A Year of Living Biblically, by A J Jacobs

(Buy from Amazon.ca)

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) 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.

Thoughts: As fascinated as I am with all the various interpretations of what’s in the bible, I couldn’t resist picking up a copy of this book when it was on sale, and I don’t regret a single penny of its cost. Jacobs has a wonderful style, fluid and funny and educational, and he manages to effortlessly draw the reader into his adventures and misadventures until it feels like we’re living the very same project.

This book does a wonderful job of showing, for one thing, how a lot of people cherry-pick which rules they do and do not follow from the bible. I’m sure by now everyone’s heard the old argument against homosexuality that comes from Leviticus, but the very same book contains admonitions against eating shrimp and rabbit, and not wearing clothes of mixed fibres. But a lot of bible-thumpers in cotton-polyester suits convenienty pass over those other laws, for any number of reasons. Jacobs sought to incorporate every aspect of biblical law into his life, including such tricky things as not touching any surface on which his menstruating wife sat, or wrestling with the ethics of stoning people in this modern age. He struggles to reconcile the conflicting messages and rules within the bible, and seeks out other worshippers of all flavours in order to better understand and get to the heart of religion itself.

What comes out is a hilarious example of just how both Christianity and Judaism have changed since their respective inceptions, and also brings to light just how few people who claim to follow the bible actually bother to do so. It reveals just how many differences in interpretation are rationalized. It shows how living “old-school biblically” doesn’t often work nowadays. It offers great insight into the minds of believers and nonbelievers alike, from varying perspectives, and it’s an enjoyable ride the whole way through.

For those who enjoyed David Plotz’s Good Book, I highly recomment A Year of Living Biblically, and vice versa.

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