Book Review - The Year of Living Biblically by A. J. Jacobs
I recently got the chance to review an advance reader's copy of the book The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible by A. J. Jacobs. While rather funny, your impression of the book will probably be flavored based on your religious leanings and background.
A. J. Jacobs is a writer for Esquire, and this is his second book-sized project. His first was to read through, from cover to cover, the Encyclopedia Britannica (all 32 volumes). This time around, he decides to do something a bit more extreme. He is determined to follow the Bible's commands and laws as literally as possible for an entire year. Having a Jewish background, he's not unfamiliar with some of the traditions and customs of the Old Testament. But when he sets out to follow everything as exactly as he can, he finds that it's not easy in today's society. His beard is the first visual sign of change, and is quickly followed by clothing (no mixed fibers) and dietary laws (good-bye to shellfish). Interactions with others change dramatically, as you never know if the other person is someone who should be avoided due to ceremonial impurities. His wife is none too happy about some of the changes (no contact with an "unclean" woman once a month), but surprisingly she lasts out the year. Along the way, Jacobs meets and consults with a wide spectrum of priests, rabbis, pastors, and anyone else who has a definite view on how to literally follow the commands. In the end, he's gone from being an agnostic to being a reverent agnostic, with noticeable changes in how he lives and views life. He's more thankful, more considerate, and infinitely more tolerant of others that don't fit his preconceived niches of right and wrong.
If read just for entertainment value, it's pretty funny. The extremes he goes to in many cases are humorous and somewhat crazy. But as a Christian, I found myself asking on more than one occasion... Am I guilty of ignoring parts of the Bible that aren't convenient or easy? Agnostics and atheists will come away from the book convinced that this is the exact reason why they can ignore God and the Bible. Jews would probably commend his efforts to reach God in this fashion. Evangelicals would say he is putting works before faith, and that the Old Testament laws were fulfilled in Christ. And with each one of those stereotypes I just made, there'll be a wide range of beliefs on both ends of the "practical vs. literal" spectrum. For me, it was more a conviction of "are you even doing the things you *know* to be right in the first place?"
Even with the uncomfortable questions it raised, I enjoyed this book. It's always good to step outside your own worldview and see things as others might see them. That doesn't mean you're wrong and they're right. It simply means that there are always people who will view the same things as you do, and come to an entirely different conclusion...