The Veil of Veronica

The other day I read a news report on the web about a new scientific study of the Shroud of Turin which claims to give evidence that the Shroud dates from before the eighth century, rather than the medieval dates of between 1290 and 1360, as indicated in a 1988 scientific study of the Shroud.

The 1988 study used carbon dating techniques and also identified some of the cloth material as being from Europe. The new evidence uses the remains of plant pollen and also floral images in the Shroud to date the Shroud and to identify its place of origin as Jerusalem. The new evidence was taken from the entire cloth, while the earlier radiocarbon dating came from a tiny piece of the cloth , which some surmise could have been a piece of one of the many attempts to restore the ancient relic.

The following is extracted from a news report on
"We have identified by images and by pollen grains species on the shroud restricted to the vicinity of Jerusalem," botany professor Avinoam Danin of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem said during the International Botanical Congress. "The sayings that the shroud is from European origin can't hold."

"It is something that many Catholics and other Christians hold very dear," said Steve Mamanella, spokesman for the Archdiocese of St. Louis. "Perhaps this helps solidify that particular belief." The shroud also contains pollen grains and faint images of plants.

Analysis of the floral images, and a separate analysis of the pollen grains by botanist Uri Baruch identified a combination of plant species that could be found only in March and April in the region of Jerusalem, Danin said.

Danin identified a high density of pollen of the tumbleweed Gundelia tournefortii. The analysis also found the bean caper. The two species coexist in a limited area, Danin said.

"This combination of flowers can be found in only one region of the world," he said. "The evidence clearly points to a floral grouping from the area surrounding Jerusalem."

An image of the Gundelia tournefortii can be seen near the image of the man's shoulder. Some experts have suggested that the plant was used for the "crown of thorns."

Two pollen grains of the species were also found on the Sudarium of Oviedo, believed to be the burial face cloth of Jesus.

Danin, who has done extensive study on plants in Jerusalem, said the pollen grains are native to the Gaza Strip.

Since the Sudarium of Oviedo has resided in the Cathedral of Oviedo in Spain since the eighth century, Danin said that the matchup of pollen grains pushes the shroud's date to a similar age. Both cloths also carry type AB blood stains in similar patterns, Danin said.

"The pollen association and the similarities in the blood stains in the two cloths provide clear evidence that the shroud originated before the eighth century," Danin said.

The location of the Sudarium of Oviedo has been documented since the first century. If it is found that the two cloths are linked, then the shroud could be even older, Danin said.

So, for centuries, many faithful Christians have believed that the Shroud of Turin was literally the burial cloth of Christ, miraculously produced when He was resurrected from the dead. The remarkable image on the cloth is similar to a photographic negative, and some argue that it could not have been produced by natural means, but only by supernatural.

This new story made me wonder about the Baha'i understanding of the crucifixion and especially the resurrection of Christ. Knowing that many Islamic traditions report that Jesus did not die on the cross at all, I remembered having read some commentary by Abdul Baha but I could not recall all of the details.

So I hauled out my copy of "Some Answered Questions" and I re-read the short chapter entitled "The Resurrection of Christ" which is found on pages 103 to 105 of my paperback copy of "Some Answered Questions".

Abdul Baha had the following things to say about the resurrection of Christ:

"Therefore, we may say that the meaning of Christ's resurrection is as follows: the disciples were troubled and agitated after the martyrdom of Christ. The Reality of Christ, which signify His teachings, His bounties, His perfections and His spiritual power, was hidden for two or three days after His martyrdom, and was not resplendent and manifest. No, rather it was lost for the believers were few in number and were troubled and agitated. The Cause of Christ was like a lifeless body; and when after three days the disciples became assured and steadfast, and began to serve the Cause of Christ, and resolved to spread the divine teachings, putting His counsels into practice, and arising to serve Him, The Reality of Christ became resplendent and His bounty appeared; His religion found life, His teachings and His admonitions became evident and visible. In other words, the Cause of Christ was like a lifeless body until the life and the bounty of the Holy Spirit surrounded it.

Such is the meaning of the resurrection of Christ, and this was a true resurrection. But as the clergy have neither understood the meaning of the Gospels nor comprehended the symbols, therefore, it has been said that religion is in contradiction to science, and science in opposition to religion, as, for example, this subject of the ascension of Christ with an elemental body to the visible heavens is contrary to science and mathmatics. But when the truth of this subject becomes clear, and the symbol is explained, science in no way contradicts it; but, on the contrary, science and the intelligence confirm it."

Now, this passage from Abdul Baha is very clear. We as Baha'is understand the resurrection of Jesus as being very real, but in a symbolic and spiritual way. Abdul Baha evidently believed that those who believe in a literal, physical bodily resurrection of Jesus were in error because such a resurrection would be "in contradiction to science and mathematics".

