Courtesy Paul Halsall, I learned an interesting new word today: “myroblyte,” which is Greek and derives from myron (“sweet oil”) and bluzo (“to gush forth”). So something “myroblytic” exudes oil, and it is a miraculous property sometimes observed in icons or relics. Unbeknownst to me, in Dalton, Georgia these past few years a ministry calling itself His Name is Flowing Oil has claimed to be in the possession of a miraculously myroblitic Bible. In the week after Trump’s inauguration, a Bible belonging to one Jerry Pearce started to produce oil, starting with a small smudge in Psalm 39 and eventually saturating the entire book. Pearce put it in a plastic bag, and then in a glass container, in order to prevent the ever-flowing oil from soaking everything around it. Word spread quickly, and people flocked to Dalton in order to join a worship service, held in Dalton’s Wink Theater, during which the Bible would be brought out and laid on people’s heads. People claimed that they received cures or felt God’s presence in a special way; they could also leave with samples of the oil, and eventually the ministry gave away some 350,000 vials of it, totaling 400 gallons. Church leaders took the Bible on tour throughout the United States and even to Canada, although it only produced oil when it was in Dalton.
Does that last fact make you suspicious? It should! The day after the Chattanooga Times Free Press published an article about the miraculous Bible last November, the paper received a telephone call to say that Pearce was a regular customer at the Tractor Supply store in Dalton, where he was seen buying large amounts of mineral oil. Tests carried out at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga confirmed that the allegedly miraculous oil was indeed indistinguishable from the Ideal brand of mineral oil sold at Tractor Supply. The Times Free Press published their findings last month; in the wake of the article, the ministry announced that the Bible had stopped producing oil and that they were ceasing operations, although they continued to defend their work. Ministry leader Johnny Taylor claimed that the Bible was “just a sign and a wonder… but it’s your faith and it’s how you apply it and use it where the miracles come in. We tell people the Bible is not the move, it’s just the sign and the wonder, but if you go find out where the Bible is, there’s a move going on there.” So (they claimed) they were only using it to advertise the “move,” although that doesn’t quite explain the cures attributed to the oil, or the vials of oil that the ministry gave away to its worshipers. (Note though that they weren’t selling them.)
What I find interesting about this episode is how it is an example of how tradition abides. You can say that oil is biblical, but the miraculous secretion of it strikes me as very Catholic indeed, and not something that Protestants would go in for – like receiving the stigmata or using holy water for exorcisms. But tactile ritual, especially involving the miraculous, is psychologically very satisfying, and no matter how often we disparage it as “superstitious,” it always seems to find a way back. Reinhardt’s Wayne Glowka told me about the Catholic custom of burying a statue of St. Joseph in your yard if you want to sell your house, something that two of his Baptist neighbors in Milledgeville did. Note too the evangelical support for Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ, which was essentially an over-the-top RC meditation on the Stations of the Cross, i.e not something that Protestants usually do.
Although I suppose that the specifically Protestant ingredient here is the Bible – there are no myroblytic relics or icons in this story.
UPDATE: See also “The Bible that Oozed Oil” by Ruth Graham at Slate.