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In polarized Washington, a Democrat anchors bipartisan friendships in faith

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., speaks to reporters after a briefing of the full Senate by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, at the Capitol, on May 18, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

WASHINGTON (RNS) — President Trump doesn’t have a lot of nice things to say about Democrats these days. Well, except Sen. Chris Coons.

The same day the president made headlines for angrily walking out on Democratic leadership during shutdown negations (Jan. 9), he was also heaping praise on the Delaware Democrat.

“Senator Chris Coons: On occasion, we disagree, but I actually like him,” Trump said that morning during a bill-signing in the Oval Office. Coons wasn’t the only Democrat who worked on the bills splayed across the president’s desk, but he was the only one in the room, a fact the senator later said wasn’t lost on Trump or his daughter, Ivanka, who was also present.

The president then looked over his shoulder at the smiling senator: “We pray together, right? That’s a good step.”

The brief exchange highlighted the peculiar niche that Coons has carved out in a Washington riven by partisanship. A bridge builder with Republicans, Coons is known for helping create rare flickers of bipartisan agreement.

Part of his secret, it seems, is religion. Over the course of multiple interviews with Religion News Service, Coons, who grew up attending Red Clay Creek Presbyterian Church in Hockessin, Del., explained that his faith has not only provided grounding for his own life but has also emerged as a point of connection with Republicans, with whom he has forged lasting relationships — and legislation.

The fusion of service and faith has long fascinated Coons, who in the 1980s worked with the South African Council of Churches and Archbishop Desmond Tutu to support the anti-apartheid movement. Coons went on to earn a master’s in ethics from Yale Divinity School in the early 1990s, while getting a law degree from Yale Law School.

“This is what interests me more than almost anything that I’ve done in public life,” Coons said, referring to the intersection of religion and politics.

One of his divinity school professors, Serene Jones, now president of the liberal-leaning Union Theological Seminary in New York, described him as “an exceptional student.”

“I would have loved to have him as my church’s pastor, and I am thrilled to have him in my country’s Senate,” she said.

Sen.-elect Chris Coons, D-Del., celebrates his win against Christine O’Donnell during a Democratic election night rally in Wilmington, Del., on Nov. 2, 2010. Coons is joined on stage with his wife, Annie, and two of his children. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

The interest persisted after Coons entered politics in 2000 and rose to the national stage in 2010, when he won a special election to fill the Senate seat vacated when Joe Biden was elected vice president. As senator, Coons — who campaigned for Ronald Reagan in 1980 before becoming a Democrat — has repeatedly argued that being liberal and a Christian are not incongruous. He has spoken in churches and to Muslim groups, headlined a faith-themed 2017 event hosted by Union Seminary denouncing an uptick in anti-LGBTQ sentiment and penned an opinion piece in The Atlantic titled “Progressive Values Can’t Be Just Secular Values.”

For Coons, 55, being both a committed believer and ardent liberal also involves a lot self-deprecation regarding his own spiritual practices.

“I’m only on my third time through reading the Bible, start to finish, in a year,” he said, almost sheepishly, before spending several minutes outlining what he described as inadequate attempts to focus on Scripture, such as relying on devotionals and using a Bible app on his phone.

Coons is a vocal supporter of the separation of church and state, saying during the 2017 confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch that he is “in awe” of Founding Fathers who called for it. But he appears to draw a distinction when it comes to the role of personal faith in politics.

“I wasn’t elected as part of an empire of Christendom. I was elected as part of a democratic republic where my state has lots of people who have different faith traditions and backgrounds or none at all,” Coons said. “But to pretend that my religious views shouldn’t influence my attitude and action — I think that’s fiction.”

He called on potential 2020 Democratic White House hopefuls to be honest about their own spiritual influences, noting, “My most basic advice is ‘Don’t hide your faith.’” Even so, Coons warned, “the gospel is not a blueprint for a political agenda (or) a party platform,” and he rebuked a form of Christian nationalism that permeates some corners of American politics.

