Who Moved The Stone? - by Frank Morison


This is the name of a book which is often cited by Christians as having been written by a sceptic who set out to prove the Bible wrong and ended up having to admit that the Bible was correct. What sort of sceptic was Morison?

He writes in Chapter 5 that he used to go to Church as a young man and he takes it for granted that his readers know the phrasing of the English Prayer Book.

He writes in Chapter 1 of his feelings during his time of scepticism 'For the person of Jesus Christ Himself, however, I had a deep and even reverent regard. He seemed to me an almost legendary figure of purity and noble manhood. A coarse word with regard to Him, or the taking of His name lightly, stung me to the quick'. This is not the normal attitude of a sceptic. Indeed, Morison laps up the Gospels throughout the book. To him it was unquestioned that every detail in them was accurate beyond any doubt. He starts from the assumption that if the Gospels say X happened, then X happened and that is all there is to it.

Never once does he give any evidence that the Gospels are true. His method of reasoning is to bludgeon the reader into acceptance with repeated claims of 'unmistakably historical', 'beyond the possibility of doubt', 'It rings true...' , 'the language of St. Mark is to my mind conclusive', 'palpably true to life', 'it reads from a transcript from life', 'This is obviously a true history' etc etc.

Morison writes about the Gospel of Mark as follows in chapter 10 '... the primitive character and essential trustworthiness of St. Mark. Historically, that document is unique. It stands like a great rock far out to sea, washed by the incoming tide long before the coastline of the distinctively Christian literature is reached. It casts its mighty shadow across all that littoral. It divides the very waters that flow towards it. That this rugged and uncompromising old document stands in a special relationship to the teaching of Peter has been a tradition of the Church from the very dawn of Christendom and will be disputed by few. It has the simple directness of his frank and objective mind.'

It seems that Morison can just tell that Peter's 'frank and objective mind' lies behind the Gospel of Mark, although the only record he has of what Peter's 'frank and objective mind' was like is by Morison's reading of the New Testament. Morison is indulging in truly circular reasoning. How does he know Mark is accurate - because Peter's 'frank and objective mind' lies behind it. How does he know Peter had a 'frank and objective mind' - because the Bible says so.

It goes without saying that if you start with the assumption that the Gospels are true in every detail , you wind up with the conclusion that the Gospels are true in every detail, just as if you start from the assumption that the Qur'an is true in every detail, you end up with the conclusion that the Qur'an is true in every detail.

Despite Morison's repeated claims that anybody can tell that the Gospels are true just by reading them, he acknowledges that there are some things which don't seem so true. For example, in Chapter 9, he points out that there was a seven week gap between the resurrection of Jesus and the disciples proclamation in Jerusalem that Jesus had risen.

Morison writes that this is '.... an anachronism of the first order. It does not help the credibility of the apostles' story. It embarrasses it. It provides an unnecessary and even incomprehensible stumbling-block to faith. It leaves the door wide open for the entry of the greatest suspicion.'

So is Morison embarrassed by this 'anachronism of the first order'? Can you guess? Of course, he is not embarrassed. If something is an anachronism, and does not help the credibility of the story, then that just makes it even more true! He writes 'Can we doubt that an absolutely untrammelled legend, told and retold many years after the event, would have avoided altogether so fatal a weakness and have placed the triumphant public announcement of the Resurrection on the very day that its discovery was made?'

You just can't lose with Christian explanations. If something seems true, then that is evidence that it is true. If something seems false, then that is also evidence that it is true, for who would say things which are easily shown to be false? Morison writes in Chapter 14, 'Its very defects as a legend are the strongest proof of its actuality.'

Morison, despite being a 'sceptic', thinks nothing of inventing far-out explanations to cover up contradictions in the Gospels. For example, Mark says the women set out 'when the sun was risen', while John says it was 'early, while it was yet dark.' Morison writes that there is no problem because 'women are specially prone to unforeseen delays when engaged in joint expeditions....' 'In any case', Morison writes, 'the unanimous witness of the first documents is that it was early...' . So they only contradict themselves a bit, and if the Gospels say that women set off early, then the women set off early. After all, it's in the Bible, so it must be true. Was Morison really a sceptic?

