Magical Earthquake Ray Beams Caused the Shroud of Turin

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.


  1. hannahs dad says

    ” Luke evidently had never heard of it or concluded Matthew made it up …”
    Hmm, does this indicate you are a Q sceptic?

    • says


      (For what it’s worth, IMO, the case against Q is damningly decisive; I am convinced anyone who says otherwise is lost in a desperate delusion, because for some ulterior reason they “need” Q to exist. I only sometimes entertain the “possibility” of Q so as to avoid triggering cognitive error in the delusional or those who aren’t aware they are following the opinions of the delusional. BTW, experts are coming around. I mention some of the most damning arguments against it in On the Historicity of Jesus.)

  2. Dunc says

    Do they say anything about whether this “hypothesis” explains why the shroud appears to show a projected image on a flat surface, rather than having the distortions you’d expect if it was actually wrapped around or draped over the body, or whether it explains the bizarre proportions of the image?

    • says

      Sort of. The paper has a whole section addressing that, but I got tired of vetting this joke of a paper, so I skipped over that part. If anyone who knows about the recent work on artistic production of the Shroud wants to read that section of their paper and fisk it in comments here, I would not at all mind.

  3. says

    I guess the quake also arranged the linen fabric into a herringbone weave, because that was not a weaving technique people had figured out, yet, at the time of alleged jesus’ alleged burial.

    I’d have expected the radiation sickness would have garnered some attention. How would you even go about changing the isotope breakdown in a existing object, anyhow? I bet that’d require big glowing towers and humming arcs and sciency stuff.

  4. hannahs dad says

    No need to respond, I found this in the article below.

    “the hypothetical Q document (which I don’t even believe existed), ..”

  5. says

    Apologies for being a bit off topic, but… what’s the best resource for skeptics on the Shroud of Turin? Every search I try brings me to believers, including scientists who claim to have actually worked on it and decided to become Catholic after their “tests” on the Shroud. All these believers accounts are getting frustrating, and I really want to see stuff from skeptics… especially if those skeptics are some of the lucky few who have actually got to perform tests on it and are still skeptical.

    The reason I’m asking is because my mom’s side of the family is Catholic, and while they are very accepting of my atheism (I’m pretty sure my mom’s dad just likes debating things :D), they love to bring up the Shroud of Turin around me because I honestly don’t have much information on it.

    • says

      This is not my specialty, so there may be better stuff available now, so if anyone reading this has recommendations to add, please add them (reply to Nate’s comment above and it will thread under mine). What I list in my usual biblio on this:


      Steven Schafersman’s Skeptical Shroud of Turin Website, the Skeptic’s Dictionary entry on the Shroud of Turin, and now Bad Archaeology has a page on it, too.

      Available on kindle…

      Walter McCrone, Judgment Day for the Shroud of Turin, rev. ed. (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1999) [kindle]

      Harry Gove, Relic, Icon or Hoax? Carbon Dating the Turin Shroud (Philadelphia, PA: Institute of Physics, 1996) [kindle]

      This is not available electronically, but is a valuable resource:

      Joe Nickell, Inquest on the Shroud of Turin: Latest Scientific Findings (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1998).

    • Reginald Selkirk says

      The resources RC lists are good, but there are more recent developments. Review Wikipedia or search for recent comments by Joe Nickell.

      Vanillin dating

      In 2005, Raymond Rogers published a paper in Thermochimica Acta, claiming to have got hold of samples of the shroud and to have tested them for vanillin content. This is based on the contention that lignin, a plant fiber, breaks down over time into vanillin (the active ingrediant of vanilla flavoring). Surprise, surprise, the dates Rogers come up with are exactly what he wanted, and he uses this to cast doubt on the earlier radiocarbon dating, which was based on multiple samples sent to multiple labs.

      Lignin-vanillin dating is not an an established technique. Other than Rogers’ paper on the shroud, I know of no other scientific paper which claims to have used this technique.

    • says

      If I can get enough resources, I think I want to do a blog post basically collecting and linking to those resources, along with quotes and such, in order to create a skeptical view of the Shroud of Turin, both for myself and for anyone else who might be interested. The links posted so far are great.

