The Shroud of Turin and the Pray Codex
This is a random post, but since I did a little bit of research, I decided to write up a short summary that may be useful to others.
Ever since the 1988 carbon dating of the Shroud of Turin showed that it was a medieval artefact, the attempts to cast doubt on the procedure have been unceasing (some of them are briefly reviewed by Joe Nickell in Relics of the Christ).
One of the problems the sindonologists have is that the dating basically corresponds to the moment when this particular Shroud appears in history (according to contemporary documents, the artist who faked it actually confessed). Its existence before this period is simply not documented. Or so it would seem, because the Shroud enthusiasts now claim that a 12th century Hungarian manuscript, the Pray codex, actually depicts the Shroud. Such claims can be found everywhere on the sindonological websites and blogs, as well as in their books and other “serious” publications. Just a couple of examples to give you a taste of the argument:
The weave is important because it is evident in one of the illustrations in the Hungarian Pray manuscript which dates to 1180-1195 which is earlier than the 1988 carbon dating of 1260-1390. The manuscript shows the burial of Jesus naked with hands over his pubic area and no visible thumbs. It shows the identical pattern of burn holes found on the shroud. The herringbone weave of the shroud is depicted.
The Pray Codex or Hungarian Pray Manuscript is one of the most important historical documents showing that the Shroud of Turin existed prior to the 1200s within the Byzantine Empire.
Charles Mader, Evelyn Campbell, “The Weave of the Shroud of Turin” [PDF]
There is one unmistakeable documentary reference to the Shroud of Turin from before the twelfth century. Well known to all Shroud scholars, its true significance is often overlooked. I am referring of course to Codex Pray, whose name is often misunderstood (at least in the English speaking world) as a reference to prayer. In fact, the name comes from the Jesuit György Pray, who discovered the manuscript in 1770. It is kept in the National Széchenyi library in Budapest, Hungary. It is the earliest known manuscript with a text in the Hungarian language, and so is an important national treasure. There are some miniature drawings in this codex on folios XXVII v and XXVIII r that can only have been inspired by the image on the Turin Shroud. In the first, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus are anointing the dead body of Jesus in preparation for burial. The drawing of the body of Jesus shows several points in common with the Shroud image, points which can only have been inspired by this image. The first is that the body is totally naked, the same as on the Shroud but very differently from the vast majority of Byzantine artistic representations of Christ. The position of the hands is also identical to the Shroud image and different from any other image - the hands are crossed over the genitals, and most interesting of all, the thumbs have been deliberately omitted.
However, the similarities do not stop there. The next miniature shows the women visiting the tomb, only to find the body gone and the burial cloths still there.
The Pray manuscript artist has clearly tried to copy even the weave of the Shroud, strongly suggesting he had seen it himself and knew what he was drawing. Most interesting of all are the four holes in the cloth in the form of a letter L. Whatever the origin of these holes, they are clearly burn marks, accidental or deliberate. They are visible four times on the Shroud, in a logical order of decreasing intensity, showing that the cloth was folded when the holes were made. The holes are burn marks, but they were not made as a result of the fire of 1532. This can be shown from a copy of the Shroud made in 1516, kept in Lierre, Belgium, which logically does not reproduce the marks from the 1532 fire, but does include the four sets of L shaped holes. They clearly predate 1516 then, but apart from Codex Pray, no further approximation can be made as to when they were actually produced.
Mark Guscin, “The History of the Shroud”, [PDF]
And so on.
The Pray codex is available online here.
Here is the page in question (folio 28):
Indeed, we see an ornamented rectangle with “poker holes” forming an L - just as on the Shroud - and with zig-zag patterns that the Shroud enthusiasts interpret as herringbone weave pattern.
The most obvious problem springs up immediately: if this rectangle is the Shroud, where is the famous image of Jesus which is, kinda, the whole point of the Shroud? Do sindonologists seriously claim that the artist would depict such secondary details as a weave pattern (even though it doesn’t actually look like the herringbone pattern - it’s a series of “concentric” pyramids that don’t look like straight fish bones) or some burn holes (which, it should be noted, were not there during the alleged Resurrection, and so there was no sense in drawing them in that context), yet omitted the whole image? I understand that they probably have a host of implausible ad hoc explanations at the ready, but this is prima facie against common sense.
But that’s the least of the problems with this interpretation of the Pray codex illustration. For the sindonologists have simply astoundingly misinterpreted what the picture shows.
The Italian skeptical Shroud researcher Gian Marco Rinaldi pointed out that the rectangular shape is in fact a sarcophagus lid, in accordance with the standard iconography of the era.
I decided to look up how other medieval manuscripts depict the resurrection or the post-resurrection scene and here are some of the results from the Morgan Library & Museum online collection:
From the same manuscript:
Book of Hours, Germany, possibly Bamberg, 1204-1219, MS M.739 fol. 24r
It is thus clear that as a rule:
- The tomb lid is depicted as a rectangle.
- It is often ornamentally decorated (with the ornaments sometimes apparently representing the texture of the material, and sometimes being quite abstract/geometrical).
- It is mostly depicted at an angle to the sarcophagus.
- The angel or Jesus can sit on the lid or have their feet on it.
- The shroud itself is never depicted as some sort of a rigid rectangle, rather it always looks distinctly like cloth.
- Neither does anyone step or sit on the shroud.
The obvious conclusion is that there is no way the rectangle on that illustration in the Pray codex is the Shroud. It is, in fact, the tomb lid.
A shroud is depicted there though: Jesus lies on it on the top picture, the shroud lies all bunched up on the sarcophagus lid on the bottom picture. And if you think about it, this alone disproves the whole thesis, because the actual shroud on the top picture looks nothing at all like the rigid rectangle on the bottom picture.
Here’s a graphic explanation of the elements:
All the “coincidences*” are thus necessarily imaginary and the Pray codex can in no way be used to discredit the radiocarbon dating.
Moreover, the fact that numerous prominent Shroud advocates fell for this basic mistake raises certain question about sindonology as a whole.
* On one of the “coincidences”: it is claimed that the fact that both the Turin Shroud and the Pray codex show Christ with only 4 fingers is a significant coincidence. In fact, whenever Christ is depicted with crossed hands the probability is great that his thumbs will be either absent or barely visible, as a simple search for “Man of Sorrows” shows, which brings up images both ancient and modern: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13. It seems that when Christ’s hands are in this position, it is simply more or less natural for an artist to “hide” the thumbs. (Indeed, look at the hand of the saint doing the anointing on the top picture. Also 4 fingers!) If so, that’s hardly a significant “coincidence” - but in any case it would be irrelevant in the light of the considerations above. As a side note, while making grandiose claims about allegedly convergent features, the Shroud authenticity proponents dismiss the divergent ones without much ado. E.g. the naked body of Christ is not wounded or scourged in the codex, quite contrary to the image on the Shroud.