My family rarely stayed in hotel rooms when we were kids, so when I first saw a Gideon Bible I thought that it had been left by a previous occupant named Gideon. I thought nothing more of it until 1968 when I heard the Beatles sing Rocky Racoon:
Rocky Racoon checked into his room
Only to find Gideons Bible.
A Gideon was not an individual, it was a group and why did these Gideons keep leaving Bibles in hotel rooms?
The Gideons quickly passed into my brain’s deep storage locker, but after a forty-year hiatus they came bubbling to the surface when Rocky Raccoon popped up again on the radio.
As a writer on the prowl for quirky characters and story lines, I was intrigued. I discovered that the Gideons were an evangelical Christian organization founded in 1898 by two traveling salesmen who kept bumping into each other on the road. They decided that they could multitask by placing Bibles in hotel rooms.
I tried to imagine an early scenario. It is 1910; the Gideons have begun to deposit Bibles in bedside drawers. I envision two traveling salesmen sitting at a dreary diner picking at the remains of their apple pie. A persistent fly circles overhead, just missing the dangling flypaper.
“Hey fellow traveler, my name is Daniel” says one of the men. “It gets awful lonely out here on the road but I always find solace in reading the Gideon’s Bible in my hotel room. “Would you like to join me in reciting some verses after dinner?”
“Hello Daniel, I am James, I ‘member you from the last town,” says the second man. “I been seeing those Bibles and wund’ring who them Gideon are.”
“Well I am a Gideon, James, and it is my calling to spread the word of the Lord by leaving Bibles in hotels to comfort us weary travelers.”
The waitress arrives carrying a fly swatter. “Damn these flies, hard to keep them off the pie and out of the sugar bowl. What are you boys up to tonight?”
She turns to take another drag on her cigarette and then aims her smoke towards the wayward fly that has escaped the fate of the swarm stuck in the fly paper. As she bends over to swab the counter the men notice her necklace, a cross whose stem has disappeared into her moist cleavage. Daniel turns his eyes away. James is transfixed.
“Boys, sometimes I am very busy in the evening, but not tonight if you know what I mean,” says the waitress. “A girl just likes to have some fun, and you boys might be just the ticket.” She stares at James.
Daniel’s stool scrapes the worn wooden floor as he pushes away from the table. “James will you join me?”
“I sure ain’t no god-fearing man like you, Daniel,” says James. “I think that I will just go to my room.” James nods at the waitress.
Now I visualize Daniel in his room, counting the weeks that he has foregone the pleasures of the flesh. His resolve slips away as he thinks of across nestled between ample breasts. He opens the drawer, grabs the Bible and opens it to Corinthians 10:13.
And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.
“Yes, deliver me from temptation. Dear lord, the Gideons have saved me once again,” whispers James.
Down the hall, James sits on his bed wearing a rumpled T-shirt with discolored armpits, sagged out drawers and knee-high black socks. The yellowed toenail of his big toe sticks out through his frayed sock. He thinks, “Might as well read this Gideon thing while I wait.” He idly flips through Bible, calmly killing time while he waits for the waitress’ knock on the door.
To me, in this scenario, lusty James seems much more likely than the God-fearing Daniel. In fact, the whole Gideon premise has never made much sense. Beyond church, it seems to me that Bibles should be a BYOB proposition, and if you didn’t bring your own, you probably wouldn’t use one anyway. But I must give the Gideons credit, they have one kick-ass distribution. The Gideon website notes that their society has distributed over 2 billion Bibles, translated into over 200 languages. The Gideons have expanded their targets from hotel rooms to various “designated traffic lanes of life.” Targets now include jails, domestic violence centers, police and fire departments, schools and the armed forces, whose Bible covers are even decked out in camouflage.
Other religious organizations have adopted the Gideons’ strategy. Marriott Hotels, whose founder was a Mormon, now place the Book of Mormon in each of the rooms. Scientologists, who finally won a court battle to be recognized as a tax-exempt religion, have begun placing their literature in some hotel rooms. In a nod to pluralism, some hotels also offer Muslim or Buddhist scripture. The bedside drawer now overflows, an unlikely battleground for the heart and soul of the weary traveler.
I find the Gideons (and the hotels that accede to them) presumptuous in their efforts to save or even soothe my soul. However, as a writer I am jealous of their distribution, far exceeding the reach of the most determined publisher. How can I grab a hold of the Gideons’ coat tails? I bet random travelers mostly read a Gideon Bible out of pure boredom rather than any religious fervor. Wouldn’t a Gideon-inspired novel increase readership? How about a murder mystery with the Gideon Bible as its centerpiece? This would certainly have a broader appeal than a stodgy old Bible.
The detective could be a Gideon, a salesman who stumbles upon grisly murders as he travels the country. I can already picture it. A body is found in a seedy motel, and the only clue is a bloody fingerprint on the Gideon Bible. The Bible could be opened to a specific passage that provides the Gideon with a lead. He might suspect a sex or hate crime if the Bible is opened to Leviticus 20:13:
“If a man also lie with mankind, as he hath with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death, their blood shall be upon them.”
The Bible could become a calling card for a serial killer. Another body is found at the Gideon’s next stop, this time the smeared blood highlights Deuteronomy 22:5:
“The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth to a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment for all that do are abominations unto the Lord thy God.”
In fact, I could author a whole detective series called The Gideon Bible Murders. A simple word search of the Bible suggests that there are enough abominations to sustain a long-lived series. In the first book the detective will be stumped by the common thread among the murders, but slowly he realizes that all of them represent “abominations” described in the Bible. He makes a list and then ticks them off as each murder is solved. Proverbs 20:10, which rails against the abomination of “diverse weights and measures,” is particularly challenging, but the Gideon ultimately reasons that the next victim must be a Wall Street Banker who has cooked the books.
If I portray my Gideon in a God-fearing and positive light, wouldn’t the Gideons be eager to distribute my novels? I realize I must be careful not to sell-out and become a shill for the Gideons, but, oh, their distribution network is so powerfully tempting. That bedside drawer can surely fit another book. I drop to my knees at the thought of a The Gideon Bible Murder nestled next to the Gideon Bible in hotel rooms all over the world.
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