DNA of Jesus-era shrouded man in Jerusalem reveals earliest case of leprosy

Dec 16, 2009
This is part of the tomb where the shrouded man was found. Note the remains of plaster around the entrance. Credit: Prof. Shimon Gibson

The DNA of a 1st century shrouded man found in a tomb on the edge of the Old City of Jerusalem has revealed the earliest proven case of leprosy. Details of the research will be published December 16 in the PloS ONE Journal.

The molecular investigation was undertaken by Prof. Mark Spigelman and Prof. Charles Greenblatt and of the Sanford F. Kuvin Center for the Study of Infectious and Tropical Diseases at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Prof. Carney Matheson and Ms. Kim Vernon of Lakehead University, Canada, Prof. Azriel Gorski of New Haven University and Dr. Helen Donoghue of University College London. The archaeological excavation was led by Prof. Shimon Gibson, Dr. Boaz Zissu and Prof. James Tabor on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

The burial cave, which is known as the Tomb of the Shroud, is located in the lower Hinnom Valley and is part of a 1st 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 tomb of the shrouded man is 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. It is thus thought that this shrouded man was either a priest or a member of the aristocracy. According to Prof. Gibson, the view from the tomb would have looked directly toward the Jewish Temple.

This is a sample of hair of the shrouded man, which had been ritually cut before burial. Credit: Prof. Shimon Gibson

No second burial

What is particularly rare about this tomb is that it was clear this man, which is dated by radiocarbon methods to 1-50 C.E., did not receive a secondary burial. 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). In this case, however, the entrance to this part of the tomb was completely sealed with plaster. Prof. Spigelman believes this is 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.

Historically, disfiguring diseases - particularly leprosy - caused the afflicted individuals to be ostracized from their communities. However, a number of indications - the location and size of the tomb, the type of textiles used as shroud wrappings, and the clean state of the hair - suggest that the shrouded individual was a fairly affluent member of society in Jerusalem and that tuberculosis and leprosy may have crossed social boundaries in the first century C.E.

Disproves Turin Shroud?

This is also the first time fragments of a burial shroud have been found from the time of Jesus in Jerusalem. The shroud is very different to that of the Turin Shroud, hitherto assumed to be the one that was used to wrap the body of Jesus. Unlike the complex weave of the Turin Shroud, this is made up of a simple two-way weave, as the textiles historian Dr. Orit Shamir was able to show.

Based on the assumption that this is representative of a typical burial shroud widely used at the time of Jesus, the researchers conclude that the Turin Shroud did not originate from Jesus-era Jerusalem.

The excavation also found a clump of the shrouded man's hair, which had been ritually cut prior to his burial. These are both unique discoveries because organic remains are hardly ever preserved in the Jerusalem area owing to high humidity levels in the ground.

This is a sample of the shroud which shows the simple two-way weave used for burial shrouds in 1st century C.E. Jerusalem. Credit: Prof. Shimon Gibson

Social health in antiquity

According to Prof. Spigelman and Prof. Greenblatt, the origins and development of leprosy are largely obscure. Leprosy in the Old Testament may well refer 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 results from the first-century C.E. Tomb of the Shroud fill a vital gap in our knowledge of this disease.

Furthermore, the new research has shown that molecular pathology clearly adds a new dimension to the archaeological exploration of disease in ancient times and provides us with a better understanding of the evolution, geographic distribution and epidemiology of disease and social health in antiquity.

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 provided evidence for the postulate that the medieval plague of leprosy was eliminated by an increased level of tuberculosis in Europe as the area urbanized.

Explore further: Tooth buried in bone shows two prehistoric predators tangled across land, sea boundaries

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vanderMerwe
5 / 5 (1) Dec 16, 2009
"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 provided evidence for the postulate that the medieval plague of leprosy was eliminated by an increased level of tuberculosis in Europe as the area urbanized."

That is a fascinating assertion. I've never heard of that postulate before. I wish they'd said a bit more about it.
Gammakozy
2.5 / 5 (6) Dec 16, 2009
"Based on the assumption that this is representative of a typical burial shroud widely used at the time of Jesus, the researchers conclude that the Turin Shroud did not originate from Jesus-era Jerusalem."

To base such a conclusion on such a flimsy assumption is ridiculous.
georgejmyersjr
not rated yet Dec 16, 2009
I thought Hansen's disease can be transmitted by the consumption of poorly cooked armadillo. Could it also be a result of "New World" contact? There's about 40 million of them today.
aaronfaby
not rated yet Dec 17, 2009
"Based on the assumption that this is representative of a typical burial shroud widely used at the time of Jesus, the researchers conclude that the Turin Shroud did not originate from Jesus-era Jerusalem."

To base such a conclusion on such a flimsy assumption is ridiculous.


There are many other reasons to assume that the shroud is not authentic.
georgejmyersjr
not rated yet Dec 18, 2009
The arts of Russia after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union have begun to appear in the West, some online. I browsed one apparently iconic image from there that shows Mary's mother, who, unable to bear children, and high up in Egyptian society, had adopted Mary, the virgin, therefore her mother, which became the so-called daughter of the Virgin's birth, Jesus.

The Swedes have redefined it as a vaginal corona.
otto1923
not rated yet Dec 19, 2009
The leper- I guess he wasnt around when Jesus came through handing out miracles... too bad.
George- WTF are you talking about?? Are you saying Jesus' grandmother was his mother? And the swedes redefined what as a vaginal corona??
To base such a conclusion on such a flimsy assumption is ridiculous.
Yes but nevertheless, true.
georgejmyersjr
not rated yet Dec 20, 2009
The icon described the mother of Mary, as "The Virgin" that caused the transformation of description to the "virgin birth" and how would anyone know unless they looked up her vagina to see her "vaginal corona" (or "hyman" recently renamed by Swedish medicine). And since we now have people claiming traces of cocaine and other Western hemisphere drugs in Egyptian burials (though they may be from a plant species less known) armadillos are the only other animal that can contract leprosy and are used exclusively in research of Hansen's disease and we are also here warned that under-cooked meat from them can transmit the bacteria to humans. So a long shot might mean, and I read there are currently 40 million armadillos in North America, who knows how many at the beginning of the first millennium, they might have been a vector for the disease from some trans-oceanic contact, perhaps from the time of Cleopatra.
oneal
5 / 5 (1) Dec 20, 2009
So Gammakozy, you're saying that the other evidence doesn't count either? The fact that the front and back of "Jesus" are not the same height? What about the unproportionately long arms? Or perhaps the fact that the face of this "Jesus" matches the proportions of Leonardo Da Vinci himself exactly? A little odd if you ask me.

The shroud of Turin was never real, isn't real and never will be real. It's just another practical joke Leonardo put on and while we scratch our heads, he's laughing his ass off in his grave.
otto1923
1 / 5 (1) Dec 20, 2009
not the same height
2 people in the shroud then? I guess the one at his back was 'the one Jesus loved' (says John) The long arms could lend weight to the idea that he was related to Akhenaten who supposedly had that genetic disease which made him look like a comic book character. How much of history is phoney, a sham conjured up to confound and misdirect us?? Lots I bet. And George- you stretch like Mr Fantastic. Have a link to the marys mother thing?
georgejmyersjr
not rated yet Dec 21, 2009
I can't recall, but it was in an extensive, or large online arts of Russia catalog. I wish I could remember her name, which was part of the provenance.
georgejmyersjr
not rated yet Dec 22, 2009
In about the same time period we have a large gap, 100 BCE-100 CE of C14 dated native American sites in New York's prehistory, to my knowledge, no one knows why. I hope no one takes offense at my attempted query.