      I’ll credit everyone who helps, of course.

    • kevinalexander says


      the shroud does not conform to anything like the normal proportions of a human body, but does conform to the artistic conventions of the Gothic period.

      Obviously Jesus himself had Gothic proportions. Also, he had that black eyeliner and pale makeup and talked about death a lot.
      How can you skeptics explain an anachronism like that?

  6. busterggi says

    Yes there are some problems with their hypothesis but it would explain the rising of the dead and their attack on Jerusalem which is a known result of neutron radiation (Romero, 1968).

  7. Matt Gerrans says

    “That would be literally fucking insane.” — An interesting variety of insanity there.

    So if we assume this article wasn’t from the Italian version of The Onion and we accept all the “facts” that you debunked above, it seems like it still doesn’t make sense. Is that idea that putting a cloth on a dead person’s face will create an image of a face on the cloth, then magical rays from an earthquake will cause the cloth to appear to have the carbon-dated age of some point hundreds of years in the future? That is some real creative out-of-the-box thinking.

  8. Andrew Brown says

    By “journey of Dante,” I think they are referring to Dante’s trip to the “underworld,” i.e. Sicilian lava caves, in 1300.
    They don’t mean Dante journeyed back in time, though what Dante has to do with the death of Jesus or the Shroud is perhaps a question best left to an expert, like Dan Brown or William Lane Craig.

    But hey, the article’s peer-reviewed. So it must be true.

    • says

      Right, I think they mean Dante actually crossed into an alternate dimension (i.e. the hell he then proceeds to describe) in which he met an eyewitness (a demon who was there at the time) who tells him that the earthquake in question broke a rock in hell that Dante observed himself (Inferno XXI.106-16). I’ll amend my article to include that possibility.

  9. Darkling says

    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.

    Wouldn’t an 8.2 magnitude earthquake in proximity to Jerusalem at a time before modern building codes were in effect have had a similar effect? An 8.2 earthquake is not a small event.

    • says

      Well, sure. That’s covered under the general point that “no one noticed this earthquake somehow.”

      I don’t think it would kill the entire population, but it would wreak vast havoc and no doubt have killed a hundred thousand or more.

  10. Reginald Selkirk says

    “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?

    I don’t know how they would even go about that calculation. They would have to know not just the severity but also the extent of the quake, and how close it was to populated areas. Infrastructure at the time was simpler, so there would be no phone service or natural gas lines to repair. Building construction was more crude. This looks like a case of orifice extraction.

    • says

      That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Are they accounting for inflation? What is their benchmark? Are they using a source for ancient construction costs? But despite your point about infrastructure being more elaborate today, if the earthquake leveled three vast regions (Greece, Turkey, and Palestine…and we’d have to assume Syria and Crete etc., being between them), their estimate is surely absurdly low, even by ancient standards.

      I’d also add that it does not necessarily follow that modern infrastructure is more expensive to build, since we have vastly improved our productivity due to such things as computers, electricity, internal combustion, and machines, as well as modernized efficiencies of scale (e.g. CalTrans is a huge well-oiled operation). Although, on the other hand, comparative labor costs are a vexation to untangle, not only because ancient construction employed slaves (do you calculate the cost of their time as a function of lost labor elsewhere in the market?) but wasn’t exactly well unionized either (a builder in 33 AD might have been grossly underpaid relative to one in a Western democracy today), while on yet another hand, materials transport was vastly more expensive then than now (getting building materials to a leveled city would have in those days costs hundreds or thousands of times more than today, and I may be under-estimating by orders of magnitude–one would have to crunch some numbers using comparative evidence from the historical record).

      But, yeah. You got the picture.

  11. Pierce R. Butler says

    … no earthquake is recorded for that region in the historical record at all…

    … [Roman emperor] Julian decided to strike a blow against Christianity by the simple if astounding feat of rebuilding the [Jerusalem] Temple and thus permitting the Jews to resume the rituals of animal sacrifice to the God of Israel that had been abandoned nearly 300 years before. … The work on the temple was interrupted, according to the ancient chronicles, by a series of ominous mishaps. First came torrential rains; then an earthquake caused the stonework to tumble and crush several of the workers. …

    — Jonathan Kirsch, God Against the Gods: The History of the War Between Monotheism and Polytheism, pg 261

    Kirsch cites one Ammianus regarding subsequent fires, but does not specify which “ancient chronicle(s)” describe the alleged quake.

