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.
Topics: First Person Narration, New York City, Funny, Christianity, Spirituality , The Bible, Irreverent, Based on a True Story, Judaism, Philosophical, Jesus, Morality, Family, Adultery, Witty, Fathers, Ethics, Creative Nonfiction, Touching, Twins, Fundamentalism, Essays, Old Testament, and Cultural Heritage
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Also worth noting -- I heard the author speak two days before finishing this book -- and he is funny in person as well.
Some quotes I really liked:
p. 172 "That's the paradox: I thought religion would make me live with my head in the clouds, but often as not, it grounds me in this world."
p. 220 "I'd always found the praising-God parts of the Bible and my prayer books awkward....It's so over the top....And why would God need to be praised in the first place? God shouldn't be insecure. He's the ultimate being. Now I can sort of see why. It's not for him. It's for us. It takes you out of yourself and your prideful little brain."
p. 316 "The Bible may not have been dictated by God, it may have had a messy and complicated birth, one filled with political agendas and outdated ideas -- but that doesn't mean the Bible can't be beautiful and sacred."
p. 328 "This year showed me beyond a doubt that everyone practices cafeteria religion. It's not just moderates. Fundamentalists do it too."
p. 329 "I now believe that whether or not there's a God, there is such a thing as sacredness. Life is sacred. The Sabbath can be a sacred day. Prayer can be a sacred ritual. There is something transcendent, beyond the everyday. It's possible that humans created this sacredness ourselves, but that doesn't take away from its power or importance.”more
A.J. Jacobs states, numerous times, that he is an atheist. As an atheist myself his attitude and actions throughout the book don't hold that up. He is actively trying to find God which means that to some extent he does believe God exists and I find it a little jarring.
Although there are some humourous parts of this book overall I didn't find it that funny. I felt it dragged on a lot longer then it needed to and tended to dwell on the more boring and pedantic aspects of the Bible(s).
I feel that so much more could have been done with this book. I was disappointed after enjoying his first book so much. I couldn't really recommend this book to anyone and it'll be with much trepidation that I approach his next book.more
Well, they finally did, and after his son was born, Mr. Jacobs felt he needed to brush up a bit on his heritage. He is Jewish, but in a very secular and dispassionately interested sort of way.
This journey led him to wonder at all the rather bizarre rules laid down in the Jewish scripture -- things like not mixing fabrics, and not eating most bugs, and hundreds (literally) of other things that don't make any sense to us today -- and the challenge to himself to see how many of these things he could incorporate into modern living.
His wife was not amused. It is hard to live with a man who ceases to shave, and who wanders about the city dressed like he is on the cover of the book -- let alone a man who takes so seriously the directive to refrain from flattering speech that in a casual "let's do lunch" moment he announces to the old friend of his wife that no, he just doesn't want to do that. They have quite enough people in their lives, thank you.
By far, the funniest moments in the book are those tied to his need to participate in the most common form of punishment in the Jewish scripture -- stoning. He doesn't want to be stoned, of course, but he is pretty sure that he needs to participate as a stoner in order to grasp the idea. He sets off to find an adulterer, pebbles in his pocket, and winds up on a park bench with an elderly man who not only confesses to adultery, but with whom he winds up having a spirited pebble tossin' session. To Jacobs' credit, he did ask the man if it was okay if he tossed a couple of them at him.
Underneath the humor runs a deeper current -- Jacobs, who did not set out to become a more religious man by pursuing this quest -- begins to discover that somewhere in all these ridiculous proscriptions is a beauty and order and much evidence of God's mercy.
In his search he meets and spends time with people from all across the religious spectrum -- highly observant and Orthodox Jews, very conservative Christians -- and it is a testament to his spirit of learning that he never makes fun of any of them. He actually comes away from some of the most potentially volatile meetings with a respectful view of each of their convictions.
This is not a book meant to convert anybody, its intent is not to bring anybody into any fold at all, but it is scathingly funny, unusually thoughtful, and one of the best things I read in 2007.
In this book, The Year of Living Biblically, Jacobs tackles the question of how to live a religious life. He decides to live by the laws of the Bible as literally as possible, again with interesting and often humorous results. Jacobs skillfully handles topics that could easily be explosive, by using his own self-effacing wit and admissions of his own questions and doubts, as well as his wonderfully open mind, to explore religion. He learns the value of ritual and law, and has some of his preconceptions turned upside down.
This is a wonderful story of exploring one's faith and being willing to keep learning throughout life. Because Jacobs is of Jewish descent, he concentrates far more on Old Testament scriptures, concentrating on the New Testament for only one month in the year. I would have liked him to have spent more time with this area but understand why he didn't. What I liked most about this book was Jacobs's wonderfully open mind. He resisted scoffing at many things that seemed bizarre or unexplainable, and came away with new perspectives. I loaned this book to a coworker, who did not enjoy it as much as I did; I believe he felt some of Jacobs's lightheartedness was offensive or sacriligeous. If, however, you are willing to be open-minded along with the author and not allow your own faith to be threatened, you are in for a treat with this book! I highly recommend it.more