Microscopic Appearance

Several scientists examined the microscope slides of the specimen. A few of the images are available from Tesoriero’s books and website.

Unfortunately, the quality is far from ideal. No scale is provided for any of the images. The colours seem a bit off for an H&E stain. Whether this is a white balance issue, image manipulation, sloppy staining technique, or use of a different stain is unclear. Regardless, the nuclei show up as very dark blobs and no detail can be seen in them. Furthermore, one of the images is a picture of a CRT screen and is affected by scanning lines.

Microscope images from Unseen, features labelled A-E by me.

After reading the descriptions of Dr. Lawrence and Dr. Zugibe, they seem to basically agree on what they saw, but they differ substantially in interpretation.

FeatureDescriptionLawrence’s InterpretationZugibe’s InterpretationMicrobial Interpretation
ADead elongated cells with no nucleiKeratotic skin cellsDead cardiomyocytes (striations lost)Dead hyphae/ pseudohyphae
BDying elongated cells with pyknotic nucleiParakeratotic skin cells Dying cardiomyocytes (striations lost) Dying hyphae/ pseudohyphae
CLiving small round cells dominated by intact nuclei.White blood cellsWhite blood cellsSpores
DCellular DebrisCellular DebrisCellular DebrisCellular Debris
ERound cell with intact nucleus
(only one example in available images)
Epithelial cellNot mentionedDifferent species of microorganism

Dr. Lawrence

The first person to examine the slides was Dr. Lawrence. Several sources indicate that he saw human epidermis, the outermost layer of skin. Let’s take a look at healthy epidermis:

Mikael Häggström, based on work by Wbensmith, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

I don’t see anything in the slides resembling that. Fortunately, Unseen contains a quote from the lab report which gives more detail:

“The sample, he said, contained epidermis (outermost layer of skin) infiltrated with white blood cells. In his report he described ‘an aggregate of keratotic and parakeratotic debris with enmeshed leukocytes. Also there are scattered minute aggregates of brown material composed of septate hyphal fragments enmeshed in proteinaceous matrix.”

He didn’t observe healthy epidermis, he saw keratotic and parakeratotic debris. This means that the very top layer of epidermis, the dead tissue on the outside of your skin, called the stratum corneum, has an abnormal growth of keratin. You can see in the image above that the stratum corneum has long flattened cells, which look a bit like the slides of the sample. Keratosis makes this layer thicker, and parakeratosis causes it to retain nuclei, which often have an elongated appearance. You can see in images 1 and 2 of the sample that the nuclei also have an elongated appearance. If you look at just the top layers of this slide of keratotic and parakeratotic skin, you’ll see it looks kind of like the sample:

Valerie R. Yanofsky, Stephen E.Mercer, and Robert G. Phelps, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

But if that is what we are looking at, how did it get into the sample? That image is from a patient with actinic keratosis, a precursor to skin cancer. There are some other conditions that cause keratosis, like psoriasis, but none that are generally associated with Jesus. If this was a miracle, it seems like an odd choice for God to transform the cracker into scales from Jesus’s precancerous skin lesion. It seems like a similarly odd choice for fraud. If it was human I would expect different results on the DNA tests. It would be possible to find dog with psoriasis and scrape off some scales, but why would anyone do that?

Dr. Lawrence also noted enmeshed leukocytes (white blood cells). Dr. Zugibe agrees that these structures are white blood cells but has more detail, so I will get into this in his section.

The final significant observation is the septate hyphal fragments. Hyphae are a characteristic of microorganisms, specifically fungi, oomycetes, or actinobacterium. The kind of organisms you would expect to find on a rotting cracker, but probably not in miraculously preserved human cells. I don’t see anything that matches this description in the images available. But of course Tesoriero doesn’t mention the finding of fungi outside of this quote, so it wouldn’t surprise me if he chose images that didn’t include these structures.

Middle Examiners

At least four experts examined the slides between Dr. Lawrence and Dr. Zugibe. Unfortunately, the only information I have on what they observed is a single paragraph from Unseen, which includes no specific details:

“The microscopic slides were then examined by Australian scientists, Dr Peter Ellis, a senior lecturer in Forensic Medicine at Sydney University, and Dr Thomas Loy of Queensland University. Both supported the interpretation of Dr Lawrence: that the material appeared to be skin tissue. However another scientist, Dr John Walker of Sydney University had a different opinion. He said that the material looked like muscle tissue, not skin. Professor Odoardo Linoli in Italy shared this conclusion but was more specific. He was of the view that the sample possibly contained muscle from the heart.” (Unseen 49)

Dr. Zugibe

The examiner I have the most information from, unsurprisingly, is the one that gave Tesoriero the answer he wanted to hear, that it was human heart tissue. This includes two letters in his own words, plus edited video of his comments as he examines the slides. The letters are basically identical. The descriptions of the slides are below, with the differences between them highlighted.

