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from issue no. 04 - 2010


Shroud and Sudarium in their place

by Gianni Valente

“The tomb was not completely empty. There were the witnesses, the only witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus. There were the cloths. While mute, they were well able to communicate something considering that John, once he saw them, believed”. These are the opening lines of a study by Charles de Cidrac, Professor Emeritus at the Paris Institut catholique. It is nine short pages typed on a computer with handwritten corrections and it has never been published by any “scientific” journal. And yet it makes some interesting points which Father Galot reproduces in his article in La Civiltà Cattolica. According to de Cidrac, there are many inaccurate translations in circulation of the scene of the empty tomb and they generate misunderstandings and errors with regard to “Jewish custom and common sense”. To clarify exactly what the author intended, the French professor subjected the text to close grammatical analysis in consideration, too, of the Hebrew funerary customs of the time.
Primarily, many translations are confusing because of the words used for the burial cloths. The original Greek speaks of otónia and soudárion, words often translated generically without specifying what each cloth was (bands, strips, cloths and so on). The word otónia stands for all cloths impregnated with myrrh and aloe used in burial: both esindon (the largest cloth, four meters long and 90 centimeters wide, wrapped all around the body of the deceased lengthwise, the two ends being joined under the feet) as well as the bands used for tying the hands and belting the larger sheet to keep it firm. Then there was the sudarium, to soudárion, which was a large square kerchief folded diagonally in a triangle and then rolled. This formed a thick strip of cloth which was placed under the chin and tied on top of the head to prevent the mouth from opening on relaxation of the nerves.
De Cidrac claims other grammatical inaccuracies are misleading in the account of how the two apostles discovered all these cloths. In particular in the original Greek, it is written that Peter, entering the tomb, saw tà otónia keímena, which many versions translate as “cloths lying on the ground”. The participle keímena indicates a distended position, that the cloths were horizontal. It does not mean that they were thrown upon the ground of the tomb. The defective verb, keymai, means a state of lying, horizontally. This means that the funerary cloths were lying in their place, crumpled upon one another in that they no longer wrapped the body of Jesus. They were probably lying in the niche carved out of the wall and typical of patrician Hebrew funerary architecture. In this niche, the body of Jesus had been set. The more recent translations of the text in question dwell on the position of the sudarium. The original says that the sudarium was ou metà ton otoníon keímenon, an expression usually translated as “not there with the cloths” (by, for example, the New Testament published by the Italian Episcopal Conference). The idea is therefore introduced that the sudarium’s position was changed with respect to where it had been when the body of Jesus had been buried. The expressions to follow, too, (allà corìs entetuligménon eis ena tópon) are interpreted so as to confirm the different position of the sudarium with respect to the other cloths. The Italian bishops’ version again translates these expressions by noting that the sudarium was not with the other cloths but “set aside, rolled up in a place”. De Cidrac contests various aspects of this current translation. He claims the negation ou should refer not to the expression for location metà ton otoníon (among the cloths) but to the participle keímenon (distended, lying), also from the verb keîmai.. The aim is to indicate that the sudarium was not distended, not lying like the rest of the cloths. Metà ton otoníon, no longer connected to the negation ou, but should be translated as “in the middle of the cloths”, and indicates that the sudarium had been left under the large sheet and was distinctly rolled up (de Cidrac’s translation of the adverb corìs and the past passive participle entetuligménon, of the verb entulíssu) in its original place (eis ena tópon). All of this means that the sudarium was not removed from its original place and now, having been left rolled up, its thickness stood out in relief in the midst of the other cloths lying there, under the upper part of the large Shroud.
In short, this is the translation of this passage that de Cidrac offers as an original contribution to exegetical research: “[Simon Peter] went into the tomb and saw the cloths lying, and the sudarium which had been tied around the head. This latter was among the cloths. It had not been distended but was distinctly rolled up, in its original position”.

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