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The Shroud of Turin:  Beyond Science?

Posted on 24 April 2017, 9:45

While watching the History Channel’s Easter special on the Shroud of Turin (The Face of Jesus Uncovered?), I was in awe of the capabilities of science and computer technology; however, I was also reminded of their limitations.  The scientists studying the shroud (below) concluded that it is not a painting or some creative fabrication. They can tell what it isn’t but not what it is.

shroud

I have read quite a bit about the shroud and have seen at least a half dozen other documentaries on the relic that many believe covered the crucified body of Jesus of Nazareth two-thousand years ago, but this one went beyond all others, moving me from being “very” skeptical to just “somewhat” skeptical as to whether the shroud is in fact the burial cloth of Jesus.  Prior to this documentary, I was about a 20 percent believer (80 percent doubter) in the authenticity of the shroud, but I am now an 80 percent believer.  My 20 percent doubt is divided between it being the image of someone other than Jesus and some form of fraud that goes beyond modern science. 

Like so many others, I pretty much dismissed the shroud as being authentic after the carbon-14 tests in 1988 dated it to around the fourteenth century. My belief factor was then down to about two percent.  I began reconsidering it a few years later when it was pointed out that the carbon testing was from a small edge of the shroud that was contaminated from frequent handling and from repairs due to fire damage 700 or so years ago.  Moreover, it was reported that pollen from an artichoke plant native to the Jerusalem area was found embedded in the fibers. 

What the scientists in this most recent documentary pointed out that I had not heard before was that a 3-D image analyzer revealed that there are contours in the image – distortions resulting from the cloth being draped over a body – thus strongly suggesting that the shroud was in fact wrapped around a human body.  Such contours are not found in paintings or other art work,  making it highly unlikely that it was an artistic endeavor by Leonardo da Vinci or some other artist from that era, as so many have come to believe. And while the image on the shroud appears to be a man much older than 33, the age at which Jesus is said to have been put to death, a computer graphics artist was able to eliminate the contours and turn the two-dimensional image on the shroud into a three-dimensional figure, the result being a much younger man, one of perhaps 33. 

Add in the fact that the numerous blood stains on the shroud were subjected to testing and found to be real blood with DNA indicating an ethnicity from the area around Jerusalem.  On top of that, the numerous blood stains on the shroud are consistent with wounds resulting from both scourging and crucifixion, including a crown of thorns.  While there is evidence that many others were crucified in Jesus’ time, indications are that scourging was not part of the execution process, and it seems very unlikely that a crown of thorns would have been placed on the victim.  To put it another way, the wounds on the shroud image are totally consistent with the biblical account of the crucifixion of Jesus and not consistent with what is known about other crucifixions. 

Another interesting fact mentioned in the latest documentary has to do with the sudarium, a face cloth that is said (John 20:6-7) to have been draped over Jesus’ face before the shroud was placed over him.  The sudarium has long been preserved in a chapel in Oviedo, Spain. Forensic testing has “lined up” the blood on the sudarium with the blood on the shroud.  While carbon-14 testing has dated the sudarium to around 700 AD, the history of this particular sudarium goes back to approximately 570 AD, and the laboratory noted that later oil contamination could have resulted in faulty testing. 

Those involved in studying the shroud cannot offer a scientific explanation as to how the image was imprinted on the 14-foot long linen.  It was explained that diffused light would not make such an imprint.  The bottom line is that it is presently beyond science.  Of course, the religious explanation is that it resulted from some supernatural burst of energy that is called the resurrection. 

While the orthodox Christian belief is that the physical body of Jesus left the tomb and that he visited with his disciples before ascending to “heaven,” the teachings that have come to us in more recent times from the spirit world through credible mediums tell it differently.  I believe the explanation given to Johannes Greber (below) by a seemingly advanced spirit, through the mediumship of a young man, offers the more rational view. “As you are able to convert matter into steam with the aid of high temperatures and even to cause this steam to become invisible to the human eye, so also is the spirit-world able to dissolve matter completely,” Greber, a Catholic priest turned psychical researcher, was informed.  “It too makes use of hot power-currents, by means of which it converts matter into an od-like, etherealized form.  For, as I have explained to you, all matter is nothing but corporealized od which can be dissolved into spiritual od.”

greber

Od was the name given by German chemist Baron Karl von Reichenbach (1788-1869) to an energy that he discovered existing among “sensitive” people – people with clairvoyant, clairaudient, and clairsentient abilities.  It is said to be a “life principle” that permeates and connects all living things and has been likened to the prana of the ancient Hindus, the chi of the Chinese, the astral light of the Kabbalists, the vis medicatrix naturae of Hippocrates, the magnetic fluid of Mesmer, the orgone energy of Reich, and the ectoplasm of mediums.  It is apparently present in all humans, although those with mediumistic ability have it in greater quantities, though not necessarily in greater quality.
Indications are that the misty vapors often observed leaving the body of a dying person are od. It acts as sort of a glue in bonding the physical body with the spirit body, and the more materialistic the person the denser the od and the more difficult the separation.

