I heard the lyric above for the first time on Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 LP, and once thought that was my first real encounter with Biblical referencing. But in fact I had encountered scripture via a Gideons Bible in a dinky hotel room on my 10th birthday.
My father and I had taken a trip to the Griffiss Air Force base in upstate Rome, New York; Pop was an auditor for the inspector general of the U.S. Air Force and at the time I was keen on joining when I finished high school (this was before the Vietnam War). Twice he took me along on his inspections to show me what signing up might offer. We’d stay in hotels near the bases, where sometimes he’d leave me to fend for myself while he went to an officers club to drink with old cronies. That gave me a chance to watch color TV and snoop through the drawers and closets in our room looking for souvenirs. This is how I came across the ubiquitous Gideons Bible.
For those who don’t know much about the Bible (and I include myself here), Gideon was a soldier, judge and prophet whose victory over the Midianites is recounted in Judges 6–8 of the Old Testament.
If you’ve ever wondered why there is a Bible in most hotel and motel bedside table drawers, in 1908, the Gideons, an evangelical Christian group, distributed copies free of charge to all lodgings, hospitals and … virtually everywhere. Still operating today, the Gideons distribute over 70 million Bibles each year, for an estimated total of around 2 billion since 1908.
The recently published graphic memoir Gideon’s Bible is conceived as a conversation between a teenager named Gideon Salutin and his father, the writer and playwright Rick Salutin, triggered by the question of how he came to be named Gideon—drawing the reader down the rabbit hole of Biblical studies in the process.
Illustrated by Dusan Petricic, Gideon’s Bible is designed with a wink and nod to ancient Hebrew Bibles where the main text is printed in the center of the page and additional commentaries snake through the right, left and bottom margins. This book is an estimable primer and more. It is what novelist Margaret Atwood says in her introduction could be called “The Biblical Things You Wanted to Know But Were too Embarrassed to Ask.”