“The Year of Living Biblically”

I just finished reading A.J. Jacobs’ “The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible.” Jacobs is an agnostic, secular writer and editor at Esquire magazine who wanted to see if faith (specifically Jewish/Christian fundamentalism (fundamentalists claim to follow literal interpretations of the Bible)) still had relevance in the modern world.  

A little background on Jacobs’ religious experience: “I grew up in an extremely secular home in New York City.  I am officially Jewish, but I’m Jewish in the same way the Olive Garden is an Italian restaurant…the closest my family came to observing Judaism was that paradoxical classic of assimilation: a Star of David on top of our Christmas tree.”

To answer his questions about the relevance of faith, Jacobs embarks on a one year journey/experiment “to follow the Bible as literally as possible.”  Even to “abide by the oft-neglected rules: to avoid wearing clothes made of mixed fibers.  To stone adulterers. And, naturally, to leave the edges of my beard unshaven (Leviticus 19:27).  I am trying to obey the entire Bible, without picking and choosing.”

From  his thesis, I knew from the get-go that he was missing the entire point of faith by embarking on this quest of living out all the rules.  I knew that he would spend his year only skimming the surface of a true faith, but I was interested in what his experiences would bring him, and I was deeply interested in how he would perceive and be changed by the life he was going to try to live.

Let me just sum my experience of the book: I loved it.  Jacobs never mocked religious faith, and he genuinely sought answers for the questions he had.  It was funny and enlightening.  I found myself laughing out loud at some of the experiences, such as when he was trying obey the purity laws in regard to the menstruation cycles of his wife.  In Leviticus it is very clear that you must not touch a woman during her cycle, and even further, “everything upon which she lies during her impurity shall be unclean; everything also upon which she sits shall be unclean (Leviticus 15:20).”

Jacobs comes home one day during that special time in the month for his wife, and goes to sit down, but she says: “I wouldn’t do that if I were you, I sat in that chair.”  Thankful for her honesty, he goes to sit in another chair, but his wife says the same thing, then adds, “in fact I’ve taken the liberty to sit in every chair in this house.”

Along with the comical moments, there are also many moments of enlightenment.  Times like when he says: “That’s the paradox: I thought religion would make me live with my head in the clouds, but as often as not, it grounds me in this world.”

The book is full of great content and a great story…one that even leads him on a trip to the Holy Land.  I think people of faith, and even those without faith would enjoy this book…and be enlightened by it.  I won’t give away his conclusions in this post, because I want you all to pick it up and read it for yourselves…you won’t be disappointed.

2 thoughts on ““The Year of Living Biblically”

  1. If you haven’t yet, you really should read all of his works. “The Know it All” is another excellent book of his, in which he sets out to read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica. Good stuff.

  2. Jacobs mentioned his earlier work in YOLB, and I was for sure intersted. I’ve just finished up some books, and I’m looking for another good one, so I may pick that up if I can find it in Korea (or I may just order it off amazon if I have to).

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