Whether or not the shroud is Christ’s, it is an extracanonical witness to his death.

John H. Heller, Southern Baptist and biophysicist, does not particularly care whether the Shroud of Turin is the authentic burial garment of the crucified Christ. “My belief in Christ is an article of faith, and I see no reason to extend that faith to a piece of cloth. It’s not required,” he explains. Yet, Heller the biophysicist is fascinated with the scientific enigma the shroud poses.

His participation over the past several years with the Shroud of Turin Research Project (STURP) has now resulted in a book, Report on the Shroud of Turin, that documents what went on behind the scenes of STURP’s investigation. For 120 hours in 1978, a team of 40 scientists performed a battery of tests on the linen cloth, which is housed at Turin, Italy. All but one or two of them fully expected to expose it as a medieval fake—a relic forged to dupe the faithful, like slivers of the true cross.

However, the 14-foot length of fabric, bearing a faint negative image of a battered man, refused to yield its secrets to space-age techniques. The scientists concluded that the shroud is no forgery, cannot be reproduced by any known means, bears traces of real blood and dirt, and casts a startling three-dimensional human likeness when it is subjected to photographic-image analysis (that is the technique used in astronomy to project lifelike photographs of planets). It was Heller who discovered the presence of actual blood on the shroud, using a technique he helped develop at the New England Institute.

“I started out very arrogant,” Heller recalls. “Nobody could have convinced me that there was any way the shroud could have eluded a scientific answer. Scientists do one ...

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