    • Pierce R. Butler says

      It wouldn’t – but that last three words did not appear in the statement I started off by quoting –

      … no earthquake is recorded for that region in the historical record at all…

      Given your usual attention to detail, the lack of specific chronological qualifications in that sweeping statement leave it open to contradiction by any report of local Poseidon-tantrums at any time since the invention of writing.

      An online debate partner and I went round’n’round some years ago about her contention that the Moses-on-the-mountain story derived from a volcano cult, which sent me on a hunt through lay-geology sources to a conclusion that the “Fertile Crescent” zone is as quiescent seismically as it is volatile politically. That ~362 shake that messed up the plans of Julian and the Jews (betcha he would’ve been declared a messiah if it had worked) stuck in my mind both for its historical consequences and its rarity.

    • says

      It’s called context. Don’t make irrelevant arguments. I obviously could not possibly have been referring to completely irrelevant earthquakes. If you don’t get that, I can’t help you.

  12. ignorantamos says

    The problem with this sort of rot, prank or not, is that a large amount of ignorant believers will gobble it up for breakfast. I’ve been in enough discourse with believers on the subject of the SOT to know that they lap up all sorts of balderdash when it favours the veracity of the relic, but like all thins religious, disregard the contrary bona fide empiricism.

    I must take exception to the assertion that the paper is some excellent Poe. It doesn’t need the addition of a ‘winking smiley’ to show it to be the work of idiots or the insane…for all the reasons outlined in the OP…and a bit of common sense too of course.

  13. Phillip Hallam-Baker says

    The neutron radiation killing the whole population of Jerusalem reminds me of the cold fusion fiasco. I was at Oxford University at the time in the Nuclear Physics lab. So as you might imagine, rather a lot of discussion.

    The head of department, Perkins immediately dismissed the claims as bogus because the researchers would be dead from neutron radiation if the claims were true. Then he made the researchers at Rutherford Appleton spend two weeks stacking blocks of concrete and lead round their duplicate of the experiment which meant their debunking was delayed over some of the competitors.

    Which was round about the same time as the Turin shroud results came out. Oxofrd was one of the labs. So in the Union cellar one night a guy did a spoof by sticking a sheet over his head and then painting over himself with a roller. Came out surprisingly good…

    Given the number of fake shrouds in circulation at the time, why are people so wound up about this particular one? The first time it is mentioned it is described as a wicked forgery…

  14. tbrandt says

    I just posted a basic physics explanation over at Ed’s blog as to how ridiculous the fission claim is. Reposting here:

    Take a look at the peer reviewed paper here, specifically, at the decays in Equations (1) and (2). These require the decay of Iron 56, the most stable nucleus in existence. They are endothermic reactions, to the tune of 40–60 MeV (~1 MeV/nucleon). To put that into perspective, it is comparable to the energy released per nucleon in deuterium/tritium fusion (i.e. an H-bomb). Carpinteri proposes that earthquakes trigger endothermic reactions that absorb the energy released by 20 tons of TNT per gram of iron reacted. Besides this, he makes no proposal of how to concentrate 40 MeV into an iron nucleus. If you want to do that by heating it up, you’ll need to reach a temperature of about 10 billion Kelvin. These temperatures do not occur in earthquakes, and are indeed about 10,000 times higher than the temperature in the Sun’s core. Temperatures like this occur only in a few places, for example in the cores of massive stars while they are collapsing to form neutron stars.

    Carpinteri appears to be a classic crackpot. One other tidbit: the editor in chief at the journal in question is at Carpinteri’s institute.

  15. jpf says

    “the City of Nisaea [they mean Nicea], the port of Megara, located at west of the Isthmus of Corinth.”

