New claims that pollen grains on the Shroud of Turin link it to pre-eighth-century Jerusalem were made in August by researchers at the International Botanical Congress in St. Louis. In fact, the claims are based on earlier, scientifically discredited data.

Here is a brief review of some of the claims that were reported uncritically by the Associated Press and other media sources.

Pollens: It was reported that pollens on the shroud proved it came from Palestine, but the source for the pollens was a freelance criminologist, Max Frei, who once pronounced the forged “Hitler Diaries” genuine. Frei’s tape-lifted samples from the Shroud were controversial from the outset, since similar samples taken by the Shroud of Turin Research Project in 1978 had comparatively few pollens.

As it turned out, after Frei’s tapes were examined following his death in 1983, they also had very few pollens — except for a particular one that bore a suspicious cluster on the “lead” (or end), rather than on the portion that had been applied to the shroud. (“Skeptical Inquirer” magazine, Summer 1994 pp. 379-385.)

Floral images: Accompanying the unscientific pollen evidence were claims that faint plant images have been “tentatively” identified on the shroud. These follow previous “discoveries” of “Roman coins” over the eyes and even Latin and Greek words, such as “Jesus” and “Nazareth”, that some researchers see, Rorschach-like, in the shroud’s mottled stains. The floral images were reported by a psychiatrist who has taken up image analysis and made other discredited claims about the shroud image.

Blood: The Associated Press reported claims that the shroud bears type AB blood stains. Perhaps this erroneous information has its origin in other fake shrouds of Jesus, since the Shroud of Turin’s stains are not only suspiciously red (unlike genuine blood that blackens with age) but have failed batteries of tests by internationally known forensic experts. The “blood” has been definitively proved to be composed of red ocher and vermilion tempera paint.

Oviedo cloth: Uncritical reportage suggested the Shroud of Turin gained credibility by being linked to another notorious cloth, the Sudarium of Oviedo, which some believe was the “napkin” that covered Jesus’ face.

Unfortunately, like other “relics” of Jesus (some 40 shrouds, vials of his blood and tears, and other products of medieval relic-mongering), the Oviedo cloth is of questionable provenance. It has no historical record prior to the eighth century and, in contrast to the shroud, lacks a facial image.

The supposed matching of bloodstains on the Turin and Oviedo cloths is but another exercise in wishful thinking. As to the alleged matchup of pollens, once again the evidence comes from the questionable tapes of Max Frei.

Dating: The assertion that blood and pollen matching prove the Shroud of Turin dates to at least the eighth century is, based on the evidence, absurd. The shroud cloth was radiocarbon dated to circa 1260-1390 by three separate laboratories. The date is consistent with a fourteenth-century bishop’s report to Pope Clement VII that an earlier bishop had discovered the forger and that he had confessed.

Conclusion: As in the past, claims that the Turin cloth may be authentic are simply based on “shroud science” — an approach that begins with the desired answer.

In contrast, genuine science demonstrates emphatically that the shroud image is the work of a medieval artist and that the cloth never held a body, let alone that of Jesus.

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