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

The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible

From the bestselling author of "The Know-It-All" comes a fascinating and timely exploration of religion and the Bible.Raised in a secular family but increasingly interested in the relevance of faith in our modern world, A.J. Jacobs decides to dive in headfirst and attempt to obey the Bible as literally as possible for one full year. He vows to follow the Ten Commandments....

Title:The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible
Author:
Rating:
ISBN:0743291476
Edition Language:English
Format Type:Hardcover
Number of Pages:388 pages

The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible Reviews

  • Patrick Oden
    Sep 04, 2007

    G.K. Chesterton once wrote, "Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried." In this book, A.J. Jacobs not only tries Christianity, he tries out the whole Bible, both the Jewish and the Christian Scriptures.

    He does indeed find it difficult. But he doesn't find it wanting. In fact his year long quest to follow all of the commands of the Bible results in a most delightful and insightful read.

    It is delightful because Jacobs is such an engaging writer.

    G.K. Chesterton once wrote, "Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried." In this book, A.J. Jacobs not only tries Christianity, he tries out the whole Bible, both the Jewish and the Christian Scriptures.

    He does indeed find it difficult. But he doesn't find it wanting. In fact his year long quest to follow all of the commands of the Bible results in a most delightful and insightful read.

    It is delightful because Jacobs is such an engaging writer. His style and approach are quite refreshing in this age of vitriolic attack. Most books on religion these days are apologetic, trying to thrust an opinion onto the reader, often through dense prose or angry rhetoric that dismisses those who disagree. Such books are one-sided and narrow-minded. Jacobs, however, breaks free of the contemporary love for irony, sarcasm, and anger by being an open observer. He dives into the world of Biblical rules without a preconceived dogma and because of this provides a most interesting assessment of what the Bible is about. Even more he does it with a wit and conversational style that draws the reader into his increasingly obscure discoveries.

    It is, I think, because of this openness to learn that Jacobs provides so many insights. He's not burdened with the weight of having to support one cause or another. Instead he approaches religion as it is so very rarely approached, with a sense of newness and curiosity, making it seem like Jacobs is as much a tour guide as a year long zealot.

    The Bible has many weird and difficult parts, but in The Year of Living Biblically A.J. Jacobs looks beyond the weirdness to see what it means. And what he finds is inspirational, encouraging, and downright enjoyable from beginning to end. The Year of Living Biblically is one of the best books I've read this year.

  • Carl
    Nov 02, 2007

    Ask yourself: "Would it be fun to literally follow the bible for one year?" If, like most people I know, would answer no, then run away from this book as fast as you can. I got about 200 pages in when I realized, I can't fucking stand this guy, and his story is getting old quickly.

    Here's the problem: There are so many retarded things the bible says you should and shouldn't do. Take, for example, do not lie, thou shalt not lie, or however they fucking say it in there. You could write a long enter

    Ask yourself: "Would it be fun to literally follow the bible for one year?" If, like most people I know, would answer no, then run away from this book as fast as you can. I got about 200 pages in when I realized, I can't fucking stand this guy, and his story is getting old quickly.

    Here's the problem: There are so many retarded things the bible says you should and shouldn't do. Take, for example, do not lie, thou shalt not lie, or however they fucking say it in there. You could write a long entertaining article about what life would be like telling nothing but the absolute truth to those around you. And A.J. Jacobs actually did that(!) in an Esquire article that is easily one of the best magazine articles I've ever read.

    But there are so many insignificant and unfunny rules that bible lovers have got to follow and he doesn't spend nearly enough time focusing on the big/potentially funny ones like all those rules about envy and thy neighbor's wife. He just spends time on recounting his experience attaching fringes to his clothes, making sure he's not wearing clothing made of mixed fibers, and countless other rules that serve only to remind us adhering to all the instruction that the bible has would be a fruitless experience. You and I already know that the bible has got a good deal of stupidity in there. That's neither revealing nor funny.

