In the days following U.S. President Joe Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20, posts on social media claimed that the Bible he used during his swearing-in ceremony is connected to the Masonic Order or the Illuminati. A family heirloom from the late 19th century, Biden’s Bible is a Douay-Rheims edition, used by English-speaking Roman Catholics around the world. Claims of Masonic or Illuminati links to this Bible edition are baseless and, similarly to QAnon, relate to the classic conspiracy theory that a secret organization of elites is seeking to establish a new world order.
Posts making this claim can be found here , here and here . One viral Facebook post, shared over 18,000 times at the time of this article’s publication, has the caption, “Sooo has anyone else realized this yet or???? Masonic/Illuminati Bible that Biden swore on yesterday...I do believe a lot of weird and scary shit is gonna go down at some point…” (here).
HISTORY OF SECRET SOCIETY KNOWN AS ILLUMINATI
The Illuminati, a secret society, was active for a decade in mid-18th century Europe before disbanding, are examined in articles by Vox (here) and the Guardian (here).
In the 1960s, American writers Robert Anton Wilson and Kerry Thornley published gag letters in Playboy magazine from alleged “readers” regarding a secret organization called the Illuminati (here). Though the letters were intended as satire, the myth morphed into a popular conspiracy theory.
Emerging as a countercultural icon, Wilson, along with Robert Shea, published “The Illuminatus! Trilogy” in 1975, described here by the New York Times in its 2007 obituary for Wilson as “a mind-twisting science-fiction series about a secret global society” that became a “cult classic.”
In the years since, Illuminati believers have claimed the secret group’s responsibility for events like the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 (here). Notably, novelist Dan Brown wrote of the Illuminati as a group driven underground by the Vatican in his 2000 mystery thriller “Angels and Demons.”
AND THE FREEMASONS?
The Masonic Order, also known as the Freemasons, are another historic secret society (here). The Illuminati recruited members from Freemason lodges across Europe during its decade in operation, which may account for current public confusion between the two groups (here).
Unlike the Illuminati, Freemasonry, a network of secret fraternal organizations that officially began in Europe during the early 18th century, still exists. As explained by journalist Peter Feuerherd (here) Freemasonry, “has influenced American history from its beginnings,” capturing “the allegiance of much of the early Republic’s elite,” but falling “under widespread suspicion” in the first half of the 19th century.
Paranoia surrounding the Freemasons partly stemmed from the influence they exercised in the United States, with many of the Founding Fathers having been members (here).
THE DOUAY-RHEIMS BIBLE
On Jan. 20, 2021, Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th and second Roman Catholic president of the United States after taking his oath of office using a 1893 edition of the Douay Rheims Bible (see around the 4:15 mark here).
Reuters photographs of the ceremony featuring the Bible can be seen here and here .
The president’s use of this family heirloom, which he used twice while being sworn in as vice president in 2009 and 2013 ( here
, here ) and seven times as a U.S. senator, was reported widely on Inauguration Day ( here , here , here ).
The Douay-Rheims Bible (also spelled Douai-Reims) is an English translation of the Latin Vulgate (Bible translation) that was made by Roman Catholic scholars exiled from England during the late 16th and early 17th centuries. According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, the Douay-Rheims translation “was the only authorized Bible in English for Roman Catholics until the 20th century.” (here).
Biden is the second U.S. president to be sworn in with a Douay-Rheims Bible, after John F. Kennedy in 1961 (here , here , www.jfklibrary.org/media/2371 ).
HOSTILITY BETWEEN THE FREEMASONS AND THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
Due to historical tensions between the Masonic Order and the Catholic Church, it is “highly unlikely that a Bible beloved of Catholics would have anything to do with the Freemasons,” John Dickie, a historian at University College London and author of “The Craft: How the Freemasons Made the Modern World,” told Reuters via email (johndickie.net/).
As noted by Feuerherd, the Freemasons’ theological views, particularly their Deist vision of God, put them at odds with the teachings of the Catholic Church (here).
In 1738, Pope Clement XII excommunicated the Freemasons (here), setting off a “long, long history of mutual hostility and suspicion between Masons and Catholics” Dickie said.
Candida Moss, a professor of theology at Britain’s University of Birmingham, (here), told Reuters via email that “there is absolutely no evidence that ties the Douay-Rheims Bible to the Illuminati or Freemasons.”
Noting the fact that Freemasons and Roman Catholics are not “historical bedfellows,” Moss called the idea of Masons using this particular Bible “extraordinary.”
In 1983, for example, Cardinal Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger (the future Pope Benedict XVI) announced that the Church’s “negative judgment in regard to Masonic associations remains unchanged . . . Membership in them remains forbidden. The faithful who enrol in Masonic associations are in a state of grave sin and may not receive Holy Communion” (here).
EXPLAINING THE SYMBOLS ON DOUAY-RHEIMS BIBLES
Some of the viral Facebook posts ( here , here ) include a screenshot of a WorthPoint.com listing for a “RARE 1883 ANTIQUE FAMILY BIBLE DOUAY RHEIMS ILLUMINATI MASONIC 22KT BID AT .99!!” as alleged evidence of Biden’s ties to the Illuminati or the Freemasons.
While the Reuters Fact Check team could not find images clearly showing the full cover of the Biden family’s Douay-Rheims Bible, it is true that the covers of some antique Douay-Rheims editions ( www.ebay.com/itm/143919256211 , here ) include the “Eye of Providence,” an eye inside a triangle commonly seen as a Masonic and Illuminati symbol.
Asked about the presence of the symbol, which also graces the back of the U.S. dollar bill, on the covers of some Douay-Rheims Bibles, Moss emphasized that the Eye of Providence predates Masonic use.
As explained here by the BBC, the “Eye of Providence” was originally a symbol of Christianity, found in “religious art of the Renaissance period to represent God,” such as Pontormo’s 1525 Supper at Emmaus (here). The symbol was subject to a diverse array of interpretations in the late 18th century.
The design’s interpretation as a Masonic omen was popularized in 1975 with the publication of “The Eye in the Pyramid,” the first book in Wilson and Shea’s “The Illuminatus! Trilogy,” and more recently in 2009 with the publication of Brown’s novel “The Lost Symbol” ( here , here ).
Though the Vatican eventually abandoned the symbol altogether (here) , Moss noted that you can still find the eye of Providence in some Catholic churches, even relatively modern ones like Monroe, Louisiana’s St. Matthew Catholic Church (stmatthewmonroe.org/eye-of-god), which was built in 1899 (here).
False. The Bible Biden used at his inauguration, an 1893 Douay-Rheims edition that is a family heirloom, is not evidence of the president’s alleged connection to the Illuminati or the Freemasons. Due to the long history of tension between the Masonic Order and the Catholic Church, use of this Bible by the Freemasons is extremely unlikely. Though the cover design of Biden’s specific Bible is unclear, the eye of Providence seen on some antique Douay-Rheims Bibles has been a Christian symbol for centuries, predating Masonic use.
This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here .
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