Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Do people still believe the Shroud of Turin is real? part 2

Continued from last week

Letter to Alba Leavnutin

On the contrary! The more scientists look at the shroud the more amazing it becomes. It is an impossible image. The shroud itself is a kind of smudged cloth with a vague, light brown shadow figure and a lot of human blood stains. When you take a picture of it with the lights and shadows reversed it reveals a breathtakingly moving image of a man who was clearly scourged with a Roman whip, crowned with thorns, crucified and pierced with a Roman lance.

More than that, the image has both three dimensional and holographic information in it. These effects can’t be created by painting or regular photography even now. The image itself is made by oxidation of the top most fibrils of linen threads, not threads, not fibers, but fibrils, much smaller than human hair. If you scrape the image with a kitchen knife it would pretty much disappear. There is no paint or dye that forms the image. It something almost, but not quite, like a scorch that makes the image. The most amazing thing is that the blood soaks through threads, but the image doesn’t.

In fact, the blood went on the cloth first. There is no image underneath the blood stains. This cloth has limestone dirt on it that comes only from Jerusalem, where Jesus was crucified and buried in a tomb cut from limestone. It is covered with pollen that comes only from the area around Jerusalem, so it must have clearly been in Jerusalem at one point in time. It even seems to have the images of flowers on it that come only from the area of Jerusalem. Well, then if it has all these amazing properties and was clearly in Jerusalem at some point, why don’t we know about it before 1350 AD?

What makes you think we don’t hear about it? There is something called the Gospel of the Hebrews that was written around 110 AD. It claims that, after the resurrection, “…the Lord had given the linen cloth to the servant of the priest, and he went to James and appeared to him.” The Gospel of the Hebrews is most certainly not canonical, and doesn’t really shed light on what happened to the grave clothes of Jesus, but it does indicate that they were not simply cast off rags. They were important and remembered by the first Christians.

The text of the Gospel of John indicates how important the grave clothes were. “And so Simon Peter also came, following him, and entered the tomb; and he saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the face-cloth which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself. So the other disciple who had first come to the tomb then also entered, and he saw and believed.” (John 20:6). There was something about the grave clothes that convinced them that something amazing had happened. The text uses a word that indicates the shroud was laying flat, “keimenon” and that the face cloth was still wound up, not flat. Something about the cloths caused the disciple to believe. The cloths were important. I doubt that they were discarded.

There is a cloth that has been revered since the earliest days of the faith. It is called the Image of Edessa, or the mandylion, a word that simply means cloth or towel.  This cloth has been known since it was discovered in the aftermath of a flood in 525. During the course of the repairs, a cloth bearing the features of a man was found in a tomb in the wall above one of the gates of Edessa.

There was an ancient legend that a king of Edessa had corresponded with Jesus, asking to be healed of leprosy. In some of these stories there is a sacred image of the Lord with healing powers that was sent to Edessa. The image found in the wall in 525 was immediately identified with that lost image. The image remained in Edessa until 944 when it was taken to Constantinople by Byzantine Greeks.

From then on it its whereabouts and description are very well known. It is described as a full length image of the Lord impressed on a cloth, with prominent emphasis given to the facial image. It is a blurry image that is not made with any paints or pigments. We see it depicted in the Pray Manuscript, a Hungarian text illustrated by someone who had seen the sacred cloth around 1100, 250 years before the carbon test date of the shroud. The image of Edessa vanishes in the fourth crusade in 1204.

It surfaces in France about 100 years later in the possession of a Crusader family, the De Charnays. From there we know exactly where it has been and where. I think it is pretty indisputable that the Pray Manuscript depicts the shroud, and the image it depicts was in Constantinople. All this would lead one to think that the cloth we know as the shroud is much older than the carbon tests indicate and that there is a pretty good chance that the carbon tests were somehow wrong.

