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"The Real Face of Jesus" - Mike McManus

"The Real Face of Jesus"

By Mike McManus
March 31, 2010

I have seen the face of Jesus as he looked after being taken down from the cross.

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.


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 back.

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 image appears.

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 it.

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.

----Michael J. McManus is a syndicated columnist writing on "Ethics & Religion". He is President & Co-Chair of Marriage Savers. He lives with his wife in Potomac, MD.

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