Elvis Presley’s Bible is to go on display at next month’s Christian Resources Exhibition, along with Reggie Kray’s, John Bunyan’s and the Bible of William Tyndale himself. But what on earth is Reggie Kray’s Bible doing there? And which of Elvis’s many Bibles is this?Elvis kept a Bible – King James version always – by his bedside, and left a copy in every room of Graceland, his colonial-style mansion in Memphis, Tennessee. He was an avid daily reader and had several favourite passages.
Probably he had developed the habit of reading scripture back in the Fifties when he began attended the Assembly of God church in south Memphis, where, incidentally, he would have heard the Blackwood Brothers Quartet performing. Elvis also attended Sunday morning Bible study (along with the Blackwoods) at the church. He went to church on his own because by this time his parents had pretty much stopped going. Vernon, his father, complained of a bad back and was often out of work. Gladys, his beloved mother, was by that time considerably overweight.
Anyway, in later years Elvis would pore over key texts in the small hours, pondering their significance – sometimes quite morbidly. For example, the famous line in St Matthew’s gospel (19:24), “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God”, caused him particular concern, especially towards the end of his life. That text was close to Gladys’s heart also.
There is no doubt that Elvis Presley was a man with a profound faith. For all his life, but more and more as he got older and more successful, he was a seeker after religious knowledge. He puzzled over the purpose of the universe, and his own life and mission in particular.Unlike Michael Jackson, who appears to have willingly assumed the title “King of Pop” in his self-promotion, Elvis did not apply the moniker “the King” to himself. It is reported that when fans acclaimed him as “the King” he would reply: “I’m not the King. There is only one King.”It’s interesting that compared to the egomaniacal stars of today, Elvis was, even at the height of his fame, self-effacing and gracious. You can see this graciousness in press conferences when he respectfully addresses reporters as “sir” (or “honey” if it’s a girl).
Elvis liked to embrace all faiths and so was an ecumenicist and a syncretist before it was fashionable. Around his neck he often wore both a star of David and a cross. He used to joke that he didn’t want to be left out of heaven on a technicality. Under the influence of a hairdresser named Larry Geller, he explored non-Christian beliefs contained in popular texts of the period such as The Impersonal Life and The Autobiography of a Yogi. But it was the Bible to which he always returned. You can see one of the many editions he possessed at the Christian Resources Exhibition, at Sandown Park in Surrey from May 11 to 14.