In 2011, there was an interesting postscript to the whole controversy. A study led by Professor Paolo Di Lazzaro claims that the image on the shroud may have been caused by an intense and almost immeasurably brief flash of light. Test results “show that a short and intense burst of UV directional radiation can color a linen cloth so as to reproduce many of the peculiar characteristics of the body image on the shroud of Turin.” This is the only way thus far that anyone has been able to cause a kind of burn or oxidation that has the exact optical properties of the shroud. Interesting. Light. Light from Light. The light came into the world. A burst of light that singed a cloth leaving a perfect mysterious image of a crucified man. Interesting.

So where does this leave us? It leaves us with the most unusual object in the world.  Maybe it is the burial cloth of Christ. It is certainly one of the most beautiful and compelling images of Jesus that I have ever seen. The most compelling part of the image is the face. It has a dignity and serenity about that the finest masters would be proud to have painted. The amazing part is that the serenity and dignity contrast so completely with the horribly tortured body. The blood marks are amazing. They are real human blood that came from a man who had been tortured mercilessly. The presence of invisible blood serum and bilirubin on the cloth attest to the horror of the death that He died.

The face attests to something far more wonderful. There is an old song, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face and the things of this earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.”
Happy Easter,

Rev. Know-it-All

Friday, March 27, 2015

Do people still believe the Shroud of Turin is real?

Dear Rev. Know-it-all,

Is it true that there are still Neanderthals that believe the shroud of Turin is the real thing even after it has been clearly disproven by science?
Alba Leavnutin

Dear Alba,
I am sure that you are referring to the carbon dating tests that were done on a corner of the shroud in 1988. They dated the shroud to around 1300AD, exactly when the shroud appeared in France. Case closed. The thing’s an obvious fraud. 

I’m not so sure. The tests done on the shroud were amazingly badly done. They were supposed to take ten samples from all over the shroud. They took one sample from the most contaminated corner of the shroud, a corner that had been held repeatedly by dirty medieval hands over the course of centuries. The corner they took is clearly different in appearance from the rest of shroud, especially when photographed by instruments that are able to determine chemical composition by means of light waves. That corner is chemically different from the rest of the shroud. In fact, it seems to have been made of cotton and rewoven sometime in the Middle Ages or early renaissance. 

Dr. Ray Rogers, who thought the whole shroud thing was nonsense after the carbon dating tests, and was enraged at the Binford-Marino theory that the sampled area was a patch. He had some of the shroud threads from that exact area in his possession and set out to disprove the whole Binford-Marino theory. He ended up doing exactly the opposite. He discovered that the sample they tested had been a patch! His work confirmed by Dr. Villareal of Los Alamos labs in New Mexico. He and a team of nine scientists from Los Alamos examined the material from the area of the carbon 14 sampling. This is what they found in 2008.

“The age-dating process [in 1988] failed to recognize one of the first rules of analytical chemistry that any sample taken for characterization of an area or population must necessarily be representative of the whole. The part must be representative of the whole. Our analyses of the three thread samples taken from the Raes and C-14 sampling corner showed that this was not the case.”

Add to this the tremendous financial benefit that accrued to the English team and the British Museum, especially Dr. Michael Tite who supervised the tests, and the whole thing stinks like Limburger cheese.

Nor did he (Michael Tite, the project supervisor) shy from exploiting his laboratory's 'success' in its work on the Shroud in order to raise £1 million pounds to found the Edward Hall Chair in Archaeological Science, a post shortly after taken up by the British Museum's Dr. Michael Tite. This directly secured the laboratory's future." (Wilson, I., 2001, "Obituary: Professor Edward Hall, CBE, FBA," BSTS Newsletter, No. 54, November, p.59).

In other words, Dr. Michael Tite was able to raise one million pounds from anonymous businessmen for a job well done in debunking the shroud and with this money was able to provide a nice post for himself at the British Museum. (That’s $1,870,000 dollars in 1988 dollars when a million dollars was real money!) The whole thing stinks! 

Now the cherry on the cake! That one sample taken from a dirty mismatched corner of the shroud instead of ten pieces from all over the shroud was cut into four pieces and sent to carbon dating labs in Oxford, Zürich and Tucson. The three labs all came up with different medieval dates that went from more recent to less recent as they moved down the sample. This was fairly odd. The conclusion of the “patch” theorists is that the sample had less contamination on one end and more on the other in a fairly consistent manner. 

