Biden inauguration: The story behind the new president’s massive Bible

Country’s 46th commander-in-chief to take oath with hand on holy text belonging to family for 127 years

Joe Sommerlad
Wednesday 20 January 2021 12:00 GMT
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When Joe Biden is sworn in as the 46th president of the United States, he will repeat his oath of office with one hand placed on the Bible, as is customary.

The difference here is that Biden’s Bible is much larger than most used by his predecessors over the generations, his a five-inch thick, groaning tome with a Celtic cross emblazoned on the cover that the incoming first lady, Dr Jill Biden, will do well to support without buckling under the strain.

Last seen at his second swearing-in as Barack Obama’s vice-president in January 2013, when he pledged to uphold the nation’s values under the guidance of US Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor, the book is a family heirloom that has been with the Biden clan for 127 years.

Joe Biden’s giant Bible has been with the family since 1893 (Josh Haner-Pool/Getty)

A devout Roman Catholic, the president has used this same treasured edition at every ceremony he has participated in since he was first sworn in as a senator in 1973, the youngest in the history of the nation at just 30 years old when he did so.

That occasion took place not in Washington, DC, but at the hospital bedside of his sons Beau and Hunter in Wilmington, Delaware, where the boys were recuperating after the tragic car crash that claimed the lives of their mother Neilia and infant sister Naomi, killed when a tractor’s trailer struck their vehicle while they were out shopping for a Christmas tree.

Beau - who died in 2015 of brain cancer, aged just 46 - would grow up to be Delaware’s attorney general and used the same Bible at his own swearing-in in 2007.

“It's just been a family heirloom on the Biden side of the family, and every important date is in there,” the new president explained to late night host Stephen Colbert in December.

“For example, every time I've been sworn in for anything, the date has been on that and is inscribed on the Bible.”

The incoming president has made no secret of his faith, notably taking time out from the tension of Election Day on 3 November to attend Mass at St Joseph on the Brandywine Roman Catholic Church in Greenville, Delaware, before visiting Beau’s grave.

The giant Bible, which often provokes amused comment and speculation that he keeps his old Amtrack ticket stubs tucked inside, thus carries on a proud tradition and provides a further contrast with the tastes of his disgraced predecessor Donald Trump.

Although Trump did ultimately place his hand on a copy of the good book at his inauguration in January 2017, he had originally considered taking the oath while his wife Melania held aloft a copy of his own 1987 business manual The Art of the Deal instead.

That’s according to former Apprentice candidate and West Wing aide Omarosa Manigault Newman, who told the BBC’s recent documentary series The Trump Show that it was she who gently dissuaded him from making such a crass gesture.

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