John 12: Preface to Jesus’ Last Passover

Along with many other Southern Baptist churches, the one I now attend is in the middle of a series of Bible Study lessons on the Book of John. We are covering John 12 over a two-week span. It is a particularly important chapter for me because it records the transition from Jesus’ itinerant ministry in and around Judah and Galilee, to His crucifixion and the aftermath.


John 10

The events leading up to Jesus’ final Passover began with the previous Hanukkah, as recorded in John 10:22–39. Hanukkah is a Jewish celebration not mentioned in Scripture, but celebrated, nevertheless, by Jesus, His followers, and Jews everywhere. It is an 8-day festival, starting on the Jewish date Kislev 25, which usually corresponds with mid to late December. It is also called the Festival of Lights, or the Feast of Dedication, and it celebrates the Maccabean victory over Syria in 165 BC, and reconsecration of the Temple after its desecration by Antiochus IV and his successors.

During that Hanukkah, Jesus was confronted in Solomon’s Porch, the Collonade inside the eastern wall of the Temple Mount and challenged to state plainly if He was the expected Messiah. He responded that He had already answered that question and went on to say explicitly that He and [God] the Father are one, and that He, Himself, has power to grant eternal life. His accusers then threatened first to stone Him and then to arrest Him because He, being a man, was making Himself out to be God.

His response to that was to quote from Psalm 82, thereby invoking the entire Psalm and turning the accusations back on His accusers, before slipping away from them supernaturally. The explanation of that response is that the Hebrew Elohim, meaning God in some contexts, can mean “judges“, “angels“, or “masters” in other contexts. The Psalm itself is a pun or play on the word. Jesus is effectively saying that He is the judge of the judges.

1 Elohim [God] stands in the divine assembly;
there with the elohim [judges], he judges:
2 “How long will you go on judging unfairly,
favoring the wicked? (Selah)
3 Give justice to the weak and fatherless!
Uphold the rights of the wretched and poor!
4 Rescue the destitute and needy;
deliver them from the power of the wicked!”
—Psalm 82:1–4 CJB

After Jesus disappeared from the Temple, He was next seen in Bethany Beyond Jordan, the area where He and John the Baptizer had met earlier in the Book.

John 11

The confrontation in Solomon’s Porch recorded in John 10 occurred in December, and the Crucifixion was in Early April, so the raising of El’azar (Lazarus) had to have occurred in the intervening span of around three months. Many people, both friend and foe of Jesus, witnessed Lazarus’ resurrection. Subsequent plots against Jesus led Him to retreat to the town of Efrayim, in northeast Judah. When He returned to Jerusalem, possibly only weeks later, the miracle was still no doubt fresh in people’s minds.

Since the raising of Lazarus was a completely unprecedented event, it was probably totally shocking to everyone. We know of five resurrections prior to Lazarus: one by Elijah; one by Elisha while he lived; one by contact with Elisha’s corpse; and two previous by Jesus. Lazarus was the only recorded resurrection of someone three or more days after death. A number of commentaries note that three days in the grave were considered to be the maximum time for any hope of an apparently dead body to be capable of resuscitation; for example, The Net Bible Commentary references, “a rabbinic belief that the soul hovered near the body of the deceased for three days, hoping to be able to return to the body.” I think that this was probably a recognition that significant, irreversible signs of decomposition generally appear two to three days after death. Rigor mortis begins within a few hours of death, and fades after two or three days. Lividity becomes quickly evident but does not lock into place for about three days. Putrefaction begins immediately at the cellular level, but dependent on circumstances may not be externally evident for several days.


Unfortunately, almost nobody understands the various sects of Jesus’ day. The Gospel writers had no need to teach an in-depth course, because everyone in their day knew the players. Since pretty much every contact between Jesus and the sectarians was confrontational, that makes them all look like villains. But that is a skewed generalization! When someone was referred to in Scripture as a Pharisee, that was usually referring to a trained and ordained rabbi, but there weren’t all that many of those. Estimates for 1st Century Judea are about 6,000 Pharisees, 4,000 Essenes, substantially fewer Sadducees, and just pockets of anything else. Here is a very brief summary:


This, of course, was not a sect, but a system of governing courts, or councils. Every city had a Lesser Sanhedrin of 23 members, which answered to the Great Sanhedrin in Jerusalem. The latter consisted of 71 appointed members. The Cohen HaGadol, or High Priest, functioned as the Nasi, (Prince, President, Chief Justice, or Chairman of the Board, so to speak). Ideally around half of the remaining 70 were Pharisees and half Sadducees. In Jesus’ day they met daily in the Chamber of Hewn Stone, in the Temple complex (see diagram). Around the time of the Crucifixion, they moved into the nave of the Royal Portico, which was a grand basilica constructed parallel to the southern wall of the Temple Mount, where the Al Aqsa Mosque presently sits.

The Temple complex in Jesus’ day. The Chamber of Hewn Stone is a large room midway down the left side, adjacent to the ramp of the altar. The terrace above that on the drawing is where young Jeshua (Jesus) spoke to members of the Sanhedrin on His first recorded Passover (Luke 2:41–46). ©Leen Ritmeyer.

One of the official functions of the Sanhedrin was to evaluate anyone who claimed to be the Messiah. In the Synoptic Gospels, when you read of “chief priests and scribes” or “scribes and Pharisees” apparently harassing Jesus, I think that most likely they were officially tasked by the Sanhedrin to follow and question. Given the politicization of the Sanhedrin under Roman rule, some of these were undoubtedly hostile, but others were probably merely conscientiously concerned. Nicodemus and Gamaliel were surely members of the Council and were certainly not evil men. Joseph of Arimathea and Paul were probably both also members. With one exception, the book of John mentions only the Pharisees among those following the crowds with Jesus, but that should not be taken to mean anything other than the normal agents of the Sanhedrin. John wrote probably a decade after the destruction of the Temple and the priesthood. By that time, the Sadducees were a distant memory to his readers, and the Temple had been replaced in their lives by the synagogues. Banishment from the synagogue had become the worst punishment possible, short of death to some and worse than death to others.

