A new study published in the journal Catholic Medical Quarterly claims to have discovered the specific cause of Jesus Christ’s death. He died from excessive bleeding caused by a severely dislocated shoulder, the study asserts, an injury he allegedly suffered while carrying the heavy cross upon which he was eventually crucified.
The author of this theory and the Catholic Medical Quarterly article is retired neurologist Patrick Pullicino, who closely analyzed data obtained from the Shroud of Turin , a controversial artifact reputed to be Jesus’s burial cloth. The 14-foot (4.4-meter)-long linen shroud features a faint but unmistakable image, resembling a photographic negative, of a bearded man whose eyes are closed, as if he is no longer alive. The man appears to have suffered wounds all over his body, many of which are consistent with a crucifixion. The linen cloth has several reddish-brown stains that could have come from blood.
Based on the damage he saw on photographs of the man on the shroud, Reverend Professor Pullicino concluded that this individual—presumed to be Jesus Christ—had suffered a shoulder dislocation so severe that it inevitably resulted in his death. The wounds suffered during the crucifixion were terrible, but even if the crucifixion had not taken place Pullicino believes Jesus would have still been doomed.
The Shroud of Turin: modern, digitally processed image of the face on the cloth [left] and the full body image as seen on the shroud [right]. (CC BY-SA 3.0 / Public Domain )
Jesus Was Doomed Before the Crucifixion
Rev. Prof. Pullicino traded in his doctor’s smock for a priest’s collar a few years ago. But his past experiences made him uniquely qualified to take a closer look at the death of Jesus Christ .
Pullicino’s work in this instance was actually a meta-analysis, of previous studies carried out by forensic and medical experts who had access to high-quality images of the Shroud of Turin, or the shroud itself. He examined the information and imagery they’d published, to see if he could gain more insight into how Jesus was impacted by the specific wounds he suffered (operating on the assumption that the figure pictured on the shroud was in fact Jesus).
In his article, Pullicino draws attention to the positioning of Jesus’s shoulder on the shroud image. It has obviously been dislocated, he writes, and had been pulled so far out its socket that the right hand was stretched four inches (10 centimeters) lower than the left. According to the Reverend Professor, a dislocation this radical would have caused a rupture in the subclavian artery, which is tasked with supplying blood to the head, neck, shoulders, and arms. Significant internal bleeding would inevitably accompany such an injury, and unless medical assistance was offered, the final result would be death.
Image on the Shroud of Turin is interpreted by Bevilacqua as a dislocated shoulder. (Bevilacqua, M et al / Catholic Medical Quarterly )
Jesus would have suffered his dislocated shoulder as a result of the weight of his cross, which he was forced to carry at least part of the way to the place of his crucifixion.
In the Gospel of John, it says that Jesus fell while carrying the cross, and it may have been at that point that he suffered his shoulder injury. The Bible further states that as he lay on the ground a Roman soldier approached and pierced his side with a sword, which caused blood and water to gush out.
Rev. Prof. Pullicino has an explanation for this latter report. The blood would have come from the rupture of the subclavian artery, he writes, because this would have caused up to three pints of blood to quickly accumulate in the region between Jesus’s lungs and ribcage. This is why blood would have come pouring out after he was speared. The water seen coming out would have been cerebrospinal fluid, Pullicino further states, which looks like water because it is translucent in appearance.
The Passion of Jesus – Trafalgar Square (© Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk / CC BY-NC-ND-2.0 )
The Shroud of Turin: Miraculous Religious Artifact, or Audacious Fake?
It is clear that the viability of Pullicino’s theory rests exclusively on whether or not the Shroud of Turin is a genuine artifact. If it is indeed the burial cloth of Christ, Pullicino’s ideas may have merit. But if it is a fake or forgery, or a burial cloth from someone else who has been misidentified as Jesus, then Pullicino’s conclusions would have no hard evidence to back them.
The first unmistakable mention of the Shroud of Turin in the historical record can be found in the 14th century. Between 1353 and 1357 it was in the possession of a French knight named Geoffrei de Charny, who resided in Lirey, France. In 1390 the bishop of Lirey, Pierre d’ Arcis, publicly denounced the Shroud as a forgery and said the artist who’d made it had confessed.
Presumably no longer welcome in Lirey, the shroud appears to have passed through many hands after that. It was finally sent to the Turin Cathedral in Turin, Italy in 1578, and it has remained under the Catholic Church’s protection there ever since.
The Vatican currently forbids testing of the shroud. But that has not always been the case. The Vatican allowed researchers to take a cloth sample from the shroud back in 1988, and radiocarbon tests performed on that sample produced a date of origin of between 1269 and 1390.
The full length of the Shroud of Turin. Scientists and scholars cannot resolve the mystery of the shroud. ( Public Domain )
This date coincided perfectly with the shroud’s initial confirmed appearance in France. Nevertheless, many who’ve advocated for the shroud’s authenticity have disputed this finding, for an ever-expanding list of reasons.
Some claim that the tests were done on sections of the cloth that were added during the Middle Ages, when some tattered parts of the cloth may have been repaired. Others say the carbon dating was done on sections of the shroud that were damaged by a fire in 1532, which would automatically negate the results. Another theory claims that neutron radiation released during a severe earthquake in Jerusalem around 33 AD could have caused a chemical reaction in the shroud that comprised later radiocarbon testing.
Theories like these have not convinced most scientists to overlook the radiocarbon results, which do seem to confirm what is already known from the historical record. But the defenders of the shroud’s authenticity are not backing down either, as they continue to raise doubts about what the science really reveals .
It should be noted that those who reject the dating of the shroud to the 13th or 14th centuries don’t offer compelling evidence of an earlier date. They’ve been mostly content to try to cast doubt on the studies that contradict their beliefs, as they try to keep open the possibility that the shroud is not a medieval fake and could very well be the real thing.
What proponents of the shroud-as-burial-cloth hypothesis don’t acknowledge often is that even if the dating of the shroud to medieval times is incorrect, it wouldn’t prove anything about who the figure on the shroud really was. Even if the Shroud could somehow be re-dated to exactly the first century AD, that wouldn’t prove its image was that of Jesus. If it is a forgery it could have been manufactured at any time after Christianity developed, even in the early years, and if is a real burial cloth it could have been used to wrap another victim of crucifixion (it was a common Roman punishment).
A Matter of Science and Faith
Are there any good reasons to believe the Shroud of Turin may actually be the preserved burial cloth of Christ? Or is the shroud an obvious forgery that is real only in the minds of true believers, who are desperately seeking some kind of objective evidence to support their faith? Or are both believers and skeptics driven by psychological motivations, meaning each side already has their minds made up and will never accept any analysis that contradicts their prejudices?
Previous scientific and historical research suggests the shroud should be dated to no earlier than the 13th century. But there is no way to know with 100-percent certainty where the Shroud of Turin comes from or how long it has been around. Consequently, people will continue to believe what they want to believe about this famous (or infamous, depending on your perspective) religious artifact.
Top image: Representation of Jesus Christ in death. Source: nito / Adobe Stock
By Nathan Falde
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