Let's have a look at another example where Morison will say anything rather than admit that something in the Bible might not be true.

Mark says that the women said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid, while in Matthew and John the women did tell people. Morison has an explanation for this. If Mark says the women did not tell anyone, he meant that they did not tell anybody outside 'those intimately concerned'. If people protest that 'They said nothing to anyone' means that they said nothing to anyone, then Morison chides '....those critics who affirm that St. Mark implied the absolute and unconditional silence of the women, I am convinced that they are wrong and that the words will not bear the extreme meaning which it is sought to extract from them.' Morison does concede that 'said nothing to anyone' might mean 'nothing'. 'In strict logic', he writes, 'and divorced from their context, the words can bear no other meaning.' So what context does Morison think the words in Mark Chapter 16 should have? Morison says that , to get the right context, we should look at Mark Chapter 1.

According to Morison, the plain words of Mark 16 must be read in the context of Mark 1, and then it will be seen that they don't mean what they 'in strict logic' clearly say. Instead of this 'strict logic', Morison points out that the man in Mark 1:45 disobeyed Jesus's command not to tell anybody. Morison concludes that because somebody disobeyed a command to tell nobody, Mark did not mean that the women told nothing to anyone. Is there no end to the desperate logic that Christian apologists will try to use to get around the fact that certain bits of the Bible contradict other bits?

In Chapter 9, Morison is quite frank about what he is doing. 'We have been proceeding rather on the assumption that we can postulate anything of the disciples providing that it accounts, superficially at least, for their behaviour.' Would any Christian apologist let a sceptic get away with superficial explanations, postulating anything which comes to mind? Or would evidence be demanded?

Notice also that Morison takes it for granted that we can assume that Mark 1 is correct in every detail. He feels no need to justify using Mark 1 to 'explain' Mark 16. There is no greater proof that he started by taking everything in the New Testament as being true, despite claims that he started by having an open mind.

Indeed , Morison appears to accept almost anything that any Christian has ever written as being true. For example, he tells us that Pilate's wife was called Claudia Procula and , in Chapter 6, Morison states that Salome (Mark 15:40) was the mother of the Apostle John! Needless, to say there is no evidence at all for what Morison says other than Christian forgeries..

What sort of sceptic could Morison ever have been? We get a clue in Chapter 8 when Morison talks about Venturini. Venturini, along with Reimarus and Paulus, was one of a group of people who regarded everything in the New Testament as being true, but did not think any miracles had happened. For example, Paulus said that the feeding of the 5,000 had happened, but it was only the result of the crowd sharing their food when they saw Jesus sharing his food.

Naturally, these sort of sceptics were easy pickings for Morison. If somebody starts from the assumption that everything in the Gospels is true, it is impossible to doubt that miracles happened, as Morison points out.

Ironically, Morison quotes David Friedrich Strauss to refute the rationalists like Venturini. Strauss was one of the first to point out the absurdity of the position of Venturini - that Jesus had not died on the cross and had later crawled out of the tomb, half-dead.

Strauss went on to demolish the claims of the Gospels to be historical accounts. As Morison seems to know about, and quotes Strauss, how does Morison deal with Strauss's challenges to the Gospels? He ignores them. Morison is unable to deal with people who do not share his assumption that everything in the Gospels must be taken at face-value. As Morison is unable to refute Strauss, he ignored him.

Conclusion

'Who moved the Stone?' by Frank Morison is yet another fundamentalist work written from the standpoint that everything in the Gospels must be accepted as historical fact. Morison is unable to supply evidence to support his claims that the Gospels are history. His book consists largely of speculation and fantasy. It is more an historical novel than a serious study of the problems of the Gospels. He deals with contradictions and inconsistencies by either ignoring them, or postulating anything, however superficial, which lets him gloss over difficulties.


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