High Priest

Under Mosaic Law, the High Priest was required to be a direct descendent of Aaron, as were all priests and Levites. King David replaced a corrupt High Priest with Zadoc, who was himself an Aaronic descendent. Subsequently, all high priests (but not other priests or the Levites) were to be from Zadoc’s lineage. From at least Hasmonean times, the office was corrupt to the extent that many high priests were illegitimate. Under Roman rule, appointments were made by the regent or governor, and the office became more political than religious.

Chief Priests

As the title suggest, these were high ranking priests in the Jerusalem hierarchy. Most, if not all, were probably members of the Sanhedrin. Most were Sadducees.


This is the first actual sect I will discuss. These men were considered the “priestly caste” in Judea. It consisted not only of priests, but also aristocratic “hangers on”. By no means were all priests Sadducees; in fact, many were Pharisees, though most were unaffiliated with either sect. Officially, the Sadducees rejected all scripture but the Five Books of Moses (the Chumash), and in particular, rejected the concept of resurrection. Though only a small sect, the Sadducees were wealthy, and thus powerful. They controlled the priesthood, the Levites, the Temple, and the festivals. After AD 70, they disappeared from history.


This sect had more popular support than any others in Jesus’ day, though they weren’t in control, either of the nation or the Temple. They did lead the synagogues, for the most part. They probably had their origins with holy elders in the Babylonia captivity but evolved into a cohesive sect alongside the Sadducees in the Hasmonean Kingdom of the 1st and 2nd Centuries, BC. The two sects were in open warfare with each other during the reign of Alexander Jannaeus, the second Hasmonean King, and hundreds of Pharisees were killed.

Doctrinally, the Pharisees treasured the entire canon of the Tanach (Old Testament) and believed in resurrection. They were the popularizers of the “Oral Torah“, or so-called “traditions of the elders.” After the destruction of the Temple, only this sect survived, and they are the ones, humanly speaking, who God used to preserve a Jewish remnant for 2,000+ years.

Contrary to the assumptions of most Christians, the Pharisee sect was not monumental. Above, I mentioned four members of the Sanhedrin that we would not call evil. All of those were Pharisees. Paul was a Pharisee both before and after Damascus. In Acts 23:6 (ESV), he declared, “Brothers, I am [present tense] a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees.” It was Pharisees who wrote the Talmud, and I think they accurately analyzed their own shortcomings and eccentricities:

Talmudic Classification of the Pharisees:

(1) the “shoulder” Pharisee, who wears his good deeds on his shoulders and obeys the precept of the Law, not from principle, but from expediency;

(2) the “wait-a-little” Pharisee, who begs for time in order to perform a meritorious action;

(3) the “bleeding” Pharisee, who in his eagerness to avoid looking on a woman shuts his eyes and so bruises himself to bleeding by stumbling against a wall;

(4) the “painted” Pharisee, who advertises his holiness lest any one should touch him so that he should be defiled;

(5) the “reckoning” Pharisee, who is always saying “What duty must I do to balance any unpalatable duty which I have neglected?”;

(6) the “fearing” Pharisee, whose relation to God is one merely of trembling awe;

(7) the Pharisee from “love.”

The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 1915 Edition

The scribes were not a sect, but rather a profession. They were, as you would expect, the educated readers and writers of Israel. Many of them were Pharisees. Some were Sadducees or members of another sect, or of none at all. Many were members of the Sanhedrin.


Little is said about the sect of the Essenes in the Bible, because they were ultrareligious outsiders who pretty much kept to themselves. Claims that John the Baptizer was an Essene are completely wrong.


The Yahad are the sect of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Many think that they were Essenes, but there were radical doctrinal differences between the two groups. My friend, Dr. Randall Price, wrote the definitive book on the subject, Secrets of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Am Ha’aretz

These were the common “people of the land”, those without power or wealth. Jesus’ ministry was primarily to this group, who were members of no sect, but mostly listened to the Pharisees.


This was a political party, not a true sect. They were supporters of the Herodian Dynasty and were a small minority of the population.

Timeline of John 12

Verses 1,2

Jesus returned to Bethany “six days before the Passover”, which by my own calculations (see table, below) was March 30, 0030. The 30th was a Sabbath, so He had to have arrived no later than Friday afternoon. The dinner in His honor was, according to Mark, at the home of Simon the Leper, who we know nothing else about. The meal would have been prepared before sundown, and served after dark, on the new day. The account makes perfect sense, because Sabbath dinners were always festive and joyous occasions. Perfect for welcoming a distinguished friend and guest!

The Gregorian dates shown here are my own calculations based on NOAA lunar tables going back much farther even than that. ©Ron Thompson
Verses 3–8

The text says that Miryam washed Jesus’ feet with spikenard that she had obtained for His burial. (Could it be that she was the only one paying attention to what He had been saying?) We know from previous scripture that her family was important and well off, so her possession of the pure nard oil was not surprising. It was an expensive perfume imported from India in alabaster containers, and a pint of it would have cost about a year’s wages for a common laborer of the am Ha’aretz. The Southern Baptist quarterly mentions that respectable 1st Century Jewish women kept their hair concealed. That was true then, and it’s still true among the pious Orthodox. Using a headscarf like a Muslim woman is acceptable, but in Western cultures it is more common to wear a wig.

Jesus’ comment about the poor should not be taken as insensitive. He was making reference explicitly to Deuteronomy 15:11, and saying, in effect, that this is a drop in the bucket and will make little difference to the poor, who will always be around.

