Jacobs, A.J. “The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible”, Simon and Shuster, 2007.
In the Steps of the Bible
A.J. Jacobs does in his book. “The Year of Living Biblically” what many of us would like to do but do not have either the means or the way to do it. I especially felt the urge to live the “ultimate Bible life” when I lived in Israel for many years but having been spoiled by all of the advantages of society, I just could not make the move to do so.
Jacobs decided to do just what I had dreamed often of doing. He used the Bible as a guide and by doing so was given the opportunity to explore some of the issues of the holy book as well as aspects of organized religion.
Jacobs kept a dairy of his Bible odyssey and he not only wrote of his own adventures but also of how they influenced his daily life. What he writes is full of subtle humor and sensitivity. His writing is amazing and he is able to shift from feeling to feeling with little effort.
Let’s look at the Bible realistically. Some of the rules contained therein are supremely unrealistic and many of the rules are literally impossible to follow. Just to try to live by the absolutes of “the greatest book ever written” is to allow for some unbelievable outcomes. Some of the Ten Commandments, for example, that so may try to adhere to can bring about situations that are filled with humor. But more on that in a moment.
Jacobs is joined by a colorful cast of characters including relatives and members of various religious bodies including Orthodox Jews, Amish and fundamentalists from the Christian right.
The book is in effect a travelogue with Jacobs as a recorder of the journey. Everything he sees and does is recorded with a marvelous self-deprecating wit. He records everything in a frank manner and he lets us know that he is just as weird as everyone else in the world. I especially appreciate the way he tries out the rules, questions them and observes those that take them seriously and follow them. He respectfully looks at the Bible and although some may find this hard to take, it s the honesty of the author that makes this book such a pleasure. Laughing at what he writes is one thing, ever better is looking at the subtext of what he writes. It is especially important to note what he says about all of the aspects of ritual and in doing so he teaches us a great deal.
Of course there is a limit to what can be doe today in terms of what was done in Biblical times and Jacobs adapted those situations. Since he could not stone transgressors, he threw pebbles at them and I am sure his wife was not to happy as she was pregnant with twins as he attempted being fruitful.
The book is a perfect gift for those who do take the Bible as G-d’s word, i.e., fundamentalisms, homophobes and anyone who has any Biblical curiosity. The profound spiritual journey that Jacobs takes is quite an experience in learning especially in reference to some of the archaic laws that are found in the Bible and Jacobs learns a great deal about ritual and community and passes that information along. I felt not only entertained but well educated and now feel I understand why and how we are so influenced by Biblical literature. Most of us try to live god lives and Jacobs tried to live the ideal Biblical life by following all of the rules and regulations and laws of the holy writings. He planned to live nine months following the Old Testament and the other three months of the year he allotted to the project according to the New Testament. He manages to accomplish what he set out to do and in doing so he is able to try a variety of approaches and we get the sheer pleasure of being allowed to read about it. We can actually physically feel what he experiences but more than that we get to read his thoughts and see what e learns. He writes from the perspective of a lay man and thereby did not start his journey with a religious ideology in mind. He actually had a list of things in mind that he wanted to experience and did not use the Bible as a moral guide and chose what he thought would be best explained.
This is an original and subjective and amusing account of Biblical living. He emerges form the experience as a changed man and he discovered that we cannot live without boundaries and rules. He learned that prayer is a way of expressing gratitude for what we have and he learned that the Bible is a great source for rejoicing and refuge. That’s all I really needed to know and I think I already knew that but…I really enjoyed his approach to discovering those points.