Friday, March 23, 2012

Book Review: Who Moved The Stone?

This is a famous book, and a fascinating one at that. Frank Morison set out to write one book, refuting the claims of Christ and the resurrection by examining the last week of his life, but was never able to write that book. Instead, he produced 'Who Moved The Stone?' because, as he says himself: 'It was the strangeness of many notable things in the story which first arrested and held my interest. It was only later that the irresistible logic of their meaning came into view.'

The book is, therefore partly, autobiographical. It charts the man behind the pseudonym of Frank Morison's journey from doubt to belief; from agnosticism to faith, through examining the first hand evidence of the events of Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

His examination of the evidence is quite detailed - he truly leaves no stone unturned as he follows the case through to its conclusion. From the trial before the Sanhedrin (with disagreeing witnesses and confused evidence) through to Jesus appearing before Pontius Pilate, he highlights the mystery of the prisoner and the vehemence of the case against him: 'We do not get rid of the mystery of Christ when we bring Him to the Roman bar; we increase it tenfold.'

In his thoroughness, he also concentrates quite intensively on the insights of psychology as he considers the words and actions of the main players in the drama. At times, though, I thought he was going a little too far.

Carefully considering the various possible reasons for the empty tomb on Easter Sunday, as well as the motives of those who may wished to have removed the body of Jesus, he is quite certain that the tomb was empty because of resurrection. 'The vacant tomb itself must have been the final and unanswerable objective witness.'

He pieces together the events and excitement of the first Easter morning, again considering the psychological impact of the news that the tomb was empty and that Jesus was alive - indeed, had to be alive. The research and thought he has put into this work is incredible, and builds a compelling case - all the more compelling given his starting point as broadly hostile to the possibility of miracles. As he says, 'the perspective shifted... by the very stubbornness of the facts themselves.'

Having said that, and having enjoyed the book on the whole, there are some elements of his reconstruction that I'm not so fussed on. One main one involves the question of the title - who moved the stone - with the suggestion that the young man/men the women encounter at the tomb aren't angels, but actual young men. His reason? 'I cannot help feelign, however, that if the vision produced the kind of impression which we associate with an 'angel' the result would not be to induce terror, but rather a slowly dawning wonder, a consciousness of the nearness of great and sacred things.' It appears that the writer had never read of virtually every time humans encountered angels in the Scriptures, with the necessary first words: 'Do not be afraid.'

All in all, this is a good book, particularly for the Easter period. The evidence is presented in a clear and easy to follow manner. The enquirer will be led to explore the empty tomb and its significance. Perhaps the book should come with a health warning - it may just change your mind and your life!

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