“Christian nationalism, understood as a view that God created and inspired the United States to be the nation on earth that is meant to be a Christian democracy and to carry forth Christ’s vision for the world … that is in profound tension with our founding as a pluralistic, multifaith, multiethnic, multilingual democracy, which in its founding documents recognizes a creator and recognizes natural rights but expressively declines to create a state religion, and to align … powers of the state with any particular faith,” he said.

Sen. Tim Scott, left, R-S.C., laughs with Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., in the Delaware Democrat’s office on Jan. 9, 2019. RNS photo by Jack Jenkins

Such rhetoric seems at odds with Coons’ friendly relations with Trump and other Republicans who have pushed an idea of America as a preserve of Christianity. Although he has taken flack from progressive groups such as Indivisible for his relatively centrist approaches to financial deregulation and some immigration issues, Coons maintains a 100 percent rating from the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, repeatedly backed comprehensive LGBT nondiscrimination legislation and consistently opposed Trump’s travel ban on refugees and immigrants from a group of primarily Muslim-majority countries.

Yet Coons has won over so many Republican lawmakers that last year Politico dubbed him “the GOP’s favorite Democrat.” During one of Coons’ interviews with RNS, Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., walked into Coons’ office unannounced. Within seconds, Coons began reminiscing about how the two worshipped together during the annual Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimage.

“Tim and I actually ended up in South Carolina together through Faith and Politics,” Coons said, referring to the Faith and Politics Institute, which organizes the trip.

Meanwhile, one of Coons’ closest spiritual confidants is Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., with whom he co-chairs both the weekly Senate Prayer Breakfast and the annual National Prayer Breakfast. (Coons inherited the role in 2016 from Virginia Catholic Sen. Tim Kaine, the previous Democratic co-chair of both events, who asked the Presbyterian to take over after being tapped as Hillary Clinton’s running mate.)

“I have several Republicans who are also friends with whom I have gotten closer because of our opportunity to talk and share about our faith journey,” he said. “I’d put James Lankford very high on that list.”

The Senate Prayer Breakfast is a small affair for 20 to 25 lawmakers from both parties who assemble each Wednesday to discuss religious matters. Its proceedings are kept private outside of vague descriptions of prayer and songs, but both Coons and Lankford said it forges a special camaraderie among elected officials.

Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., center, speaks about immigration and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program on Feb. 7, 2018, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

“It’s unusual, I think, for people to understand that in our country, legislators get together, take off their labels, and pray for each other and each other’s families,” Lankford, who earned a master’s of divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and still occasionally performs marriage counseling and weddings, told RNS.

Coons described leading the gathering with Lankford as “one of the greatest blessings of my life,” adding that it also brings him closer to lawmakers in his own party. He said that after freshman Sen. Jacky Rosen of Nevada, a Jewish Democrat, attended the prayer breakfast for the first time in January, he “beelined” for her later that day at lunch.

These relationships can produce real-world results. Coons and Lankford both served on the 2017-2018 Senate Financial Services and General Government Appropriations subcommittee, which controls $23.8 billion across 14 federal agencies and the Washington, D.C., government. With Lankford as chair and Coons as the ranking member, an appropriations bill passed through the subcommittee and the Senate recently — the first such legislation to do so in two decades — with bipartisan support. 

Asked if their faith connection played a role in such projects, Coons said: “It helps — it helps a lot.”

Religion also played a role in Coons’ political friendship with former Sen. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican who was often critical of Trump’s rhetoric before retiring from the Senate in 2018. Coons said he and Flake found common ground on many topics, including a shared appreciation for religion — albeit very different varieties.

“He’s a Mormon, and at exactly the same time I was going to Kenya (for relief work), he was going to Zimbabwe on a Mormon mission, which literally means going up to people (and saying) ‘Would you like to talk about Jesus?’” Coons said in a December speech. “As a Presbyterian, not only had I never done that, I had never met anyone who’d done that.”

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., left, and Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., address the crowd at the 2018 Global Citizen Festival in Central Park on Sept. 29, 2018, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

The pair ended up embarking on trips to the African continent together, but their most famous collaboration was initiating the weeklong FBI investigation into allegations of sexual assault by then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, a compromise move that surprised (and frustrated) party leaders on both sides.

