In my previous post, I outlined my views on the Shroud of Turin, and how it is very likely that this is the genuine burial cloth of the historical figure we refer to as Jesus Christ (not his real name, but we will use that name for convenience). In addition, I pointed out that the Shroud contains many, many layers. The most well-known image, though, is the negative photographic image, which creates huge challenges for us, both as secular observers and as religious folks. For purposes of reference, I include my favorite image of the Shroud, which is the photographic negative image which reverses the image back to positive:
In another area of my study, I looked in depth at the development of Roman Catholicism and the rise of the Emperor Constantine. I am not a fan of Constantine, actually. Several books have led me to this conclusion. One of these is a particular favorite: Cities of God by Rodney Stark. Although Stark writes from a Christian perspective (which I respect, actually), his conclusions are telling: The rise of Christianity as a world religion was a process of social forces which made the events of the Medieval period inevitable. Basically, Christianity prevailed because (as I have said before on this blog) it replaced the ancestral village life for many people in ancient Rome who had been ripped out of their homes and sold into slavery. During the first three centuries CE, Christianity grew steadily within the Roman empire. There were several plagues during this period, and Christianity increased sharply (at the expense of paganism) during each plague. Stark points out that the Christians were venturing into the homes of their plague infected pagan neighbors and bringing them food and warm blankets. If the pagan family survived, they certainly were not pagan anymore after that! Because of their loving care for each other and for their neighbors, the survival rate of Christians was much higher than pagans during each of these plagues. Fundamentally, the big jump in numbers during these plagues would have resulted in Christianity constituting about 55% of the urban Roman population by the beginning of the 3rd century, when Constantine comes onto the scene.
Clearly, from the perspective of Constantine, he simply bet on a winning horse. The conclusion was inescapable and obvious by the time Constantine converted: If he did not become a Christian, eventually he would have been overthrown. Trouble is, as Stark points out, once Constantine co-opted early Christianity and made it an instrument of Roman power, all distinctiveness between the Christians and the pagans was lost. In the next plague, no Christians visited their neighbors bringing warm blankets and food. The Christians died as the same rate as the pagans. Thus, it is very obvious that much of the momentum and credibility of Christianity was lost once Constantine took over. (Most of the “Christians” who converted after Constantine were nominally Christian only, by and large, as Constantine provided many incentives to convert once he became the effective head of the Christian faith.)
This gets into the issue of Constantine’s mom, St. Helena. I have read several books on Constantine, and one on his mother. The best book by far that I have found on St. Helena is The Living Wood: Saint Helena and the Emperor Constantine by Louis de Wohl. Although he again writes from a Christian perspective, de Wohl points out some facts which, when combined with what we know about the Shroud, are extremely telling about Constantine, his mother and the rise of Medieval Christianity.
One interesting fact which I should point out before going on: The Shroud is the best and most convincing physical evidence of the facts surrounding the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. That should theoretically make it the most important relic in all of Christendom. But instead we find that the Shroud is being systematically suppressed by the Roman Catholic Church. The silly and inane Carbon 14 dating in 1988 is an exceptionally good example. This Carbon 14 dating was so fatally flawed that it is simply astounding that it was even taken seriously. The scientists in charge insisted on a minimum of six samples: They got three. They wanted to take the samples from different areas of the Shroud: Instead only one area of the Shroud was used, and those samples were collected in private by only two men, both Roman Catholic clergy, who provided the testers with the samples, plus false samples from another source, without anyone other than the two Roman Catholic clergy knowing which was which.
When the Carbon 14 dating project produced a date in the Middle Ages, the Roman Catholic church immediately caved: The Shroud is a fraud! It is an interesting relic, but obviously not the burial cloth of Jesus, etc. In other words, the Roman Catholic church has done everything humanly possible to simply make the Shroud go away. The interesting question is: Why?
Once you read Louis de Wohl’s book, and combine it with the books on the Shroud, the answer becomes obvious: The Shroud makes the crimes of Constantine and his mother obvious and apparent to anyone. Let me explain.
I said a moment ago that the Shroud should have been the most important Christian relic, but it wasn’t. Instead that relic was a piece supposedly found by St. Helena in Jerusalem in the mid-4th century: The True Cross. This was supposedly the cross of Christ. It was used by St. Helena and Constantine to enrich themselves and solidify their power. Constantine always carried the True Cross with him into battle. His troops believed that with the power of God behind them, they could not lose. And sure enough, they never did. In this way, using the power of Christianity, Constantine was able to consolidate the entire Roman empire under his rule, the last Emperor to accomplish this. Also, St. Helena sold off pieces of the True Cross to every cathedral in Europe. In the process, she and Constantine became the two wealthiest individuals in all of Christendom.
There is a serious problem with the idea of the True Cross. This relic was in the form of what is referred to as a unitary cross. The use of the cross as the symbol of Christianity dates from this time. This is a cross as we normally think of it: Two pieces of wood permanently attached to each other. Supposedly Jesus was nailed to this cross, and then the entire arrangement was hoisted into the air, as shown in films like The Passion of the Christ.
Looking back at the Shroud, the figure shown in the Shroud was not crucified in this manner. Instead, his arms were tied to a cross beam. Once he reached the crucifixion site, he was nailed to the cross beam, and then the cross beam was hoisted onto a vertical post (similar to a telephone pole), which had a hook mounted on top. A small angle bracket was then nailed to the vertical post, and his ankles were nailed to this piece. This is all completely consistent with archeological finds of other Roman crucifixion sites. Bear in mind that crucifixion was the dominant form of execution in the early Roman Empire, so we have lots of textual and archeological evidence to fall back on here.
When you think about it, the manner of execution shown in the Shroud is much more likely than the traditional Christian view. A unitary cross would simply be too heavy for Jesus to successfully carry from the trial site to the crucifixion area (referred to in the Gospels as Golgotha). A unitary cross would probably have weighed on the order of 400 pounds, far too heavy for even a normal person to carry that far, even if he had not been nearly beaten to death. A cross beam would have weighed between 50 and 80 pounds, which is quite doable, even for an injured person.
Thus, the Shroud speaks to us concerning the crimes of Constantine and his mother: Apparently, they faked the find of the True Cross, and foisted this fraud upon the ancient Christian world. In the process they made themselves incredibly powerful and wealthy. They also created phoney miracles (referred to as the Holy Fire) which were conducted in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (the cathedral that Constantine and Helena built in Jerusalem) every Easter from the 4th century all the way to the 18th century.
At the end of the day, the conclusion is inevitable: The church created by Constantine was a fraud. He cynically and knowingly faked his conversion, the various miracles surrounding the True Cross, his victories in battle, and all the rest. It boggles the mind, actually.
Now, what does this say about Christianity as it exists today? Certainly, the legacy of Constantine must be dealt with. This is a process which is still going on in my own mind. More on that later.