    Judging by the other reviews on goodreads, it seems I'm nearly alone in my distaste for this book. Maybe I don't give a good goddamn about god. I really enjoyed his last book about reading the encyclopedia. I could understand that type of quest for knowledge. And it was damn funny from the very first page. Where did the humor go in this book? I cracked the faintest of smiles at most twice. I just got so sick of this guy and the minutiae of his day to day life. I need to go cool down now before I start persecuting the pious.

  • Dave
    Nov 29, 2007

    The concept of "The Year of Living Biblically" is this: the author would forgo his secular lifestyle for a year and embrace the Bible and its teachings as literally as possible.

    "The Year of Living Biblically" didn't have the same success as his other works. Jacobs, who is known for immersing himself in a project for a year and then writing about it, was warned by family that maybe this wasn't the best concept for a follow-up to his popular "Know-It-All" book, and they may have been right.

    Jacob

    The concept of "The Year of Living Biblically" is this: the author would forgo his secular lifestyle for a year and embrace the Bible and its teachings as literally as possible.

    "The Year of Living Biblically" didn't have the same success as his other works. Jacobs, who is known for immersing himself in a project for a year and then writing about it, was warned by family that maybe this wasn't the best concept for a follow-up to his popular "Know-It-All" book, and they may have been right.

    Jacobs writes in his introduction that one of the reasons he chose this particular project is because he is an agnostic and wanted to be more spiritual. This is where I believe this book suffers its biggest failure. While Jacobs writes in several places about the contradictions in the Bible, its his own contradictions in spirituality and approach to this project where I think it goes astray.

    I can accept it when he identifies himself as agnostic. Quite a few people in this country are, and even more practice what Jacobs calls "cafeteria religion". But Jacobs also makes a point of telling us that he is also technically a member of the Jewish faith, even tho he "attended no Hebrew school, ate no matzoh," and later tells us that he was never bar mitzvahed.

    So while he's never truly embraced his Jewish faith, he does identify himself enough with Judaism that it starts to get in the way.

    For example, Jacobs struggles with following rules set forth in the New Testament because Judaism does not accept Jesus as the savior as Christianity does, or even accept him being one with God in the Trinity, and acknowledging Jesus' teachings is incompatible with his Jewish faith. Later he struggles with the idea of circumcising his twin sons. While he knows from medical literature that routine infant circumcision is no longer recommended, he opts to do it because he is, after all, Jewish.

    I am glad that deep down inside he is admitting he has some faith, but it is also a de facto admission that the concept of this book doesn't work. For he cannot let himself, or his biblical alter ego "Jacob," fully embrace the whole enchilada.

    Instead, he wimps out on the New Testament by reconciling in his mind that while it wouldn't be acceptable to follow Jesus' lessons literally, it would be acceptable to observe and interview specific members of the Christian faith for their take.

    But the observations he makes are a cop-out.

    I'm certainly not rooting for him to be "saved" in an Ann Coulter "Christians are perfected Jews" kind of way. But as a reader, especially one that knows that there is religious conversion happening daily in this land from one religion to another, it seemed a half-hearted effort.

    Even his own "ex-uncle Gil" went through phases of Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, and back to Judaism. So we know that a spiritual journey is possible.

    Therefore, it is this underlying contradiction that takes away from the parts of the book that truly are entertaining.

    The "perplexing" laws Jacobs writes about, the tassels, the beard, the juxtaposition of literal interpretation of biblical laws in the 21st century, they are all amusing. Jacobs has an adept way of taking a "you had to be there" moment or sight gag, and turning them into wry smiles for the reader.

    But the fact that he starts this book as an agnostic, and finishes this book as a "reverent agnostic," with nothing but contradiction in between, makes me feel somewhat cheated.

    It's admirable that a cynical New Yorker has a new-found belief in sacredness, but it seemed like the project was ill-conceived and half-heartedly executed, for there was really no payoff.

    It by no means shakes my belief that Jacobs is a talented writer, with a flair for comedic observation and writing. But this is one case where maybe he should have honored his mother and father and taken their advice about not attempting this project.

