Oh, yeah, baby. Someone pointed out to me in a comment on another post that people are circulating a story now that some Italian scientists have “proved” that the Shroud of Turin is authentic because its carbon date was altered by neutron radiation from a giant earthquake in Judea in exactly 33 A.D. (which they also know to have been exactly 8.2 on the Richter scale, thanks to, uh, ancient Roman seismometers or something). This claim even appears, without any skepticism, at Science Daily. And somehow, upending the whole world order, the duly skeptical report on this tale comes from Fox News! The original study claiming these absurd things is A. Carpinteri, G. Lacidogna, and O. Borla, Is the Shroud of Turin in Relation to the Old Jerusalem Historical Earthquake? Meccanica (February 2014).
That is either a joke article, or these Italians at the Politecnico di Torino are some of the goofiest cranks in human history (it appears to be the latter, but it’s hard to tell–if this is a Poe, it’s pretty good; whereas the paper’s lead author appears to be an established crank). Not only is the science massively implausible (the effect would have been observed for all objects in earthquakes, then and now, as aptly pointed out by numerous scientists) but it also gets the history wrong: a previous geology report confirmed a large earthquake there for the 30s BC, not AD. The geological evidence of seismic activity for the 30s was of events so small as to have had no significant effects (and no earthquake is recorded for that region in the historical record at all–apart, of course, from one single document: the Gospel of Matthew…right…I’ll comment more on this in a moment, but see also my peer reviewed paper on Thallus, reproduced in Hitler Homer Bible Christ, cf. p. 328, n. 3 and 329, n. 5). The geological evidence is presented in Jefferson B. Williams, Markus J. Schwab and A. Brauer, An Early First-Century Earthquake in the Dead Sea, International Geology Review 54.10 (May 2012), pp. 1219-28.
The comments of scientists on this claim from Italy are particularly amusing. Because they reek of “duh.” From the Fox News report (emphasis mine)…
Even if it is theoretically possible for earthquake-generated neutrons to have caused this kind of reaction, the study doesn’t address why this effect hasn’t been seen elsewhere in the archaeological record, Gordon Cook, a professor of environmental geochemistry at the University of Glasgow, explained. “It would have to be a really local effect not to be measurable elsewhere,” Cook told Live Science. “People have been measuring materials of that age for decades now and nobody has ever encountered this.”
Christopher Ramsey, director of the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, had a similar issue with the findings. “One question that would need to be addressed is why the material here is affected, but other archaeological and geological material in the ground is not,” Ramsey wrote in an email. “There are huge numbers of radiocarbon dates from the region for much older archaeological material, which certainly don’t show this type of intense in-situ radiocarbon production (and they would be much more sensitive to any such effects).” Ramsey added that using radiocarbon dating to study objects from seismically active regions, such as regions like Japan, generally has not been problematic.
Indeed, a physicist informs us that the amount of neutron radiation required to produce the effects on carbon and nitrogen atoms their thesis entails might have been enough to have killed the entire population of Jerusalem. So, also, there’s that.
It is really very hard not to conclude these Italians are insane.
Or maybe this is really a big joke? Note that when they claim in their (supposedly peer reviewed!) paper that “different documents in the literature attest the occurrence of disastrous earthquakes in the ‘Old Jerusalem’ of 33 A.D., during the Christ’s death,” they then cite six sources, one of which is (I shit you not) Dante’s Inferno. No, seriously. Coming from an Italian publication, this almost gives the game away as a prank. Then they cite the “Gospels Acts, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John,” when in fact of these only Matthew mentions an earthquake (did they really think we wouldn’t check?). They also cite the Narrative of Joseph of Arimathea (uh, why?), which originates from the early Renaissance (it dates from the 13th century and obviously is drawing on the Gospels and thus not even in any possible sense a reliable or even corroborating source). They then cite two articles on Thallus, who in fact never placed any earthquake in Jerusalem–nor did Phlegon (Thallus’s probable source). At best Thallus (and certainly Phlegon) mentioned an earthquake five hundred miles away in Turkey, and for a different year (see my article above on this point, although it can be ascertained even from their cited sources). Then they cite two modern earthquake catalogs (and later one at NOAA), which simply repeat the above (so they are citing the same evidence three times!).