[11] for there will always be poor people in the land. That is why I am giving you this order, ‘You must open your hand to your poor and needy brother in your land.’
Deuteronomy 15:11 (CJB)

Verses 9–11

We see here yet another example of the Sanhedrin plotting against Jesus, and in this case also against Lazarus. I would not wish to paint them as blameless, but I think they weren’t as bad as many believe. Yes, there were corrupt men on the Council, but on balance, I don’t think they were as worried about losing their personal influence as they were of goading the Romans into just what finally did happen in AD 70. Paul himself gives them an excuse of sorts:

1 Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.
2 For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.
3 For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.
—Romans 10:1–3 ESV

Verses 12–19

The Triumphal Entry. It was the day after the feast at Simon’s house. Sunday, Nisan 10 of the year 3790, or by our reckoning, March 31, 0030. Jesus went from Bethany to Jerusalem. Rather than walk this time, He had to ride a donkey’s colt into the city in order to fulfill the prophecies of Psalm 118:25–26 and Zechariah 9:9. Actually, did you catch the oddity in Matthew 21:2? He actually rode two donkeys—a mare and her colt. Evidently, he rode the mare part way and then transferred to the colt for the last part of the ride. Bible trivia!

Another mistake that many people make is to think that the people glorifying Jesus as He rode into town are the same people that days later insisted that Pilate put Him to death and release Barrabas. The people waving palm fronds on Sunday were home in bed on Friday when Jesus was on trial. The only people present for that were Jesus’ enemies.

Verses 20–26

The quarterly, and some of my favorite commentators as well, interpret “some Greeks” as referring either to Greek nationals or to God-fearing gentiles visiting the city from outside Judea. I disagree. I think that the context here, and more clearly in John 5:35, is the same as that in Acts 6:1. It is referring to Greek-speaking Jews from the Jewish Diaspora.

What did they want? The quarterly is wrong to say that “John gave no indication”, but that it “triggered something in Jesus.” Verse 23 clearly states that what it triggered was a response; evidently what they wanted was to request that He visit their countries next, which would explain why His answer, that He was about to die and couldn’t go, was directly to the point. As was verse 26, where He effectively told them that, instead of Him following them home, they could ultimately follow Him home.

Verses 27–36

My purpose in writing a blog is not to regurgitate things that most of my readers already know, nor is it to find fault with Sunday School quarterlies, though I’m not above doing that from time to time. Though I don’t agree with anybody about everything, I really think that Dr. Howell has done a fine job with his commentary in this quarter’s booklet. The reason for my blog posts in general is that for decades I’ve tried to understand Scripture not only from conventional, traditional, points of view, but from my own historical and cultural perspectives and from observations of God’s design of the universe and its physical laws.

The reason I bring this up now is because, while this whole passage is extremely interesting and vitally important, I have only one thing to add to what Dr. Howell has said. He interprets God’s voice in verse 28 as a “thunderous response.” I’m pretty sure he is picturing an earsplitting clap of thunder from lightning striking a tree in his backyard. On the contrary, my own vision is of a gently rolling murmur of distant thunder, as carried by the wind. The Complete Jewish Bible translates it as,

[28] ‘Father, glorify your name!’” At this a bat-kol came out of heaven, “I have glorified it before, and I will glorify it again!”
—John 12:28 (CJB) Emphasis mine

I’ve written about the bat-kol, or “daughter of a voice”, before. It is the “low whisper”, or “still, small voice” that Elijah heard in I Kings 19:12ff. When God spoke to His prophets audibly, I think that it was in this soothing, intimate fashion, not like a scary Zeus or Thor figure would blare out to his minions. This whisper voice is the way it was depicted in ancient Jewish literature, as described by the 2nd or 3rd Century Rabbis who compiled it:

“After the death of Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi,
the last of the prophets, the Holy Spirit ceased from
Israel; nevertheless they received communications
from God through the medium of the bat-koi.”
—Tosefta Sotah 13:2

Verses 37–50

In the same spirit as with the previous section, I am going to comment on only two thoughts:

First, in verse 38 John quotes Isaiah 53:1. Something that you should remember when reading the New Testament is that most Jews were taught Scripture from a very early age, in their homes and then, in some cases, in a beit midrash (house of study”, an arm of the local synagogue. For this reason, speakers like the rabbis and Jesus referred to entire passages of the Old Testament by merely quoting a key sentence or phrase. Thus, by quoting this one verse, Jesus was effectively applying Isaiah 53, in its entirety, to Himself. I repeat it here:

1 Who believes our report?
To whom is the arm of ADONAI revealed?
2 For before him he grew up like a young plant,
like a root out of dry ground.
He was not well-formed or especially handsome;
we saw him, but his appearance did not attract us.
3 People despised and avoided him,
a man of pains, well acquainted with illness.
Like someone from whom people turn their faces,
he was despised; we did not value him.
4 ¶ In fact, it was our diseases he bore,
our pains from which he suffered;
yet we regarded him as punished,
stricken and afflicted by God.
5 But he was wounded because of our crimes,
crushed because of our sins;
the disciplining that makes us whole fell on him,
and by his bruises* we are healed.
6 ¶ We all, like sheep, went astray;
we turned, each one, to his own way;
yet ADONAI laid on him
the guilt of all of us.
7 ¶ Though mistreated, he was submissive –
he did not open his mouth.
Like a lamb led to be slaughtered,
like a sheep silent before its shearers,
he did not open his mouth.
8 After forcible arrest and sentencing,
he was taken away;
and none of his generation protested
his being cut off from the land of the living
for the crimes of my people,
who deserved the punishment themselves.
9 He was given a grave among the wicked;
in his death he was with a rich man.
¶ Although he had done no violence
and had said nothing deceptive,
10 yet it pleased ADONAI to crush him with illness,
to see if he would present himself as a guilt offering.
If he does, he will see his offspring;
and he will prolong his days;
and at his hand ADONAI’s desire
will be accomplished.
11 After this ordeal, he will see satisfaction.
“By his knowing [pain and sacrifice],
my righteous servant makes many righteous;
it is for their sins that he suffers.
12 Therefore I will assign him a share with the great,
he will divide the spoil with the mighty,
for having exposed himself to death
and being counted among the sinners,
while actually bearing the sin of many
and interceding for the offenders.”
—Isaiah 53:1–12 CJB