  • Lisa Nelson
    Mar 11, 2008

    (4 1/2 Stars)

    First, To: A.J. if you have Googled yourself thank you for such an interesting and wonderful read! I loved your honesty.

    To: A.J.'s Dad you can click that you liked this review.

    To everyone else: There were some highlights from this book that I would love to share. I love being able to have a record of what I've read and what I thought about a book, you probably hate getting so many e-mail updates on what I've read so delete if you must. I definitely shared too much on this one, now y

    (4 1/2 Stars)

    First, To: A.J. if you have Googled yourself thank you for such an interesting and wonderful read! I loved your honesty.

    To: A.J.'s Dad you can click that you liked this review.

    To everyone else: There were some highlights from this book that I would love to share. I love being able to have a record of what I've read and what I thought about a book, you probably hate getting so many e-mail updates on what I've read so delete if you must. I definitely shared too much on this one, now you don't even have to read the book, but you should, you'll like it.

    1. I started out reading this thinking it would be a witty and humorous look at some of the wackier, zany rules that are found in the Bible, especially the Old Testament. I did find that there was plenty of craziness. I laughed out loud at many of the experiences the author had throughout his year quest. What surprised me was the depth of some of the experiences he went through. What surprised me even more was how much it had me examining my own religion, my own life, and my own interpretation of passages in the Bible.

    2. Some of the crazy things the author tried such as not mixing fibers in clothing, or not shaking hands with women who may or may not have been menstruating were fairly extreme, but seemingly easy compared with not gossiping or not stealing including: neighbors wireless networks or straws that his two year old wanted to play with at Starbucks. I've found the same things to be true for myself. As an LDS (Mormon) woman I no longer have a difficult time with our ban on drinking and smoking, but again gossip (which I truly try to abstain from) or keeping my heart and thoughts pure is another story. These passages really made me dig deep about how I can be a better Christian and a better person to everyone I come in contact with, even that man who just cut me off in traffic.

    3. I loved what this book had to say about observing the Sabbath. I feel like I do just okay with this one. I feel like sometimes my Sunday's dragging three small kids to Church alone while my husband is in Church meetings, then on to working and serving at Church racing around, only to come home and have my toddler miss a nap and make a big dinner does not feel like what God had in mind for a day of rest. I want to try harder on this one. Because even with all the Sunday scrambling that goes on here I love Sundays and really can feel a difference in this day set aside to worship and contemplate things of a spiritual nature. I want to make a goal to try not to be as task oriented on this day and make a deliberate effort to make it more of a day that I think God has intended it to be.

    4. On Day 181 the author talks about how his new Biblical alter ego Jacob starts taking over and says, "Secular people are the freaks, not religious people. How can you not think about the Big Questions all the time? How can you put so much energy into caring about earthly matters,..." As long as I can remember I've been a Big Question person. I love having these types of conversations. This book in many parts felt like I was having a good long discussion about the Big Questions. The author writing style flowed so well that by the end I felt like A.J. and his wife and kids were family friends.

    5. The author talked about a derisive term called, "Cafeteria Christianity," where moderate Christians are accused of picking and choosing the parts of the Bible they would like to follow. He talks of how we all do this to a certain extent. I guess I could be described as a "Cafeteria Mormon," some things I love so dearly that I'll have seconds please. Other dishes yes, I will leave on the counter. I really want to try to do all I can to try and have my own years of living Biblically by trying to take the best things from the Bible and the Book of Mormon and incorporate them into the person I would like to be. I want to love my neighbor, and have a more thankful heart, I want to have more sincere prayers, and have more compassion.