In addition this testing was supposed to happen under the greatest secrecy until the results were all in. I happened to be in Albuquerque, not that far from Tucson, at a wedding that summer in 1988. At the rehearsal dinner when all the guests were happily liquored up, I struck up a conversation with a physicist from a rather prestigious local institution. I said something like, “Hey, how about that shroud test?” He suddenly got very solemn and shook his head, indicating by a few choice words and grunts that the results were in and they proved that the shroud was a medieval fake.  

In other words, I knew the test results a month in advance of the National Enquirer! I’m nobody! I don’t know science from a bowl of pudding. Still, I was in on one of the supposed greatest secrets of the era a month before the rest of the world. If that doesn’t convince you that the supposed tests were a bunch of stinking fish wrap, well, nothing will. Those tests were done contrary to scientific protocol on a dirty, probably repaired corner of the shroud, the fellows supervising the tests made a bundle on the bragging rights and I, a Midwestern rube, knew about the results well before they were announced.

If that’s your idea of science, perhaps your driving privileges should be revoked before you hurt yourself. People say that those who believe in the shroud are indulging in wishful thinking. The opposite is just as easy to maintain. Those who believe science has said anything that demystifies the shroud are indulging in wishful thinking themselves. They are more befuddled than Bigfoot believers. 

To be continued……..

Friday, March 20, 2015

Does God create some to be eternally damned?

