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The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible Paperback – September 9, 2008
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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 --This text refers to the Audible Audio Edition edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audible Audio Edition edition.
Top Customer Reviews
When humorous things happen, he writes about them in a way that led me to chuckle along. Times of seriousness were written poignantly enough to sometimes shed a tear, or feel my heart moved as well. I especially applaud him for including stories about his wife, and how she wasn't always keen on what he was doing, and the difficulties they had while he went on this adventure. And I give him great credit for sticking with his goal for the whole year (and slightly beyond), and not giving up.
Jacobs is a wonderful writer! I will definitely be looking for more books by this guy, and will read his previous book.
And speaking as a Christian - and an ordained minister at that - I found his spiritual journey, and his insights into Judaism and Christianity as what was basically an outsider, to be very interesting to read about. Some of the things we take for granted or as base assumptions, he didn't know - he had to find out, and he continually showed the courage to go find a scholar, a rabbi, a minister, or other person with the knowledge to help him out. Especially when he found a law to be silly, instead of writing it off, he sought out someone who could explain why it might be there, and what it meant historically and means to some in the context of 21st century earth. I learned things about Christianity and Judaism from him; and also I learned a few things about my own personal faith from him.Read more ›
The first problem with undertaking such a task is that there are a lot of different Bibles out there and even more ways to interpret what's in them. While Jacobs seems to rely mostly on the Revised Standard Version, he consults other versions as well. Over the course of the year he will meet with a number of different religious groups and individuals representing a broad spectrum of interpretations.
The nice thing about the Encyclopaedia Britannica was it was pretty straightforward, with little wiggle room for misreading. But in the Bible, almost everything can be read at least two ways. Even the Ten Commandments are subject to multiple interpretations: Does the commandment against killing mean all killing? What about executions? It is this ambiguity that lets the Bible fit almost all agendas. Is the Bible pro- or anti-slavery? What is its views on abortion, homosexuality or the roles of women? As Jacobs finds during the year, there is no true agreement. (And if the Bible has a message that contradicts your ideals, do you reject your ideals or (at least in part) the Bible?Read more ›
This book is a travelogue, with Jacobs documenting his journey through terrain both strange and familiar. Throughout, he exhibits a self-deprecating wit that in no way undermines his insight. Laugh out loud funny? It is that. But even when he's wagging his bushy beard at something absurd, Jacobs' humor is neither cynical nor mean-spirited. His observations feel unflinchingly frank, but never superior--he is quick to acknowledge that he is as eccentric as anyone.
None of this is meant to imply that this book will be a comfortable fit for everyone. He is, after all, pointing out some of the more unusual and esoteric Biblical rules, trying them on, questioning them, looking at the people who follow them. I felt he handled the subject of Biblical literalism with meticulous respect, but some readers might be made uneasy at such scrutiny of sacred cows. And that would be a shame. Because while it's easy to laugh at his humor, it's equally important to reflect on his subtext. What are the psychological and social impacts of ritualism? There's a lot to be learned from an outsider looking in.
Like any good tour guide, Jacobs has come to feel like a friend, and I'm going to miss him. Until next trip.
Jacobs is an extremely talented wordsmith who knows exactly how to transfer his inner thoughts and outward events onto the printed page in such a manner as to make one feel as though they're engaged in an intimate conversation with a close friend. His ongoing interior dialogue shows his audience that he is definitely an individual of depth who knows and understands the religio/philosophical issues he's dealing with. His mental musings are coupled with a quirky slant on the oddities of faith making for an entertaining and hilarious reading as he deftly moves from the absurd to the sublime.
Long after the laughing stops and the book has been finished and put aside you will be left with numerous nuggets of profundity to crack open and digest at your leisure. The most important for me was his recognition that true belief must be accompanied by corresponding actions lived out in the real world every day, if not as an act of love, most certainly as an act of obedience to the rules. As the Bible says, "Faith without works is dead."
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Very informative and hilarious! Opened many discussion avenues. Thanks.Published 10 days ago by Ramona Everett-Seymour
I'm only a third of the way through this book but I am loving it!Published 28 days ago by Ann Schatzinger
A WONDERFUL book by a lax Jew attempting to find out what it might mean to live by the Bible. A sincere effort at learning and growth, and he came away with both. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Irl R. Sanders
Having read Jacobs' "The Know-It-All", I wondered if this could possibly be as good....it was as good or better. Read morePublished 1 month ago by D. Hilderbrandt
This book seems like it would be entertaining and enjoyable for just about any reader, but I found it a particularly satisfying read as a seminary-educated pastor. Read morePublished 1 month ago by davidjordan84
I've read this book 3-4 times now, and it's usually my go to book on flights where my current book finished. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Amazon Customer