Saturday, July 12, 2008
Take a look at the objects below. The first is the Holy Lance that is kept in the Schatzkammer of Vienna. Allegedly, this is the spear that was used to pierce Jesus on the cross. There are of course other relics like it and we don't even know for certain that the story of the crucifixion - or Jesus for that matter - is anything more than religious myth. But for our purpose, it is sufficient that if the incident took place at the time suggested, and if Jesus was pierced by a Roman spearhead, it would a have been roughly similar to the one below in shape.
What kind of wound would such a spear produce? What would a wound from a Roman spear look like? Painters and other artists have imagined and depicted it for centuries and if you google for "stab wound" or "knife wound", perhaps you can get a general idea. Now, would it look like on the picture below?
As you can see, this is not a cut and it is not an open wound. The shape of this wound to the side of the chest is irregular so it has not been produced by a blade pushed into the body and then pulled out. And even if the blade had been turned and twisted during the penetration, it would have produced a wound with totally different irregularities - and something of a mess. In addition, alongside the wound in the picture, there is coloring of the skin suggesting that it has been scratched rather than pierced. I think it is fair to say that a) this wound is not caused by a Roman spear and b) this wound is not what you would imagine that such a wound would look like. Why these two alternatives are equally important, I will explain later on.
The next object is a replica of a Roman nail as they were designed during the time of Jesus. It is fairly safe to say that nails had to be quite large and look something like this to hold a body in place on a cross. And it is a fact that crucifixions were Roman practice at the time.
We don't really know if it was the palm of the hand or the wrist that was spiked, or if the feet were penetrated on the instep or through the heel. Some suggest that the arms were tied to the cross with ropes. Regardless of which, you should be able to imagine what kind of wound a Roman nail would cause. And keep in mind that the nails were not withdrawn right after the penetration, but stayed in place for at least one or a couple of days. Now, is it probable that the wounds pictured below were caused by Roman nails?
If you saw these wounds out of context, would you suggest they were caused by a thick nail having been pierced through the limbs? Of course not. They are similar in type to the chest wound, only shorter. It is likely that these palm and instep wounds derive from the same source and it is fair to say that a) these wounds are not caused by Roman nails and b) these wounds are not what you would imagine that such wounds would look like.
Jesus is said to have been wearing a crown of thorn. The image below is just a costume replica and it is of course impossible to know exactly what such a headgear would have looked like but we do know thorn and it could have looked something like this. We can be certain that it would have had lots of thorns, since crucifixion and everything pertaining to it was intended to cause as much pain as possible, for as long time as possible.
Would a crown of thorn produce wounds like on the picture below?
This time, it's hard to tell because of the blood. But if you look carefully you see that just above where the blood seems to spring from, there is a scratch or irritation of the skin close to the wound. You can also see that there is only one wound, perhaps with the other, upper scratch being a failed attempt. But there are no other wounds around the head, just the one at the center of the forehead. So this stigmata corresponds with a crown of thorn with only one thorn. It is fair to say that a) this wound is not caused by a crown of thorn and b) this wound is not what you would imagine that such wounds would look like.
All the objects above are essential to the myth of the crucifixion of Jesus, and to the phenomena of stigmata, the appearance of bodily wounds, or sensing of pain, in locations corresponding to the wounds of Jesus on the cross. Apart from nail wounds to the palms and feet, a spear wound to the chest area or abdomen, and marks from the crown, stigmatics may also show wounds to the shoulders from carrying the cross or sweating or crying blood. The phenomena is regarded as a sign from God and stigmatic persons tend to be canonized by religious believers and sometimes even by the church - such a miracle is of course only displayed by someone who is pure in heart and faith.
There are three major suggested explanations for the phenomena of stigmata:
1. Wounds or other signs are produced by a suggested supreme being.
2. Wounds or other signs are produced through self-suggestion, i.e. the "victim" inflicts the wounds him- or herself by power of suggestion. The stigmatic has such a strong faith that it effects the physiology.
3. Wounds or other signs are faked.
In our case, the first option must be considered totally out of the question. If a supreme being would have the power to inflict wounds, it would surely not restrain itself to scratches -- we would see wounds that actually resemble what wounds would look like if they were caused by the objects suggested. In our case, they don't. Not by a long shot.