    6. My favorite part of this book came close to the end where the author attends his niece's bat mitzvah and has what I would describe as a spiritual experience. He describes it in part by saying, "My son's hands locked around my neck, his head pressed against my shoulder, I chose to accept the feeling and ride it to the end. To surrender. If I had to label it, I'd say the feeling is part love, part gratefulness, part connectedness, part joy. And that joy was like joy concentrate..." I loved these couple of pages where he used such great metaphors for describing experiences that are hard to put into words for anyone. He goes on to say, "Without my year, I wouldn't have been open to that feeling I got on the dance floor. And for that alone, all the craziness and Handy Seats (used to insure not sitting anywhere unclean) and locusts and snakes might have been worth it." This touched me to the core! Sometimes I wonder why I do all I do with regards to being a member of the LDS Church. But I have had a few spiritual epiphanies so rich and so joy filled that it makes it all worth it. I have to say that unfortunately most of my religious life is filled with unremarkable moments. But the times where I have really felt Heavenly Father's love for me are so powerful that it helps me to keep going through the times when I'm feeling less connected.

    I really appreciated the author's journey as well as my own. Any book that can inspire me to evaluate my own life and can help me become more spiritually connected, while still making me laugh and cry is definitely a Good Read!

  • Jordan
    May 08, 2008

    starts out pretty fine: I chuckled; I was interested to find out what would come of it all. Halfway through, however, I'd pretty much had enough. Jacobs is a little too smug (though he puts on the requisite veil of "Oh, God! I'm so bad at this religion thing!"), he doesn't portray his wife or son too nicely (she comes off as a humorless snot, though she's probably lovely in real life; son Jasper sounds like a brat), and it's annoying how little Jacobs thinks of my m

    starts out pretty fine: I chuckled; I was interested to find out what would come of it all. Halfway through, however, I'd pretty much had enough. Jacobs is a little too smug (though he puts on the requisite veil of "Oh, God! I'm so bad at this religion thing!"), he doesn't portray his wife or son too nicely (she comes off as a humorless snot, though she's probably lovely in real life; son Jasper sounds like a brat), and it's annoying how little Jacobs thinks of my memory (me the reader, that is). He introduces people over and over again, as if we couldn't possibly keep track of his marginal characters. He also tells us over and over and over again that he works for

    , as if we would all of a sudden think, "Whoa, get back, why is he in the

    offices?!?!?"

    I was probably most disappointed though, because I really expected the stuff he did to be way juicier. Is it just me, or is the idea of writing the Ten Commandments on your doorframe in pencil just

    that interesting?

  • Petra Eggs
    Jul 18, 2008

    This is what I call a snork book. So funny in parts that if you are drinking coffee, its going to come spluttering out of your nose. AJ Jacobs is a secular Jew (me too) and spends two thirds of this book researching biblical law and trying to live it. The last third addresses the New Testament in the same way. Living biblically for AJ means dressing in white robes, growing a ZZ Top beard and trying to literally fulfil each commandment even if terribly embarrassing. Like buying the guy behind him

    This is what I call a snork book. So funny in parts that if you are drinking coffee, its going to come spluttering out of your nose. AJ Jacobs is a secular Jew (me too) and spends two thirds of this book researching biblical law and trying to live it. The last third addresses the New Testament in the same way. Living biblically for AJ means dressing in white robes, growing a ZZ Top beard and trying to literally fulfil each commandment even if terribly embarrassing. Like buying the guy behind him in Starbucks a coffee, a guy he doesn't know to be generous. To fulfil not lying, when his wife meets old school friends who say let's get together for a play date he tells them no, he's not interested in making new friends right now and so it goes.

    Along the way, practising the laws in ridiculous ways or trying to understand ridiculous laws he points out the side benefits - the peace and rest of the sabbath day, the inner thanksgiving prayer calls forth and perhaps most important, the utter gratitude to anyone or no-one just for having life and a family.

    Its a great fun book to read and this little bit of moralising is like the salt on your food, it would be nice without it but that extra savour makes it even more enjoyable.