Now, if Abdul Baha could so boldly explain away the most central tenet of Christianity, in a way that violates the beliefs of the vast majority of Christians for 2000 years, I believe we should take Him seriously. Adding this most weighty evidence to that of Baha'u'llah's lengthy argument, in the Kitab i Iqan, against literalism in understanding religious scripture (where such literalism would be in contradiction to science and common sense), I think we as Baha'is should be very careful to avoid such literalism's in our own understandings of our religion and Writings, in cases where it would be "in contradiction to science and mathematics".

For since there can be no more sensitive subject, for Christians, than the bodily resurrection of Christ; Abdul Baha's interpretation is breathtaking in its significance. How dare we ignore such importance and such eloquence from the Master?

For many have based their entire hope and faith on the bodily resurrection of Christ; indeed, many have been declared heretics and have even died, for denying it. The Shroud of Turin itself, has been made into perhaps the most important and potent Talisman for some Christian believers, who see in it a hope that there might someday be "scientific" evidence, and maybe even outright proof, of the miraculous bodily resurrection of Christ. At the very least, if it could be positively dated and placed as the death shroud of a man in Palestine 2000 years ago, it would have immense significance to many.

As a Christian turned Baha'i, I have meditated on this subject a lot. The crucifixion and resurrection of the human being, Jesus of Nazareth, has great importance for me and to my spiritual essence. As a Baha'i, I can accept Abdul Baha's interpretation; but it does change things. If I accept the Master's words, as I do, then I am obliged to follow them to their ultimate meanings. So I have meditated on this and have seen some patterns and implications for us as Baha'is today.

Now, what if, I ask myself, further scientific tests provide, against all odds, actual compelling evidence that the Shroud of Turin is indeed the burial cloth of a human being from Palestine 2000 years ago, who was crucified. What if, unlikely of unlikely, there should be actual evidence of some mysterious resurrection which is beyond anything we can comprehend with today's science? Well, would this contradict the clear statements of Abdul Baha? Would we Baha'is be left standing in opposition to truth? No, I don't think so, not even in this most unlikely turn of events.

For one of the primary messages of the Revelation of Baha'u'llah is that truth is our friend. We need never fear the truth. We must always follow the truth , fearlessly, wherever it may lead, at all cost. For what is true is of God , and what is false in not of God. Amen, Baha'u'llah! Come what may, I will always be assured of the guidance and friendship of Baha'u'llah. Even if I should be strangled with the cloth of modern superstitions, the truth and Baha'u'llah will still shine forth like the noon day sun. Baha'u'llah was a human being, and He suffered greatly at the hands of men, but he was also the Manifestation of God for this age. May His kingdom come, and quickly.

It matters not where truth may lead us, so long as we follow the truth. It matters not one whit, should everything I have written in this article be proved wrong, or even if everything I have ever written be proven in error. I would rejoice in it, as long as we follow the truth and Baha'u'llah, that is all that matters. May His kingdom come quickly. Amen.

And yet I long for that face on a shroud, with real AB type blood, the same as the AB type blood on a veil traceable to before 800 AD, and on back to Palestine 2000 years ago; the face of a Man, the agony of blood, pain, and death; the crown of thorns, the enigma of a paradox, the only thing that still matters from so long ago, unlike Greek myths and Roman gods; I long so for that God who walked again upon earth after three days and nights in the cold, unfeeling ground, the blood turned to putrid sticky paste, the eyes unseeing, the mind unknowing; then *poof* a God from under the ground, now in the sky, my savoir, my redeemer, my paramour, my Christ. I long for thee, the proof in the cloth, a matrix of reality, a turning point for all humanity, to be proven again after all these years; that a man, no, a God, walked again after death, in His physical body, though now glorified. I long for His mother's touch, the touch of a virgin now immaculately conceived, who appears to us in the sky and in Yugoslavia, at Lourdes and most of all at Fatima, namesake of the Prophet, His noble successor. I long for a God, not a man who dies corruptible like me and like you and like us all. How appropriate that now, at this time, at the very dawn of a new millennium, we should, could, see scientific evidence and hence proof, of a miracle and of a God.

Yet what I have is what we all have, a Man, not a god, but a Manifestation whose Spirit returns. A manifestation, that speaks of things unseen and unknowable by any other means. A Perfect Man, promised and vouchsafed unto us by Abraham, and by all the holy prophets. A man who hurts and bleeds and dies, whose physical body knows corruption like all of ours. A man who wore the death mask of Veronica's Veil

Dust to dust, ashes to ashes to ashes, the promise is that something rises, something inexplicable, a mystery, but not a myth.

Nonetheless I return to Baha'u'llah, who was a man, but became anointed by God as His Manifestation for this age. Misunderstood, like Christ, he nonetheless fulfills what God says we need. Sufficient unto the Day is the evil thereof. The root of it is this: I accept all of the sacrifices of the sons of woman for what they are, for that is all we have. And if someday God sees fit to reveal to us more, then we will perhaps know the whole truth. Until then, though it be partial and through a glass darkly, the truth shall still set us free.

And so until then we sit here, beneath Veronica's Veil, and weep for our lost gods; but we rejoice in the light of a new day. Allah'u'abha!

Ron Stephens

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