There is scientific evidence that lends support to the second option. There are studies suggesting that dermatological changes can occur as a result of suggestion (Spanos & Chaves, 1989). However, not in any case have such changes been in the form of scratches. Blisters, warts, hemorrhages, or burns may appear, but never scratches.
So none of the wounds above look like what might be expected if they were inflicted by a supreme being, or what might be expected if our imagination was aided by strong suggestion and the skin subject to change in accordance.
That leaves us with the third option: fake.
Myrna Nazzour of Damascus, Syriah, is stigmatic. The wounds you have seen so far are all pictures of Myrna. She is a fake. All her wounds appear when she is hiding under a blanket. Although there are a lot of footage of her, not one sequence shows a wound actually appearing. Myrna's case is similar to that of Therese Neumann, another stigmata faker (Spanos & Chaves, 1989).
In fairness, Myrna's wounds do derive from Jesus, just not in the way they are supposed to. Under the blanket, Myrna uses her crucifix pendant to produce the wounds. That is why she needs a blanket and that is why she keeps twisting and turning under it. That is why the wounds look like they have been caused by an object with features like those of a crucifix pendant.
Crucifix pendants are designed to hang from necklaces. They come in different sizes and models but the three pictured below are fairly common.
These pendants each have at least four points that would produce wounds such as Myrna's. There are the ends of the cross itself and then there is the attachment to the necklace. The ends of the cross can very easily be sharpened without making it visibly obvious. As you can see on the following pictures, Myrna wears her pendant at every time the wounds appear under the blanket. (Feel free to browse the internet for more pictures and footage.)
If the pendant doesn't show, it is concealed under Myrna's clothes. This is evident when you watch the following movie clip:
[Movie clip: watch closely from about 03:35 into the film] (opens in new window)
What you see in this clip is how a hand removes the crucifix pendant to make the wound visible. This tells us two things: if the necklace and pendant doesn't show, it is concealed under Myrna's clothes, and the necklace is of such length that it is more than possible for Myrna to produce wounds below her breasts.
This movie is the third part of a Swedish TV3 documentary, Reportage, televised 16 September 2004. Along with the TV-team, there was a team of Nordic scientists present at Easter that year, monitoring Myrna and the event. The research team was headed by Norwegian cardiothoracic surgeon Knut Kvernebo. No wounds appeared when the researchers were present, but when they all went shopping on the last day, a wound of course appeared. What a proud moment for the scientific community when research is conducted in this way. And what a proud moment for the Swedish skeptics, the VoF, when their chairman at the time, Dan Larhammar, suggests in an interview that the wounds may be caused by bacteria or blood vessels starting to bleed spontaneosly. Larhammar illustrates perfectly the fallacy of misplaced rationalism as described by Sheaffer in the July/August issue of Skeptical Inquirer:
"Before suggesting such a bizarre and complex yet still ultimately rational explanation, it would be more rational to inquire whether there is really any mystery in need of explaining." (Sheaffer, 2008)
In the case of Myrna Nazzour, there is no mystery - she is using jewelry to scratch her skin. It is obvious to anyone that cares to look. There is no need for far-fetched explanations. Skeptics that are afraid to state that fakers are fakers should not comment on fakers.
The simple and obvious explanation for Myrna Nazzour's alleged stigmata is this:
And should Myrna be deprived of her jewelry, and if her nails were checked properly, no wounds would appear. That such precautions are not taken by a research team is an outrage. The scientist's "testimonies" that they have "no explanation" for the wounds displayed by Myrna are now flaunted all over the internet in support for "miracles" that are nothing but fraud. Knut Kvernebo has prostituted science for the benefit of superstition. Hallelujah...
Swedish TV3 documentary: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.
Sheaffer, R., (2008). The Fallacy of Misplaced Rationalism in Skeptical Inquirer, 32, (4).
Spanos, N. P., & Chaves, J. F., (1989). Hypnosis. The Cognitive-Behavioral Perspective. New York: Prometheus.