God On The Net

Forensic Pathology
Report on Jesus

Get Mayo Clinic JAMA article (PDF)


Forensic pathology is the scientific study of how people are injured or how they die. Autopsies are normally performed by physicians with training in forensic pathology.

Since the mid-1970's there has been intense interest in an ancient burial garment known as the Shroud of Turin. Purportedly, it is the burial shroud that Jesus was wrapped in before He was placed in the tomb provided by Joseph of Arimathea. There is strong, even overwhelming, scientific evidence that the Shroud is genuine. What is unique about the Shroud is that it contains the image of a crucified man in great detail, in negative format, i.e., like a photographic negative. No one has been able to explain how the image was made. One scientist claims that the image is an iron-oxide-based pigment but dozens of experts in many fields have conclusively proven him wrong and the same scientist has also been proven wrong on another of his 'leading' cases, involving a Viking map of part of the New World.

You may have heard that in 1988 radiocarbon tests "conclusively" proved that the Shroud dates from about 1270-1350 A.D. and "That settles it—it's definitely not from the first century A.D."

You may not have heard: The entire sample was not part of the original Shroud—it was taken from an unsuspected repair done in the early modern era.

The radiocarbon dating was performed on a sample cut from one corner of the Shroud, in a portion where there is no image. In the mid-2000's a husband and wife couple (who were not scientists) realized that photomicrographs (ultra-high resolution photos) taken in the late 70's by a member of the Shroud of Turin Research Project (STURP) showed that there was a previously unsuspected repair of the Shroud and that the entire sample was taken from the repaired section.

Without identifying the object photographed or who took the images, they submitted the images to three textile experts, each of whom said the images definitely showed an expert repair using a "French reweave" technique common in Europe in the early modern era. The technique wove in a piece of cotton and the cotton was then dyed to match the color of the surrounding linen. This is possible because linen is highly resistant to dye but cotton is not.

The repair was done so expertly that even under high magnification and close inspection none of the STURP team had noticed any difference. Understand that (i) there was no record of such a repair; (ii) the STURP members were not looking for an expert repair; (iii) the image area has always been the main subject of study; (iv) none of the STURP members are textile experts; (v) textile experts concur that it was an exceptionally well-done repair; and (vi) a reweave is intended to not be noticeable even under close inspection.

The couple managed to get a scientific paper published and to present their findings at a respected conference. When the paper was published, Ray Rogers, the scientist who had taken the photomicrophs, read it and his reaction was, "That's ridiculous! These people aren't even scientists! I have sample fibers we took during the examination. I can prove their theory is false!"

Rogers put a sample under the microscope and got the shock of his career when, instead, he confirmed their theory! He saw that clearly there were cotton threads interwoven into linen threads and the cotton was dyed to match the linen. He knew from having personally examined the Shroud under high magnification that there definitely were no cotton threads and no dye in the area that contained the image.

Because Rogers knew he was dying of cancer, he called another member of STURP, photographer Barrie Schwortz, told him his results, Schwortz videotaped interview footage with him, and he prepared a paper and submitted it to a scientific journal five days before his death. Subsequently the paper was accepted and published in 2008.

Schwortz also examined X-ray false-color flourescence images taken by STURP and pointed out that in the entire Shroud, the only area that came out green was the area from which the sample was taken—indicating that that area had a different chemical composition than the rest of the Shroud. Prior to the discovery of the previously unknown repair, no one had noticed the anomaly. The interviews with Rogers and Schwortz were included in a December 2008 documentary on the Discovery Channel titled Unwrapping the Shroud: New Evidence.

The radiocarbon results have always been the subject of great debate, because all other scientific evidence indicates that the Shroud originated in Israel around the first century A.D. Rogers' work confirmed that the radiocarbon results were accurate—the sample indeed did date from 1270-1350 A.D. But Rogers' work also confirmed that the sample was not part of the original Shroud, so the radiocarbon dates are simply irrelevant.