The National Prayer Breakfast is currently Coons’ most significant faith-based collaboration. An often relatively muted annual gathering in Washington, D.C., that traditionally includes a speech from the president of the United States, the breakfast has come under increased scrutiny after a Russian national, Maria Butina, was arrested last year and pleaded guilty after being accused of, among other things, attempting to exploit the high-powered spiritual event as a way to influence Trump and American politics in general.

Asked if they intended to heighten security at this year’s event (Feb. 7), Coons and Lankford explained their role is to plan the program, not logistics.

Even so, both demurred on the question of whether leaders should screen the event. The Oklahoman said someone from the National Prayer Breakfast contacted him to ask about the issue, but he responded by arguing that religious gatherings are supposed to bring people together.

“I’m always a little taken back when someone will … pull someone out and say, ‘I’m not sure their motives were pure’ — well, welcome to church,” he said, echoing a similar point also made by lead National Prayer Breakfast organizer Doug Burleigh. “Not everyone walks into every prayer meeting with the same motivation.”

For his part, Coons argued these sorts of faith-fueled gatherings are about finding common ground amid controversy, something he says he experienced firsthand with Trump at the 2017 National Prayer Breakfast. Just four days earlier, the president had signed his controversial “travel ban” executive order. By contrast, Coons had worked with several faith groups — among them his home church — to welcome a Syrian refugee family in his state, only to have their arrival paused by the ban.

Coons told an audience last month that he had been scheduled to pray at the event immediately after Trump’s remarks but walked over to the president beforehand to voice his disagreement about the ban on moral and religious grounds, saying: “I believe it is wrong. I believe it is against everything in my faith and everything that this breakfast is about.”

The exchange promptly turned biblical: “I said, ‘Mr. President, I also want to pray for you today.’ He looked at me, and then I said, ‘We’re called to pray for our enemies.’”

Nearly two years removed from the encounter, Coons explained the remark wasn’t just bluster. Leaning back reflectively in his office chair, he said he still prays for Trump on a regular basis.

“Frankly, I have found the practice of regularly praying for our president a powerful and purposeful spiritual discipline,” he said, acknowledging that it has been “at times a struggle” to get past political clashes and remind himself that Trump is “a child of God.”

The moment of prayer appeared to win the president’s respect. He said Trump, who also was raised Presbyterian, often cites their common faith when they see each other.

“He says, ‘We Presbyterians have got to stick together!’ like we’re some small hunted minority or something,” Coons recalled, laughing.

About the author

Jack Jenkins

Jack Jenkins is a national reporter for RNS based in Washington, covering U.S. Catholics and the intersection of religion and politics.

48 Comments

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  • Senator, Senator, Senator,

    You apparently missed my Apostles’ Creed update. Here it is again. Puts the NT in 21st century reality:

    The Apostles’ Creed 2019: (updated by yours truly and based on the studies of historians and theologians of the past 200 years)

    Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
    and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
    human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven??

    I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
    preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
    named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
    girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

    Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
    the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

    He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
    a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of
    Jerusalem.

    Said Jesus’ story was embellished and “mythicized” by
    many semi-fiction writers. A descent into Hell, a bodily resurrection
    and ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
    Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
    grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
    and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
    called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

    Amen
    (references used are available upon request)

  • We do need someone to actually evangelize the Republicans in Congress, so maybe that is what Senator Coons can do.

  • SO WHICH IS IT? Is “the weekly Senate Prayer Breakfast [or] the annual National Prayer Breakfast” a GOOD thing for America – or BAD?

    For on the one hand, RNS is saying, It’s GOOD because, according to Jack Jenkins, “both [Sen. Chris] Coons and [Sen. James] Lankford said it forges a special camaraderie among elected officials. … ‘Religious gatherings are supposed to bring people together.'”

    On the hand, however, RNS is saying, It’s BAD because, according to Jack Jenkins, “the National Prayer Breakfast is notable, even in Washington, for its political spectacle and for the suspicion surrounding the group that organizes it — namely, the entity often referred to as the International Foundation, sometimes called ‘the Family’ or ‘the Fellowship.’ … The foundation — which is often described as a network instead of an organization — holds almost mythical status among D.C.’s power brokers. Its organizers often refuse to divulge guest lists, preferring to offer sanctuary to meetings between American politicians and global leaders, without government or media scrutiny. What’s more, participants appear to see ultimate value in meetings and relationships seemingly irrespective of the motives of those present. … The network operates globally, as other nations hold prayer breakfasts modeled after the American version — including Russia.”

