Jewish Shroud Expert Teaches at Pontifical University

Photographer From '78 Scientific Examination Speaks of Proofs of Authenticity

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By Andrew Dalton, LC

ROME, MARCH 22, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Barrie Schwortz was the Official Documenting Photographer for the Shroud of Turin Research Project (STURP), the team that conducted the first in-depth scientific examination of the Shroud in 1978.                                                                                  

In this interview, Schwortz tells ZENIT how Shroud science has influenced his own faith.

ZENIT:  You just finished teaching a week-long course as part of the Diploma in Shroud Studies from the Science and Faith Institute of the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum, in collaboration with Othonia and the International Center of Sindonology in Turin.  What has that experience meant for you?

Schwortz:  Probably the best part of the experience is the warm reception that I’m given by the faculty and students. That makes me feel that being here is very worthwhile.  The response from the students is always so positive. 

Of course, being Jewish, it’s sort of ironic. The first time they asked me [to teach], I said, “So, how often do you bring Jews to teach future priests about the Shroud?” We all laughed about that. 

It really is a great honor. For me, it makes the work that I’ve done with the Shroud over all these years really meaningful and not just for myself but obviously for the students. And when you are doing something that is of value to other people, that’s a great blessing in its own right.

ZENIT: How long did it take for you come accept the Shroud of Turin as the authentic one belonging to Jesus in the 1stcentury?

Schwortz: At the very beginning of my involvement with the Shroud, I was very skeptical about its authenticity. I had no emotional attachment to Jesus and the subject matter because I was raised as an Orthodox Jew.  The main thing I knew about Jesus in those days was that he also was Jewish, and that was about it. 

Examining the Shroud, I knew quickly that it wasn’t a painting because when you are up close and you see it, you can tell it’s not a painting.  But as far as its authenticity, it took another 18 years after we finished our examination and all the papers were published. 

I still wasn’t completely convinced until one of our fellow team members, Allen Adler, another Jewish man who was a blood chemist, explained to me why the blood remained red on the Shroud.  I felt that old blood was supposed to be black or brown. The blood on the Shroud is a red-crimson color. So that was a deal breaker for me for a long time. But ultimately, when that was explained to me and especially from my friend Al Adler, may he rest in peace, who also was involved in this not so much from a religious point of view as from a purely scientific point of view, he was the one who put the last piece of the puzzle in for me. It was a shock to me when I came to the conclusion after almost 20 years that this piece of cloth was authentic. And I got there based solely on the science.

ZENIT:  Regarding the argument for authenticity, do the results from the 1988 radiocarbon dating remain a thorn in the Shroud’s side?

Schwortz: It is the primary piece of evidence that points in the opposite direction, but of course I had the benefit by 1988 of having more than 10 years of study, and I knew about historical objects like the Hungarian Pray Codex that indicate this cloth was around much earlier than the earliest dates given by the carbon dating. 

Now I’m not a physicist, so I didn’t necessarily understand why the radiocarbon dating was so skewed. It bothered me, and of course it was a huge setback because for the 10 years after we examined the cloth, the consensus publicly was, “This thing is probably real.” And then the carbon dating came out and it knocked it down. And from that point forward the world began to believe that it couldn’t be authentic. 

This was frustrating for me because the evidence is so powerful in my mind that this has to be the real thing.  As Sherlock Holmes said, “eliminate the impossible, and whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

ZENIT:  What would you say is the message or meaning of the Shroud?

Schwortz: I always say, the Shroud did not come with a book of instructions, and consequently, the meaning isn’t on the cloth but in the eye and in the heart of the beholder. Each person has to regard it, study it or not, and make up his own mind.  It’s not the kind of thing that forces itself upon you, and I think that’s as it should be.  It will not push to open your heart.  You have to open your heart to it. 

For me, once I came to the conclusion from the science that it was authentic, I came to understand how meaningful it is. This is like a forensic document of the Passion, and for Christians around the world this has got to be the most significant relic because it accurately documents everything that is told in the Gospels of what was done to Jesus.

I think that there’s plenty of evidence there to support the belief that this cloth wrapped the body of the historic Jesus.  It doesn’t speak to whether or not he was the Messiah. Again, that’s a test not so much for science but for faith.                                                                         

ZENIT:  Was your progressive discovery of Shroud data accompanied by a journey of faith?

Schwortz: When I first got involved, I was ... well, I don’t have a label for it. I knew about God, but I didn’t really think about God.  I hadn’t thought about God since I was 13 and had my bar mitzvah, and there was really no real religious foundation for that. It was almost an obligation to my family.  It was very important to them, but for me it didn’t have much significance. I walked away from faith and religion and God, and I really didn’t look back until I was almost 50 years old. 

Once I came to the conclusion that the Shroud was authentic, which was in 1995, I built shroud.com.  And in working with that and collecting this material and making it available to the public, I began to speak publically about the Shroud around 1996.  And as soon as I stood up and said, “I believe this is authentic,” the questions changed, and everyone asked me, “Well, what do you believe?” And they weren’t talking about the Shroud.  They were talking about faith in God. 

For me this has always been about the truth and about being honest with people and making it available even if it doesn’t represent my personal beliefs. I think all Christians have the right to know that the evidence does point to its authenticity. 

So when people started asking me what I believe, I didn’t have an answer. I was clueless to what I believed. I had not really regarded it in my life as an adult. It forced me to confront my beliefs for the first time. 

And it didn’t take very long because I was raised in an Orthodox Jewish home where God was part of everything every day, like Fiddler on the Roof.  So I came to the conclusion when I looked: God was there just patiently waiting for me to acknowledge him.  When I looked in my heart, he was there.  It was a shock.  I was really surprised to see that deep down inside I had this faith in a higher power, in God, all along.  It’s just that I had virtually ignored it through the first part of my adult life, and there at age 50, I suddenly came face to face with God in my own heart. 

And so the Shroud, in essence, was the catalyst for that.  How many Jews can say the Shroud of Turin brought them back to their faith in God?  It’s had great significance in my own life not just from the obvious intellectual point of view but also from a spiritual point of view, in that it reconnected me with something that’s very important to me, and that’s my own faith in God.

ZENIT:  What future goals do you have for shroud.com?

Schwortz: About three years ago, back in 2009, I formed a non-profit organization.  I was concerned that, should something happen to me, the ownership of these materials would come into question. 

I didn’t want to burden my son with trying to figure out what should be done with it, so I formed STERA, Shroud of Turin Education and Research Association. The primary function of STERA is to educate people through shroud.com, which just hit its 16th anniversary this year. 

Some of the other STURP team members who have passed away have left to me their collections, so our biggest upcoming project is to raise the funds to digitally archive all their materials, and ultimately make those available through shroud.com.  Once archived and in one place, future researchers can have access to this material at no cost.

I think that the future of STERA is to continue that work even when I am gone.  I have a great board of directors, with many well-known Shroud scholars.  Hopefully this will make it very clear after I’m gone that the ownership is not in question.  It belongs to STERA:  the Web site, all of my photographs.  All of that has been legally transferred to STERA so that, if something happens to me, the people are in place who can carry the work forward.