Joseph W. Bergeron

The Shroud of Turin: An Examination of the Man (Part 1)

Joseph W. Bergeron M.D. | 10 August 2021 | 7 min read

The Shroud of Turin is a relic extraordinaire.[1] It’s a linen cloth containing the front and back images of a crucified man matching the biblical descriptions of Jesus.[2] Controversy surrounds the Shroud of Turin. Many believe it to be the cloth used to wrap Jesus’ body after crucifixion. Others wonder whether it’s merely an elaborate hoax.

In this post, we’ll focus not on the Shroud of Turin’s origins but rather on a medical description of the man whose image it bears, including a forensic analysis and a comparison to known Roman crucifixion practices. Later, in part 2, we’ll examine the physical characteristics of the cloth, its age, and how the image may have formed.

An oil painting of the empty tomb and the linen cloths of Jesus

Roman Crucifixion

The crucifixion process began with the condemned being placed in the custody of a specialized team consisting of a group of soldiers supervised by a centurion. Scourges were made of leather strips with lead balls sown into the ends. Multiple soldiers participated in scourging the victim.[3] Jesus’ beatings were doubly severe since he was beaten at the home of the Jewish High Priest before being delivered to the Romans for scourging prior to crucifixion.[4] Jesus was sentenced to death as a political insurgent: “the King of the Jews.”[5] This title heightened the ire of his Roman executioners who would have perceived Jesus’s crime as defiance of Caesar.[6]

Roman executioners forced the condemned victim to carry the short, horizontal section of the cross (the patibulum) to the execution site. After nailing the victim’s hands to the patibulum, they lifted it with the victim attached and placed it on top of the stationary vertical section (the stipes) secured by a mortise and tenon joint. They then nailed the victim’s feet to the stipes.[7]

In most cases, the corpse was left on the cross to be eaten by scavenging animals,[8] but upon request it could be obtained for burial instead. Prior to the body being released, it was likely common for the executioners to administer a coup de grâce to assure the victim was dead.[9] Accordingly, before Jesus’ body was taken down a spear was driven through his chest.[10] Additionally, the Roman governor of Judaea, Pontius Pilate required verification of Jesus’ death before the body could be released for burial.[11]

Burial Preparation

It appears that the man in the Shroud of Turin was washed before being wrapped.[12] This is consistent with known Jewish funerary customs in the Second Temple period. Burial was completed the same day as the death. The body was washed, anointed with oils or perfumes, and wrapped in a shroud. Spices were placed within the shroud, sprinkled over the bier, or left in the burial site.[13] Jesus was buried according to the Jewish customs of his time.[14] The Gospels state that his body was wrapped in linen cloth.[15]

Jesus was buried hurriedly after a cursory and incomplete preparation due to his death occurring late on Friday, the eve of the Jewish Sabbath during Passover week. Women returned to Jesus’ tomb on Sunday to complete the burial preparation with spices and perfumes they had compounded.[16] According to biblical accounts, the women found burial cloths in the tomb, but Jesus’ body was gone.[17]

Examination of the Man of the Shroud

The Shroud of Turin bares front and back images depicting a naked, bearded, long-haired man about 183 cm (~6 feet) tall.[18] The man likely weighed  approximately 70 kg (~154 lbs). Tortuous streams of blood are noted in the matted hair, front and back.[19] Hair appears by the sides of the face. The neck is not visible. There is swelling of the forehead, brows, right upper lip, and jaw. The nasal cartilage is separated.[20] The right eyelid may be torn.[21] Hands are placed below the umbilicus (navel). Thumbs are not visible. There are more than 100 scourge marks. The right shoulder is lower than the left with abrasions noted on both shoulders.[22] There is a large oval chest wound between the right fifth and sixth ribs.[23] Blood flow is visible from the chest wound, scalp, and both hands and feet.

Forensic Analysis

The Shroud of Turin images depict multiple blows to the face consistent with descriptions in the biblical account.[24] Blood streams from the scalp indicate puncture wounds consistent with a crown of thorns.[25] Scourge marks match the size and shape of the lead pieces Romans sewed into the ends of their whips. The scourge marks are also bidirectional, appearing to come from both sides of the body, suggesting a team of executioners.[26]

The chest wound is consistent with spear penetration, which would collapse the lung and rupture the right chambers of the heart. Copious drainage from the chest wound suggests blood mixing with a pleural effusion (fluid collection around the lung, typically clear). The presence of a clear pleural effusion and subsequent cardiac rupture is also suggested in the biblical description.[27] A smudge of dried blood or clot appears below the chest wound. Blood drains from the chest wound to the back, indicating the body was laid supine after being wrapped. Blood flow from the hands and feet are consistent with nail punctures.[28]

The neck and legs appear flexed. This is best explained by rigor mortis, which can occur rapidly when the victim is in a high metabolic state at the moment of death, often the case in violent death.[29] Nails through the wrists would tether thumb abductor muscles, flexing the thumbs over the palms, which explains why the thumbs are not seen in the image. Rigor mortis at the shoulders was overcome in order to reposition the arms in front of the body.

The Greater Meaning

The Shroud of Turin portrays an accurate depiction of Roman crucifixion. Moreover, the image of the man matches the unique features of Jesus’ execution recounted in the biblical accounts. Questions of authenticity aside, the Shroud of Turin offers a visual representation of the suffering and death of Jesus Christ and points to the greater significance of God’s forgiveness.

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.”[30]

Suggested Readings

Bergeron, Joseph B. The Crucifixion of Jesus: A Medical Doctor Examines the Death and Resurrection of Christ. Rapid City, SD: Crosslink Publishers, 2019.

The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the employees and members of Ratio Christi South Africa.


[1] This article was originally published at www.reasons.org.

[2] Matthew 27:27–50; Mark 16:16–37; Luke 23:26–46; John 19:1–30.

[3] Joseph W. Bergeron, The Crucifixion of Jesus: A Medical Doctor Examines the Death and Resurrection of Christ (Rapid City, SD: Crosslink, 2019), 92.

[4] Matthew 26:67.

[5] Matthew 27:37.

[6] Mark 15:16-20.

[7] Bergeron, The Crucifixion of Jesus, 93.

[8] Ibid., p. 143.

[9] Ibid., p. 178 n281.

[10] John 19:34.

[11] Mark 15:45.

[12] Frederick T. Zugibe, “The Man of the Shroud Was Washed,” Sindon N.S., Quad. No. 1, June 1989 (accessed February 2, 2021). See also, Frederick T. Zugibe, The Crucifixion of Jesus: A Forensic Inquiry (New York: M. Evans, 2005), 218–27.

[13] Rachel Hachlili, Jewish Funerary Customs, Practices and Rites in the Second Temple Period (Leiden: Brill, 2005), 480.

[14] John 19:40.

[15] Matthew 27:59; Mark 15:46; Luke 23:52.

[16] Luke 23:52–24:1.

[17] Luke 24:12 & John 20:2–9.

[18] Zugibe, The Crucifixion of Jesus, p. 190–91.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid., p. 192.

[21] Ibid., p. 179.

[22] Ibid., p. 195.

[23] Ibid., p. 196.

[24] Matthew 26:67, 27:30.

[25] Mark 15:17.

[26] Zugibe, The Crucifixion of Jesus, p. 195. Also see John 19:1 & Mark 15:15-16.

[27] John 19:34.

[28] John 20:24-27.

[29] Zugibe, The Crucifixion of Jesus, p. 189 & 212.

[30] Ephesians 1:7.

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