- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 30, 2002

LONDON A 2,000-year-old shrouded body found in a tomb near Jerusalem could be that of a witness to Christ's crucifixion, says a British archaeologist.

The finding of the remains was a chance discovery in a tomb south of the city walls.

The bones, and a well-preserved clump of hair, were wrapped in what tests indicate is the only shroud from Christ's time to have been found in Israel. This find also could provide final proof that the Turin Shroud is a fake.

The shroud has been carbon-dated to the first 50 years of the 1st century AD, coinciding with the dates of Christ's earthly life. DNA tests on the remains indicate that the body was that of a male who died of acute tuberculosis.

They were found by Shimon Gibson as he showed students around 1st-century tombs in the Hinnom Valley.

Speaking from his home in Jerusalem, Mr. Gibson recalled entering the tomb.

"I had to slide feet first through an opening no bigger than about two feet square. I could make out typical, rock-cut tombs of the Roman period and many human bones."

As he noticed the blackened shroud, "a shiver ran down my back" he knew right away that this was a unique find.

He said the tomb had been ransacked by robbers who probably stole valuable artifacts but discarded the shroud and the remains.

Mr. Gibson, 43, director of the Jerusalem Archaeological Field Unit, said the tomb was in Akeldama, the "field of blood" referred to in St. Matthew's Gospel.

The area is believed to have been bought by Judas with the money he received for betraying Jesus. This is where Judas later hanged himself.

Mr. Gibson said the area was now used as a dumping site and was in "a very poor state."

"But it was once a very select area, used as a burial ground by the super-wealthy, as it faced Mount Zion. It was also the site of the palace of the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, under whom Christ was crucified, as well as the houses of priests and aristocrats."

The tomb was adjacent to that of Annas, the high priest before whom Jesus was brought after his arrest.

Mr. Gibson said, "Given all the evidence, such as the tomb's prestigious location, the fact that the hair was very clean and the shroud made of wool rather than the cheaper linen normally used, it is probable that this man was highborn or of a priestly family."

"When you remember that Jerusalem was then a small place … like one of London's 'villages,' you appreciate that people would have known everything that was going on.

"It is highly likely that this man knew of Jesus coming to Jerusalem, the uproar of his driving the money-changers from the temple courts and so on.

"Perhaps as a sick man, he may have sought out the miracle worker from Galilee, or perhaps seen the crucifixion at Golgotha from his window."

Mr. Gibson describes the find, made in 2000 but unpublicized until now, in a television documentary to be broadcast on Easter Sunday.

A section of the Jerusalem shroud was carbon-dated by Douglas Donohue of the University of Arizona. In 1988, Mr. Donohue pronounced the Turin Shroud, which is said to bear the image of Christ's body, to be a medieval fake.

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