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. To be fruitful and multiply. To love his neighbor. But also to obey the hundreds of less publicized rules: to avoid wearing clothes made of mixed fibers; to play a ten-string harp; to stone adulterers.
The resulting spiritual journey is at once funny and profound, reverent and irreverent, personal and universal and will make you see history's most influential book with new eyes.
Jacobs's quest transforms his life even more radically than the year spent reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica for The Know-It-All. His beard grows so unruly that he is regularly mistaken for a member of ZZ Top. He immerses himself in prayer, tends sheep in the Israeli desert, battles idolatry, and tells the absolute truth in all situations - much to his wife's chagrin.
Throughout the book, Jacobs also embeds himself in a cross-section of communities that take the Bible literally. He tours a Kentucky-based creationist museum and sings hymns with Pennsylvania Amish. He dances with Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn and does Scripture study with Jehovah's Witnesses. He discovers ancient biblical wisdom of startling relevance. And he wrestles with seemingly archaic rules that baffle the twenty-first-century brain.Jacobs's extraordinary undertaking yields unexpected epiphanies and challenges. A book that will charm readers both secular and religious, The Year of Living Biblically is part Cliff Notes to the Bible, part memoir, and part look into worlds unimaginable. Thou shalt not be able to put it down.
I was initially skeptical of the premise of this book.As a religion professor who teaches courses on the biblical writings, I spend huge amounts of time helping my students to understand that NO ONE reads the Christian Bible literally.Moving to a more mature understanding of sacred texts requires that they find ways to move beyond a superficial reading of Scripture.Consequently, I was concerned that a book whose premise was spending a year following "the Bible as literally as possible" would only reinforce the shallow stereotypes that many people hold about what it means to be a person of faith.
Thankfully Jacobs does just the opposite.Although he does adopt a disciplined lifestyle that conforms as much as possible to a literal reading of Jewish and Christian sacred texts, that discipline is the beginning, not the end, of his journey.Over time, Jacobs comes to discover the powerful ways that the simple act of looking for the presence of holy God can shape the perspective of even a skeptical agnostic.He also learns how traditional spiritual disciplines, even ones that seem nonsensical can help attune us to the holy.
Speaking of the "nonsensical," Jacobs does a good job of introducing the reader to some of the more...challenging...passages to take seriously.He even notes in a passing way some of the questions raised by modern biblical scholarship.This material is not the focus of the book, but I am grateful to find it there.Many people of faith raise their Bibles in the air, loudly proclaiming them to be the verbatim "Word" of God, without bothering to realize all of the things they are claiming that God has said.I often think God would be mortified.
Although the cover of "The Year of Living Biblically" might cause you to think this is a silly and superficial book, it is not.Jacob's story is witty and honest, and it is a faithful accounting of the small and large ways in which our lives can change when we are willing to listen (without winking or crossing our fingers behind our backs) for what we can learn from the wisdom and faith of generations past.
Since most of the previous reviews have provided so much depth, I will note my personal impression.You have to admire the author's commitment to his goal of living a year Bibically.First off, there are so many versions of the Bible and AJ Jacobs addresses this issue as well as other ones he faces in this quest with thoughful consideration.Although there were a lot of sections that made me laugh (the growing of the beard, finding clothes to wear, etc.), it did give me a new appreciation for religious beliefs and the struggles one faces in trying to adhere to ANY religion in today's world.As you read on, you realize that although Jacobs is conducting a social experiment and not a scientific one, it seems clear that it's impossible to accomplish his goal.This book provided lots of discussion within my family about the role of religion and how important the "meaning" of the Bible was compared to the literal.Religion is a sensitive subject and the author struck just the right note of providing information without offending (well at least in my opinion).I was surprised to find a book that dealt with the Bible to be such an entertaining read.I commend this book for addressing such a serious subject in a lighhearted manner without trivializing the subject matter.
I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised practicing Jewish household, but in the last few years has become interested in religion. Therefore, in an effort to explore this topic, and write a book in the process, he decided to follow teachings of the Bible for a year. As you can probably imagine, this is not an easy feat. Not only does the author have to adjust to a complex set of rules, but his family also has to endure the results of this quest. A fairly simple rule, like not being able to shave his beard, leads to questions at airports, scared kids, and other uncomfortable situations. But think about the harder rules to follow, like the one dealing with stoning adulterers, or the protocol for interacting with women at "that time of the month".
