The Year of Living Biblically

That’s the title of the NY Times bestseller by A.J. Jacobs that I just finished reading. His subtitle pretty much explains what he was trying to do: “One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible.”

I enjoyed this book immensely. Jacobs, if you’re still Googling yourself and find this post, just soak it in and remain humble.

The author is agnostic, but decides to find out what parts of the Bible will work for him as he strives to be a better person and raise his kids with some sort of code. He really does his homework so that he can observe the sabbath, avoid touching menstruating women (including his wife), and follow the several hundred other rules laid out in the Old and New Testaments.

It was the quickest 300 page read I’ve had in a long time, maybe ever, for a few reasons. First of all, I’m somewhat of a biblical expert in my own right, so Jacobs was speaking my language. He’s also a contemporary writer (the book was first published in 2007). He’s an editor at Esquire magazine, so no matter how heavy some of the topics got, he always dealt with them with a light touch. I found myself laughing out loud at several points. And it was guttural Esquire magazine laughter, not cerebral seminary laughter.

Not that the author doesn’t spend a lot of time in his own mind. He’s a first rate geek, not only for his OCD, but for the vast amount of reading he did to be able to make his project solid. Also, there were a lot of obscure references. You’d probably have to be a highly-educated generation X Jew to get them all. It was the type of stuff I knew I should be laughing at or at least nodding knowingly, but it was right over my head. Still, even with all the references to Rothko, Malthusian population booms, Dadaists, and est seminars, I was able to follow him. I guess I could look that stuff up online if I wanted to….

All in all, I have a great deal of respect for the author’s willingness to embrace theological struggle. Jacobs is seeking answers, but is left with a lot of “I don’t knows,” which can be painful when you’re dealing with such crucial matters. Plus, he is a very straightforward, modern writer. He’s obviously privileged, but that’s not a crime. If he wasn’t, he wouldn’t have been able to carry out this kind of task.

At the end of the year, he still considers himself an agnostic, but a reverential one. He did learn to find and appreciate the sacred. He also learned to be happy for the 100 things that go right every day instead of complaining about the 3 or 4 that go wrong, and to pray. He said that the God he came to know felt more like the God of the Jedi knights and less like the Old Testament Lord of Hosts. I tend to agree. If he still needs to call himself an agnostic, that’s fine, but it looks to me like A.J. Jacobs got religion.

Seth says: Go cop that.


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