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Relics of the Christ Hardcover – March 16, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Christian communities all over the world hold sacred material artifacts that supposedly date to early Christianity—baby Jesus' swaddling clothes, pieces of the sponge from which the dying Jesus drank, even a tear Jesus shed at Lazarus's grave. In this quirky little book, Nickell (author of more than 20 books and columnist for Skeptical Inquirer) debunks those relics. Nickell examines the Shroud of Turin, the Crown of Thorns, chalices that people have identified as the Holy Grail and so on. Could any of these objects be what Christian enthusiasts claim? In Nickell's view, the answer is a simple no. He concludes that "not a single, reliably authenticated relic of Jesus exists." For example, a 2003 scientific examination of the so-called "Holy Lance," purported to be the spear with which Jesus was pierced on the Cross, found that the gold sheath dated to the 14th century. Nickell includes a bibliography, but footnotes, directing readers to the specific scientific research on which he relies in each chapter, would have been appropriate as well. One of the most interesting passages comes in the epilogue, where Nickell notes that some defenders of relics are sincere believers. A longer discussion of people's experiences with relics would have rounded out this book. (Mar.)
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"Joe Nickell is the embodiment of the Mythbusters, Sherlock Holmes, and Richard Feynman: one part lab tinkerer, one part field sleuth, and one part theoretical genius. And the relics of the Christ that he investigates in this delightful narrative render themselves bare to the magnifying glass of his inimitable mind. Having Joe Nickell show up at your miracle is like having Mike Wallace arrive at your company"―Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine, columnist for Scientific Amer
"A provocative book."―Milton C. Moreland, editor of Between Text and Artifact
"Free of sarcasm and without any sort of denigration of religion in general or Christianity in particular, this book provides an indispensable guide to the subject of relics, especially in its detailed refutation of hot-off-the-presses, spurious claims on behalf of the Turin Shroud and associated hoaxes."―Robert M. Price, Professor of Theology and Scriptural Studies, Johnnie Colemon T
""Thorough, fair and entertaining.""―Journal of American Cultures
Top customer reviews
during the Middle Ages––its most vibrant period. Sleuth and
scholar Joe Nickell does a brilliant job explaining the economic,
political, and of course religious role that they played (Steven
Darian, Professor Emeritus, Rutgers University)
The basic outline of each chapter was to present and article, give a brief history of its origin and provenance and then refute the authenticity of the relic. The book would have been much better if he had chosen less relics and focused more on the history, the provenance, and the arguments (both for and against) each relic rather than trying to squeeze in very little information on each. All of the information presented can be found on Wikipedia or some other online resource and was really not original research relying on "primary" sources. In my opinion, this book seemed more like a "report" written for a class, than the scholarly overview of relics it was portrayed as being.
Nevertheless, it is well written, full of facts and information, and a good addition to my library on the subject of Relics that are directly related to Christ.
There is no original research reported here; for that matter, there was (judging by his lack of bibliography or footnotes) not even any sort of serious search of the professional literature-- Wikipedia doesn't count. Mr. Nickell apparently looked at just enough sources to pad out his book, refuted those statements he could (and ignored those he couldn't), and went to press, knowing that he would have no trouble selling his book to all the people who already agreed with his premise.
Certainly, there has been a long history of fake relics being sold for a profit, particularly during the Middle Ages. It was possible to buy a vial containing a drop of the Virgin's breast milk, a shoe from the colt Jesus rode into Jerusalem, even one of Jesus' baby teeth (the seller probably could get 60 more if he thought they'd sell!).
However, there were also many, many legitimate relics-- relics whose provenance was well known-- and the biggest category could probably be described as "believed but not provable"... which implies 'not provable as false', either. The Shroud of Turin falls into this category. While there is no way to prove that it was actually the shroud which covered Jesus Christ following his death-- all the witnesses of the original shroud being placed on the body have been dead for 2,000 years, and even if one of the women could testify, she could only say that the cloth on Turin's cathedral looked just like it-- there is equally no way to say it's not. Nickell's claim that it's a medieval forgery begs the question: how was it done?
Multiple studies over the last century have demonstrated that it wasn't painted with any pigments known at the time. The image is a photographic negative... If faked, we have to wonder who in the Middle Ages knew about photography. Under microscopic examination, spores and tiny seeds of plants growing only in Palestine and Israel-- not in Europe-- are seen. Did the Italian forger implant them, knowing that in 400 years the microscope would be invented? The reddish-brown stains on the wrists tested positive for hemoglobin, found in human blood. Did the forger use blood instead of paint because he knew the test would someday be invented? And finally, we do not now, 500 years after the supposed forgery, have the knowledge or skills necessary to put the image onto linen in the manner in which it was done. To claim that there was some genius in the Middle Ages who did is to insist on a greater mystery than that of the Shroud's being 100% legitimate.
I shan't go onto the rest of this 'book', beyond pointing out an example of one more flaw in the thought processes of Mr. Nickell's sources. The book argues that the Spear of Longinus is clearly fake because the gold covering the head carbon-dates to the 14th or 15th Century. I'm sure it does. However. I'm equally sure that Roman soldiers, or even Roman Centurions, weren't issued gold-plated weapons for executing prisoners. Far more likely that someone some 1500 years later would have paid to have a holy relic gold plated. [The same carbon-dating problem comes up on the Shroud, which was damaged in a fire in the Middle Ages. When the Shroud was carbon dated and showed an estimated date of some 1400 years post-Crucifixion, apparently no had checked to ensure that it wasn't the repair that was being carbon dated, vice original material.]
Is the Shroud of Turin actually that which was used to wrap Christ's body? Even among devout Catholics there are those who will say no-- and even more who don't worry about it one way or the other. Is the Spear of Longinus actually the spear carried at Golgotha the day Jesus was crucified? To the majority of Catholics, it doesn't matter a great deal. Catholic faith isn't contingent on any of these artifacts being actual relics of Jesus Christ, although for many it is important. No bishop is going to excommunicate anyone for not believing in particular relics-- they're not dogmata.
However, proving they're false is terribly important to those who don't like Catholics or the Catholic Church, whether they're skeptics such as our author, outright atheists, or (sadly) certain types of Protestants. They take it as a matter of faith that relics must be false, and will out any 'evidence' proving that to be the case, while ignoring any evidence to the contrary, as with this poorly formulated, poorly researched, example. Having a personal axe to grind should not be sufficient reason for writing or publishing a book such as this, particularly when it promises to look seriously at the subject and research both sides.
a substantial amount of works,but unfortunately,they are limited
to English literature. Since most of these relics are located in
Italy, France and Germany,then the bulk of works concerning history,
authencity and scientific reports are written in Latin, Italian,
German and French. These works are missing in the bibliography of