When most non-religious people think about what "living Biblically" means, we relate to the Ten Commandments. But this is only the tip of the iceberg. After four weeks of reading the Bible, A.J. Jacobs came up with a list of 800 rules to follow. If you add to that the fact that there are 7,000 versions of the best selling book in history, then the issue becomes much more complicated. It is no surprise that an average person breaks many, many, many rules in our everyday life.
I was really impressed by the way in which Jacobs handled this balancing act. It is not easy to write about religion without upsetting a fair amount of people, especially if there is an element of humor added to the mix. I am glad to report that the treatment of the topic is as objective as one can expect. The humor is clever and present in the right amount. This results in a pleasant read, that is greatly informative to boot. In this book, I found many facts that I did not know, and I feel like I better understand various religious groups, including some less popular ones, such as the Amish, the Samaritans, the Falwell followers and the Red Letter Christians. Kudos to A.J. Jacobs for writing such a wonderful book!
Around a year ago, I read my first book It-All, a memoir of the author's quest to read the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica.As a follow-up to that top-notch book, he has taken on a shorter but more difficult book, The Bible.For a year, Jacobs intended to follow the commandments of the Bible as literally as possible:not just the well-known ones (like "Thou shalt not kill") but the obscure ones as well (such as wearing clothes of mixed fibers).It was to be, as the book title states, The Year of Living Biblically.
The first problem with undertaking such a task is that there are a lot of different Bibles out there and even more ways to interpret what's in them.While Jacobs seems to rely mostly on the Revised Standard Version, he consults other versions as well.Over the course of the year he will meet with a number of different religious groups and individuals representing a broad spectrum of interpretations.
The nice thing about the Encyclopaedia Britannica was it was pretty straightforward, with little wiggle room for misreading.But in the Bible, almost everything can be read at least two ways.Even the Ten Commandments are subject to multiple interpretations:Does the commandment against killing mean all killing?What about executions?It is this ambiguity that lets the Bible fit almost all agendas.Is the Bible pro- or anti-slavery?What is its views on abortion, homosexuality or the roles of women?As Jacobs finds during the year, there is no true agreement.(And if the Bible has a message that contradicts your ideals, do you reject your ideals or (at least in part) the Bible?)
Jacobs finds that truly living Biblically - adhering to all the restrictions - is virtually impossible, and he finds that even the most literal reader of the book engages in some picking and choosing.As a self-described secular Jew, there is much that he personally disagrees with, but he is respectful of every faith he meets.Many times, he even finds his preconceptions about certain groups to be different from reality.He also finds that for even the obscure commandments, there are experts who can assist him, such as the man who can tell you if your clothes do truly violate the stricture on mixed fibers.
As Jacobs goes through the year, he finds that he is personally changing:the act of living Biblically changes the very way he thinks.He doesn't become a religious fanatic, but his worldview is affected.Throughout, however, he keeps his sense of humor and there are plenty of funny moments in the book.Overall, this is a superb follow-up to The Know-It-All (I think it helps if you've read that one first, but it's not essential).For a look at the Bible that is illuminating and simultaneously reverent and irreverent, this book is the one to read.
Towards the end of this book, author AJ Jacobs speaks of the emptiness he experiences when he completes a project. I know the feeling. I have it now. I hate to put down his book.
This book is a travelogue, with Jacobs documenting his journey through terrain both strange and familiar. Throughout, he exhibits a self-deprecating wit that in no way undermines his insight. Laugh out loud funny? It is that. But even when he's wagging his bushy beard at something absurd, Jacobs' humor is neither cynical nor mean-spirited. His observations feel unflinchingly frank, but never superior--he is quick to acknowledge that he is as eccentric as anyone.
None of this is meant to imply that this book will be a comfortable fit for everyone. He is, after all, pointing out some of the more unusual and esoteric Biblical rules, trying them on, questioning them, looking at the people who follow them. I felt he handled the subject of Biblical literalism with meticulous respect, but some readers might be made uneasy at such scrutiny of sacred cows. And that would be a shame. Because while it's easy to laugh at his humor, it's equally important to reflect on his subtext. What are thepsychological and social impacts of ritualism? There's a lot to be learned from an outsider looking in.
Like any good tour guide, Jacobs has come to feel like a friend, and I'm going to miss him. Until next trip.
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