AMONG THE back-page stories in yesterday's newspaper was a fresh, Iraq-war variation on the old "bible in pocket stops bullet, saving soldier's life" story the plausibility of which, if you're a fan of the Discovery Channel's Mythbusters show, you probably thought had been empirically disproven. Hosts Hyneman and Savage put the 150-year-old (at least) chestnut to the test in episode 16, concluding that a 400-page hardcover tome might stop a bullet fired from a .22-caliber rifle, depending on the distance between the shooter and the target, but anything more powerful would likely pierce right through to its intended mark. (The results of similar test firings, with similar results, may be viewed at Box o' Truth.)
The experiment did not, of course, take into account any miraculous properties the Holy Bible may be thought to have.
More to the point, the Mythbusters couldn't have foreseen the specifics of the real-life scenario played out in Baghdad a few weeks ago. According to the victim, PFC Brendan Schweigart, a sniper's bullet first entered his body from the side, then exited through his chest, where it lodged in the Bible he kept tucked under his bullet-proof shield. If not for the Bible, Schweigart believes no doubt correctly the bullet could have ricocheted off the armor and back into his body, causing more serious injury or even death.
Private Schweigart's close call proves that we needn't cry foul every time we hear tell of a soldier's pocket Bible saving his life in a firefight indeed, given all the millions of soldiers who have waged war during the past several centuries, it would seem outlandish not to encounter a few precedents in real life. Unfortunately, the story has been told so many times and in so many different places without adequate corroboration that it's impossible to know which instances are true and which are false.
Here are but a few recorded examples from different times and locales. You be the judge:
"When Oliver Cromwell entered upon the command of the Parliament's army against Charles I, he ordered all the soldiers to carry a Bible in their pockets (the same which is now called Field's). Among the rest there was a wild, wicked young fellow, who ran away from his apprenticeship in London for the sake of plunder and dissipation. This fellow was obliged to be in the fashion. Being one day ordered out upon a skirmishing party, or to attack some fortress, he returned to his quarters in the evening without hurt. When he was going to bed, pulling the Bible out of his pocket, he observed a hole in it. His curiosity led him to trace the depth of this hole into his Bible; he found a bullet was gone as far as the 11th chapter of Ecclesiastes, 9th verse. He read the verse. 'Rejoice, O young man in thy youth, and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thy heart, and in the sight of thine eyes; but know those that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment.' The words were set home upon his heart by the Divine Spirit, so that he became a very serious and sound believer in the Lord Jesus Christ..." (Anecdotes, Religious, Moral, and Entertaining, by Charles Buck, New York: Dayton and Saxton, 1841, p. 74)
- 19th century:
"A soldier from Roxbury, Massachussetts, on leaving home for the army, received a pocket-Bible from his sister. In a battle that followed, a bullet entered the Bible, which was in his side-pocket, and saved his life. He felt the shock, and was bruised, but not otherwise injured." (The National Preacher and Village Pulpit, Vol. IV, by Austin Dickinson, New York: W. H. Bidwell, 1861, p. 362)
"The Bible was not only instrumental in saving souls: there are hundreds of cases where it was also instrumental in saving the lives of the soldiers. Here is a copy [holding it up] which was published in England by Messrs. Eyre and Spottiswoode. That Testament has a history which, if it could speak, I might well remain silent. It ran the blockade; it found its way to a soldier of the Southern army, who placed it in his bosom, and here is the hold which was made by a bullet, which, entering at the last chapter of the Revelation, penetrated through the first chapter of Matthew, and, grazing the outer cover, saved the man's life. There are hundreds of such copies preserved in numerous families throughout American, and money could not purchase them." (The Life of George H. Stuart, by George Hay Stuart, Philadelphia: J. M. Stoddart, 1890, p. 355)
"Marse Tom was just wounded. If he hadn't had a Bible in his pocket de bullet go clear through his heart. But you all know no bullet ain't goin' through de Bible. No, you can't shoot through God's word." (When I Was a Slave: Memoirs from the Slave Narrative Collection, by Norman R. Yetman, Federal Writers' Project, New York: Dover Publications, 2002, p. 92)
World War II:
"William R. Wilson, a nineteen-year-old youth of New Castle, Pa., had a narrow escape from death while on duty in the American Army in France. A German sharpshooter fired at him so accurately that he would have been killed had it not been that a Bible in his left breast-pocket arrested the bullet sufficiently to cause only a slight wound." (Patriotic Illustrations for Public Speakers, by William Herbert Brown, Cincinnati: The Standard Publishing Co., 1919, p. 20)
Sources and further reading:
• Bible Credited with Saving Soldier's Life - Olean Times Herald
• Bible in U.S. Soldier's Pocket Stops Sniper's Bullet - WKMG-TV News
• Bible Stopped Sniper's Bullet - NewsMax.com
• IPod Stops Bullet, Saves Soldier's Life - Engadget.com