The Shroud of Turin continues to sell tickets

Charles Freeman has an article in History Today about the Shroud of Turin. He tells me the subject is neglected by academics, and “the absurd ideas of the authenticists are given full and virtually unchallenged internet space.” He adds that National Geographic is especially bad on this, maintaining “the idea that there is something inherently mysterious about the Shroud when in fact an afternoon in a conservation lab – which would find the traces of gesso and paint – would probably sort things out.” He gave me carte blanche to use the article, so have a feast.

A RECTANGULAR linen cloth 4.37 metres long and 1.13 metres wide, the Turin Shroud, housed in that city’s cathedral since 1578, is famous for its two images of a mutilated man, appar-ently naked, one of his front, with the arms crossed over the genital area, the other of his back. The wounds resemble those of a crucifixion, with an additional wound in the side similar to the one inflicted on Jesus when he was on the cross (John 19:34). Here we have negative images of Christ’s body as if they had been transferred from the body to the cloth. The linen is woven in a three-to-one herringbone twill, one of the many variations that weavers in wool, linen and silk were capable of from ancient times. The folded Shroud was heavily damaged in a fire of 1532 and the burn marks remain prominent.

There is enough uncertainty about the Shroud’s origins to convince some that it is the actual burial shroud of Christ. The mystery is deepened by the claim that no artefact has ever been the subject of so much research. However, when the scope of this research is considered, it is obvious that many areas of its history and the iconography of its images have not been fully explored. For example, the Shroud of Turin Research Project (STURP), which examined the Shroud in 1978, when it was still owned by the Savoy family, did not have a single expert in the history of relic cults, techniques of ancient weaving or the iconography of medieval painting on its team. No one appears to have investigated the kinds of loom, ancient or medieval, on which a cloth of this size may have been woven. Nor has anyone closely examined the many early depictions and descriptions of the Shroud that illustrate features now lost.

[Read more…]

Guest post: Sharia Police and Impunity: Will President Buhari Tackle Radical Islam in Northern Nigeria?

Guest post by Leo Igwe.

Muhammadu Buhari promised to address, if elected to the office of the president, the widespread insecurity occasioned by Boko Haram in Northern Nigeria. Now he has been elected and sworn in as the president of the country, will he do that? I want to quickly point out that it would be a grave mistake if Buhari reduces the problem of insecurity in Northern Nigeria to the Boko Haram uprising. No it is not. Insecurity in Northern Nigeria is more than the violent campaign of these Islamic militants. Boko Haram is an offshoot of a vicious ideology that is pervasive in the region – that is radical Islam. The violent attacks by this jihadist group are just a tip of the iceberg of fanaticism and bigotry. They are the latest manifestations of the sinister infestation of radical Islam

So, will Buhari address the pervasive issue of Islamic extremism in Northern Nigeria? Or is he going to focus mainly on defeating Boko Haram militants in Sambisa forest when there are Boko Haramic elements across the region? Take for instance the state sponsored sharia police. There is overwhelming evidence that these sharia enforcement units in the northern states are abusing the rights of innocent citizens with impunity. They destroy the goods of traders, arrest those ‘attempting’ to perform gay marriage, and force Muslims to fast during Ramadan. Some days ago they called for the execution of blasphemers. [Read more…]

A Faustian pact with state power

Alan Strathern wrote a backgrounder piece for the BBC on why Buddhist monks attack Muslims a couple of years ago.

Of all the moral precepts instilled in Buddhist monks the promise not to kill comes first, and the principle of non-violence is arguably more central to Buddhism than any other major religion. So why have monks been using hate speech against Muslims and joining mobs that have left dozens dead?

This is happening in two countries separated by well over 1,000 miles of Indian Ocean – Burma and Sri Lanka. It is puzzling because neither country is facing an Islamist militant threat. Muslims in both places are a generally peaceable and small minority.

But there’s always something. There’s always some pretext for attacking an otherized group. [Read more…]

Fierce Buddhism

Buddhism is in many ways an exception among religions…but it’s not always as much of an exception as it could should would be. The BBC considers this unsurprising fact.

The principle of non-violence is central to Buddhist teachings, but in Sri Lanka some Buddhist monks are being accused of stirring up hostility towards other faiths and ethnic minorities. Their hard line is causing increasing concern.

Are they simply being accused of doing that, or are they in fact doing it? The second sentence seems to say they are.

[U]pstairs, a burly monk in a bright orange robe holds forth – for this is one of the main offices of a hard-line Buddhist organisation, the Bodu Bala Sena or Buddhist Power Force (BBS). [Read more…]

Locked in a room

Taslima tweeted an article in the Times of India: Bangladeshi blogger gets death threat on Facebook.

He will be ‘The Next’, Ananya Azad was warned on a social networking site. A day after ‘The Guardian’ broke the story of how the 25-year-old Bangladeshi blogger was living a life of fear, Ananya spoke exclusively to TOI on Friday.

Speaking from Dhaka, Ananya – who is on a hit list containing the names of 84 atheist bloggers – said: “I am no stranger to death threats and bloodshed.

“My father, author Humayun Azad, was attacked on the streets. But what shocked me was the nature of threat that I got on Facebook. It addressed my father as ‘Nastiker sardar’. It means the leader of atheists. It said being his son, I would meet a gruesome death. My throat would be slashed at Dhaka University’s Raju Bhaskarjya!”

[Read more…]

Jennifer Cody Epstein’s letter to the anti-Charlie Hebdo faction

I have permission to publish the letter that Jennifer Cody Epstein sent to her colleagues who organized the petition opposing the PEN award to Charlie Hebdo. In it she describes doing what I wish more people had done: finding out more and changing her thinking as a result.

Herewith that letter:

Dear Colleagues:

Six days ago I received your petition protesting PEN’s decision to award Charlie Hebdo with its 2015 Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award. I added my name to the list based on a number of factors, chief among them the fact that while I was sickened by the fatal repercussions of Hebdo’s repeated lampooning of Islam, I was also deeply troubled by the idea that a magazine that seemed to cater shamelessly to Islamophobia (in a nation that has already banned the hajib from its schools, no less) might be celebrated in any way for its work. I was also influenced by the fact that I am currently at work on a historical novel set in Nazi Germany, and found Hebdo’s visual similarities to Der Sturmer jarring, to say the least.

Over the past week, however, I’ve found myself doing further research and considerable soul-searching, and have come to the somewhat chastening conclusion that my decision, while well-intentioned, was misinformed and (quite frankly) wrong. [Read more…]

“So I crossed out ‘Jews’ and I put ‘Trinity College Cambridge’.”

Newsweek Europe does a rather silly interview with Dawkins.

With no good evidence whatsoever, I sense in him the potential for great anger.

“Other people have said that. I don’t believe it. Anger isn’t the right word.”


“No. I do use ridicule a lot.”

“Waspishness” is how it strikes me. He gets irritable easily, and it manifests as waspish retorts – or, as he says, ridicule.

Ridicule is tricky, especially for someone like him. That’s why Dear Muslima was so odd: it apparently never crossed his mind that that level of waspish irritable ridicule of someone way below him in the pecking order might be not so much ridicule as bullying. By “someone like him” in this case I mean someone with his level of fame and, in many quarters, adulation. [Read more…]