Old Wives' Tales
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Legend: Money is sometimes left in Gideon Bibles by Christians looking to reward the next tortured soul who turns to the Good Book for solace.
Origins: On my first morning as
I was beside myself. Ecstatic, in fact. I loudly celebrated this unmistakable Sign Of Favor From Above for the next couple of hours
It dawned on me I'd been had. And by a folklorist too.
I should have known I wasn't going to find money in that Bible
Altruistic evangelists do visit hotel rooms, but not to leave money in Bibles — they leave the Bibles themselves. The Gideons International was founded in 1899, and its primary function is distributing Bibles and New Testaments "in the human traffic lanes and streams of national life."
Gideons don't preach; they just leave Bibles. "We let the Bible do the work," said Raul Laughlin, who has been a Gideon since the 1930s. "We don't do anything with doctrine. We just offer the Bible to those who want it and ask them to read it. We're not obnoxious about it. Our objective is to win men and women to Christ by placing the Scriptures around the world."
And place them they have, to the tune of 45,000,000 Bibles annually in prisons, hospitals, military bases, and hotel rooms. Those Bibles are provided without charge, and although some do end up "taken" by those in need, none have ever been "stolen," according to the Gideons.
It wasn't the Gideons, however, who initiated the practice of leaving Bibles at the bedsides of travelers. That honor goes to the International Bible Society, a group founded in 1809. In 1823 —
Though a weary traveller is guaranteed to find a great deal to treasure in his bedside Bible, his enrichment is unlikely to come in the form of cold,
But maids aren't perfect and might on occasion forget to shake out the Bible, so maybe it pays to keep looking.
Truthfully, if you ever did find money stashed in a hotel Bible, it's much more likely to have come from someone who was trying to safeguard his loot from thieves then afterwards forgot it than from charity-driven Christians looking to reward those who turn to the Lord in a time of need. There are only so many places one can hide valuables in a hotel room, and the Bible is most of them.
You might not think the average person would be likely to forget money he's hidden, but it does happen surprisingly often. Indeed, forgetful travelers routinely leave behind all manner of items, big and small. Everything from eyebrow pencils and prescription drugs to packed suitcases and iguanas have been left in rooms by guests who failed to notice them before leaving. As an example of how common this behavior is, housekeepers in the 2,000-room Hyatt Regency Chicago find an average of 200 such items a month.
As for moolah, it's left in rooms much more often than one would think, and not always in small amounts.
As an alcoholic of my acquaintance once said, she very much wished to someday meet whoever took over her apartment because that lucky person must have been stumbling onto treasure troves for at least the next year.
A story related to our "money in the hotel Bible" legend turns up in a 1958 Reader's Digest. Though it's unclear whether it was presented as an anecdote or as a joke, it at least tells us the notion of stashing money in hotel Bibles goes back more than forty years:
Idly turning the pages of the Gideon Bible on the bedside table of my hotel room, I was amazed to find a crispIn 2003 a reader sent us this take on the "money hidden in holy books" theme, saying it was a story that circulates periodically in the Jewish world:
Clipped to the bill was a note which read: "If you opened this book because you're discouraged, read the
But the punch came with the P.S. "On second thought, maybe you ought to take it down to the Mirror Room and try their martinis. That's the way I got this idea anyway!"
Someone is in the synagogue getting ready for prayers before the beginning of the Sabbath (when it's forbidden to carry money) and notices he has aThough completely unrelated to Bibles or other holy books, the following 1992 tale does make use of the "cash reward left in a book" motif.
After the Sabbath, he opens up the book to that page and can't find the bill. Panicking, he starts leafing through it, and finds a
Those of us who have labored to obtain our Ph.D.s must sometimes wonder if anyone in the world can possibly be interested in the learned dissertation over which we have sweated, even though it is carefully filed in the library of the institution at which the degree was earned.Another tale of similar import involves a mother and her daughter:
There is a story of the scholar who, years ago, produced a dissertation that was loudly hailed as the best written and most valuable in a generation. A copy was reverently placed in the library files and the scholar, as an experiment, placed a crisp
"When I was your age, my mother used to hide money around the house for me that I would find only if I performed my chores particularly well. One time when I was cleaning out the cupboards for her, I found $20 under the old shelf paper."In a way, the untouched dissertation and shelf paper tales close the circle on this particular legend. Unlike the standard Gideon tale in which money is looked for but never found no matter how many Bibles are shook out, here a reward is actually left to be discovered by the first diligent soul to happen upon it, but none come.
"Wow; what a cool idea! Why didn't you ever do that with me?"
"But my dear, I have been."
If you're still in the mood for yet another "reward left in the Bible" tale, take a peek at our Treasure of the Sierra Padre page. As for me, I'm not quite done reflecting on my perfidious husband and my first day as his dupe, er, wife.
Only a few hours into the marriage, and I'd become the victim of an pseudo-ostensive action. (Ostension, to a folklorist, is the serendipitous process whereby real life sometimes imitates lore; a legend, in other words, spontaneously comes to life. Pseudo-ostension is the deliberate imitation of a known legend to perpetrate a hoax and thus fool people.)
Perhaps it's fitting I began the marriage on that foot. I've been wrestling with those devils ever since.
Barbara "pseudo wrestler" Mikkelson
The Gideons International
International Bible Society
Last updated: 8 August 2007
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