    Source: Jack Jenkins, “Mariia Butina and the National Prayer Breakfast”, July 18, 2018.

  • One of his divinity school professors, Serene Jones, now president of the liberal-leaning Union Theological Seminary in New York, described him as “an exceptional student.”

    I was a classmate of Serene Jones at the Yale Divinity School a decade before Chris Coons was a student there and she his teacher. Serene is the real deal – a person who radiates something special most people don’t – a certain je ne sais quois that exudes from those people who will look you directly in the eye with great interest and maintain rapt attention throughout the entirety of your conversation, which is a way of saying she was always fully present to people. I haven’t seen her or spoken with her in over forty years but I’ve no doubt she’s exactly the same person now that she was then. High praise from her is high praise indeed.

  • Anyone who can read can plainly see that my comment is all about Serene Jones and her judgment of character, in this case Chris Coons’. Perhaps that rules you out.

  • Unfortunately, Coons’s decision to join the effort to destroy Kavanaugh says a great deal about how Christian he actually is.

  • Wrong. Coons voted against Kavanaugh not to “destroy” him but because he was considered unsuitable for a position on the SCOTUS.

  • Coons joined the rest of the Left in placing the burden of proof on the accused, rather than the accuser. But he will have cause to regret that, if he does not repent. “The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.”

  • Good point. In fact, you have to wonder exactly how any Christian is able to score 100 percent from Planned Parenthood even after their astonishing “Black-Baby” and “Baby-Salad” scandals. Big-time Problematic.

    And exactly how does a guy who reads the Bible 3X a year, fail to see that it’s utterly WRONG for gov’t to force all businesses (of any religious belief), as well as all Christian homeless shelters and religious private schools, to affirm & comply with gay marriage on demand? (Turns out that Chris Coons supports Gay Goliath’s big new weapon, the so-called “Equality Act.”)

    So this RNS article glosses over a LOT of stuff. I do like the prayer part, honestly, but gotta tell the whole truth.

  • You know what I like about him? His willingness to join the Kavanaugh lynch mob and to try and sway others to join?

    That’s what I like about him. Sarc/

    But then again you somehow found fault with the Covington kids as they were harassed by racists and a nutjob with a drum

    Jack are you even Catholic?

  • Is the RNS even religious? I mean you can disagree with Trump’s politics but there are certain things that if you are indeed “religious” that you should “gasp” agree with Trump on like being pro-life.

    Seems like RNS has a little TDS.

  • Are discussing what allegedly happened in HS over 30 years ago that’s place is unknown and not a single living sole can attest to other than Ford?

  • He was unsuitable because he’s pro-life. That didn’t work so the rest was made up. Which Coons was OK with.
    I ask again since I’m new here. This is a Catholic site right?

  • Do you people certainly have your own version of history, even history is recent as a month or two ago. Cavanagh is pro life? That’s pretty funny. The first time he had a chance to rule on a abortion law, he ruled with the pro-choice majority. He was a part of the pro-choice majority. He did nothing that could be considered “pro life”. You people got played again by the Republican Party.

  • No. Is a website concerning religious matters, not a Catholic website. If you want to Catholic website, I would suggest church militant or like site. They’re not Catholic either, seeing how much they hate the pope, but at least they’re closer to your worldview.

  • Ok you know my world view?
    LOL very judge mental aren’t you.

    I’m pro-life. So is Kavanaugh. SCOTUS votes to not hear a challenge to Roe v Wade
    It was a weak challenge with zero chance of prevailing

  • See post above. I’m
    OK with Kavanaugh and Coons was not and joined in a blatant smear job.

    You’ve been dealt a short deck if you can’t see that

  • unless, of course, kavanaugh did what he was accused of . then kavanaugh should not have gotten on the supreme court and coons as a christian did the right thing .

  • SO WHICH IS IT? Is “Serene Jones, now president of the liberal-leaning Union Theological Seminary”, a witness for the prosecution, or a hostile one?