Finally, John 12:40 was another Isaiah quote. In its Old Testament context:

8 ¶ Then I heard the voice of Adonai saying,
¶ “Whom should I send?
Who will go for us?”
¶ I answered, “I’m here, send me!”
9 He said, “Go and tell this people:
¶ ‘Yes, you hear, but you don’t understand.
You certainly see, but you don’t get the point!’
10 ¶ “Make the heart of this people [sluggish with] fat,
stop up their ears, and shut their eyes.
Otherwise, seeing with their eyes,
and hearing with their ears,
then understanding with their hearts,
they might repent and be healed!”
11 ¶ I asked, “Adonai, how long?” and he answered,
¶ “Until cities become uninhabited ruins,
houses without human presence,
the land utterly wasted;
12 until ADONAI drives the people far away,
and the land is one vast desolation.
13 If even a tenth [of the people] remain,
it will again be devoured.
¶ “But like a pistachio tree or an oak,
whose trunk remains alive
after its leaves fall off,
the holy seed will be its trunk.”
—Isaiah 6:8–13 CJB

Jesus is explaining, by this reference, why so many of His hearers could not see the truth, despite His signs and wonders. Just as God hardened Pharaoh’s heart after Pharaoh had several times hardened his own heart, He has hardened the hearts of many Jews who have repeatedly rejected Him. That doesn’t mean that Jews can’t be saved, obviously, nor does it mean that God has rejected the people as a whole. They are still “God’s chosen people”, natural branches of the olive tree to which we believers who are not Jews have merely been grafted.

How is this hardening even fair? Because God chose them for His own, revealed Himself to them, in particular, and gave them all the advantages of a special relationship. When the hardening ends, at the close of the Great Tribulation, all that remain alive, and I think their numbers will be vast, will be saved. Every last one of them, I believe!

In Memoriam

Today I learned that David H. Stern, PhD died late last year, at the age of 87. I’ve never met Dr. Stern, but between his books and his English translation, The Complete Jewish Bible, with a commentary on the New Testament, he, more than anyone else, influenced my interest in Jewish life and culture and the Jewish foundations of Christianity. He was born, educated and married in America, but as a devout Messianic Jew, he emigrated to Israel in 1979.

Dr. David H. and Martha Stern, courtesy All Israel News.

Life isn’t always easy for Messianic Jews in Israel. They are regarded by both secular and ultraorthodox Israeli Jews as “missionaries”, a term used in scorn, and are often denied Israeli citizenship. At the same time, I have known many non-Jewish Christians around the world, particularly those in Reformed denominations, to strenuously object to non-assimilated Jews, and to resist any recognition of the debt Christianity owes to its Jewish origins. And given the argumentative nature of many religious, ethnic Jews, I’m sure that even they could be a challenge to him. Many years ago, I had lunch at a Shoney’s Restaurant in Shawnee, Kansas, with Moishe Rosen, the founder of Jews for Jesus. Not to be too hard on a great man, but Rabbi Rosen was intensely critical of Dr. Stern, for reasons that I could not and still do not at all agree with.

Rest in peace, Dr. Stern.
נוח על משכבך בשלום, דוקטור שטרן

Is There a Photo of Jesus?


Of course, I’m talking about the Shroud of Turin here—this “Catholic relic” appears to some to be the burial shroud of Jesus, and as such it seems made to order for Protestant scorn, and it is so startling that even the Vatican has been reluctant to display it over the centuries. But frankly, it’s been subjected to every kind of scientific test you can imagine over the last 45 years or so, and, despite occasional claims to the contrary, nobody has yet proved it a hoax. Personally, I am not a dogmatic supporter of the Shroud’s authenticity, but I find it intriguing, and I don’t believe that the Bible rules it out.

Enhanced photo of the Shroud of Turin.

There are a number of good (and quite a few bad) books on the subject, so I haven’t been tempted to take it up myself before now. I finally decided to write about it in response to a negative article on that I just ran across. I will describe the Shroud and its history below, discuss the forensic evidence in its favor, then propose a scenario for its authenticity that I think accurately accounts for the culture of Jesus’ day without breaking Scripture.

Description of the Shroud

The Shroud of Turin is a single, fire-damaged sheet of linen about 14 feet long and 3.5 feet wide (more precisely, 8 x 2 Royal Cubits, where the Royal, or Long, Cubit is 20.67 inches). On one face of the sheet is a faint image of the ventral and dorsal (front and back) sides of a dead, naked, adult male, lying flat and with hands covering groin. It appears that the cloth was laid flat, and a body laid on it with the feet close to one end. Then the other end of the cloth was folded in half lengthwise over the top of the head and down to cover the feet, staining the cloth with blood. The image, apparently that of a crucifixion victim, appeared on, or was applied to, the cloth at some time after the blood staining.

Contrary to this paining, the image is on the inside of the fold. Illustration from, “The Shroud of Turin: 7 Intriguing Facts”.

To the naked eye, the Shroud is a faint yellow monochrome, with the image appearing as a photographic negative. Enhanced photos of the Shroud are printed as photo negatives of the negative image that is on the cloth itself.

