A review of The Sign: The Shroud of Turin and the Secret of the Resurrection by Thomas de Wesselow
Penguin Books Limited, 2012

For millions of Christians, Easter is the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The declaration of the empty tomb goes back to the very earliest records we have about Christianity, and from the beginning this formed the foundation of Christianity’s beliefs about what Jesus’ followers have to look forward to in their own resurrections.

Just after Easter, art historian Thomas de Wesselow released a book that promises to revolutionize how we see the Resurrection, and what some Christians think is a genuine artifact—the Shroud of Turin—as a witness to the sort of Resurrection that he’s arguing for.

The credentials game

It may seem like a cheap shot to ask what right someone has to pontificate about matters like these, but particularly when an individual makes claims that would overturn decades and even centuries of research by specialists in the field, we have a right to ask on what authority he makes these claims. If someone wrote a book saying that cigarette smoking didn’t cause cancer, but that fresh fruit and vegetables were the culprits, we would have a right to ask if he had any actual training in oncology. But from a New Testament studies point of view, de Wesselow’s claims are just as absurd.

De Wesselow has a Ph.D. in art history, specializing in Italian art. This would qualify him to research the Shroud, if it is in fact a medieval forgery (putting it in the realm of an artistic piece). But if it is (as he claims) an actual first-century shroud, then that puts its study in the realm of archaeology (Is the Shroud actually from the first century? Does it conform with what we know about first-century Jewish burial practices? Are there any other cases where a body has left such an imprint on an ancient shroud?), and de Wesselow has absolutely no qualifications to speak on these fronts….

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