Bible reading was a daily activity for many families. The family was considered a little church, and the father was responsible for leading his family in worship. Many had the habit of reading through the Bible every year. In 1811 John Q. Adams wrote his son, “so great is my veneration of the Bible, and so strong my belief, that when duly read and meditated on, it is of all books in the world, that which contributes most to make men good, wise, and happy – that the earlier my children begin to read it, the more steadily they pursue the practice of reading it throughout their lives, the more lively and confident will be my hope that they will prove useful citizens of their country, respectable members of society, and a real blessing to their parents…I have myself, for many years, made it a practice to read through the Bible every year…My custom is to read four to five chapters every morning immediately after rising from my bed…”
Bibles were produced especially for the family – with notes to help explain the Scriptures and special pages for the family to keep a record of births, marriages, and deaths. By the 19th century, home decorating books even included design suggestions for how the family Bible was to be displayed in the parlor. Ornate family Bibles were even sold in Sears catalogs.
BIBLE WITH GUSTAVE DORE ILLUSTRATIONS, 1880
This large family Bible was a library in itself. Besides the text of Scripture, it included Bible History and Analysis which gave the complete history of the Bible, the history of the divisions and books of the Bible, and an analysis of the Bible and its teaching. The latter was basically a doctrinal summary from theology proper through eschatology. Also included was a complete concordance and an Illustrated Cyclopedia of the Bible , replete with information on middle eastern customs and manners, animals, plants, and much more. The illustrations were by the Alsacian artist Gustave Doré (1832-1883). Doré produced hundreds of woodcuts illustrating numerous Biblical scenes. His Biblical illustrations were first published in France in 1865 and became extremely popular in Europe and America. His work even influenced some of the early Biblical films, including those of Cecil B. DeMille. Some scenes from De Mille’s 1923 and 1956 Ten Commandments look very similar to the Doré illustrations of the same Biblical events.
Many of the backdrops for the Dunham Bible Museum exhibits are from Gustave Dore illustrations. The complete set of his Bible illustrations can be found at Gustave Dore’ Bible Gallery.
New Illuminated Bible – 1897
The many archaeological discoveries in Bible lands helped people better understand the historical and cultural background of the Bible. The New Illuminated Bible used those discoveries in creating its 800 illustrations. This Bible claimed to be the first edition of the Bible “faithfully and artistically illustrated in detail from beginning to end. In this work we have had the assistance of nearly one hundred of the most prominent and capable artists of America and Europe, guided by theologians and archaeologists of renown. As a result, the illustrations are historically accurate and breathe the true religious spirit of the texts pictorially portrayed.”