On top, the Shroud as photographed. On the bottom, a photonegative of the top image. From, UNA NAVE ESPACIAL LLAMADA TIERRA Capitulo XXXVIII Sindone 5

The intensity range of the image, rather than representing color as in a black and white photograph, records the varying distance between the draped cloth and the surface of the body.

3-dimensional cardboard carving of the head imaged on the Shroud, using relief data generated by a BK VP-8 Image Analyzer™. From National Geographic Magazine, June 1980.
The wounds, bloodstains and other marks on the Shroud of Turin,, “The Shroud of Turin: 2.4. The wounds”

In contrast to the human image, which is confined to an extremely thin layer on one side of the cloth, blood residue deposited on and within the weave of the cloth formed a fluid stain penetrating into the fibers. These stains are consistent with contact between the wounded body and the cloth, and between corresponding locations on the two lengthwise halves of the cloth.

I first learned about the Shroud when National Geographic published an article about it in their June 1980 issue. The thrust of that article was that a large team of American Scientists of various specialties, with lots of expensive equipment, had travelled to Turin, Italy, where the Shroud is kept, and done a lot of very intricate testing. They found a great deal of evidence supporting its validity, and none proving it a hoax. Nobody has ever been able to figure out how in the world it was made. The one hope of the research team was that a carbon 14 (C14) test would either prove it genuine or show that it is a recent forgery, but since the test sample is always destroyed during carbon dating, the church at that time would not let them damage the cloth to test it. By 1988, the Vatican did give permission to test a small sample, and the carbon test was finally done. With a big sigh of relief by doubters, the date obtained was 14th Century, AD. Case closed, right?

A murky provenance

Not so fast! The indisputable chain of custody only goes back to the 1350’s, more or less matching the carbon date, but there is also anecdotal evidence that it might have been around much longer.

Supposed travels of the Shroud. This is from a PowerPoint slide presented by The Shroud Center of Southern California. Dates edited by me for clarity.

Earlier provenance is based on sketchy data from sources that cannot be verified with certainty. Purportedly, a disciple of Jesus’ (not one of the 12) named Thaddaeus salvaged the cloth and took it to Edessa (the site now known as Urfa, Turkey). Edessa was Seleucid originally but became a Roman vassal city in the early 3rd Century. In the early 7th Century, it passed to Persian (Sassanian), and shortly thereafter, Muslim control.

Medieval legend holds that the Shroud remained in that city and was secreted behind a tile inside a city gate during parts of those years of conquest. The image on the cloth was mentioned in several apocryphal documents, and the cloth itself came to be called the Mandylion. That term is from a Greek word meaning a towel or tablecloth, and it referred to a loose military garment, open at the sides, that was draped over Medieval armor, more or less resembling a serape). In AD 943, the Byzantine Emperor (presumably Constantine VII) ransomed the Mandylion from the emir of Edessa and took it to Constantinople, where it was kept in the Blachernae Church. In AD 1204, it disappeared after Constantinople was sacked by Christian crusaders during the 4th Crusade. Legend holds that it was thereafter in the custody of the Knights Templar until the 1350’s, when it is known to have been exhibited a number of times in Lirey, France.

Pilgrim badge commemorating the so-called “Shroud of Lirey”. Drawn by Arthur Forgeais, 1865, from an original artifact. The heads of the two pilgrims are missing from the artifact.

Archaeological evidence is scant. The coin shown below is from the 7th Century and seems to me to tie the Mandylion to the Shroud of Turin fairly convincingly.

Byzantine coin, minted AD 692. The image stamped on this coin seems to me to be indisputably based on the Shroud image, unless somehow the Shroud was based on the coin!
The Sudarium of Oviedo

There is a funerary face cloth called the Sudarium of Oviedo that is believed by many to be the cloth mentioned in John 20:7 “also the cloth that had been around his head, lying not with the sheets but in a separate place and still folded up.” This is an ancient linen cloth with bloodstains, but no mysterious image. Documentation for this cloth goes back to at least the 7th Century, since it has remained in one place for all that time. According to,

A 1999 study by the Spanish Center for Sindonology, investigated the relationship between the two cloths. Based on history, forensic pathology, blood chemistry (both the Shroud and the Sudarium have type AB blood stains), and the blood stain patterns being exactly similar and congruent on both cloths, they concluded that the two cloths covered the same head at two distinct, but close moments of time.

If the Shroud is genuine, then I think it probable that the Sudarium is, as well, but that isn’t my subject here. What is germane to this discussion will be mentioned below.

The Sudarium should not be confused with another legendary cloth allegedly connected with the crucifixion, the Veil of Saint Veronica (Berenike).


Forensics—findings and objections

Carbon 14 dating is known to be very accurate, to within a predictable range, so the stories from before the 14th Century can’t be true, can they? Well, unfortunately, in this case there are a couple serious problems with the dating. One is that the Shroud has allegedly been exposed to centuries of contamination by extraneous carbon from multiple surroundings, making it virtually impossible to accurately calibrate the test. Another is that repairs have been made to the Shroud on at least two occasions. One was after it was damaged by molten silver during a fire in 1532, but the patches sewn on in that case were sufficiently clumsy that it was easy to avoid them. An earlier repair, though, was so skillfully patched, by expert interweaving of threads, that the newer linen of the patch was undetected until years after the 1988 carbon testing—and of course it turned out that it was apparently the fabric of that patch that was tested, not the original fabric which theoretically still could date to the 1st Century. Subsequent non-radiometric dating methods have reportedly raised the probability of an early origin.

The image on the cloth is not painted, nor is it dyed, or inked or otherwise applied. It has the appearance of the cloth itself being scorched, but not at high temperatures. Modern science cannot say with certainty how this scorching occurred, though some sort of radiation is probably the cause. Neutron radiation has been proposed, but since the image penetrates the cloth only to a very small percentage of its thickness, then anything more energetic than an alpha particle beam (Helium-4 nuclei) makes no sense to me.