    For on the one hand, she vouches, “Chris Coons [was] an exceptional student. I would have loved to have him as my church’s pastor, and I am thrilled to have him in my country’s Senate”.

    Yet on the other hand, according to “Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmon [who] took a course with her [because] Jones has made critiquing capitalism central to her public witness as a theologian … neither the morality nor the math adds up [as to] why our administrators [and she] want to build luxury condos … to perpetuate this institution at any cost. … That’s the type of prosperity gospel tied to capitalism that President Jones derides in pulpits and op-ed pages across the country.”

    Source: Catherine Woodiwiss, “Union Theological Seminary’s Controversial Plan to Survive: The school wants to build luxury condos to pay the bills: Students say this plan contradicts their values”, Sojourners, April 12, 2016.

  • However, according to “Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmon [who] ‘took a course with her [because] Jones has made critiquing capitalism central to her public witness as a theologian … neither the morality nor the math adds up [as to] why our administrators [and she] want to build luxury condos … to perpetuate this institution at any cost. … That’s the type of prosperity gospel tied to capitalism that President Jones derides in pulpits and op-ed pages across the country.'”

    Source: Catherine Woodiwiss, “Union Theological Seminary’s Controversial Plan to Survive: The school wants to build luxury condos to pay the bills: Students say this plan contradicts their values”, Sojourners, April 12, 2016.

  • Just as Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmon’s also “is all about Serene Jones and her judge of character”!

    And the score is:

    Graves-Fitzsimmon 1:0 Elagabalus

  • Its kind of like looking at events 2000 years ago, written down decades after the events happened and then claiming it was practically eyewitness restimony, in a society which transmitted much via oral tradition

  • I have no idea what you’re talking about, but what I do know is that I got two upvotes for my comment and Parker12 got two downvotes for his, which I know thanks to my trusty Chrome Disqus Downvote exposer, so as usual you are quite wrong.

  • No, even then. If a jurist insists that the defendant is guilty because he’s Black, that jurist is a bigot—the guilt or innocence of the defendant is irrelevant.

  • if there is an analogy in there some place i don’t get it .

    a woman hesitantly came forward and made a charge . it was halfdassed investigated, lindsey graham seemed to verge on a nervous breakdown, and the parties for the most part voted down party lines .

    i had then, i have now, no clue as to whether kavanaugh was guilty or not . i found the woman making the charge credible because i have known several women harassed and raped and the woman sounded right to me . but as i say i don’t know .

    but for a life time appointment the investigation was short, rushed, in the end manipulated to a close . to me it was shoddy .

  • The point is that placing the burden of proof on the accused rather than the accuser is as fundamentally un-American and un-Christian as insisting on a defendant’s guilt because of his race. In either case, the actual guilt of the accused is irrelevant.

  • This is ludicrous and grotesque. How does one claim to be motivated by faith and possess core values and at the same time support Middle East wars, the apartheid state of Israel and the brutality toward the Palestinians.? If this is what faith leads one to do then maybe atheism has a point. My Christian faith leads me to support peace and justice. Then again I’m a Catholic.

  • The claim that Jesus’ story was embellished and “mythicized” by many semi-fiction writers in an era already awash with venerable religions, seers and platitudes yet managing to become the ascendant religion in the hostile Roman Empire, without weapons or political power; IS FAR MORE MIRACULOUS than Jesus actually being born of a virgin, doing extraordinary events, rising from the dead and continuing to guide the Church through the power of the Holy Spirit.

  • No there was proof for example:
    1 Corinthians 15:3 …that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me [Paul] also, …

    The antiquity of the creed has been located by most biblical scholars to no more than five years after Jesus’ death, probably originating from the Jerusalem apostolic community. The creed has been deemed to be historically reliable and is claimed to preserve a unique and verifiable testimony of the time.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1_Corinthians_15

    Contrast to the person unable to make verifiable testimony about Kavanaugh .

  • One person saying 500 people saw something is called hearsay. It’s not evidence. Evidence would be 500 different accounts from the 500 people. .

  • More Miraculous? No, it was one of the great con jobs of all time with many necessary con men involved. To wit:

    o You give allegiance to those who rewrote/conned the life of an illiterate, preacher man aka Jesus and embellished and “mythicized” it into a story of godly impregnations of a virgin, atonement theology, deity and resurrection.

