CHAPPAQUA, N.Y. (RNS) Hillary Clinton recently invited a group of reporters to her home in the Hudson Valley as she looks forward to the upcoming primary in her adopted home state. While I was initially surprised a satirical religion columnist would be included, I jumped at the chance for a rare peek into the former secretary of state’s private life.
During the master bedroom portion of the tour, I noticed a large leather-bound book on her nightstand. I was intrigued at the size of the book. I wondered, could that be Hillary’s personal Bible? I knew she described herself as a Christian, like nearly every elected official in American history, but this moment meant the incredible possibility of perusing the marginalia of this powerful woman.
I said a quick prayer and asked the former senator if I could leaf through the pages. After thinking about it for a few seconds, she gave one of her signature hearty laughs and replied, “Why not?”
Here’s some of what I discovered:
Notes About Eve
The first pages hinted at how she liked to read the Bible: with brightly colored markers in hand. Clinton resists how the Garden of Eden story has been interpreted to blame Eve in particular and women in general for the fall of humanity into sin. Clinton repeats several phrases throughout Genesis 2 and 3, writing in bright orange “Adam was there too” and in turquoise “not Eve’s fault!” One note, that I could tell was added recently because the ink hadn’t dried completely, put the issue quite bluntly, “Blaming women didn’t start with Donald Trump.”
Hillary’s Favorite Book of the Bible
From the pages wearing thin due to extensive highlights and exclamation points and smiley faces, the award clearly goes to the Book of Ruth. I asked the former first lady, “Why Ruth?” She responded with a question of her own, “ever hear of the Bechdel test?” I nodded intently to express my familiarity with graphic novelist Alison Bechdel’s analysis of whether a story features two women talking to each other about something other than a man. “It’s probably the only book in the Bible that passes,” Clinton said.
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Following in Jefferson’s Footsteps
A decade after leaving the White House, Thomas Jefferson constructed his own version of the Bible at Monticello. He called it “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth” and — using a pair of scissors — excised any miracles, references to the divinity of Jesus, or the resurrection. TJ remarked that he was still a Christian, but “I am of a sect by myself, as far as I know.” Clinton’s treatment of the New Testament reminded me of that.
Sections of Paul’s Letters Cut Out
Her most significant alteration to the Christian canon was the elimination of all the Apostle Paul’s views on women. “(W)omen should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says.”? Gone. “Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent.”? Missing completely. “Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior.”? Struck through in multiple lines of colored Sharpies.
(Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons writes The Literalist, a twice-weekly satirical news column for RNS. His writing on faith and public policy has appeared in Sojourners, The Washington Post, The Texas Tribune and other publications. Follow him on Twitter at @guthriegf)