Biden’s Bible has been in his family since the 1890s.

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Biden could be sworn in on a Bible that has been in his family since the 1890s.


When President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. takes the oath of office on Wednesday, he may be accompanied by a familial artifact that has followed him throughout his 50-year political career: a hefty Bible, accented with a Celtic cross, that has been in his family since 1893.

While this possibility has yet to be confirmed by Mr. Biden’s inaugural committee, the Bible has been a staple at Mr. Biden’s past swearing-in ceremonies as a U.S. senator and as vice president. His son Beau Biden also used it when he was sworn in as the Delaware attorney general.

The Bible that a president-elect chooses to use for the swearing-in ceremony often relays a symbolic message to the American public, said Seth A. Perry, an associate professor of religion at Princeton University.

“It’s difficult to imagine the ritual of the inauguration happening without that book at this point,” Professor Perry said. “It’s part of the scenery. It’s part of the thing that gives the moment the authority that it has.”

During his 1789 inauguration in New York, George Washington used a Bible from St. John’s Masonic Lodge No. 1. The Bible is said to have been retrieved after attendees noticed one was not on hand at Federal Hall, where Washington was preparing to take the oath of office, according to Claire Jerry, a curator of political history at the National Museum of American History.

“Having sacred imagery associated with the taking of a covenant is fairly consistent and emphasizes that idea that we, who are witnessing the taking of the oath, and the individual who’s taking the oath are entering into a very profound relationship with each other,” she said.

Washington’s Bible has been used in the inaugurations of four other presidents: Warren G. Harding, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Jimmy Carter and George Bush.

In 2017, Mr. Trump used one Bible that had been given to him by his mother when he was a boy and another used by Abraham Lincoln for his inauguration in 1861, just before the start of the Civil War. Barack Obama also used the Lincoln Bible when taking the oath of office, though in 2013, for his second inauguration, he supplemented it with a Bible given to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1954.



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