    The con artists’ names? Paul, Mark, Matthew, Luke and John along with the “necessary accessories”, Pilate, the Romans and Constantine.

    Pilate, the Romans and Constantine played the greater role. For example if Pilate had simply banished Jesus to Crete where would be today?? Considering Pilate was not predestined to execute Jesus, this could have happened so should you should thank Pilate. Your religious beliefs therefore all revolve around the whims of a not- so-nice Roman procurator . That should disturb you. Or are you that brainwashed?

    And by the way, these con men’s “seeing”/contacting/relationships with God amounted to
    dreams, hallucinations brought about by too much fasting or drinking with
    added embellishments by Christian scribes seeing the economic
    benefits of the Divine Right of Kings, Queens, Popes and their
    underlings. Said Right added to the spread i.e. your Miracle of Christianity. Still does to some degree.

  • There are all kinds of exceptions to heresay which allow it to be used as evidence:
    Exceptions to the Rule Against Hearsay
    https://www.law.cornell.edu/rules/fre/rule_803

    Paul himself was an eyewitness and as well as the disciples whose accounts are in the New Testament
    Since most of the 500 were still alive, those so inclined could have gotten their testimonies
    No period documents exist disputing Paul’s statement.

  • This story about Christianity succeeding because of “con men Paul, Mark, Matthew, Luke and John along with the “necessary accessories”, Pilate, the Romans” is ENTIRELY MIRACULOUS.

    Why?

    Already there were long established religions, and one quite hostile to Jesus since He was seen as a heretic. That by CON and not conquest, Christianity should survive to the point Constantine took notice, is a MIGHTY MIRACLE indeed.

    Yes, many believe in miracles far greater than Christians. Some believe by random processes with a fair amount of time, reproductive life can evolve from inert substances. Alas, if only some Christians’ faith could be as great as that of the such individuals.

    Its just easier and more rational to believe the supportive documentation, the Bible, that Jesus was born of a Virgin, healed the sick, lame and crazy; preached the Good News of God’s Kingdom, rose from the dead; and through the Holy Spirit, believers are still being guided.

  • This isn’t a court of law, Extraordinary claims require better evidence than someone told me that something had occurred and that 500 people that watched it. “Those so inclined could’ve gotten their testimonies” – but they didn’t, and if they did, we have no record of it.

  • Of course you encountered hearsay which impugned the Catholic Church, one or more of its clergy, and/or one or more of its members, you’d use it in a blind second.

  • The evidence provided by the New Testament when compared to other events of ancient history is both sufficient and extraordinary.
    –Multiple attestation
    Historians are limited to the accounts they can collect and in most instances it is single sourced. Multiple attestation for other ancient events, as found the New Testament is rare.

    For example, the Mount Vesuvius eruption covered the city of Pompeii in AD79. With thousands of survivors and witnesses, and those others who were affected by it; there was only ONE other surviving eyewitness account, that of Pliny the Younger to Cornelius Tacitus, when to former was writing about his uncle, Pliny the Elder. who was attempting to mount a naval rescue operation.

    Another thing historians look for, do people at the time appear to believe any of the stated claims, particularly if they were extraordinary?

    The fact that (again)Pliny the Younger, the Roman governor of Bithynia et Pontus, ( a strip of land on the south Black Sea coast of north Turkey). wrote a letter to Emperor Trajan around 112 AD and asked for counsel on dealing with Christians, gives credence to the existence of the 500. They apparently gained converts in sufficient numerous so fervent in their faith, that a Roman governor 70 years after Crucifixion of of Jesus, found it necessary to contact the Emperor as how to deal with them. He remarks on how they “sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god.”

  • It appears you art trapped in the bible box. May I suggest some readings on the subject of rigorous historic testing of “historic events” noted in books like the bible. You will soon conclude that 90% of the NT is historically nil.

  • How is history determined?

    Investigators such as historians determine the probability that an event occurred or that a person lived. History is measured by the probability of what is written is true. Methods of investigation include

    -Multiple, independent sources addressing the same event and/or person. New Testament contains this, including eyewitness testimony.