“Not even of Christ was the natural body raised,” Greber was further informed. “Like the physical bodies of all mortals it had been created from the od of the earth and like them it returned to earth, with this exception, that it was not redissolved into terrestrial od by way of decay, but by dematerialization effected by the spirit-world.”  It was further explained that when Jesus appeared to his disciples after his death, his odic body materialized, and when he departed the odic body dematerialized. 

As I see it, the survival or resurrection message is not affected one iota by accepting that the physical body of Jesus dematerialized rather than believing that it “went to heaven.”  I’m at 99.9 percent on that.

Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife, and Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I.

 


Next blog post: May 8


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Dr. Laurin Bellg Discusses Her NDE Research

Posted on 10 April 2017, 9:15

“It is impossible to be so close to the cutting edge of life and death and not be transformed by it in some way.  Our beliefs and opinions about life and death are shaped by what we encounter.”  So writes Laurin Bellg, M.D., in her recent book, Near Death in the ICU.

icu

Dr. Bellg,  (below) a board-certified critical care physician and Chair of Medicine and ICU director for two intensive care units in the Appleton, Wisconsin area, draws upon some 20 years experience in attending to critically ill and dying patients. “Although it was within the hallowed halls of my conventional medical training that I first encountered patient accounts of the unusual and mysterious during near-death moments, extreme illness and trauma, it has only been within the past few years that I have begun to pay serious attention not only to the medical care of my patients but also to their personal experiences as they approach death,” she offers in the book’s Introduction, adding that her own thoughts about life and death have morphed over the years, due in part to the accounts of transcendent experiences.

laurin

She begins by telling of her experience with another physician, an 87-year-old dying patient she refers to as “Dr. John.”  He told her that he was not afraid to die and related a near-death experience (NDE) he had during WWII, when the jeep he occupied was hit by mortar fire. Dr. John recalled floating above his body in the operating room and found it strange to be watching his friends and colleagues in such a detached manner as they fought to save him. “He felt completely weightless and peaceful, void of any fear.  The feeling of love was immense, almost unbearable, and recalling it now, Dr. John’s voice became fragile as he paused to fight back tears.”

As Dr. Janice Holden, who has been researching NDEs since the mid-1980s, states in the Afterword of the book, this is not just another “ho-hum” book about near-death experiences.  “To my knowledge,” she writes, “no one has addressed so well the need to offer a helpful response to those reporting an NDE, and the process of reconsidering one’s belief system in light of the evidence from NDEs.”

I recently had the opportunity to interview Dr. Bellg for The Searchlight, a publication of The Academy for Spiritual and Consciousness Studies, Inc. (See http://www.ascsi.org and check out details of their June 7-11 conference at http://www.ASCSIconference.org) A slightly abridged version of that interview is presented here.   

Dr. Bellg, what were your beliefs relative to life after death prior to having the various deathbed and near-death experiences you report in your book? How have they “morphed”?

“It is impossible to be exposed to death-bed and near-death experiences and not be affected by them, but what I can say with certainty is after being privileged to have heard so many accounts of near-death experiences, I’m not afraid to die. What comes next, though, I really don’t know, but I believe something does. And I’m beginning to think that what it looks like to us from this vantage point is heavily influenced by our culture and belief systems.

My Christian patients see a Christian construct. My Hmong and Native American patients see an ancestor-based construct. My Asian Indian patients see a heavily-Hindu-informed construct. I’ve come to the comfortable conclusion that something of us, like our consciousness, survives, but what that is or what it looks like I really don’t know. Even experiencers have a hard time putting it into words. Because we are so very influenced by the lenses through which we are peering to behold an experience, a pure and unadulterated interpretation may elude us. I’ve forgotten who said, ‘What we see is what we believed before we looked,’ but I believe there is a lot of truth in that statement.”

Is there any one patient or NDE that especially moved you?  If so, would you mind summarizing it?

“I will always remember Samuel, whom I spoke of in my book. He was the first patient I’d taken care of who seemed to have had an anomalous experience. This was literally within weeks of me graduating from medical school, so I was still a very new doctor and heavily indoctrinated into a left-brain, science-based way of looking at things. I believe he died because I failed to recognize an out-of-body experience he had during surgery and as a result he refused further operations that he needed to survive. He reported seeing his whole surgery, including his open abdomen, from a vantage point above his body and was able to describe it in detail while feeling no pain. He was so freaked out by it that he refused any further life-saving interventions. I had no context with which to frame what he had experienced and help him deal with it. I had not been taught that in medical school. As I explain in my book, I still hold Samuel’s memory very close as motivation to help patients sort out anomalous experiences that don’t fit neatly into the scaffolding of our current understanding of the physical universe. Samuel’s experience (and mine with Samuel) propelled me on a journey to support patients in their unusual experiences – whatever they may be – and to understand as much as I could about them.”

What about deathbed visions or other deathbed phenomena, such as “soul mist”?

“Even physicians who downplay the near-death experience acknowledge that patients who are dying often appear to talk to relatives who have already passed away that we cannot see but they apparently can. It has become an unofficial metric to inform family members that their loved one is close to passing because they are beginning to communicate with predeceased loved ones. I’ll be honest, I’ve not heard of ‘soul mist’ but imagining what you might be referring to, I recently had a whole team of caregivers, including a doctor and several nurses, speak of a very strange wind that went through the room at the time the patient officially died.”