This page will not get into the pros and cons of the debate on the Shroud's authenticity.  Two excellent Shroud books are:

Iannone, John C. The Mystery of the Shroud of Turin. New York, Alba House 1998 ISBN 0-8189-0804-1

Wilson, Ian. The Blood and the Shroud. New York, The Free Press, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. 1998 ISBN 0-684-85359-0

Regarding the Shroud, however, four points are important:

  1. Aside from issues of Resurrection, Jesus Christ's crucifixion is unique in a number of ways, described below.

  2. Scientists agree that even if the Shroud is genuine, they cannot prove that the man in it is Christ, because science deals with repeatable natural phenomena and the Crucifixion and Resurrection were one-time events.

  3. Scientists have been able to do a forensic pathological analysis of the man who was in the Shroud. They have been able to determine the causes of the wounds he suffered and the medical results.

  4. The man in the Shroud was executed in exactly the same way Jesus reportedly was executed.

Aside from issues of Resurrection, Jesus Christ's crucifixion is unique in a number of ways.  The following is from Stephenson, Kenneth and Habermas, Gary. Verdict on the Shroud. Wayne, Pennsylvania: Dell/Banbury Books, 1981, with Webmaster's Notes added in [italicized blue square brackets].

"... the crucifixion and burial of Jesus differed significantly from the ordinary ways the Romans crucified criminals and the Jews buried their dead. Jesus' case was irregular. He was scourged [whipped, flogged], crowned with thorns, nailed to his cross, stabbed in the side (instead of his legs being broken), buried well but incompletely, and his body left the cloth before it [his body] decomposed." p. 162.

For purposes of this page, we do not need to conclude that the man in the Shroud was Jesus. We are attempting to describe how Jesus died. Therefore, since both men died in the same way, if we describe how the man in the Shroud died we will, for all practical purposes, be describing how Jesus died.

The following is from Report on the Shroud of Turin pp 2-4. Dr. Joseph Heller, the author, a former Harvard professor of Internal Medicine and Pathology, simplified some of the medical terminology in this forensic report written by Dr. Robert Bucklin, the deputy coroner and forensic pathologist of Los Angeles County, a report concurred in by Dr. Joseph Gambescia, a pathologist in Pennsylvania:

Irrespective of how the images were made, there is adequate information here to state that they are anatomically correct. There is no problem in diagnosing what happened to this individual. The pathology and physiology are unquestionable and represent medical knowledge unknown 150 years ago.

This is a 5-foot, 11-inch male Caucasian weighing about 178 pounds. The lesions are as follows: beginning at the head, there are blood flows from numerous puncture wounds on the top and back of the scalp and forehead. The man has been beaten about the face, there is swelling over one cheek, and he undoubtedly has a black eye. His nose tip is abraded, as would occur from a fall, and it appears that the nasal cartilage may have separated from the bone. There is a wound in the left wrist, the right one being covered by the left hand. This is the typical lesion of crucifixion. The classical artistic and legendary portrayal of a crucifixion with nails through the palms of the hands is spurious [i.e., wrong]: the structures in the hand are too fragile to hold the live weight of a man, particularly of this size. Had a man been crucified with nails in the palms, they would have torn through the bones, muscles, and ligaments, and the victim would have fallen off the cross.

There is a stream of blood down both arms. Here and there, there are blood drips at an angle from the main blood flow in response to gravity. These angles represent the only ones that can occur from the only two positions which can be taken by a body during crucifixion. [A momentary 'T' position to breathe, until the pain on the feet becomes too great, and a "Y" position with bent knees, which quickly paralyzes the chest muscles from strain and pain.]

On the back and on the front there are lesions which appear to be scourge marks. Historians have indicated that Romans used a whip called a flagrum. This whip had two or three thongs, and at their ends there were pieces of metal or bone which look like small dumbbells. These were designed to gouge out flesh. The thongs and metal end-pieces from a Roman flagrum fit precisely into the anterior and posterior scourge lesions on the body. The victim was whipped from both sides by two men, one of whom was taller than the other, as demonstrated by the angle of the thongs.