    They apparently meant exactly what they typed:
    “Nisaea (Ancient Greek: Νίσαια) was the main port of ancient Megara.”
    “It possessed two harbors, Pegae, to the west on the Corinthian Gulf and Nisaea, to the east on the Saronic Gulf of the Aegean Sea.”

    You’ve just misread the sentence, which would be clearer as: “City of Nisaea, which is the port of Megara, etc.”. They did get the side of the isthmus wrong, though.

  16. says

    Would it be worth the trouble – or has anyone thought of this yet – to go ahead and create a large-scale Grand Poe, just to demonstrate the way that creationists will swallow just about anything so long as it conforms to their existing belief template?

    I’ll bet there are some folks who would have a great time with that idea, and do a really good job of it. They could sprinkle in some legitimate PhD’s (with doctorates in, say, music engineering, ceramic sciences, physical education, etc) who claim to be absolutely certain that the universe was created 6000 years ago. They could cite actual research papers that appear in peer-reviewed science journals (which would have nothing to do with creationism – of course 99% of creationists wouldn’t bother to even check). They could cite studies that don’t exist, works of fiction, etc… It would be an interesting demonstration as to how eager creationists are to validate their worldview, particularly when they start citing elements of the Grand Poe in order to support their own arguments.

    I wouldn’t expect guys like yourself who do legitimate work to devote any real time to a project like that, but I’d be willing to bet that there are plenty of dudes who would do it just for fun. If I had the time or the savvy, I might have considered doing it myself.

    Considering how many “news” sources and Facebook jackasses cite articles from The Onion (and other satire sites) these days, believing them to be legitimate, I would be willing to bet that it would be a *very* short amount of time before creationists from all over begin citing sources from the Grand Poe, spreading them all over the blogosphere and twitterverse as validation of creationism. It would be hysterical.

  17. says

    There is something wrong with timing and dimensions here. If Matthews story is true (which seems very unlikely), the two earthquakes must have been minor ones. The one when Jesus died did not create any horror or panic among the people present at the crucifixion, even if some stones broke, some gravestones moved and a curtain in the Temple was ripped apart.. The other at resurrection time did not scare the two Marias away from the tomb, and it was the angel, not the earthquake that moved the stone away from the tomb. Not nearly a size 8.2 earthquake which would be required for the release of neutrons to make the impression on the linen shroud. When the first earthquake happened, Jesus had just died and was not wrapped in any linen, by the time of the second, he had already risen and taken off the shroud, the only item left in the tomb. So at the time of the earthquakes, Jesus was not wrapped up in the shroud, and no imprint could be made. So Jesus presumably walked around naked or else where would he find fresh clothes on an early morning after the Sabbath? The story of the zombies walking around clearly states that this happened at the time of resurrection, not at the time of the first earthquake when Jesus died. Only Matthew entertains us with this wild story which of course considerably lowers his credibility. Details on the actual earthquakes here:

  18. kevinalexander says

    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

    It’s because Matthew used that hockey stick thingy in his graph so it was noticed but everyone denied it.

  19. says

    Solid reporting Richard. Indeed, the article conflates a 29 AD earthquake in Pontus and Bithynia that apparently was more or less concurrent with a solar eclipse with an earthquake described by Matthew 27 and 28. The Dead Sea is not capable of producing anything larger than a 7.0 – 7.5 magnitude earthquake and the earthquake we see in the sediments around 30 AD appears to have been between 6.0 and 6.5 with an epicenter in the southern part of the Dead Sea. This would have caused moderate shaking in Jerusalem (MMI Intensity of VI to VII).

    The 4th century earthquake referred to in the comments above is the 363 AD earthquake. There is some dispute among Geologists about this earthquake as there are damage reports well to the the north and to the south of the Dead Sea. Some think the deformation we see in the sediments is from two earthquakes (e.g. Kagan) but I am currently of the opinion that there was an earthquake with an epicenter to the south of the Dead Sea which did damage initial efforts to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem but the reports of cities being destroyed to the north (e.g. Galille Area) are largely or greatly exaggerated due to a religious motivation to show that “God was still mad at the Jews”. The report of the earthquuake was by Bishop Cyril of Jerusalem. Russel wrote a good paper about this in 1985.