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Numismatics of Shroud of Turin resurrected

 A modern photo of the face on The Shroud of Turin (left) and a digitally processed image (right). (By Dianelos Georgoudis - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

A modern photo of the face on The Shroud of Turin (left) and a digitally processed image (right). (By Dianelos Georgoudis - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

The much-argued question regarding if coins from the period when Jesus Christ was crucified appear as part of the image on the Shroud of Turin has been once again resurrected through an April 26 interview broadcast by RCF Liège in Belgium.

In an interview with well-known Italian numismatic scholar Agostino Sferrazza, Sferrazza insisted the image on the shroud includes two copper-composition coins issued in Judaea by Roman Procurator Pontius Pilate in 29 C.E. Coins were traditionally placed over the eyes of deceased persons to help keep the eyelids closed despite rigor mortis and due to the superstition that the deceased individual was looking for someone to take with him.

Sferrazza told RCF Liège he supports the theory of the authenticity of the two coins and dates the coins to the time of Pilate. The theory supported by Sferrazza is based on computer images generated by Turin (Italy) Faculty of Sciences Associate Professor Nello Balossino. In his 1976 book Man of the Shroud, Balossino concludes he could visualize the image of a sacrificial cup over the left eye and a lituus or augural staff on the coin over the right eye.

Some researchers also claim to be able to read the letters “UKAI” on the coins on the shroud. If this is true, this would be part of the word “TIBERIOUKAIKAROS,” which translates to “Tiberius,” the Roman emperor whose name appears on all coins issued by Pilate.

Some scientists have concluded that the three-dimensional image generated through Balossino’s effort shows the presence of small bulges on the ocular orbit bones that don’t match morphological particularities. The hypothesis offered suggests these are lepta coins. Sferrazza told RCF Liège he is certain the coins are from the Pilate issues of 29 C.E. If this is true, as Sferrazza claims, it would be additional proof of the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin.

The Shroud of Turin is a burial shroud that, according to some accounts, was acquired by a medieval knight in the Holy Lands. The shroud is claimed by some people to be the shroud in which the crucified Jesus Christ was wrapped, then entombed. An image of a crucified man appears on the shroud, although how the image got there is unknown.

The authenticity and the true age of the shroud are in dispute; however, the shroud is, according to Vatican Insider, regarded by the Roman Catholic Church to be “one of the most important icons or relics of Jesus Passion.”

Vatican Insider adds, “While the history of the cloth remains shrouded in mystery and lacks watertight testimonies that can vouch for its existence before the medieval period, the formation of the image on the shroud remains unexplainable: So far, no one has succeeded in producing a satisfactory replica of it.”

The shroud has been examined by scholars and scientists many times. Radio-carbon testing has been inconclusive since a sample initially tested may have come from a repair made to the shroud rather than from the original material. If that 1988 testing is accepted, then the shroud was made between 1260 and 1390, coinciding with the first appearance of the shroud during the 1350s.

In March 2013, Giulio Fanti, University of Padua professor of mechanical and thermal measurement, conducted further testing on threads he believes are from the shroud, concluding these threads date between 300 B.C.E. and 400 C.E. The origins of the sample tested have been questioned. Other tests made on shroud samples have been questioned due to possible contamination.

According to David Hendin in Guide to Biblical Coins, “The coins of Pontius Pilate are unique among those of the procurators, since they alone carry symbols that seem to be specifically offensive to the Jews.”

One of the images appearing on coins issued by Pilate is a simpulum, a small ladle with a high handle that could be mistaken for a cup. The simpulum was used to make libations during pagan sacrifices and was a symbol of Roman priesthood. A lituus or augur’s wand appears on other coins issued by Pilate. It is the lituus that is suspected of appearing on the coin images on the Shroud of Turin.

This article was originally printed in World Coin News. >> Subscribe today.

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