There is a swelling of both shoulders, with abrasions indicating something heavy and rough had been carried across the man's shoulders within hours of death. On the right flank, a long, narrow blade of some type entered in an upward direction, pierced the diaphragm, penetrated into the thoracic cavity through the lung into the heart. This was a post-mortem event, because separate components of blood cells and clear serum drained from the lesion. Later, after the corpse was laid out horizontally and face up on the cloth, blood dribbled out of the side wound and puddled along the small of the back. There is no evidence of either leg being fractured. There is an abrasion of one knee, commensurate with a fall (as is the abraded nose tip); and, finally, a spike had been drive through both feet, and blood had leaked from both wounds onto the cloth. The evidence of a scourged man who was crucified and died from the cardiopulmonary failure typical of crucifixion is clear-cut. [Italics added]

[end of quote]

The following is from Verdict on the Shroud, pp 182-185:

One of the most intriguing aspects of the Shroud image is the graphic evidence of the spear wound in Jesus' chest. The Gospel of John states that he was already dead when he was stabbed in the side in order to make sure that he was dead, and that blood and water proceeded from the wound. [Actually, according to an ancient source, stabbing was a Roman post-mortem desecration "per custom" if anyone requested the body for burial.] This mixture is visible on the Shroud. It proceeded from the chest wound, and is actually more visible on the dorsal [back] image, where the blood flowed horizontally across the waist. Physicians agree that the Shroud image of the wound is consistent with the gospel statement that a Roman lance penetrated Jesus' heart. However, the experts have similar but somewhat differing explanations for the presence of the water as well as blood in the flow from the wound.

One view concerns the pericardium, the sac which surrounds the heart, and which contains a small amount of watery fluid. When the body undergoes great stress, as crucifixion would certainly entail, the amount of fluid increases and the sac expands. The Roman lance would then have passed through Jesus' pericardium and into the right side of his heart, which is filled with blood even after death. As the lance was withdrawn, it would draw out the blood from the heart and the watery fluid from the expanded pericardium.

Anthony Sava, an American physician, has a different explanation for the water flow. He believes that the severe scourging caused internal hemorrhaging in Jesus' chest, and the pleural cavity filled with blood. The blood settled on the bottom of the chest cavity while a clear liquid was left on top. Sava says that the Roman lance entered the chest and, upon being withdrawn, released the blood and the water from the chest.

Both of these views may be partially correct. The lance could have passed through the pleural cavity, through the pericardium and into the heart. The blood could have come both from the pleural cavity and from the right side of the heart, while the water could have come from both the upper chest cavity and from the pericardium. Indeed, this combination is the general view held by the German radiologist Moedder and by English physician David Willis.

The most probable thesis is that held by Bucklin, who agrees with Moedder and Willis that the lance pierced both the pleural cavity and the right side of the heart. He opposes Sava's theory that there was severe hemorrhaging in the chest, since the chest injuries were not severe enough. However, Bucklin agrees that most of the water proceeded from pleural effusion while most of the blood came from the right side of the heart.

The explanations for the blood and water flow are closely related at several points. All physicians who have examined the question agree that Jesus was already dead when the chest wound was inflicted. The blood and water most probably flowed from both the heart and the chest cavity.

The Physical Cause of Jesus' Death

Physicians who have examined the Shroud image are unanimous in their belief that the man was dead when he was placed in the Shroud, and that his death was caused by crucifixion and the tortures that preceded it. They also agree that he was dead when the spear pierced his side. They are not as sure about the exact [emphasis in original] cause of Jesus' death, but their opinions are quite similar.

Most experts hold that Jesus died primarily of asphyxiation, the usual cause of death in crucifixion. According to this view, Jesus died more quickly than most victims because scourging and beating had gravely weakened him. He was eventually unable to pull himself up on the cross in order to breathe [the "T" position described above], and he asphyxiated in the "down" position [the bent-knee "Y" position] on the cross. In this case, the muscles around his lungs kept him from exhaling and directly caused his death. Bucklin adds that complications due to congestive heart failure were likely as well.