    –Sources adversarial to historical person or movement being studied. When information from both supporters and adversaries give similar information, the likelihood of reliability increases an event occurred. From adversarial sources Jesus was said to practice magic or sorcery giving credence to his miracles

    -Demeaning information given that would bring embarrassment to the writer and/or movement, the presence of which attests to the overall reliability of the document rather than a censored redaction. The New Testament contains many phrases embarrassing to Jesus’ followers.

    -Early testimony, meaning when the material written as compared to when the event addressed actually occurred.
    A person writing about an individual they knew has more credulity than a stranger writing about that same individual centuries later. The New Testament was written in in a timeframe allowing for reports by those with a living memory of Jesus.

    –Arguments to the best explanation as to whether a hypothesis pertaining to an event holds the best explanation or alternatives do. Among criteria are documents relics, comparative analysis of other historical events; weighing the possibility that an certain person, fact, or event is more probable than not.

    Since it would seem to take something remarkably unusual to motivate the disciples to do what they did under their adversarial conditions, proffered “con men” and “hallucination” theories have not been observed to similarly motivate to sustained success elsewhere under comparable conditions; again by historical method criteria, Bible Jesus as advertised holds up as factual history.

  • ” New Testament contains this, including eyewitness testimony. ” Not true. Unless you can prove it somehow.

    “From adversarial sources Jesus was said to practice magic or sorcery giving credence to his miracles” 1-3 rd centuryCE references in support of this are?

    Time frame: other than the Q gospel and suspected narrative, other documents were written well after the resurrection et. al. accounts;
    http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/

    yr of publication.

    30-60 Passion Narrative
    40-80 Lost Sayings Gospel Q
    50-60 1 Thessalonians
    50-60 Philippians
    50-60 Galatians
    50-60 1 Corinthians
    50-60 2 Corinthians
    50-60 Romans
    50-60 Philemon
    50-80 Colossians
    50-90 Signs Gospel
    50-95 Book of Hebrews
    50-120 Didache
    50-140 Gospel of Thomas
    50-140 Oxyrhynchus 1224 Gospel
    50-200 Sophia of Jesus Christ
    65-80 Gospel of Mark
    70-100 Epistle of James
    70-120 Egerton Gospel
    70-160 Gospel of Peter
    70-160 Secret Mark
    70-200 Fayyum Fragment
    70-200 Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs
    73-200 Mara Bar Serapion
    80-100 2 Thessalonians
    80-100 Ephesians
    80-100 Gospel of Matthew
    80-110 1 Peter
    80-120 Epistle of Barnabas
    80-130 Gospel of Luke
    80-130 Acts of the Apostles
    80-140 1 Clement
    80-150 Gospel of the Egyptians
    80-150 Gospel of the Hebrews
    80-250 Christian Sibyllines
    90-95 Apocalypse of John
    90-120 Gospel of John
    90-120 1 John
    90-120 2 John
    90-120 3 John
    90-120 Epistle of Jude
    93 Flavius Josephus
    100-150 1 Timothy
    100-150 2 Timothy
    100-150 Titus
    100-150 Apocalypse of Peter
    100-150 Secret Book of James
    100-150 Preaching of Peter
    100-160 Gospel of the Ebionites
    100-160 Gospel of the Nazoreans
    100-160 Shepherd of Hermas
    100-160 2 Peter
    See also http://wiki.faithfutures.org/index.php?title=Crossan_Inventory, http://www.faithfutures.org/JDB/intro.html and Professor Ludemann’s analysis of most of the NT passages in his book Jesus After 2000 Years for rigorous historic testing of the NT.

  • Date or range of dates most widely held by scholars
    found here
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dating_the_Bible
    (they do not include the apocryphal books you listed, nevertheless, thank you, an interesting selection )

    The section in Wikipedia indicates New Testament books ranging from earliest 48AD-55AD (Galatians)
    to latest 110AD(Second Peter)
    The books with the most information about Jesus:
    Matthew 80-90AD
    Mark 65-73AD
    Luke 80-90AD
    John 90–110AD
    Date of Jesus Crucifixion is 30-33AD
    == The New Testament was written in in a timeframe allowing for reports by those with a living memory of Jesus.

