America’s Public Bible

A Commentary

Throughout the nineteenth century and into the twentieth century, newspapers in the United States—even newspapers which were not published by a religious denomination or organization—made frequent recourse to the Bible. Newspapers printed sermons and Sunday school lessons. They featured jokes whose punchlines required familiarity with the Bible and aired political commentary that cited the Bible on all sides of a given issue.

America’s Public Bible is an interactive scholarly work that uncovers the history of the Bible in the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century United States. When the Bible was cited on one side or the other of an issue, only rarely was its meaning explicated rather than assumed. Those who cited the text most typically thought that their readers would understand its meaning precisely as they did. But the multiple and mutually exclusive ways in which newspapers used the Bible test that assumption. By identifying and studying quotations in American newspapers, the site offers a commentary on how the Bible was used in public life, uncovering trends and patterns that would be invisible to a single scholar’s reading of these documents.

This publication was developed at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media.

Lincoln A. Mullen is Associate Professor in the Department of History and Art History at George Mason University.

Newspaper header reading “The Sun Magazine Section, New York, Sunday August 10, 1919” with a headline reading “Can rewriting improve the Bible?”
Old newspaper article with text beginning “Reading between the lines – A certain man was taking a journey and fell among thieves. (So have the people). And they stripped him and wounded him and left him half dead. (So have the Plutocrats)...
Old illustrated newspaper advertisment of a ballot box with several hands depositing cards marked with a question mark, with the text “Everybody’s Bible Box?” and “Your Bible questions will be answered in these columns or by Mail if sent to our Bible Question Box Editor”
Old newspaper article reading “Value of Body Building — Many Business Men Owe Their Health to the Y.M.C.A. – One father Says His Best Investment Was In Paying His Boy’s Membership Fee – Better Than Cod Liver Oil. A Few Testimonials...
Newspaper column titled “The Ten Commandments” with the subtitle “Keep Them And Thou Shalt Make Money”
Ornamental use of curvy line graphs taken from data visualizations inside the project.