’t there a napkin placed over His head? Wouldn’t you think that the head area would not stand out as much as it does if there were a napkin covering it? I would think it would be lighter in color.

    • Brad Hoffman Reply

      Hi Kate! Great observation! John tells us that when Peter entered the empty tomb, “He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen” (John 20:6-7). From that text, it seems there were at least two separate wrappings, one for his body and one for his head.

      • Kate and Brad, respectfully I say, Incorrect. Jewish tradition would have a single linen wrapping the body. There may have been a piece of linen used to keep the jaw shut and another to tie the hands together because rigor mortis would have the arms in their final position at death as his body had probably been on the cross for some time. The scriptures indicate that they rushed to have him buried before sundown. The Shroud also indicates that the jaw was wrapped shut. You have to look carefully, but it is there. Other indications that it is authentic is that the image is ONLY on the upper curved surface of the threads. Scientists can’t not reproduce that with their best lasers! How could someone do that in the 12-1300’s? The simple logical explanation is that a controlled burst of power of some sort took place,,, perhaps in a twinkling of an eye Yeshua’s body was transformed from a dead mortal body to a living immortal body. Naturally that process would include a release of power. When the woman with the issue of blood touched Yeshua’s Tzit-Tzit he indicated that healing power left him and asked who touched him. My old Pastor was on the STURP team that worked on the Shroud in 1976. I recommend the Award winning documentary “The Silent Witness”. It is difficult to find these days, but well worth the search. Packed with amazing info. I welcome open conversation about this!

    • Glenn, of course I agree with you. If this is authentic though, what an amazing artifact. Proof you might say such as recent archeologic evidence proves the scriptures are correct about long lost cities or that certain people lived here or there. Not an object of faith, just evidence that supports the resurrection.

  3. Whether or not the shroud is the real cloth that was used in the burial of Jesus is irrelevant. We live by faith. We do not need proof that Jesus lived, died and rose again. It is an interesting theory that surrounds the Shroud of Turin, but true believers do not need its authenticity to strengthen their faith. And no matter what is “proved” to be true about that piece of cloth, it will not make believers of skeptics.

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