Throughout the month of February, this column will be featuring stories of noted atheists who experienced dramatic shifts in their views, eventually becoming Christians. The stories will highlight the reasons why they held their atheistic views to begin with, and the reasons they became convinced of the truth of Christianity.
Emerging from humble beginnings, the world would never really know the name of the unassuming advertising agent, Albert Henry Ross. However, his alter-ego, the freelance writer Frank Morrison, would go on to gain a great deal of notoriety over the course of history as the author of the landmark book Who Moved the Stone – a study in skepticism yielding to belief.
Ross was raised in Stratford-upon-Avon, England, and began on his path toward the authorship of this milestone book by laboring his way through a series of advertising jobs. He began his career at Lever Brothers until 1910, then joined advertising agents S. H. Benson’s of Kingsway. He was efficient enough at his work to earn a series of promotions, no doubt due to his skill at writing. On the side, he had a keen knowledge of, and interest in, the sciences – as his amateur work in astronomy attested.
As any serious scientific man of the 20th century, Ross firmly believed in the maxim of the renowned skeptic, Huxley, that, “Miracles do not happen.” Despite his firm commitment to the work and philosophy of 19th century skeptics, Ross could not help but feel an attraction to, and admiration for, the Biblical Jesus. This had been an interest of Ross’ for much of his life. And his study had led him to believe that the story of Jesus was likely just that: a story. Said Ross:
“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 on very insecure foundations.”
Finally, Ross decided to take his talent at writing, and his keen scientific mind, and put them to work in order to untangle the cobweb of stories being told within the historical documents to prove once and for all that dead men simply did not rise again.
Ross did not simply study the Gospels, but looked beyond them to other sources, such as the works of Josephus, some early historical writings on Pontius Pilate and even tapped into more controversial sources, such as the Gospels of Peter and Hebrews to see where they came from and what their traditions had to say.
Ross proved throughout his study not merely to have a firm command of scientific investigation, but also a surprising grasp of legal and forensic matters. Said Ross:
“In attempting to unravel the tangled skein of passions, prejudices, and political intrigues with which the last days of Jesus are interwoven, it has always seemed to me a sound principle to go straight to the heart of the mystery by studying closely the nature of the charge brought against Him.
I remember this aspect of the question coming home to me one morning with new and unexpected force. I tried to picture to myself what would happen if some two thousand years hence a great controversy should arise about one who was the center of a criminal trial, say in 1922. By that time most of the essential documents would have passed into oblivion. An old faded cutting of The Times or Telegraph, or perhaps some tattered fragment of a legal book describing the case, might have survived to reach the collection of an antiquary. From these and other fragments the necessary conclusions would have to be drawn. Is it not certain that people living in that far-off day, and desiring to get at the real truth about the man concerned, would go first to the crucial question of the charge on which arraigned? They would say: “What was all the trouble about? What did his accusers say and bring against him?” If, as in the present instance, several charges appear to have been preferred, they would ask what was the real case against the prisoner.”
Ross stopped to ask the important questions which none save him had ever asked. Questions such as, “Why did Judas choose that particular night to turn Jesus in to the Pharisees?” “Did the Sanhedrin and Pilate work hand-in-hand on Jesus’ case, or separately?” “Where and why did they disciples hide during and after the trial and crucifixion?” and further questions of a purely forensic nature.
As Ross advanced through his work, a book he initially intended to publish under the title Jesus: The Last Phase, the evidence became more and more convincing that Jesus did, indeed, rise from his tomb. Everything pointed in that direction. The book he set out to write – debunking the risen Christ – was not the book he completed, a fact he recounts in his chapter “The Book That Refused to be Written.” At the conclusion of the writing he was brought to, as he calls it, the “unexpected shores” of salvation.
Ross went on to write other historical works, including one on Pontius Pilate himself, no doubt inspired by the notes he had taken for Stone.
While Ross died in 1950, and his larger body of writings are all but forgotten, Who Moved The Stone has become a classic of Christian Apologetics, proving still to be a truly brilliant piece of analytical work into the events surrounding the trial, crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus.