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The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible Hardcover – Deckle Edge, October 9, 2007
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Amazon Best of the Month, September 2007: Make no mistake: A.J. Jacobs is not a religious man. He describes himself as Jewish "in the same way the Olive Garden is an Italian restaurant." Yet his latest work, The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible, is an insightful and hilarious journey for readers of all faiths. Though no fatted calves were harmed in the making of this book, Jacobs chronicles 12 months living a remarkably strict Biblical life full of charity, chastity, and facial hair as impressive as anything found in The Lord of the Rings. Through it all, he manages to brilliantly keep things light, while avoiding the sinful eye of judgment. --Dave Callanan
Subtitled: "One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible," Jacobs, or A.J., as his two-year-old son calls him, does just that. It is likely that no one but A.J. Jacobs could have accomplished such a feat. After all, his last book, The Know-It-All, chronicles his reading of the entire Encyclopedia Brittanica, from A to Z. No one but a smart, witty, self-deprecating, nitpicky kinda guy would undertake two such daunting tasks, and complete them with grace, no pun intended.
Jacobs, a New York Jewish agnostic, decides to follow the laws and rules of the Bible, beginning with the Old Testament, for one year. (He actually adds some bonus days and makes it a 381-day year.) He starts by growing a beard and we are with him through every itchy moment. Jacobs is borderline OCD, at least as he describes himself; obsessing over possible dangers to his son, germs, literal interpretation of Bible verses, etc. He enlists the aid of counselors along the way; Jewish rabbis, Christians of every stripe, friends and neighbors.
In an open-minded way he also visits with atheists, Evangelicals Concerned (a gay group), Jerry Falwell, snake handlers, Red Letter Christians--those who adhere to the red letters in the Bible, those words spoken by Jesus Himself, and even takes a trip to Israel and meets Samaritans. Through it all, he keeps a healthy skepticism, but continues to pray and is open to the flowering of real faith. Jacobs is a knowledge junky, to be sure. He enjoys the lore he picks up along the way as much as any other aspect of his experiment. One of the ongoing schticks is his meeting with the shatnez tester, Mr. Berkowitz. He is the one who determines whether or not your clothes are made of mixed fibers, in keeping with the Biblical injunction not to wear wool and linen together. The two become friends and prayer partners, in only one of the unexpected results of this year.
In the end, he says, "I'm now a reverent agnostic. Which isn't an oxymoron, I swear. I now believe that whether or not there's a God, there is such a thing as sacredness. Life is sacred." Not a bad outcome. --Valerie Ryan
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. What would it require for a person to live all the commandments of the Bible for an entire year? That is the question that animates this hilarious, quixotic, thought-provoking memoir from Jacobs (The Know-It-All). He didn't just keep the Bible's better-known moral laws (being honest, tithing to charity and trying to curb his lust), but also the obscure and unfathomable ones: not mixing wool with linen in his clothing; calling the days of the week by their ordinal numbers to avoid voicing the names of pagan gods; trying his hand at a 10-string harp; growing a ZZ Top beard; eating crickets; and paying the babysitter in cash at the end of each work day. (He considered some rules, such as killing magicians, too legally questionable to uphold.) In his attempts at living the Bible to the letter, Jacobs hits the road in highly entertaining fashion to meet other literalists, including Samaritans in Israel, snake handlers in Appalachia, Amish in Lancaster County, Pa., and biblical creationists in Kentucky. Throughout his journey, Jacobs comes across as a generous and thoughtful (and, yes, slightly neurotic) participant observer, lacing his story with absurdly funny cultural commentary as well as nuanced insights into the impossible task of biblical literalism. (Oct.)
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Top Customer Reviews
Somehow the author manages to shed light on many religious topics and practices without being offensive, preachy, disrespectful, or overbearing. Regardless of the person he’s spending time with, Jacobs always comes away more knowledgeable and open minded. Jacobs met with rabbis, Amish, and Red Letter Christians, to name a few. About the latter, they adhere strictly to the direct quotes of Christ, and Jacobs learned that although Christ didn’t say anything about homosexuality, he had a lot to say about giving and sharing with others.
I often hear people say something is biblical and that it must be followed. I also hear the opposite: something is NOT biblical and shouldn’t be a behavior or ideal to subscribe to. Jacobs tried living all the teachings, laws, and commandants in the bible and showed that it couldn’t be done. A person might spout off the story of the good Samaritan, for example, and yet be prejudiced as all get out. Jacobs was earnestly attempting to follow the Ten Commandments when he told his little boy his English muffin was just that, an English muffin and not a bagel like the tiny tot wanted. His son had a tantrum, causing the author to wonder if lying is okay for such occasions.
Jacobs’ year of living as closely as possible to biblical laws, commandments, and principles changed the way he now thinks about things. He’s more grateful and mindful these days, and he completed the project with a greater sense of the spiritual side of his nature; he also feels more peace and appreciation. While Jacobs remains agnostic, I love his statement about his newborn’s eyes: “I spot what a nun I know calls ‘God’s DNA.’ Those eyes are alive.”
Read this book. It’s funny, educational, and honest. It’s based, by the way, on the Revised Standard Version. His favorite verse is Ecclesiastes 3:1, a scripture that I often remind myself of.
While trying to follow the Bible as literally as possible, A.J. Jacobs discovers contradictions, some explicit, others springing from differences in translation and interpretation. He has difficulties incorporating the realities of modern life (like having to carry a chair with him so he doesn't accidentally sit in a seat a menstruating woman has been in; it's unclean) and it is only due to the eternal patience of his wife that he is able to live within some of these restrictions (although she draws the line at a rule that states he can't touch her at ALL for weeks after her c-section delivering their twins; spoiler: he suspends his "quest" for about a month after their birth).
The challenge the author undertakes in this book is something I, myself, would NEVER attempt, but I did find his account illuminating. Like him, I think a lot of people seek to live the best lives they can by following tenets set out in the good book, but being human, fail to varying degrees. Jacobs's quest did lead him to being a kinder, more thoughtful person, so even as a self-described agnostic, by the end of his journey, he felt it was worthwhile.
I don't want to go too in depth about my views on religious; my personal beliefs aren't relevant to this review. It's a well-written, engaging, funny account that answers a lot of questions I had about how would one have to live if they really took the Bible as literally as they said they do. His conclusion confirmed what I suspected: it's impossible to follow ALL the rules literally and EVERYONE cherry picks.
But don't take it from me. Read this and be yourself, enlightened. It's not going to make you a true believer (it certainly didn't affect my beliefs in any way), but it might increase your understanding.
I read this with a long list of questions: everything from "what's the deal with mixed fabrics?" to "how can any woman belong to anything that's so expressly sexist?" and Jacobs impressed me by acknowledging everything succinctly. This book isn't just anecdotal, but impressively dense with research. He explores everything from hasidc judaism all the way to baptists and the bible belt, getting an intimate look at the beliefs and percieved benefits of people from all different faiths. I would have liked him to continue his Abrahamic investigation into the quran instead of stopping at the news testament. But perhaps, coming from a jewish family, he felt unqualified.
All in all, I definitely got what I was looking for in this book: an objective perspective on many of the beliefs and rituals of modern Americans and the high-lights of an impressively exhaustive investigation of the bible. I think it should be mandatory reading for everyone, regardless of their personal faith.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I loved your book, I'm writing this in case you actually read these reviews, there's a new podcast out today called the Bible for normal people, I think you'll find it...Read more