Findings linking plants and beliefs in the Christian world

Published: April 17th, 2011 | Updated: 17/01/15

Fig. 15.2.1: Locations of plant images identified on the Shroud. For legend see Fig. 15.1.9.

In the previous section we came to the conclusion that there are plant images on The Shroud of Turin, in addition to the famous image of the Man of the Shroud known for several hundred years. I studied these plant images in high quality photographs of the Shroud made in 1898, 1931, and 1978. I even saw them directly on the cloth in March 2000. Four of the plant species discovered were selected as geographic indicators, because their distribution is restricted to the Middle East. The area where their boundaries overlap is a narrow strip of land between Jerusalem and Hebron. Only in this area could people bring fresh plants of these species and lay them on the body of a dead man. Eight of the blooming plant species laid inside the Shroud share a common blooming time of March-April. The thorn images of [Rhamnus lycioides] and [Ziziphus spina-christi] and a cane section of the giant reed link the Shroud to several sentences in the New Testament. The location of the findings is displayed again in Fig. 15.2.1.

Pollen research

Many people are familiar with the study of Dr. Max Frei, the Swiss forensic investigator, who in 1973 reported finding pollen grains of Israeli origin on the Shroud of Turin (Fig. 15.2.2, left). He pressed cellotape to the linen with light thumb pressure. He cut the tape and pasted it to a microscope-glass making slides that are sealed to date. Dr. Frei did not study his 1978 slides; they were studied by others after his death.
In 2001 we brought most of the slides to Prof. Dr. Thomas Litt who is an expert palynologist and has very sophisticated microscopic equipment. Prof. Litt concluded that none of the pollen grains he saw could be named at a species level. Hence, all the conclusions drawn from previous palynological investigations of Dr. Frei’s material should be suspended until a new collection of pollen grains can be carried out and the grains thus obtained can be studied with modern equipment and by an expert of pollen of this area.

Fig. 15.2.2: Pollen grains of Gundelia tournefortii (on the right) and a pollen grain of a plant from the “Carduus-type” in the Asteraceae (the sunflower family).

The sample we used in our previous publications is the grain presented on the left side of Fig. 15.2.2. At first sight one can say that it has “thorns” similar to those on the right side of Fig. 15.2.2. However, looking more thoroughly, one can see that the “thorns” of the right photograph are more pointed and denser compared to the “thorns” in the left photograph. The right photograph is of grains taken from a [Gundelia tournefortii] flowers. It is not the same as the grain on the left. Prof. Litt suggests in his conclusions that new samples should be taken; the material should be prepared using modern methods of palynology, and then determined by an expert. Since writing his conclusions in 2001 no pollen grains have been collected and investigated as he suggested, so the data concerning pollen grains should not be used in Shroud research.

Images of cord segments

Cords in common use by Bedouin in the Negev and Sinai, and cords found in archaeological sites (Fig. 15.2.3) are made from two twisted parts. When opened slightly, these cords look like a chain of beads resembling the figure “8”. At the bottom right of Fig. 15.2.1 a few segments of such cord are marked (No. 14). Such segments are marked in Figs. 15.2.4 and 15.2.5. My passion for making cords is presented in [usefulplantsa the first chapter of the present electronic book]. The method and the results are shown in Fig. 15.2.4. When we check all the cord segments (as in Fig. 15.2.5) and measure their cumulative length, we arrive at ca. 10 m. In the book we wrote in 1999, we suggested that the role of this cord was to tie the Man to the cross, because the three nails would not have been sufficient to keep him in position.

In December 2006 the second permanent exhibition of the Shroud of Turin was opened in Rome, inaugurated by Cardinal Laghi, who was the nuncios in Jerusalem in the 1960s (Fig. 15.2.6). After my lecture I prepared a string from palm fibers (Fig. 15.2.7) and gave it to the cardinal as a souvenir of my presentation. He was grateful, saying that this gift is unique for him because the string is made by the same method as the cord, of which he had heard for the first time that evening. He promised to use the string as a book-mark. I decided that every one who hears my lecture or receives my book will also receive a string made by me as a souvenir gift. I make the strings from fibers taken from the [Washingtonia] palm in my garden. The leaf veins are thin, parallel and strong. In my free time I split the leaf into fibers with a pin and make them into a string. Thus, during a bus trip from my suburb to central Jerusalem I can create 5-10 souvenir strings.

Fig. 15.2.3: Segments of cords 9000 years old (dated with C 14) from Nahal Heimar, Dead Sea area (courtesy of Israel Antiquity Authority).

Fig. 15.2.4: Image of a cord that looks like a chain of 8 repeats of a figure “8”. A cord from Typha domingensis near it, on the right, showing the method of cord-making.

Fig. 15.2.5: Segments of a cord totalling 10 m.

Fig. 15.2.6: Cardinal Laghi opening a permanent exhibition of the Shroud of Turin at the Ateneo Regina Apostolorum in Rome.

Fig. 15.2.7: Strings made from palm-leaf fibers (green) and trunk-fibers (brown) that became a bookmark attached to the book shown in Fig. 15.2.1, following the recommendation of Cardinal Laghi. The photograph in Fig. 79 is from that book.