The effects of various electromagnetic radiation types (light wavelengths less energetic than those on the chart) on textiles have been studied. From a layman’s point of view, I think that what makes the most sense is a pulse in the ultraviolet range, which is known to cause cellular damage to the surface layers in fabric. Shroud researcher John P. Jackson proposed that vertical exposure to UV as the Shroud collapsed into a vacuum after Jesus “dematerialized” beneath it, could account for the image, in all respects. I’m not qualified to critique his work other than to say, “It makes sense to me”, in a general fashion. To be clear, if He dematerialized, then He immediately rematerialized at some other location. Biblical precedent for this is seen in Philip’s departure from the Ethiopian road and materialization in Azotus , on the way to Antioch, and in Jesus’ appearance before “Doubting Thomas” after His resurrection.

The blood stains on the cloth have an unnatural appearance, particularly on the enhanced views, because they penetrate the weave and are not part of the “scorched” image. Furthermore, they fluoresce in views like the right pane of the following photo. is confused by these views, thinking that the blood is floating above the skin and hair, where it should be a crust or pool on the skin and should be beneath the outer layers of hair. In reality, what we see here is a contact transfer of blood to the cloth. Forensics show that the blood was on the cloth before the image was deposited. If this is Jesus’ authentic funeral shroud, then the blood on the cloth is from shortly after His death, when it was only partly coagulated. The image, on the other hand, is from a later time, presumably at the instant of His resurrection.

Positive (left) and negative of the face on the Shroud. Free image from also questions the drooping hair on the image, thinking that it should be collapsed to the surface Jesus was lying on, not hanging as if He were standing up. I don’t agree. Scripture says that He was beat over the head with a stick while wearing the crown of thorns:

17 They dressed him in purple and wove thorn branches into a crown, which they put on him.
18 Then they began to salute him, “Hail to the King of the Jews!”
19 They hit him on the head with a stick, spat on him and kneeled in mock worship of him.
—Mark 15:17–19 CJB

As I can personally attest, head wounds bleed profusely. Jesus was savagely beaten over the head while wearing a crown of thorns, so he bled heavily through His hair before even going to the cross. By the time He came down from the cross, some 9 hours later, most of that blood would have hardened like hair spray.

Bloodstained forehead. Cropped photograph of the Shroud, from Stephen E. Jones, “My position on the Shroud: The Shroud of Turin: The Burial Sheet of Jesus! #7”

The cloth of the Shroud is not the cheap material used for menstrual rags, burial wrappings, or even middle-class clothing, but rather a high-grade cloth used for upper-class clothing and tapestries, very rare and expensive at the time. The weave was a herringbone twill, with threads composed of 70 to 120 fibrils of flax. Expert examination indicates that it was hand-spun, bleached, woven by hand, then washed with soapweed. These were characteristics of 1st Century linen weaving (in Medieval times, bleaching was commonly done after weaving of the cloth). This weaving technique was practiced by Syrian weavers, and remnants of such cloth were found at Masada, dating from no later than AD 70. Some folks object that this cloth isn’t really a luxury product because better fabrics from the time were composed of linen/wool blends. That was not an option in Judea, because:

¶ “‘Observe my regulations.
“‘Don’t let your livestock mate with those of another kind, don’t sow your field with two different kinds of grain, and don’t wear a garment of cloth made with two different kinds of thread.
—Leviticus 19:19 CJB

The blood-like deposits on the Shroud have been verified to be aged blood. It is red, more like fresh blood, because it contains high concentrations of bilirubin, along with creatinine, ferritin and myoglobulin, all of which, in the concentrations found, are proteins characteristic of blood shed under tremendous physical trauma, like that of torture. Washing with soapweed also helps to preserve the hemoglobin color.

Blood-stained cloth from the Shroud., from Stephen E. Jones, “The Shroud of Turin: 2.5. The bloodstains”.
Fossilized heel bone of a crucifixion victim, with spike. The heels were nailed into the sides of the upright.

A Roman flagrum from Herculaneum (modern Ercolano) near Pompeii, from Stephen E. Jones, “The Shroud of Turin: 2.4. The wounds”.

Blood staining of the cloth and bruising on the image is consistent in all respects with the testimony of Scripture. There is blood on the wrists and feet, from the nails. The Greek allows for extension of “hand” to include the wrists, as would be anatomically required to hold a grown man to a cross with nails. There is blood on the side, from the Roman spear. UV studies reveal a halo of fluorescence around this blood. Serum separated from the blood accounts for that and matches scripture describing “blood and water” from the wound. There is blood on the head from the crown of thorns and the beatings. There are bloody, dumbbell-shaped marks all over the body due to 130 lashes with a Roman flagrum. There are swollen cheeks and a broken nose from beatings. There are abrasions on knees and shoulders from stumbling from the Praetorium to Golgotha (Gulgolta). criticized what they considered to be blood flow patterns inconsistent with gravity, but my own examination of photo evidence doesn’t bear that out.

Various types of pollen were found on the Shroud. Concentrated around the head region, in particular, there is a large amount of pollen from the thistle Gundelia tournefortii, a spiny plant common in the Jerusalem area that blooms (and pollinates) in the spring. The “crown of thorns?”

