THE COINS OF PONTIUS PILATE
Jean-Philippe Fontanille
 

PILATE'S COINS AND TURIN SHROUD

We will not enter into the arguments between the partisans and the adversaries of the authenticity of this shroud. An immense amount of literature has already been produced on this subject by all sorts of writers, from charlatans to eminent scientists. Let us consider the more outstanding recent developments. The "verdict" drawn from carbon 14 test was delivered in 1988: its conclusions was that the shroud is a work dating from the beginning of the 14th century. Many people accepted this decision as final. However, not long afterwards, some irregularities in the conduct of experiments were taken into evidence, and the scientists themselves recognised the justice of this. Worse was to come: in 1997, an Italian archaeologist, Maria Siliato, demonstrated that the samples of cloth analysed had a 2 times higher density than the shroud. In 1999, researches from the Hebraic University of Jerusalem affirmed, after a study of the pollens in the shroud, that this object had been present in the region of what is now Israel at an earlier period than the 8th century.

One might well say that the Turin shroud guards its mystery to this day. Could it be possible that new developments may come from so unexpected a field as numismatics ? Strange as it may seem, the possibility cannot be excluded.

It all began at NASA in 1978. At this time researchers Jackson, Jumper and Stephenson wanted to test the capacities of their VP8 new computer, specially for three dimensional extrapolation, so they submitted the face on the shroud for analysis. The image obtained, now famous, distinctly revealed two circular protrusions on the eyelids. The experts immediately made a connection with an ancient custom which advocated the placing of coins on the eyes of the dead to keep them closed. Archaeological excavations have confirmed this tradition. Skeletons from the first and second century C.E. have been found with a coin in each eye-socket at Jericho and at En Boqeq.

Everything then happened very quickly. The following year Professor Francis Filas, a teacher at Loyola University of Chicago, made an enlargement of the image of the left eye and noticed a strange curved shape with traces of letters above it. Intrigued, he went to a ancient coins expert from Chicago, Michael Marx, who concluded that it was probably the image of Pilate's lituus coin. I have reproduced the relevant illustration so that anyone may form their own opinion on the matter.

In 1980, an electronic analysis performed in the Overland Park Laboratory in Texas confirmed not only the soundness of Professor Filas' findings, but also allowed the admission of evidence of another coin on the right eye, without however being able to identify why precise details were absent. Other researchers, Alan and Mary Wanger, took up the investigation in 1985, applying the technique of polarised light superimposition; they though they detected on the left eye coin the three ears of barley encircled with faint traces of letters: this indicated that it could be the coin minted in year 29.

What credibility may be given to these "discoveries" ? Like everything else touching on the Turin Shroud, each discovery, whether in favour of its authenticity or against, is immediately contested by supporters holding the opposite view. The thesis of PilateÕs coins on the eyes is neither more or less argued about than any other discovery or supposition concerning this shroud.

For my part, I must admit that I have failed to detect any trace of the year 29 coin on the right eye. On the other hand, the similarity of the centre left eye image to a coin bearing the lituus motif is actually more disturbing. The round form gives an impression suggestive of the lituus cross, (albeit a little less curved than in usual) surrounded by traces of letters which could be a vestige of the centre of the inscription "TIBEPIOY KAICAPOC".

A remarkable web site : www.shroud.com/lombatti.htm presents all the details of this controversy (more than 20 pages)

Pontius Pilate Coins: Introduction | Varieties | Countermarks | Shroud of Turin | Book| Menorah Coin Project

Author's email: Jean-Philippe FONTANILLE <jp.fontanille@sympatico.ca>

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