The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible by A.J. Jacobs
A.J. Jacobs likes to do what is called “Immersion Journalism.” In his previous book, Know-It-All, he read the entire encyclopedia. This time around he does exactly what the title implies: he procures a bible (in this case it belongs to an ex-girlfriend), a team of counselors, and a number of reference materials.
This book could be boring. I anticipated not being able to finish it, and only picked it up because of the ludicrousness of the premise. How does one live the literal bible in twenty-first century America? Especially when one is, to quote Jacobs, “about as Jewish as the Olive Garden is Italian.” But then...with a great deal of humor, reverence, and the help of an understanding wife...he does. Remarkably so. He starts as all good researchers do - by reading the source material (in this case, several versions of the Bible) and then consulting with expert (everyone from retired pastors to Orthodox Jews to an Amish Farmer to one of Jerry Fallwell’s ministers) and making a game plan. He grows his beard, he removes profanity from his vocabulary, he tries to stop lying...he masking tapes over the images in his home which might cause lust.
Luckily for the reader, we see how his home life - wife, a toddler son, and the quest for another child - influences his Biblical life, and vise-versa. We also get a glimpse into what are generally considered lost traditions: those that aren’t generally practices since the destruction of the second temple (if you’re Jewish) or which were nullified by the Ultimate Sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross (if you’re Christian.) I don’t want to spoil it because your rubbernecking needs to be untainted. But let me say that when I asked a Jewish friend if he had experienced a few of the particulars his response was a vehement “NO.” They left me in awe of the Orthodox...both for their strong stomachs and their reverence. Also - I won't be nearly as amusing as he writes it.
Jacobs also, as many do, took a pilgrimage to Israel. Ironically, this is not where he feels the most changed. Yes, the visit with the shepherd in the desert was moving, but Jacobs finds, like most of us, that his most altering moments happen during the simple times: disciplining his son, celebrating the holidays and life events. And he doesn’t just focus on the Old Testament. A good 40% of the book is strictly New Testament, which was equally interesting, if not quite so alien.
What struck me the most - and it is likely due to my place in my own life - was his relationship with his wife, and how she took his idiosyncrasies in stride. In fact, she starts to play with him - namely when she figures out that he can’t lie (it’s one of the commandments, you know.) That passage convinced me that if I could find her on Facebook, I would send her a friend request.
The big question: was he changed? You’ll have to read to find out. But ask yourself if you did what he did, a year of being literally biblical - the Best Possible You - would you be changed? I just spend a few days reading his book and I find myself changed...which is certainly a good thing. I look forward to his next quest. For Julie’s sake, I hope it’s about Eleanor Roosevelt.