Friday, March 13, 2009

A Year of Living Biblically - A.J. Jacobs

What would it require for a person to live all the commandments of the Bible for an entire year? That is the question that animates this hilarious, quixotic, thought-provoking memoir from Jacobs. He didn't just keep the Bible's better-known moral laws (being honest, tithing to charity and trying to curb his lust), but also the obscure and unfathomable ones: not mixing wool with linen in his clothing; calling the days of the week by their ordinal numbers to avoid voicing the names of pagan gods; trying his hand at a 10-string harp; growing a ZZ Top beard; eating crickets; and paying the babysitter in cash at the end of each work day. (He considered some rules, such as killing magicians, too legally questionable to uphold.) In his attempts at living the Bible to the letter, Jacobs hits the road in highly entertaining fashion to meet other literalists, including Samaritans in Israel, snake handlers in Appalachia, Amish in Lancaster County, Pa., and biblical creationists in Kentucky. Throughout his journey, Jacobs comes across as a generous and thoughtful (and, yes, slightly neurotic) participant observer, lacing his story with absurdly funny cultural commentary as well as nuanced insights into the impossible task of biblical literalism. By Publisher's Weekly via

My Review:
I read portions of this book a few years ago while standing at the bookstore and have had it on my mind ever since. I was looking forward to a funny read, which I got - AND - in addition I got to follow the author as he gained his own spiritual insights and understanding. The author comes to this project from a wholly secular life view with the purpose of showing the fallacy of following the Bible with extreme liberalism, combined with the competing goal of gaining some sort of spiritual relationship with the divine. As a religious person who (tries) to live the Bible with some degree of literalism I thrilled at some of his realizations and I also took a look at the reasons I do what I do, or think what I think. I love reading a book that lets me examine my own beliefs and encourages me to better myself.

Here are some of the book's topics/themes I enjoyed: Tithing, the difficulty in living the laws like, no gossip, no lying, being grateful - and the peace it brings when you do, dealing with infertility, finding peace and joy in observing the Sabbath, guarding your tongue (no swearing), our material and sexual culture. The book also made me examine my beliefs on creationism, gay rights, and the parts of beliefs based on actual scripture, verses my religious culture.

My Rating: 4 stars - I'll recommend this to a lot of people, and it may be my next book club selection.

In one sentence: Thou shalt examine your own beliefs while enjoying some levity.

1 comment:

Heather said...

I have heard a lot about this book, but have doubted that it would be one I would enjoy. However after your review I will be adding it to my ever-growing list of books to check out.


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