So, when we look at all six citations (plus as well the NOAA website’s source list), we end up with in fact not “different documents” but only exactly just one: the Gospel of Matthew. Who was obviously making it up. So are we being punked?
I should also mention that even apart from that, the very statement “the occurrence of disastrous earthquakes in the Old Jerusalem of 33 A.D., during the Christ’s death” is already full of ass sandwiches. The Gospels disagree on what year the crucifixion occurred, and none is specific enough to know the year was 33 even if any of the Gospels is telling the truth, and the only one that allows it could have been in 33 doesn’t mention any earthquake. John’s account, the least reliable and lacking any mention of an earthquake, entails the year was either 30 or 33 (thus even he does not definitely pin the year as 33); the Synoptics, that it was either 27 or 34, not 33, and only one of which, Matthew, mentions an earthquake. Luke evidently had never heard of it or concluded Matthew made it up, which is most likely since Matthew’s actual source, Mark, lacks any mention of it, and it has an obvious source in scripture (it comes from Amos 8:8-9), and despite breaking the very rocks (Mt. 27:51), wasn’t noticed by anyone.
I’ll offer in support of the “they’re punking us” thesis these howlers:
They pause to tell us, in this peer reviewed, science journal article (I swear I’m not making this up), that this earthquake that in fact no one documented and Matthew made up “also would have involved to a total cost for the reconstruction that, if the current dollar amount of damages were listed, it would be between 1.0 and 5.0 million dollars.” WTF? Okay, pause to laugh before continuing.
It gets worse. They say their sources (in fact the earthquake catalogs, per above) report “the Old Jerusalem earthquake is classified as an average devastating seismic event that…also destroyed the City of Nisaea [they mean Nicea], the port of Megara, located at west of the Isthmus of Corinth.” Holy mother puss buckets. Can that line really have ever been written by someone not kidding? Where do I begin. Nicea is in Turkey. Hundreds of miles east of Corinth (in fact entirely on the opposite side of Greece from Corinth, and across an entire sea, which the humans call the Aegean), and Megara (which, needless to add, is not Nicea nor even on the same continent as Nicea) is not west of Corinth (or the Isthmus thereof), but east of it. And being in Greece, this is still nowhere near Jerusalem. And they claim this earthquake that wreaked havoc in Jerusalem also destroyed Nicea and (?) Megara in 33 AD.
So, what they are claiming is an earthquake, which toppled cities across basically the entirety of the Eastern Roman Empire (simultaneously devastating the entire regions of Palestine, Turkey, and Greece), that no one in antiquity ever noticed or was in any way affected by. I am nearly persuaded these authors cannot have meant to have said this in anything but grand jest.
Certainly, the fact that they confuse the words of the 3rd century Christian author Julius Africanus (who was merely elaborating on Matthew’s Gospel narrative) as those of Thallus could be blamed on incompetence and thus isn’t so obviously a joke. I mean, scientists (European ones even…shit, Italian no less) certainly could not really mistake the locations and relative distances of Corinth, Megara, Nicea, and Jerusalem. That would be literally fucking insane. Whereas scientists botching ancient history is practically expected.
But when we get to explaining why they cite Dante, we’re back in they-must-be-punking-us territory:
Since most scholars [!] believe that the journey of Dante began on the anniversary of the Christ’s death, during the Jubilee of 1300, the chronology goes back to 33 A.D., on the Friday when, according to tradition, Christ was put to death. Therefore, it was the earthquake after the Christ’s death to cause disasters and crashes, including the Sanctuary of Jerusalem, and the wing of the Solomon’s Temple [they cite no source for these peculiar details–ed.].
Now, set aside the shitty English grammar, what they seem to be claiming–let me again add in a science journal–is that Dante actually traveled back in time (literally and actually, not metaphorically) and therefore is an eyewitness source attesting to this earthquake. Surely this can only be a joke? [Possibly they mean that Dante didn’t go back in time but actually visited hell and actually heard from an eyewitness–a demon–a report of the earthquake, as is related in Inferno XXI.106-16. Surely no more likely to be a serious suggestion in a peer reviewed science journal.]
There may be all kinds of other howlers in their article. I grew tired of fact-checking. Peer reviewed bona fide insanity, inexplicable fraud, or weird prank? You decide.