    >> New Testament contains this, including eyewitness testimony. ” Not true. Unless you can prove it somehow.<<
    1 Peter 5:1
    Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ,…

    2 Peter 1:16-17
    For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.

    1 John 1:1-3
    What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life – and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us – what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us…

    1Cor15
    that Christ …appeared ….. and last of all he appeared to me also [Paul in this section gives a list of of those who saw, ate or otherwise interacted with Jesus Christ in his post resurrection appearances, including himself in the selection ].

  • M, M, L, and J, authors of four of books in the NT: None of them were eyewitnesses thereby vitiating anything they say as they give no references to any of their comments. Would you buy a history book that has no supporting documentation? Of course not!! Again, do the rigorous historic testing as per the likes of Crossan, Ludemann, Meier, the Jesus Seminar et, al. Their studies are summarized in the references cited previously. Start with their reviews of the resurrection. No resurrection, no Christianity. Again, keep in mind the absolute necessary accessory to the crucifixion (historic), resurrection (non-historic) and Christianity (severely embellished and “mythicized”. i.e. Pilate. And don’t feel alone, all religions have their “kibosh” point as noted below:

    Putting the kibosh on all religion in less than ten seconds: Priceless !!!

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

    • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

    • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

    • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

    • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated/reborn Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

    • A constant cycle of reincarnation until enlightenment is reached and belief that various beings (angels?, tinker-bells? etc) exist that we, as mortals, cannot comprehend makes for a no on Sikhism.

    Added details available upon written request.

    A quick search will put the kibosh on any other groups calling themselves a religion.

    e.g. Taoism

    “The origins of Taoism are unclear. Traditionally, Lao-tzu who lived in the sixth century is regarded as its founder. Its early philosophic foundations and its later beliefs and rituals are two completely different ways of life. Today (1982) Taoism claims 31,286,000 followers.

    Legend says that Lao-tzu was immaculately conceived by a shooting star; carried in his mother’s womb for eighty-two years; and born a full grown wise old man. “

  • >>”From adversarial sources Jesus was said to practice magic or sorcery giving credence to his miracles” 1-3 rd centuryCE references in support of this are?<<
    Celsus (175AD)
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celsus
    He alludes to various Biblical quotes, confirming their early appearance in history. He writes as the miracles of Jesus being genuine(in the sense that he did miracles but it is unknown if he inexpressibly believed in any miracle as advertised or in the more general sense) but he places Jesus on the same level as other practitioners of sorcery.
    “It was by magic that he was able to do the miracles” (Contra Celsum 1.6). H

    The Jewish Talmud is accounts that are written in the timeframe that you eschew(400-700AD), or The Toledot Yeshu (1000AD) nevertheless they treat the claims of Jesus as a worker of magic as legitimate however the source of magic is questionable "… practiced sorcery and was leading everyone astray. "

    Self described "lreligious skeptic with a soft spot for religion" historian Raymond Joseph Hoffmann wrote (1987) "that it is well attested that "the early Christian mission was advanced by the use of magic."

  • >>! Again, do the rigorous historic testing as per the likes of Crossan, Ludemann, Meier, the Jesus Seminar et, al. Their studies are summarized in the references cited previously. <<

    Yes there is much that can be learned from these individuals and their studies. Another is Bart Ehrman, another who takes the secular approach in studying the Gospels. he tries to tackle in one of his books The Triumph of Christianity, and without the miracles the explanations are unsatisfactory, especially when comparative analysis is done in relation as to how other religions survived and did not. We can learn much about certain facts of the texts themselves, dating and style consistences but their philosophical inferences, specifically leaving out miracles in their calculations leaves a Jesus who just wandered around from place to place giving platitudes.

    The problem is with the methodology ascribed to, it does not take into account the possibility of miracles as a legitimate explanation. When miracles are removed from the equation, then what remains is "cleverly devised tales" and "hallucinogenic" type theories; which are inconsistent with what we know about mass hysteria and deceptive cult practices in regards to the success of Christianity under the adversarial conditions by being a heretical Jewish sect in a religiously pagan and hostile Roman Empire.

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