“The Real Face of Jesus”
I have seen the face of Jesus as he looked after being taken down from
So have millions of others
who watched an extraordinary documentary aired on the History Channel
this week. It will be repeated on Saturday at 8 pm Eastern
DO NOT MISS IT!
How much more appropriate
than the umpteenth broadcast of “The Ten Commandments” which a network
airs every Easter.
In Holy Week that commemorates the
crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus, it was amazing to see how
computer artists used cutting-edge technology to reveal what is
undoubtedly “The Real Face of Jesus,” as the show is titled.
How was it possible?
You may have heard of the Shroud of
Turin, which is believed to be the blood-stained linen in which Jesus
was wrapped, after he was taken down from the cross. “If you want to
re-create the face of Jesus, you have only one object, and that’s the
shroud,” said computer artist Ray Downing of Studio Macbeth who oversaw
the computer graphics.
The ancient 14-foot shroud contains
a faint impression of a man’s face and the front and back of a human
body. While there is no guarantee it was the body of Jesus, it is
undoubtedly a crucified man, who was scourged by more than 100 lash
marks. On his side, there is a wound as described in the Gospels, which
gushed blood that poured around the body, and pooled in the small of his
Over time it has been denounced as
a fraud, as far back as 1355 when a Catholic bishop said it was a
forgery that was painted on the cloth.
However, in 1978 a team of
scientists were allowed 5 days and nights to examine the shroud and
concluded that the image of a crucified man could not have been
painted. The paint would have penetrated the linen, while the image of
the man was found only on its upper fibers. They did verify that the
blood on the shroud was human.
And a team led by John Jackson, a
physicist, was able to create a 3-D image of the body, using technology
pioneered by NASA to estimate the height of craters on the moon. He
worked with Ray Downing to refine that technology with computer graphics
to create the face of Jesus.
However, in 1988, the Catholic
Church allowed experts to take a “carbon dating” sample of a corner of
the shroud, to estimate its age and came to the shocking conclusion that
the linen was made between 1260 and 1390. Headlines shouted “FAKE.” The
Shroud of Turin was apparently not old enough to have been the burial
cloth of Jesus.
More recent analysis, however,
suggests that the section of cloth on the shroud’s edge given the carbon
dating might have been added in the Middle Ages, to facilitate its
handling. What’s needed is to carbon date the shroud’s center where the
In any case, Downing had major
technical problems in trying to get a clear image of the man on the
shroud. The face appeared distorted by the way the shroud wrapped over
the face and across the back of the head, as if it were a reflection in
a fun house mirror.
However, he sculpted a
3-dimensional head, a mold that was made from the 2-D data of the image,
using 30,000 high resolution photographs taken in 1978 by Jackson’s
team. “The shroud is a silent witness. It’s like the witness in an
investigation,” Downing said. He added eyebrows, which were not visible.
One piece of evidence
placing the shroud in Israel is the fact that tiny spores of a flowering
thorn plant, that grows only within 50 miles of Jerusalem, were found in
Another technical problem
is the crisscross pattern of the linen’s weave. Computer graphics could
eliminate it. But the mystery of how the image was created remains.
Father John Norris appears
in the documentary, saying, “Maybe there is a real miracle here. The
power of the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth created this image as a
byproduct of the miracle of the Resurrection. Some sort of energy or
radiation created the image.”
This is a perfect Easter
story, of science and faith combining to resurrect for this skeptical
generation, evidence that Jesus was both crucified and Resurrected.
The shroud, which has not
been displayed in public for a decade, will soon be on view at Turin
Cathedral in Italy.