From the first letter:

“This slide consists of cardiac (heart) tissue that displays degenerative changes of the myocardial tissue (cardiac muscular tissue) with loss of striations, nuclear pyknosis, aggregates of mixed inflammatory cells (macrophages) which are the predominant cells admixed with smaller numbers of acute inflammatory cells (white blood cells primarily polymorphonuclear leukocytes. The directionality of the myocardial fibers indicates that the site of these changes is relatively close to a valvular region in the ventricular area of the heart.”

From the second letter:

“The slides contain cardiac (heart) tissue that displays degenerative changes of the myocardial tissue (cardiac muscular tissue) with loss of striations of the muscle fibers, nuclear pyknosis, aggregates of mixed Inflammatory cells consisting of chronic inflammatory cells (microphages) which are predominant and smaller numbers of acute inflammatory cells (white blood cells primarily polymorphonuclear leukocytes) which are admixed. The directionality of the myocardial fibers indicates that the site of these changes is relatively close to a valvular region in the ventricular area of the heart.

The only significant difference I see is that the first letter implies he only examined a single slide, while the second implies multiple slides.

First, he says he sees loss of striations of the muscle fibres. Striations are a distinctive feature of heart and skeletal muscle cells that give it the stripey appearance you can see in the healthy heart cells below. Zugibe is noting that they are missing from the sample, which can happen in tissue dying due to a heart attack. (Of course it could also mean they were never there in the first place because it’s not actually heart tissue).

Second, he notes nuclear pyknosis, the nuclei are condensed and appear very dark with abnormal shapes. Again, he attributes this to dying cells due to a heart attack.

Then he describes seeing white blood cells. He says they are primarily macrophages. Macrophages are large white blood cells with an oval shaped nucleus. Unfortunately, I only have pictures of old CRT monitors for the cells I assume he is referring to, so the image quality is very poor. He also notes small quantities of polymorphonuclear leukocytes, which are neutrophils, eosinophils, and basophils. They are smaller cells with distinctive shapes to the nuclei that can be used to identify them. I don’t see any examples of these. They could be in an area I don’t have images of, or I could be missing them because the image quality is poor.

Zugibe says “This is not unlike what I see in motor vehicle accident cases when CPR is applied to a person too harshly and the heart suffers injury. It is also the sort of suffering that I see in cases where someone has been severely beaten around the chest” (Unseen, 50)

“This looks to be of human origin. It is flesh and I can see white blood cells. It is definitely heart tissue from the left ventricle wall, not too far from the valvular area…This heart muscle has lost its striations and there is the presence of intact white blood cells. The heart muscle is inflamed. There has been recent injury like those I see in cases where someone has been beaten severely around the chest.” (RTB, pg 95-96)

I do not know what Zugibe based the statement “this looks to be of human origin” on. This conclusion is not contained in either report. None of the people I have talked to could give me any way that the species the tissue came from could be determined from observation of microscope slides. He certainly did say it, it was recorded on video. However, to quote Zugibe himself:

“It is a sine qua non in the scientific method to give the basis for each conclusion including any experiments that were conducted that enabled the investigator to arrive at his conclusions, otherwise invalid information may be propagated ad infinitum.” (The Crucifixion of Jesus, Completely Revised, page 539)

Because he gives no basis for that statement, by his own standard it should be disregarded.

Why so many opinions?

Tesoriero explains the variety of opinions on the nature of the sample like this: “Microscopic depictions of heart muscle in pathology atlases show the tissue as it would be in normal healthy conditions. The material on the slides however showed little correspondence with these standard representations. As it turns out, when heart tissue undergoes trauma it changes its visual characteristics. White blood cells infiltrate the tissue to address the trauma. The normally elongated smooth striated appearance of the muscle tissue changes. The tissue loses its striations, separates, becomes curley and eventually disintegrates. The material on the slides looked nothing like healthy cardiac tissue but according to pathology atlases it did share identical features with inflamed traumatized cardiac muscle.”

This is nonsense. First of all, it would be a pretty odd pathology atlas that only showed healthy cardiac tissue. Pathology atlases show diseased and injured tissue, that’s literally the definition of “pathology”. Most of the experts consulted were forensic examiners, who are certainly used to dealing with unhealthy tissue. Also, no one suggested this was healthy tissue. The cells are very obviously dead or dying.

More likely, there are a variety of opinions because it is not possible to conclusively identify the sample based on microscopy alone with no context. And shopping around through scientists until you get an answer you like and then declaring that the answer is certainly not a scientific approach. How many other scientists did Tesoriero go through that gave him answers he didn’t like that he just doesn’t mention?