I came across this intriguing story by Ruth Graham bout a Bible that seemed to be producing prodigious amounts of oil. This miracle so captivated believers that they believed the oil had healing powers and so purchased vials of it in large quantities.
The story begins by describing what happened at the end of a small informal prayer meeting held by a small group in the town of Dalton, Tennessee.
Johnny [Taylor]’s girlfriend, Leslie, was there, along with her father, John Barker, and their friend Jerry Pearce and his wife, Joyce. They usually broke up by 8:30, but on this night they kept praying until after midnight. At one point, Jerry fell down on the floor for 45 minutes in a kind of catatonic state that he describes as being “out in the Spirit.” Within a few days, he told me, he opened his Bible to Psalm 39—an uneasy poem of both praise and gloom that includes the words “every man at his best state is but vapor”—and noticed a small spot of oil. Joyce assured him the grandkids hadn’t been near the book. It could only have come from God.
From then on, more oil appeared almost every time Jerry picked up the Bible, a leather-bound copy of the New King James translation. The oil moved to the back of the book, saturated the endpapers—a heart-shaped splotch appeared over a map of Israel—and then started at the beginning, in Genesis 1. Eventually Jerry had to put the book in a Ziploc bag, and then in a large plastic bin he bought at Tractor Supply.
News of the oil began to spread. The weekly prayer group started meeting in a larger room at the gift shop, then moved to a small performance space, and finally landed at a renovated movie theater downtown. Within three years, hundreds of people were gathering each week in the small town of Dalton, Georgia, to pray, socialize, and be healed. Believers say the translucent oil has cured skin conditions and cancer. They say it has generated crystals, changed color, and increased in volume—inching upward in the Tupperware container over the course of a few hours. They say small vials of oil refilled themselves overnight. “A Bible flowing with oil—something many are calling a modern miracle—continues to gather huge crowds,” the Chattanooga Times Free Press reported this past November. Some believers moved to Dalton to be closer to the revival; others drove hours every week to see the oil. Leslie’s father and his girlfriend got married in the prayer room. Meanwhile, the book kept oozing. By January 2020, Johnny and Jerry estimated that the Bible had produced more than 400 gallons of oil.
Jerry Pearce’s “flowing oil,” as he calls it, turned the carpet capital into another kind of capital: the center of a spiritual revival. On a Tuesday morning in late January, about 600 people had filed into the Wink Theatre for a weekly prayer service that would last more than three hours.
There were stories about the oil healing arthritis and dissolving tumors. Others said their vials of oil had spontaneously refilled. One woman said she had given it to a friend who traveled to North Korea and slathered three rocks there with oil, including one representing North Korea and one representing the United States. “Right after that was when Trump met with Kim Jong-un,” she said. The crowd murmured in awe.
When I read the story, being the stone-cold materialist atheist that I am, I knew that it had to be a fraud. The only question was how it was done and by whom. And the article ends by revealing it.
Such stories of miracles that turn out to be hoaxes are a dime a dozen, differing only in their details. But what I find interesting is not how so many people were convinced and were willing to vouch for the oil’s miraculous healing properties. After all, religious people desperately seek a sign that their god is real and will seize on pretty much anything that bolsters that belief. Some even seem to feel that even if the miracle turns out to be a fraud, it serves a greater good. As Graham writes at the end:
I remembered something that a woman named Leah Lesesne, who drove from Atlanta to visit the oil a few years ago, had told me in December: In the end, she wasn’t sure how much she cared whether the oil Bible was real. “It has brought people closer to God, it has brought people healing, it has rekindled people’s faith and curiosity,” she said. “Even if one day it’s proven that all this was a sham.”
No, what I find interesting is that people do not seem to question why their god’s miracles are so petty and oblique. Presumably they think that their god wants to demonstrate to people that he exists by showing the power to overcome physical laws. But why do so on such a small scale to such small audiences? Why not go mass market with a real blow-out miracle?