The Shroud and the Jew: Barrie Schwortz (Transcript)

Full text of researcher Barrie Schwortz’s talk: ‘The Shroud and the Jew’ at TEDxViadellaConciliazione conference.

Listen to the MP3 Audio here:


Barrie Schwortz – Photographer & Researcher

Thank you.

Well, as you’ve heard, I was the official documenting photographer for the Shroud of Turin research project. Shroud of Turin research project was the first and only scientific team ever to be given permission to do an in-depth examination of the Shroud of Turin.

Now, I have to tell you this: I just finished a six-week lecture tour, three states, twelve cities, twenty-two lectures. All of them, two hours or more and all of them, extemporaneous. I often do eight hour seminars on the Shroud of Turin. Again, no notes, no lecture notes of any kind, but 15 minutes is hard.

And so, you’ll have to forgive me but there was no way that I could do this. You know, it’s not hard to get me to start talking but it’s hard to get me to stop. So, you’ll forgive me that I brought some notes with me and I’m going to have to refer to them just so that I stay on time and make sure that I do it correctly. So, there it is. That’s that piece of cloth that got into my life 35 years ago.

Well, as a professional photographer, I specialized in scientific medical and technical kinds of issues, so I had the skills and the qualifications that were necessary to be a part of the team that examined the Shroud.

But when they, excuse me, when they first asked me to do this, first thing I said was, no, no way. And why did I refuse? Well, answer is simple; I was very uncomfortable with the subject matter because I was born and raised in an Orthodox Jewish home.

Now, I want to be clear about that, I am NOT a practicing Jew at this point in my life, but I was for that first 13 years. Both my parents immigrated to America from Poland when they were little kids, just before World War two. And so, my question and the question that went through my mind at the time was: why would a Jewish man want to get involved with this, what is probably arguably the most important relic of Christianity?

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That moment in my life I couldn’t see any benefit to being involved. Well, not only that, I was a total skeptic and figured that the Shroud was probably some form of a painting, which was the conventional wisdom in 1978.

I fully expected to get to Turin, take a quick look, see the paint and the brushstrokes and go home. I even stupidly said that publicly somewhere and of course for the last 35 years, I’ve been living to regret those words.

Anyway, in the end, I viewed this whole thing, and this is terrible to admit this close to the Vatican, this was going to be a free trip to Italy. That’s what I thought.

But, you know, my attitude was immature because I was only 32 years old at the time. My son just turned 33, so that… and I’m still waiting for him to grow up. So, I can imagine where my… I can’t even imagine where my head was in those days.

In the end of course, I did join the team because the image on the Shroud has some fascinating properties that piqued my scientific curiosity, but I still tried to quit twice again and in fact, as our team grew a few men from the Jet Propulsion labs became members of our team, one of them was a man named Don Lynn, may rest in peace. Don was an imaging expert from NASA, so he was my hero immediately. And he was the head of imaging on Voyager and Viking and Mariner and Galileo. You might have heard of some of them.

So, I am pretty sure that any professional photographer given that opportunity, would have been honored to be a member of that team, but I remember asking Don at one point during our planning, we planned for nineteen months before we came to Turin to examine the shroud.

I remember asking him, I said, ‘Don, what’s a nice Jewish boy like me doing on this team?’

And Don, who was a good Catholic, looked me right in the eye and he said, ‘Have you forgotten that the man in question was a Jew?’

And I said, ‘No, Don, that’s probably the only thing I knew about Jesus, that he was a Jew.’

And then he said, and of course this is where Don, I think God was speaking to me through his lips. He looked at me and he said, ‘Oh, so you don’t think God would want one of His chosen people on our team.’

And I laughed, I said, ‘No, Don, I never thought that.’

And so, then Don gave me what perhaps may be the best advice I’ve ever been given. He said, ‘Barrie, go to Turin, do the best job you can do; God doesn’t tell us in advance what the plan is but one day you’ll know.’

You know, and on those words, I stayed on that team because truer and more profound words have never been spoken. Don was right and I’ve never regretted taking advice and staying on that team.

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Now, the tests we performed went on over the years that we did it and then evaluated it, went on to ultimately prove that the Shroud was not a painting, not a scorch or not a photograph. These were the kind of conventional wisdom things that people had, and so all the tests that we planned basically were to test for those kinds of things.

At the end of our team, we published. At the end of our three years, we published our work in peer-reviewed scientific journals. Credible ones, I might add. Now, with the internet, we have journals that are… the only thing they review is your check to make sure it clears, and they’re not exactly a high standard as the ones that we had to deal with.

But ideally, we went there to answer the question: how is the image formed? That was our primary purpose and in the end, however, we could not determine an image formation mechanism that could make an image with the properties on the Shroud of Turin.

Our collective work still forms the primary database of literature that exists in the peer-reviewed science that points to the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin.

However, even with all that, it still took another eighteen years before I was convinced. I’m not a fast sell, but in 1995, after years of actually resistance on my part, world renowned blood expert, Dr. Alan Adler, who was truly maybe the foremost blood expert in the world and also Jewish, I might add, was on the phone with me, and he answered the final question that had kept me from accepting the Shroud as authentic.

I was on the phone with him, I wasn’t convinced the shroud was real, because the blood on the shroud is still red and old blood is supposed to turn black or brown, sometimes just within a matter of hours, and that really stopped me.

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Al then looked at me over the phone, he didn’t look at me but he spoke to me. He said, Barrie, he had found… he said, ‘I found this large amount of bilirubin in the blood.’ Now, somebody who’s been tortured, like Jesus was, beaten the night before in the Garden of Gethsemane, then the next day scourged and ultimately, capped with a crack… capper crown of thorns, ultimately, crucified and speared.

People who have been tortured that way usually go into shock, the liver floods the bloodstream with bilirubin, and Al told me that blood of that nature stays red forever. Suddenly and unexpectedly, I realized that the last bit of evidence had come in and I had no choice but to accept that the Shroud was authentic.

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