Deck of Cards

"The Deck of Cards" is a recitation song that was popularized in both the country and popular music fields, first during the late 1940s. This religious tale of a young American soldier arrested and charged with playing cards during a church service first became a hit in the U.S. in 1948 by country musician T. Texas Tyler.

Though Tyler wrote the spoken-word piece, the earliest known reference is to be found in an account/common-place book belonging to Mary Bacon, a British farmer's wife, dated 20 April 1762. The story of the soldier can be found in full in Mary Bacon's World. A farmer's wife in eighteenth-century Hampshire, published by Threshold Press (2010). The folk story was later recorded in a piece of 19th century British literature called "The Soldier's Almanack, Bible And Prayer Book"

Story

"Cards" is set during World War II, where a group of U.S. Army soldiers, on a long hike during a campaign in southern Italy, had arrived and camped near a town named Cassino. While Scripture is being read in church, one man who has only a deck of playing cards pulls them out and spreads them in front of him. He is immediately spotted by a sergeant, who believes the soldier is playing cards in church and orders him to put them away. The soldier is then arrested and taken before the provost marshal to be punished. The provost marshal demands an explanation, to which the soldier explains first that he had been on a long march without a bible or a prayer book, and, then, mentions the significance of each card:

Ace: The one true God.

Deuce: The Old Testament and New Testament in the Bible.

Trey (three): The Holy Trinity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit/Ghost.

Four: St. MatthewSt. MarkSt. Luke, and St. John, evangelists and authors of the four Gospels.

Five: The two groups of five virgins who trimmed their lamps for a wedding. Five were wise (by saving enough oil) and were admitted, while the other five were foolish (did not have enough oil) and were shut out.

Six: God created the Earth in six days.

Seven: God rested on the seventh day, now known as the Sabbath.

Eight: The eight righteous people whom God saved during the Great FloodNoah, his wife, their three sons, and their wives.

Nine: Of the ten lepers whom Jesus cleansed, nine of them did not even thank him.

Ten: The Ten Commandments God handed down to Moses.

King: God, the Father.

Queen: Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of Jesus and Queen of Heaven.

Jack or knave: Satan or the Devil.


365 spots: The number of days in a year.

52 cards: The number of weeks in a year.

Thirteen tricks: The number of weeks in a season, or quarter of a year.

Four suits: The approximate number of weeks in a month.

Twelve face, or "Picture" cards: The number of months in a year.


Deck of Cards: Bible, Almanac, Prayer Book


The narrator then closes the story by stating that "this story is true," by claiming he is the soldier in question. The text does not say whether the provost marshal spared the soldier any penalty, but it is possible to infer from the text that he did.

Flaws

The story, as told, contains flaws, including:

  • There are not 365 spots on a deck of cards. On a standard deck there are 220 (4×(1+2+3+4+5+6+7+8+9+10)), since the face cards do not contain spots. To come up with 365, one would have to assume that the face cards have 11, 12 and 13 spots respectively, plus assume exactly one joker with one spot. (This itself creates an inconsistency, as the deck in the story is explicitly mentioned as having 52 cards.) No construction of a card deck with four identical suits could contain an odd number of spots.
  • Only in February are there exactly four weeks in a month (and even then not in leap years), so the deck would provide a rather unreliable almanac. Similarly there are not exactly 52 weeks in a year, or exactly 13 weeks in a quarter. Nevertheless, rounded to the nearest integers (as playing cards are), these numbers are roughly accurate.
  • Although the seven-day week is mentioned as a Godly creation in Genesis, the ideas of months and years are rooted in astronomy and do not have direct Biblical inspiration. In fact, the Hebrew calendar in use during the Old Testament has a lunar component and thus does not use regular years. The regular solar year used in Christianity was adapted from the Julian calendar, itself adapted from the Roman calendar and having no Biblical basis. Since the crime in question was the use of playing cards in church, the astronomical factors would do little to help the accused's case.
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