  • John
    Aug 26, 2008

    It's mean of me to say so, because it's clear that writing it was a rather significant spiritual experience for Jacobs, but this book is just silly. It's meant to be entertaining-yet-thought-provoking, but I only found it mildly entertaining, and not at all thought-provoking. I actually found his wife funnier than him. My favorite part by far was when she was temporarily "unclean" and it annoyed her to be thought of that way, so in revenge she sat on all the furniture so that A.J. would have no

    It's mean of me to say so, because it's clear that writing it was a rather significant spiritual experience for Jacobs, but this book is just silly. It's meant to be entertaining-yet-thought-provoking, but I only found it mildly entertaining, and not at all thought-provoking. I actually found his wife funnier than him. My favorite part by far was when she was temporarily "unclean" and it annoyed her to be thought of that way, so in revenge she sat on all the furniture so that A.J. would have no place to sit when he got home. Now that was funny.

  • Sparrow
    Apr 30, 2009

    It seems very authentically Jewish to write smart and funny social commentary about exploring spirituality through following obscure rules. I don’t know if such a thing as being “authentically Jewish” exists (versus everyone who is inauthentically Jewish, right?), and I hope I don’t offend by that phrase, but what I’m saying is that I don’t think Moses and Isaiah and all the boys would kick A.J. Jacobs out of their club. In fact, I think Jacobs comes closer to meaningful Bible commentary than an

    It seems very authentically Jewish to write smart and funny social commentary about exploring spirituality through following obscure rules. I don’t know if such a thing as being “authentically Jewish” exists (versus everyone who is inauthentically Jewish, right?), and I hope I don’t offend by that phrase, but what I’m saying is that I don’t think Moses and Isaiah and all the boys would kick A.J. Jacobs out of their club. In fact, I think Jacobs comes closer to meaningful Bible commentary than any contemporary Christian writers I have read. I was worried when I started the book that it would be like my experience with the Will Farrell movie

    : without much substance beyond the weirdness of the concept. Instead,

    was an adventure, and I feel it would be very thought provoking and entertaining for readers of any religion or spiritual persuasion.

    Jacobs’ purpose in following the Bible as literally as possible is to prove that each of us, regardless of our specific beliefs, makes choices as to what constitutes Scripture (or holiness, or what have you) and what doesn’t. Specifically, Jacobs looks at interpretations of the Bible (2/3 Old Testament, 1/3 New Testament) and tests how relevant, or even manageable, they are today. He goes about this with the earnestness of a little kid memorizing statistics on his favorite baseball team or learning how to take apart a car, and I think that enthusiasm is what makes this book charming rather than obnoxious. For example, when he finds two prevailing interpretations of how to live a biblical rule or principal, he does both. He gives thanks both before and after a meal, and when deciding who he should stone, he looks for someone working on both Saturday and Sunday (failing to observe both the Jewish and Christian Sabbaths). I mean, if you have to stone someone, it’s better to cover your bases, right?

    If it is not already obvious in what I have said thus far, A.J. Jacobs is unabashedly weird. I don’t get the impression that the weirdness is a show, either, but that the show is some kind of natural part of his weirdness. I think that makes this a compliment. Regardless, his weirdness brings out the weirdness in others enough to make the cast of characters in

    as hilarious and horrifying as a

    novel. The book is not a circus, though, and Jacobs treats all of his characters and their beliefs with respect, whether he agrees or disagrees with them. He is very honest about his own skepticism and willing to say when something seems hateful or unlikely, but he is also very open to the views of others.

    His

    is updated pretty frequently, and while scanning through it, I came across this selection, which gives a pretty good sample of his writing:

    I hope that people will not dismiss this book before they have read it. It is possible that people on the right and will expect it to be hateful mockery and people on the left will expect it to be irrelevant. I don’t think it is either of those things, but rather, as I said, thoughtful and smart. Often he discusses debates over Scripture similar to the passage above in that his ultimate conclusion is that the very nature of the debate is a little loony tunes. I found his reflections on the value of faith and family, however, very insightful. Hopefully, we can learn his more profound lessons without having to forsake mixed fibers and carry a Handyseat for a year, but it is a comfort to have A.J. Jacobs out there on the front lines of literalness, taking the bullet for the rest of us.


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