Have you ever tried reading the entire Bible in four weeks? That’s what bestselling author A.J. Jacobs did in preparation for one of his four New York Times Bestselling books, The Year of Living Biblically. Spawned from an outcast family member’s religiously unique life, Jacobs takes on “one man’s humble quest to follow the Bible as literally as possible.” Considering the many absurd rules in the Bible, this may seem ridiculous—if not impossible. However, Jacobs immerses readers into his life and biblical-living endeavor with intrigue, humor, and complete honesty.
Jacobs’ endeavor is ambitious to say the least. He sets aside twelve months of his life to devote to living biblically, working still for Esquire magazine and managing a family. After volumes of research, interviews, interactions and brave steps into the oddities of the Bible, Jacobs completes this daunting task, but it certainly provides its challenges along the way.
To begin his journey, Jacobs decides to embrace the Bible chronologically. Structurally, his book is separated into chapters by months. He also labels sections of each chapter by numbering days of his approximately 381 day spiritual journey. The pages are spaced nicely and Bible verses guide the discussions and progression of his biblical activities and daily encounters.
Jacobs approaches the Bible from an agnostic stance and a secular Jewish heritage. He explains to readers his religious experience, ultimately inviting readers into his spiritual journey, somewhat certain that this endeavor will not affect his religious stance significantly, but also wondering what impact it might have.
During his four weeks of intensive, five-hours-a-day Bible readings, Jacobs compiles a list of rules to adhere to from the Bible. He acknowledges, “I’ve decided I can’t” take every part of the Bible literally. “That’d be misleading, unnecessarily flip, and would result in missing body parts. No, instead my plan is this: I will try to find the original intent of the biblical rule or teaching and follow that to the letter” (10).
For many tasks he does a literal job, wearing tassels, avoiding mixed fiber clothing, not shaving facial hair, abiding by purity laws, following the ten commandments, stoning sinners, playing a horn on the first of every month, offering prayers each day, visiting Jerusalem, and many more. Some are purely comedic in today’s era; others pull the agnostic Jacobs closer to the potential of a divine Being.
His external appearance, a large bushy beard, white attire, even a staff sometimes, tassels hanging from his shirt—all of these may seem absurd in modern New York, but just as Jacobs’ outward appearance morphs to adhere to the biblical lifestyle, so does his inner self. He creates a biblical persona to differentiate himself. There is “A.J.” the original and “Jacob,” the Bible following self. Jacobs’ ethical arguments between his two conflicting selves are entertaining and very personal.
The whole book is personal. He invites readers into his family dynamics introducing readers to his wife, Julie, his son Jasper and his and his wife’s attempts to “be fruitful and multiply” as the Bible commands. Their journey to have a second child is well underway as Jacobs tries to live the Bible literally.
Part of the charm of the book is the inclusion of Jacobs’ personal life. Witnessing his honesty, hearing his mental progressions and watching his spiritual formation brings readers into the realness of the Bible and its many followers. His genuine openness to the oddities of the Bible and to listening to the Jews and Christians and considering the whys of what they do, opens him to understanding. However, while he understands why prayer is valuable to followers, or how Bible stories teach lessons of morality and guidance—not to lie, cheat, steal or give into lust—there are some concepts or laws in the Bible that are just too perplexing. So Jacobs seeks help from others. Jacobs acquires many mentors, spiritual guides, who offer their varying insights to some of the most perplexing concepts of the Bible such as eating locusts, finding the red heifer, snake handling, or taking a pigeon’s egg from a nest. All of these are odd, but as explained in his book, have some significant meaning, even if humans can’t fully explain.
His adventures are riveting, hilarious, and engaging. Jacobs writes as if you are there with him, using tasteful descriptions and fluid writing. As you hear of his ventures, you want to know more yourself. You are wondering what you believe and why.
This book is a fascinating read. It covers a year of life. It’s a man’s story of faith or lack thereof, a journey of seeking to understand the Divine through many lenses. Literal versus figurative, Jews and Christians, churches, rituals, tasks, rules—all of these he delves into and readers get to see one man’s quest to understand the benefits and negatives of religion.
I highly recommend this read. You won’t be able to put it down and you’ll enjoy its blunt but genuine way of confronting the Bible, an ancient text, in today’s modern world.
You will laugh out loud
Your own preconceptions of the Bible may be challenged
Some animals are killed throughout the duration of this book
The book deals with lust and other sexual content
Source: Jacobs, A.J. The Year of Living Biblically. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2007. Print.