The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible by A. J. Jacobs

Since I haven’t mentioned it lately, I loved The Know-It-All by A. J. Jacobs. You knew that, right? My brother gave me a copy for my birthday, and I said, “Oh, I loved this book,” and he got all disappointed that I had read it (I have already read most of the books on my Amazon wishlist. That is why I want them. If I just wanted to read them, I would check them out of the library or use Interlibrary Loan. Use your public library. Thus ends our PSA), but no! I wanted to own it! It made me laugh. A lot.

(This has nothing to do with his new book, but remember when I wanted to tell A. J. Jacobs about the Menage-Ottawa thing that one time? He didn’t have a website then, so I couldn’t figure out how to contact him. He does now, but it seems as if the moment has passed. However, in his new book he admits he is an obsessive self-googler. Hi, A. J., nice to see you! Be sure to click that Menage-Ottawa thing. It’s pretty funny.)

So, anyway, last year I heard rumblings about how A. J. Jacobs was on a new mission, to live out Bible laws literally. And since then, I have been waiting for his book to arrive. It came in yesterday, and I finished it this afternoon. Hooray! Okay, let me back up and give a little summary, though.

For a few different reasons, Jacobs decides that it might be nice to try to live out the Bible literally. One of the reasons was, yes, just that he needed a gimmick for another book. He also wanted to explore religion and religious people. I also think that he hints that now that he’s a father, passing his Jewish heritage to his son is more important to him, even if he’s never been an observant Jew.

So, Jacobs blows a ram’s horn at the beginning of every month, he carries a seat around so that he doesn’t sit on any seat made unclean by a menstruating woman, he prays regularly, he binds the ten commandments to his head, he wears white robes, he visits the Amish and Jerry Falwell and snake handlers in Tennessee. He takes a pilgrimage to Israel, and he attends several more obscure Jewish festivals and ceremonies. And, of course, he grows a big long beard. All year long.

And all of that is very fun, and of course I laughed, but that wasn’t what struck me the most about this book. Jacobs started as a man without any kind of faith, and that doesn’t completely change over the course of the year. But at the end of the year, he calls himself a “reverent agnostic,” having come to appreciate things like the Sabbath (a forced day of rest), prayer, and even life itself. He referenced a C. S. Lewis quote that says that “the distinction between pretending you are better than you are and beginning to be better in reality is finer than moral sleuthhounds conceive.” And I have found that to be true in my own life – the more I pray, the more I believe in prayer. I have talked before about faith being in the doing, because it reminds me that I am a part of something bigger. I think that’s what A.J. Jacobs experienced in his year of living Biblically, and though my religious background is very different than his, I could very much relate to that aspect of his story.

I also liked that the Bible stories that I am so familiar with really came alive to him as he was hearing many of them for (what seemed to be) the first time. Something would happen in his daily life, and he would say, “That was like so-and-so from the Bible.” It was fun to watch him learn about and embrace those stories, especially when it was something weird and obscure.

When I was done, Mike asked me if I would recommend the book, and if so, to whom. If you enjoyed The Know-It-All or you are interested to see what someone approaching the Bible and religion for the first time might think, you will probably enjoy this book. It’s more serious and has more depth than The Know-It-All, but it’s still very funny and enjoyable to watch Jacobs grow over the course of the year as he struggles with faith and religion. He was being gimmicky, yes, but it did change him in many ways.

Also, his wife must be the most patient person on the planet.

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