Jesus-era Leper Sheds Light on Turin Shroud Mystery

Body found in Tomb of the Shroud in Jerusalem reveals earliest known case of leprosy.

Israel experts said on Wednesday that a burial shroud known as the Turin shroud, assumed to be the type used to wrap the body of Jesus, did not actually originate from Jesus-era Jerusalem.

The conclusion was based on excavation discoveries of a first-century C.E. shrouded man found in a tomb on the edge of the Old City of Jerusalem, which also revealed the earliest proven case of leprosy.

Along with the DNA of the shrouded man, this was the first time that fragments of a burial shroud have been found from the time of Jesus in Jerusalem, which, unlike the complex weave of the Turin Shroud, this shroud was made up of a simple two-way weave, as the textiles historian Dr. Orit Shamir was able to show.

The results from the first-century C.E. Tomb of the Shroud have filled a vital gap in our knowledge of this disease, said Prof. Mark Spigelman, of the Sanford F. Kuvin Center for the Study of Infectious and Tropical Diseases at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Shamir and Spigelman were both part of a team of academic experts which conducted molecular investigation on the shrouded body, discovered in the burial cave known as the Tomb of the Shroud, and is located in the lower Hinnom Valley and is part of a first-century C.E. cemetery known as Akeldama or 'Field of Blood' (Matthew 27:3-8; Acts 1:19) - next to the area where Judas is said to have committed suicide.

The shrouded man's tomb was located next to the tomb of Annas, the high priest (6-15 C.E.), who was the father in law of Caiaphas, the high priest who betrayed Jesus to the Romans. These facts lead investigators to believe that that this shrouded man was either a priest or a member of the aristocracy.

Using radiocarbon methods, the investigators discovered that this man dated back to 1-50 C.E., and did not receive a secondary burial, which was particularly rare for this type of tomb.

Secondary burials were common practice at the time, where the bones were removed after a year and placed in an ossuary (a stone bone box).

But the entrance to this tomb was completely sealed with plaster.

According to Prof. Spigelman, this was due to the fact that this man had suffered from leprosy and died of tuberculosis, as the DNA of both diseases was found in his bones.

The excavation also found a clump of the shrouded man's hair, which had been ritually cut prior to his burial.

These were both unique discoveries because organic remains were hardly ever preserved in the Jerusalem area owing to high humidity levels in the ground.

Prof. Spigelman and colleague Prof. Charles Greenblatt said that the origins and development of leprosy were still largely obscure. Leprosy in the Old Testament may well have referred to skin rashes such as psoriasis.

The leprosy known to us today was thought to have originated in India and brought over to the Near East and to Mediterranean countries in the Hellenistic period.

The co-infection of both leprosy and tuberculosis here and in 30 percent of DNA remains in Israel and Europe from the ancient and modern period also provided evidence for the postulate that the medieval plague of leprosy was eliminated by an increased level of tuberculosis in Europe as the area became urbanized.