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Who Moved the Stone? – Frank Morison

June 30, 2015

WMTSI remember reading this book as a sixth former and being ‘convinced’ on the literal resurrection. Not until some years later, did I realise that it was all based on a circular argument. He uses the Bible to prove that the Bible is true. Then again, the author was a lawyer, not a theologian or New Testament scholar. (Though he seems to have made even this up. The author was actually Albert Henry Ross (1881 – 14 September 1950), an English advertising agent and freelance writer. It’s good, amateur, apologetics.

‘Evidence’ includes the ‘fact’ that the first witnesses were women. If you wanted to fabricate a tale, you would not used women as their testimony was deemed unreliable in a court of law in those days.

Or they went to the wrong tomb – so why were their grave clothes and guards?

Did Joseph of Arimathea remove it? Maybe to put him in a better tomb? After all, this was a makeshift grave because everyone was in a hurry before the Sabbath started. But why leave the grace clothes behind?

Or Jesus wasn’t really dead but revived after three days – with those fatal wounds? And why did he leave the tomb naked? Jesus could not have survived crucifixion. Roman procedures were very careful to eliminate that possibility. Roman law even laid the death penalty on any soldier who let a capital prisoner escape in any way, including bungling a crucifixion. It was never done. The fact that the Roman soldier did not break Jesus’ legs, as he did to the other two crucified criminals (Jn 19:31-33), means that the soldier was sure Jesus was dead. Breaking the legs hastened the death so that the corpse could be taken down before the sabbath (v. 31). John, a supposed ‘eyewitness’, certified that he saw blood and water come from Jesus’ pierced heart (Jn 19:34-35). This shows that Jesus’ lungs had collapsed and he had died of asphyxiation. Any medical expert can vouch for this.

Or that the disciples made it up – but would they go to their martyrdoms knowing that it was all a lie, rather than saving their lives by coming clean? They didn’t seem to be the sort of people who had guts unless the resurrection made them brave: the original material from which we have to derive this dynamic force consists of an habitual doubter like Thomas, a rather weak fisherman like Peter, a gentle dreamer like John, a practical tax-gatherer like Matthew, a few seafaring men like Andrew and Nathanael, the inevitable women, and at most two or three others.

If the resurrection was a lie, the Jews would have produced the corpse and nipped this feared superstition in the bud. All they had to do was go to the tomb and get it. The Roman soldiers and their leaders were on their side, not the Christians’. And if the Jews couldn’t get the body because the disciples stole it, how did they do that? The arguments against the swoon theory hold here too: unarmed peasants could not have overpowered Roman soldiers or rolled away a great stone while they slept on duty.

Was the risen Jesus an apparition? After all, bereaved people often imagine that they have seen their loved one still alive in the early stages of grief. There were too many witnesses. Hallucinations are private, individual, subjective. Christ appeared to Mary Magdalene, to the disciples minus Thomas, to the disciples including Thomas, to the two disciples at Emmaus, to the fisherman on the shore, to James (his “brother” or cousin), and even to five hundred people at once (1 Cor 15:3-8). Even three different witnesses are enough for a kind of psychological trigonometry; over five hundred is about as public as you can wish. And Paul says in this passage (v. 6) that most of the five hundred are still alive, inviting any reader to check the truth of the story by questioning the eyewitnesses—he could never have done this and gotten away with it, given the power, resources and numbers of his enemies, if it were not true.

As for discrepancies between the gospel ‘accounts’, that is exactly what a lawyer expects from witnesses in a court. If their testimonies agreed in detail, that would be evidence that they got their stories straight beforehand.

The discrepancies include: when did the women go to the tomb? (Mat toward dawn; Mk when sun had risen; Lk early dawn; Jn still dark)

Who did they see when they got there? (Mt an angel; Mk ayoung man in white; Lk two men in dazzling apparel; Jn two angels)

Did the women see the risen Jesus at this time(Mt yes; Mk no; Lk no; Jn yes, a little bit later)

Where did the first resurrection appearance take place? (Matthew 28: 10 By tomb; Mk by tomb to Mary in v. 9 (most mss. end at 8 so nobody saw); Luke 24: 13f near Jerusalem at Emmaus; John 20: 11f Jerusalem tomb to Mary; 1 Corinthians 15: 4 Peter (Cephas) – place not mentioned

The author says that: we cannot find in the contemporary records any trace of a tomb Ipr shrine becoming the centre of veneration or worship on the ground that it contained the relics of Jesus. This is inconceiv­able if it was ever seriously stated at the time that Jesus was really buried elsewhere than in the vacant tomb. Rumour would have asserted a hundred supposititious places where the remains really lay, and pilgrimages innumerable would have been made to them.

Then again, the history of the Holy Sepulchre may have something to say about this.

The main evidence is the moved from Saturday to Sunday, rather day of the resurrection, as the Christian Sabbath.

Also the continuing existence of the Christian Church despise persecution.


“When, as a very young man, I first began seriously to study the life of Christ, I did so with a very definite feeling that, if I may so put it, His history rested upon very insecure foundations … the fact that almost every word of the Gospels was just then the subject of high wrangling and dispute did very largely colour the thought of the time, and I suppose I could hardly escape its influence…. It seemed to me that purely documentary criticism might be mistaken, but that the laws of the Universe should go back on themselves in a quite arbitrary and inconsequential manner seemed very improbable…. For the person of Jesus Christ Himself, however, I had a deep and almost reverent regard. He seemed to me an almost legendary figure of purity and noble manhood. A coarse word regarding Him, or the taking of His name lightly, stung me to the quick. I am only too conscious of how far this attitude fell short of the full dogmatic position of Christianity. But it is an honest statement of how at least one young student felt in those early formative years… I need not describe here how, fully ten years later, the opportunity came to study the life of Christ as I had long wanted to study it, to investigate the origins of its literature, to sift some of the evidence at first hand, and to form my own judgment on the problem which it presents. I will only say that it effected a revolution in my thought.”

Directly we set this question in the forefront of our enquiry, certain things emerge which throw new and unexpected light on the problem. It will help us to an understanding of what these significant things are if we consider first the very singular character of the trial itself. For not only did it take place at an unprecedented hour for such proceedings, but it was marked throughout by peculiarities of a special kind. Consider in the first instance the vital element of time.

It will require very much more than this chapter to answer these questions, to which indeed the whole book is a very partial and inadequate reply.

“This brings us to a theory which is, perhaps, the only really logical alternative to the Gospel thesis. If it could be proved that that grave was not visited on Sunday morning, and that it lay undisturbed and perhaps unthought up for many months afterwards, then the rock upon which all the preceding hypotheses ultimately founder would be removed. For if the women did not announce its vacancy, the Priests would be under no compulsion to formulate a theory, and the city would have gone about its normal life, save for the inevitable excitement and discussion occasioned by so resounding an event as the Crucifixion.”

See also


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