Crown of Thorns exhibit, “Helmet” of thorns in the permanent exhibition of the Shroud of Turin in the Pontifical Institute Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center. Contrary to popular images, a “helmet” style of crown was more appropriate for a Middle Eastern king than a Greek “wreath”. Blood patterns on the Shroud suggest a helmet. also criticizes the proportions of the body on the Shroud. First, they are concerned that the image shows a man about 5 ft. 10 in. in height, which they think, probably correctly, is taller than most 1st Century Jews. Yet, people of all ethnicities vary in height, and that would not make Him a freak among His own people. Perhaps they were obliquely referring to Isaiah’s prophecy:

He was not well-formed or especially handsome;
we saw him, but his appearance did not attract us.
—Isaiah 53:2 CJB

I think that is saying that Messiah will not be a heartthrob who attracts people by His physical charisma. Other detractors have claimed that it also implies that He will not stand out in a crowd because of His height. I am not convinced. Being a bit taller than average would help Him speak to crowds. also sees distortions in the lengths of the image’s limbs, the thickness of one leg and the size of the head. Once again, I’m not convinced. The image appears to be a vertical projection onto a cloth that is draped over a real three-dimensional person, and thus not perpendicular to the cloth at all locations. This would be expected to cause apparent foreshortening of perspective in places.

Is the head disproportionately small for the body? Perhaps. That has been explained by some as rigor mortis freezing (but see my next paragraph) the head in a downward tilt, from hanging on the cross. I think it is more likely that His Head was resting on something in the tomb; perhaps he was still wearing the crown of thorns. thinks it is ridiculous to believe that Jesus’ hands could be over His groin, because they believe He would have gone into rigor mortis on the cross, with His arms frozen at an upwards slant. But that is a ridiculous suggestion, and they should know better—rigor mortis is part of the decay process, and Jesus didn’t decay! Acts 13:37 (ESV) ” but he whom God raised up did not see corruption.”

Many detractors are convinced that the image should not show a beard, because:

I offered my back to those who struck me,
my cheeks to those who plucked out my beard;
I did not hide my face
from insult and spitting.
—Isaiah 50:6 CJB

I wear a beard. I don’t think it could be plucked out aside from small amounts at a time. They tried. This is Hebrew poetic hyperbole. It emphasizes a point using exaggeration. Not uncommon in the Psalms and Prophets. Looking at the Shroud image, it appears that the beard is forked, and in fact, that was noticed and incorporated into the commemorative coin shown above. That was either His style, or the plucking was partially successful.

Others don’t think that there is enough damage to Jesus, per:

Just as many were appalled at him,
because he was so disfigured
that he didn’t even seem human
and simply no longer looked like a man,
—Isaiah 52:14 CJB

Again, this is poetic hyperbole. I’ll bet that if you were to find a severed and mangled human hand on the ground, you would recognize it as human remains!

Biblical Considerations

Okay, here’s where I start the fun part.

The writers on are, I’m sure, good Christian folks, but I often disagree with their interpretations of Scripture, and more often with their analyses of science and history. Regarding their treatment of the Shroud of Turin, I certainly do agree, unequivocally, that the Shroud is completely unnecessary as proof of Jesus’ existence, His crucifixion, His resurrection, or His deity. However, I don’t think they have a good understanding of 1st Century Jewish burial practices. Here I will challenge their perceptions of how the Shroud appears to contradict Scripture.

The primary objection of was that the person in the Shroud evidently was not given the entire customary treatment. They suggest, in part, that Jesus could not have been entombed in a one-piece linen shroud because Lazarus was not—his body was washed, then slathered with aloe and wrapped with aloe-impregnated linen strips (plural) before entombment:

44 The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
—John 11:44 ESV

The truth is that even in Judea, with all its customs, there wasn’t just one way to be buried, because the legal precepts of Torah didn’t speak about it all that much. If you were rich or a king, you got the plush treatment, coffin and all. The indigent sometimes got tossed out the Dung Gate and put in a pauper’s grave. That’s evidently how landowners Chananyah and Shappira (Ananias and Sapphira) ended up.

1 But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property,
2 and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

5 When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it.
6 The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him.
7 ¶ After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened.

10 Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband.
—Acts 5:1–10 ESV

I submit here that Jesus and Lazarus were handled in different manners because the circumstances of their deaths were different. Jesus was as a convicted felon. Lazarus died at his home at a time more suitable for “standard practice.” Because Lazarus was in good legal standing, there was not a hard and fast requirement for him to be buried the same day, though that was the ideal. He would have been taken to his family tomb as soon as practical, dressed in normal clothes. Then, at some time during the days of mourning, probably soon after rigor mortis broke some 36 hours after death, he would be prepped for his long sleep. This included wrapping him in multiple strips of linen that were smeared in spices (usually myrrh and sticky aloe) in order both to bind the cloths to each other and to the body, and to mask odor. A separate small piece of linen (a facecloth) was also provided to cover or wrap the head.

When Jesus was brought down from the cross, burial on the same day as death was required from:

22 “And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree,
23 his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God. You shall not defile your land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance.
—Deuteronomy 21:22–23 ESV

But clearly there was simply no time for the normal burial customs to take place before the sun set. I think that Joseph or one of the others climbed up and wrapped the facecloth around His face and the crown of thorns. Jesus was then taken down and laid on a bier, most likely on top of the shroud brought by Joseph, so that His shame could be covered. His clothes had been plundered by the Roman soldiers, so he was naked.

The evidence of the Shroud shows Jesus’ torture and death just as described in Scripture, when understood in its cultural context. The events surrounding His final words and His death are described plainly in Matthew 27:45–56 and the parallels. His crucifixion began at around 9:00 am (e.g., Mark 15:25 “It was nine in the morning when they nailed him to the stake.”), and the darkness began around noon. He died at “about the ninth hour” which, by Jewish counting, was somewhere around 3:00 pm. Evidently His dead body remained on the cross for most of the rest of the afternoon because, while Luke is silent on the timing, the other three Gospels are united in placing the approach of Joseph of Arimathea to Pilate at “around evening.”

Nisan 14–17 timeline, simplified, ©Ron Thompson. The Gregorian dates presented here are my own calculations, from NOAA lunar phase charts.