Dear Rev. Know-it-all,

If God is all-knowing (knows every move we'll make until we die) and all loving... Why does he create souls from inception knowing they will not be with him in heaven? Being all-knowing, he knows when we'll be born, when we'll die and all the choices in between. Example: All God creates is good, yet he knew the choices and evil Hitler would bring upon world... And he created him anyway.  Does it affect our free will if we are created with our choices already known, maybe not known to us, but known by God who creates us anyway?
Will Freilich
 Dear Will,
   The answer to this question is the little discussed and much overlooked heart of the Christian faith. Christianity is absolutely contrary to all other religions, at least the ones I know about. Most religions of the world seem to be an attempt to manipulate the powers that be; god, the gods, the forces of nature, etc. etc. to lighten up a bit, or at least a way to cope with the general disappointment that is life on this planet. You know suffering, alienation, crop failure, flooded basements, terminal diseases, death, that sort of thing.
Ancient Roman religion was a kind of voodoo that offered sacrifices just to keep the capricious faceless spirits of nature from making their lives miserable. It was a little like the pre-Walt Disney understanding of leprechauns, fairies and the other quaint creatures of Irish folklore. In truth, the leprechauns and fairies were cut from the same cloth as the banshees. They were nasty little nature spirits that would make life miserable for you if you crossed them. This seems to be a pattern in world folk religions. Religion was all about how to get the powers that be to leave us alone, and a big enough sacrifice might just get them to do what we want. More theologically developed religions like Hinduism and Hellenism had elaborate mythologies that attempted to explain everything. I know very few people, Christians or non-, for whom things similar are not believed.  
Your question is THE question. If God is for real and, especially if as the Christians say, He is all-powerful and all-loving, why is life such a struggle?  And if Christianity is right about an all-powerful all loving God, why does He allow eternal evil by creating those he knows will make evil choices and be eternally damned? The answer is, I think: Freedom. 
God has created beings that are truly free for the sake of Love. We Americans think we know all there is to know about freedom and love. We are clueless about both. We mistake freedom for enslavement to our desires and we confuse love with narcissism.  A real choice that reveals the essence of my being is necessary for love. If I must love you, I cannot love you. Here’s an example of what I mean. 
We’ve all seen those puff pieces on the telly, an interview with a 20-year old starlet who is about to marry some old geezer who is richer than God. There she sits next to some drooling, 90-year old fool of a billionaire who has one foot on a banana peel and the other in the grave. She has hair as blonde as bleach can make it and has clearly had “some work done.” She says something stupid like, “Oh, I don’t care about the money. I love him and would marry him if we were the poorest man in the world.” 
In a few months, he dies of enthusiasm and leaves his entire fortune to the blonde bombshell and her two vicious little Chihuahuas. At that point a battle royal ensues between the lawyers of the grieving widow and the lawyers of the first, second and third wives. She didn’t love him. She was unable to love him. She was not free to love him. 
Your question rests on the assumption that the purpose of life is happiness, the assumption on which this country is founded. “We have been endowed by our creator with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” We Americans pursue happiness with a vengeance, even if the pursuit makes us miserable. The assumption of the Gospel is different. It holds that the purpose of life is Love because God is Love. (Understand that the specific word used in the Scriptures for this divine love is agape, or in English, sacrificial love, not just emotional attraction or affection.) The catechism says that God made us to know, love and serve Him in this world and so to be happy with Him forever. 
For moderns, the purpose of life is happiness.  For Christians, happiness is not a goal. It is a byproduct, a fruit of having pursued and attained the true purpose of life, which is true love. Heaven created us for Love and so heaven has endowed us with freedom and will not interfere with freedom. In short, we Christians worship a humble God. 
Once, many years ago, I was serving in a very poor parish. It was so poor that not only did the windows have no screens; the windows had no windows! I was all alone one day, offering Mass. The little flies were dive-bombing the chalice. In my mind I said to the Lord, “I believe that this is no longer bread and wine, but has become Your body and blood, but couldn’t You convince the fruit flies of this great miracle for just a moment?” 
The little voice inside said, “With My hands nailed to the wood of the cross, I was a feast for the flies.”
I reeled. I could almost not continue with the Mass. To think that Jesus of Nazareth, whom I believe to be the very hand that set the stars to spinning, could not lift His own hand to swipe the flies from His face. This is God??? 
We Christians believe that the All-powerful became powerless for love of us. Greeks and Romans believed that god was power. Muslims believe that god is will. Moderns believe that god is not. We believe that God is Love. Heaven is humble and will not force us to do His will. He will do His will if we ask Him to. “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.”  
Most people want God to do their will. Some people say we should pray that we are able to do God’s will. The Christian prays that God may do His will because He does not do it unbidden and uninvited. He has tied His own hands, allowed them to be nailed to the wood of the cross until we give Him permission to act as He pleases in our lives. Has it ever occurred to you that in the person of Jesus of Nazareth the Almighty knelt before human freedom? He stooped to wash the feet of Judas, His betrayer. For the sake of Love, He knelt before the man who would kill Him.  God, who is unlimited, has limited Himself for the sake of freedom. 
As for God knowing in advance, God does not know in advance. We cannot say that God knows in advance, because there is no “advance” for God. He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. We THINK. God simply KNOWS. He is eternal, timeless. We, too, made in God’s image are timeless beings but we live in time. The choices we make are made in time by our timeless selves timelessly. 
The mystery of true and absolute human is freedom wrapped up in the mystery of the timelessness of God. It is something that we do not, cannot now perceive, but the very existence of suffering is the evidence of the extremity of the love of God who wishes us to become what He has always been: Infinite Love. When our children suffer, do we wish they had never existed? No, we instinctively understand that sometimes suffering is the price of love.
In our smallness we cannot see past the suffering. We look at the cross and see tragedy. Heaven looks at the cross and sees Love, even in the midst of evil and sorrow.  As the old hymn has it, “What wondrous love is this, o my soul?” Hope this helps. 
Your Friend,
the Rev. Know-it-all 

Friday, March 13, 2015

Letter to Hiram “Hi” Horst - postcript

A Postscript to the Letter to Hiram “Hi” Horst:

Just to be fair, let’s take a look at all the smiting and crusading that has gone on in the name of the God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob, and of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, whom I firmly believe to be His Son.

In the Old Testament there were quite a few wars of extermination, none of which were very large or very successful.  The Lord drove “out before you many nations—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you-…. you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy (Deut 7:1-3). The Amelekites were also on the divine hit list. Why did God have such a thing about Amelikites, Girgashites and Jebusites etc.? Simple. They did things that were detestable to the Lord such as child sacrifice and witchcraft.

“When you enter the land which the LORD your God gives you, you shall not learn to imitate the detestable things of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, one who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, …or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For whoever does these things is detestable to the LORD; and because of these detestable things the LORD your God will drive them out before you. You shall be blameless before the LORD your God. For those nations, which you shall dispossess, listen to those who practice witchcraft and to diviners, but as for you, the LORD your God has not allowed you to do so.” (Deuteronomy 18:9ff)

God doesn’t seem to have cleared the land out to make a place for Israel, but rather seems to have raised up Israel in order to end the abominations of these child murdering, spell casting nations. He makes the point that if the Israelites take up the practices of these nations they will receive the same treatment. 

 “It shall come about if you ever forget the LORD your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I testify against you today that you will surely perish. Like the nations that the LORD makes to perish before you, so you shall perish; because you would not listen to the voice of the LORD your God.”  (Deuteronomy 8:19-20)

So, how many people perished in this proto-jihad? Probably not a lot. These were small hill country city states. It is generous to estimate their numbers at 20,000 each. So the Canaanites amounted at most to a population of about 100,000 to 150,000 people most probably. Add to that Israelites’ failure to do a very good job at exterminating. It was an Amalekite who helped King Saul commit suicide and later King David bought the site of the temple that his son would eventually build from Araunah the Jebusite (2Sam.24:18-21).

Remember that David conquered the Jebusite city of Jerusalem around 1,000BC two or three centuries after the Lord had commanded the Israelites to exterminate them. Even then, David didn’t do much exterminating or smiting. He bought real estate from them! I bet that not much more than a handful actually perished.  More likely having similar languages and culture, Israelite probably married into the Canaanites and therein was the problem. They gave in to polytheism and some kings of Israel actually practiced child sacrifice in the worship of Canaanite gods. The Lord, faithful to His promise, exiled them from the land.  A lot less smiting probably went on than one would be led to believe from the text. On to Christianity!

First came the attempt by Emperors of Constantinople to enforce orthodoxy in the Empire in the fourth century to the sixth century. Probably fewer than 1,000 perished. Second, the Emperor Charlemagne’s attempt to convert the Saxons by force, also called the Massacre of Verden. Maybe 5,000 killed. Third, the Crusades! Much of the Middle East was thoroughly Christian in the year 600. That’s 500 years of Christianity.

When the Muslim Arabs charged out of the Arabian Peninsula around 650 AD, they occupied Christian lands and limited freedom of religion. At first Islam was not too restrictive, but by 900 AD the pressure to convert to Islam intensified. In 1009, Caliph al-Hakim began an intense persecution of Christians and Jews in the Holy Land, forbidding pilgrimage and destroying all Christian churches including the church of the Holy Sepulcher. The crusades were a response to the renewed persecution of Holy Land Christians and the encroachment of Islam on the Christian Romano-byzantine Empire, Pope Urban called for a war to liberate the Christian majority population of the Middle East, having been asked to do so by the Byzantine government. There followed a succession of very limited, poorly run and mostly unsuccessful wars
The People’s Crusade started in 1096, in response to the pope’s call, 20,000 people started marching east despite the pope’s telling them this is not what he had in mind. All but 3,000 were slaughtered by the Muslim Turks in western Turkey.

2) The First crusade, also in 1096, actually succeeded in capturing Antioch and Jerusalem and establishing a Crusader state. Unfortunately it was also the occasion of first outbreak of major anti-Semitic violence in Europe. The crusaders along with mobs killed thousands of Jews, especially in the Rhine valley, on their way to the embarkation points in southern Europe.

3) The Second crusade in 1187 was meant to shore up the crusader domains as they started to fall to Muslim encroachment.