Sava offers a related alternative. He holds that the internal hemorrhaging in the chest cavity caused by the fierce scourging was a cause of death. The liquids slowly compressed the lungs, causing asphyxiation by pleural effusion.

Davis presents another somewhat similar view. He holds that the pericardium, the sac surrounding the heart, filled with fluid under the stress of suffering. This liquid compressed the heart, eventually causing heart failure. After Jesus was dead, the Roman lance pierced both the pericardium and the heart, and released the blood and watery fluid.

A consensus is visible among these views. Most scholars hold that asphyxiation played an important part in Jesus' death. He struggled on the cross to keep breathing. Some scholars hold that he asphyxiated directly when the chest muscles fail to sustain breathing. Others suggest asphyxiation as the blood and fluid also compressed his lungs. But all these scholars agree that the Shroud contains conclusive evidence that Jesus indeed died and that it reveals the general features of his death. [End-note number omitted]

[end of quote]

Again, in the interest of intellectual honesty, I must point out that the last quote from Verdict on the Shroud states that "scholars hold ... in Jesus' death." It is more accurate to state that "scholars hold ... in the man in the Shroud's death." (And he died in exactly the same way as Jesus)  As Heller points out in his book, when members of the Shroud of Turin Research Project (STURP) were asked point-blank "Is the man in the Shroud Jesus?" their response was that science can never conclusively answer that question. At page 216 he quotes STURP member Ray Rogers:

"In science, you're entitled to any hypothesis you choose, .... But if you don't have a test to examine that hypothesis, it's not worth anything. [That doesn't mean the hypothesis is wrong, only that it cannot be validated scientifically.]  We do not have a [scientific] test for Jesus Christ. So we can't hypothesize or test for that question."

Interestingly, it would turn out that three decades later the same Ray Rogers would settle the 1988 radiocarbon-dating controversy by proving that the sample was taken from a previously undetected repair that was not part of the original Shroud!


As indicated, this site does not rely on the Shroud of Turin to prove the truth of the Bible and Protestant Christianity.  Obviously, some readers will want to investigate the Shroud. Unfortunately, as in anything else, in Shroud literature there are charlatans who go off half-cocked and simply ignore undisputed facts.  Two books frequently available are absolute garbage -- save your money.  They are:

Picknet, Lynn and Prince, Clive. Turin Shroud: In Whose Image?  The Shocking Truth Unveiled, London, Bloomsbury, 1994.  These authors were expelled from the British Shroud of Turin Society for their absurd claim that the Shroud is a photograph made by Leonardo da Vinci in 1492.  The exact whereabouts of the Shroud have been known since before da Vinci was born and there is no evidence whatsoever that he dabbled in photography.  The earliest known successful attempts at a photography process were by Thomas Wedgewood around 1802 (per Wilson's The Blood and the Shroud, cited above).

Kersten, Holger and Gruber, Elmar. The Jesus Conspiracy: the Turin Shroud and the Truth about the Resurrection. Shaftesbury (Dorset), Element, 1994.  These authors, neither of whom has a science or medical background, claim there was a conspiracy by the Vatican and a group of scientists who performed a radiocarbon dating of the Shroud in 1988.  They then go on to advocate the thoroughly discredited Swoon Theory.  These same authors have published Jesus Lived in India: His Unknown Life Before and After the Crucifixion (Kersten) and The Original Jesus: The Buddhist Sources of Christianity (Kersten and Gruber)  Their books are concoctions of half-truths, unsupportable assumptions and outright errors, not well-researched, reliable resources. Also, in 2008 various members of the STURP team and others proved that the radiocarbon datings were accurate but the sample was from a previously undetected repair, not the actual Shroud.

The Medical Aspects of Crucifixion
A Physician Analyzes the Crucifixion
CALCULATE: Maximum Allowable Blood Loss


STURP's Barrie Schwortz   Holy Shroud Guild  
The Shroud of Turin Story   (includes carbon dating)
STEP:  Shroud of Turin Education Project
CCST:  Council for Study of the Shroud of Turin



(c) 1998-2013 by Rick Reinckens

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