You state that discussion of these transcendent experiences by patients is not a “safe” topic with your peers.  Have you seen any changes in this regard over your 20 years of practicing medicine?


“Sadly, not really. Chaplains in my healthcare system continue to report accounts that patients have spontaneously shared with them. Spiritual leaders seem to be safe space around such phenomenon. How can we facilitate a culture of presumed safe space as care givers? That is my question to my medical community. And, that is the primary reason I felt compelled to write my book. I thought that I had something important to contribute to the discussion about near-death experiences and how to be able to converse with someone about their anomalous experience of consciousness is a fundamental part of good patient care.”

Have you had much feedback from your skeptical peers about your book?  If so, how do they react to it?

“I have had some feedback, yes, and it has mostly been positive. Those who disagree have politely avoided engaging me in conversation about it, but fortunately it has not interfered with our professional relationship. A couple of doctors I work with have come forward telling me they actually had a near-death experience and that they confirmed it was not safe to talk about in today’s medical environment if you expect to have a respectable medical career. I have to admit I was very reluctant to write this book and once I’d done it there was a part of me that hoped no one would actually read it! Especially people I work with. But now that it is out there and I still have my job, I’m feeling a bit braver about being more open. Conventional medicine is a very powerful machine and strongly founded on evidence-based practices. I understand that and, for the most part, agree with it. As body mechanics we need to be confident that the medicines we give and the procedures we do are not only safe for our patients but that they also are going to work and produce a good outcome. That is being responsible. But there is this whole other side to what it means to be a human patient that involves experiences that we cannot measure or reliably reproduce. We need to cultivate a new way of integrating these experiences that are very real to the patient and honor them. Telling the patient it didn’t happen because we, the measurers of phenomenon, didn’t see it is not only unhelpful, it is very disrespectful. And, as in Samuel’s case, potentially deadly. That is not good patient care.”

What are your views on all the mechanistic theories relative to NDEs, such as oxygen deprivation, hallucinations, stress hormones, etc.?

“Sure, those things happen, but those experiences then become muddled, disjointed and don’t take away a patients fear of death. Patients hallucinate and oxygen deprivation can cause visual disturbance, but there is a distinct clarity around out-of-body experiences during severe trauma and near-death states that patients often recall in exquisite, organized detail. Furthermore, the nature of transformation that patients experience just doesn’t happen during states of delirium, hallucinations or stress hormone surges. Again, my stance remains that we are talking about something that the experiencer can’t prove did happen and the nonexperiencer cannot prove did not happen, so we need to have a different approach to discussing these transformative events in a way that serves the patient we have taken an oath to care for and protect. I’m not sure that at this point in our human evolution we have the science to explain what is happening. Maybe we will never be able to. All the more reason to create a space where we can discuss the phenomenon without shaming the experiencer.”

You mentioned in the book hearing a physician interviewed on the radio tell an NDEr that he was likely hallucinating.  If you, as a director of an ICU, were to overhear a young physician in the ICU offering a similar explanation to a concerned patient, how would you handle it?


“I have actually heard that said in my ICU and have intervened on the patient’s behalf to facilitate a different discussion without making either the patient or the health care provider feel bad. No one should feel uncomfortable or shamed around such an important topic. I am also an ICU attending, so when residents rotate through to work with me for a month at a time, we talk about it and I give them a copy of my book to read as an assignment. I really hope that how I have learned to facilitate this discussion over the past twenty years can offer these young doctors a short cut. Interestingly, a couple of nurses have pointed out that their curriculum often has a brief section to deal with such occurrences and the overriding theme in their training material is to respect it even if you don’t understand or agree with it. I was so impressed when a nurse brought in a textbook from her conventional nursing training program associated with our State university system and pointed out a short section on talking with patients about their near-death experience. My vision is to see that in physician textbooks!”

The NDE has been studied now for more than 40 years.  Aren’t we well past the point of diminishing returns in what we can learn from them?

“Maybe, but continuing to ask the question and hold the phenomenon lighting in curious regard puts us in a better place to eventually understand it. Humans saw fire for much longer than that – millennia even – before they finally sorted out that it wasn’t a god or evil spirit and that they could even make it! It took longer still to uncover all of its uses and applications. The same for electricity and other things that were once so mysterious that we now take for granted as a normal part of our daily lives. I don’t know that we have the right science or even the right sort of brain to yet understand the near-death and out-of-body experience, but that doesn’t mean we should stop asking the question. Another example I give in my book is that for thousands of years early civilizations thought that jars of grain slurries left out in the open air were magically turned into alcoholic beverages by spirits. It wasn’t until many thousands of years later that science was able to inform us that wind currents carried yeast spores that settled into the liquid and did the magical transformation called fermentation.”

Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife, and Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I.

 


Next blog post: April 24

 


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“A Case to Consider” by Paul Beard – What is it possible to discover about the experiences we shall meet with after we die - if indeed existence does continue - and about how we can best prepare for them? Read here
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