Open nearly any text in ancient history or Western civilization used widely in colleges and universities today and you will find a generally sympathetic, if compressed, version of Jesus’ life, which ends with some variation of the statement that he was crucified by Pontius Pilate and died as a result. No ranking historian anywhere in the world shares the ultimate criticism voiced by German philosopher Bruno Bauer in the last century that Jesus was a myth, that he never lived in fact. And no one denies that Jesus died from crucifixion, since thousands of Roman victims died that way.

So far, so good. It is what happened after the first Good Friday that is reported inconsistently in our secular histories. And for good reason: historians worship objectivity, their texts will be used by students of all faiths, and the secular scholar simply cannot report a preternatural event in the past as fact of history without mortal risk to his academic reputation. If a Christian, he may personally believe in the Easter triumph over death, but he usually tries to prevent this bias of faith from intruding into his works.

Most authors use one of two devices to cover the Easter phenomenon in their history books:

1. Silence. Some texts avoid any reference whatever to events “on the third day.” After Jesus dies, in these versions, there is an immediate shift to the growth of the early Church in Jerusalem and elsewhere. Even what the earliest church had to “grow on,” i.e., the Resurrection kerygma, is often missing in such accounts, leaving the unchurched reader to wonder what the fuss involving one Jesus of Nazareth was all about.

2. Qualifying the report. Other texts seem to begin as confessionally as one of the Gospels but then add the all-important ...

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