I will propose a likely scenario for what followed, harmonized with John 19:38–42, since that is the version stressed by and others:

38 ¶ After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body.
39 Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight.
40 So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews.
41 Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid.
42 So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.
—John 19:38–42 ESV emphasis added; see below for discussion

The crucifixion was on Friday, Nisan 15. Jesus had celebrated His last Passover Seder the night before, and it was now the 1st day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which was, in Jewish law, a Sabbath (Heb. Shabbat). The next day was to be the 7th day weekly Shabbat. Restrictions for the two days were similar, except that the mid-Passover weekly Shabbat was always considered to be particularly important. In the case of consecutive Shabbatot, it was permissible to prepare for the second one on the day of the first one.

So, when Joseph spoke to Pilate, dusk and the start of the Saturday Shabbat were rapidly approaching, as emphasized in Mark, using a Jewish English translation:

42 Since it was Preparation Day (that is, the day before a Shabbat), as evening approached,
43 Yosef of Ramatayim, a prominent member of the Sanhedrin who himself was also looking forward to the Kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Yeshua’s body.
—Mark 15:42–43 CJB emphasis added

There was a delay, because Pilate needed to check precedent, then once Joseph had permission, he barely had time to do what absolutely had to be done before the Temple shofarim (ram’s horn trumpets) signaled that the sun had sunk below the horizon and Shabbat had begun. First, he must walk quickly from the Praetorium (probably Herod the Great’s palace) to the nearby crucifixion site at Gulgolta (I believe that to be the site under the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, just outside the city wall of that day). Then with the help of Nicodemus and the Disciples, he had to lower Jesus to the ground, remove the nails from His wrists and heels, place Him on the bier, and carry Him the short distance to the tomb.

“Linen wrappings”, or a shroud?

John 19:40 says “wrappings”, plural othonion (Gr. ὀθονίοις), which may refer to the customary saturated linen strips, but I think it meant, simply, the Shroud and the headcloth. Since Biblical Greek has no punctuation, I suggest that for comparison with the synoptics, vs 40b should be translated “bound it in linen cloths, with the spices”. In other words, the binding strips and the spices were stored in the tomb for later processing, as soon as ritually permitted. There simply could not have been enough time that day!

The three synoptic Gospels all refer to “a linen sheet”, singular sindoni (Gr. σινδόνι a different Greek term probably referring to the fineness of the cloth).

Mark 15:46 says “Yosef purchased a linen sheet; and after taking Yeshua down, he wrapped him in the linen sheet (σινδόνι), laid him in a tomb which had been cut out of the rock, and rolled a stone against the entrance to the tomb.

Matthew 27:59 uses the same singular, sindoni, as Mark, “Yosef took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen sheet, (σινδόνι) 60 and laid it in his own tomb, which he had recently had cut out of the rock.”

Likewise, Luke 23:53 “He took it down, wrapped it in a linen sheet (σινδόνι), and placed it in a tomb cut into the rock, that had never been used.”

Is there any other Scripture that might verify my interpretation?


The Jewish custom was to seal a tomb, then come back in a year to pick up the dry bones and put them in an ossuary or a family niche. I can think of no reason why it would be necessary to open up a tomb two days later to renew spices already applied, yet that is what suggests was going on early that Sunday morning:

1 When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him.
2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.
3 And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?”
—Mark 16:1–3 ESV

Joseph was not able to complete the customary preparation of the body because it was the Sabbath, and an even more important Sabbath was about to start. He did what could be done quickly, then he left Jesus wrapped in the shroud he had brought, rolled the stone into place, and notified Jesus’ mother that she would need to complete the process—which was really the family’s job in the first place. Washing the body, then applying the cloth strips and spices was a job that it would have probably taken them at least two or three hours to complete.

In conclusion approached this subject much as they do in their creation articles. They started out their story the way I do, by reading key books and articles on the subject. But they were looking for talking points, not for real issues. Their minds were made up going in. This shows up in several places. For one, they were quick to comment on the “floating blood” on the image’s head. Yes, that’s what it looks like, but “looks like” isn’t always enough. If they had read in depth, they would have learned that those big blobs were contact stains in the cloth, not part of the image on the cloth. In the picture, those stains fluoresced, like white teeth under black light at a party.

Another very major fault with the approach is that most Hermeneutics don’t allow you to make theological decisions based on a single passage. The article shows why. Their case was built on John’s account of the burial, but John contradicts all three of the synoptic gospels. By “contradictions”, I’m not implying error. The four Gospel writers viewed events from four different directions, and each had a point he was trying to make. Think about the old saw about the blind men and the elephant. The exegete’s responsibility is to study the Scriptures together to find the harmony that is there!

A third fault in the post is that they were so sure of the end result they were going to get that they rushed into the fight with wild punches. Rigor mortis is part of the decay process. Do they really think that Jesus began to decay? I don’t think so!

A fourth, and the last I will mention, is that they wrote from a shallow understanding of culture. The Bible is God’s autobiography. It touches on other things, but it’s not a self-help book, it’s not a science text, it’s not a history, and it’s not a civics book. To fully understand the cultural context of Judea, you have to go beyond Scripture and examine extra-Biblical sources. Their understanding of 1st Century burial practices is superficial.

Nobody will ever be able to prove that the Shroud is authentic. Some folks think that an artistic genius like Leonardo DaVinci could have pulled off a hoax like this, but why would he? Besides, yes, he did conceive of helicopters back in his day, but he didn’t build one! To successfully produce what the technology of his day could not allow him even to see boggles my mind.

Frankly, I would like for this to be genuine. Prior to the incarnation, God in all three persons was spirit. Whenever he materialized to a physical form, it was transient. Until Jesus took on flesh. I’d like to think that there is a commemoration of that flesh, here on earth!