4) The Third crusade in 1189 was a response to Saladin’s retaking of Jerusalem in that year. Richard the second of England, the “Lion Hearted” failed in his attempt to conquer Saladin and retake Jerusalem for the Christians.

5) The 4th crusade called for in 1198 never even reached the Holy Land. It was sidetracked to Constantinople, the capital of the dwindling Romano Byzantine Empire at the insistence of the doge of Venice against the wishes of the pope. 

The Byzantines had recently slaughtered all the Latin Christians in the city and Venice was out for revenge. It’s a complicated story. In early 1171 the Venetians destroyed most of the Genoese trading colony in Constantinople. The Byzantine Emperor retaliated by arresting all of Venetians throughout the Empire and seizing their assets. One thing led to another and eventually all the Italians in Constantinople, perhaps 60,000 Venetians, Pisans and Genoese were slaughtered and around 4,000 were sold as slaves. So the venetians sidetracked the 4th Crusade to Constantinople which was captured and was sacked. The city never really recovered from the attack. In lamenting the 4th crusade, the slaughter of the Italians is never mentioned for some reason. 

6) Likewise, the Fifth crusade 1213-1221) was a complete flop and never even made it to the Holy Land
7) The Sixth crusade (1228) managed to get to the Holy Land. No actual battles were fought and a peace treaty allowed the crusaders to rule the Christian parts of Jerusalem. This happy compromise ended in 1244, when Jerusalem was sacked by the Islamic Khwarezmian Tartars, who decimated the city's Christian population drove out the Jews.

And finally, the 7th, 8th and 9th crusades (1248-1272) accomplished nothing to speak of and after the death of St. Louis, crusading king of France, in North Africa in 1270 the crusades to regain the Holy Land ended.

There were a lot of incidental crusades during the era including the recon quest of Spain, from 718 to 1492. Spain had been conquered by the Muslim in 712 and had reached central France when they were finally turned back. There was also the Wendish crusade against the pagan Slavic Wends in Germany (1147). There were northern crusades to subdue the fierce pagan Lithuanians who make really good potato kugelis and bacon buns.

There was the crusade against the Albigensians who on the other hand didn’t approve of eating at all in 1208. All these wars killed about 3 million people over the course of around 200 years, not counting the length of the crusade in Spain which lasted on and off for 700 years. Compare this to the 3 million estimated killed in only 8 and a half months in Bengal as the Pakistani government tried to put down an independence movement in what is now Bangladesh and to cleanse the country of all Hindus and other non-Muslims. It’s as if the crusaders weren’t really trying.

It is curious that people can wrap their minds around the defense of home, family and country, but not the defense of religious and intellectual liberty. The crusades are always said to be a disaster and a failure. I’m not so sure.

The Crusades stopped the seemingly unstoppable advance of the armies of Islam and rolled back the Islamicization of large parts of the world. The territory of 12 or 13 modern countries, Russia, India, Greece and all the Balkan countries as well as Spain, southern France, Sicily, southern Italy and the Philippines were all under Muslim domination at one point but are not at the current time. Even in the Holy Land we Christians currently have the right of pilgrimage and Christian control of the Christian shrines, which was all we were really after in the first place. We have managed thus far to keep Europe a continent where Christians are more or less free to publicly practice their faith.

The last serious attempt to break into Europe by a Muslim Army was the second siege of Vienna on September 11, 1683. Europe was saved by a hairsbreadth when Jan Sobieski, King of Poland rode to the rescue just in the nick of time.  This last nearly successful attempt by Muslim armies to conquer Europe was a little more than 3 centuries before September 11, 2001 (also known as 9-11). Both September 11ths are just two salvos in a war that has never really stopped since the Al-Is Caravan raid ordered by Muhammad in 623, or Year One of the Muslim era. 

Just a week before this writing, the revived Caliphate (ISIS) posted “We are coming, O Rome, we are coming with slaughter!” The crusades were a success after all, though tragic mistakes were made. They succeeded in stopping and even turning back the Islamic military juggernaut. 

Who will stop them this time?

Rev. Know-it-all