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The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible As Literally As Possible
03 December 2019
4 1 2 Stars First, To A.J if you have Googled yourself thank you for such an interesting and wonderful read I loved your honesty.To A.J s Dad you can click that you liked this review.To everyone else There were some highlights from this book that I would love to share I love being able to have a record of what I ve read and what I thought about a book, you probably hate getting so many e mail updates on what I ve read so delete if you must I definitely shared too much on this one, now you don t even have to read the book, but you should, you ll like it.1 I started out reading this thinking it would be a witty and humorous look at some of the wackier, zany rules that are found in the Bible, especially the Old Testament I did find that there was plenty of craziness I laughed out loud at many of the experiences the author had throughout his year quest What surprised me was the depth of some of the experiences he went through What surprised me even was how much it had me examining my own religion, my own life, and my own interpretation of passages in the Bible.2 Some of the crazy things the author tried such as not mixing fibers in clothing, or not shaking hands with women who may or may not have been menstruating were fairly extreme, but seemingly easy compared with not gossiping or not stealing including neighbors wireless networks or straws that his two year old wanted to play with at Starbucks I ve found the same things to be true for myself As an LDS Mormon woman I no longer have a difficult time with our ban on drinking and smoking, but again gossip which I truly try to abstain from or keeping my heart and thoughts pure is another story These passages really made me dig deep about how I can be a better Christian and a better person to everyone I come in contact with, even that man who just cut me off in traffic 3 I loved what this book had to say about observing the Sabbath I feel like I do just okay with this one I feel like sometimes my Sunday s dragging three small kids to Church alone while my husband is in Church meetings, then on to working and serving at Church racing around, only to come home and have my toddler miss a nap and make a big dinner does not feel like what God had in mind for a day of rest I want to try harder on this one Because even with all the Sunday scrambling that goes on here I love Sundays and really can feel a difference in this day set aside to worship and contemplate things of a spiritual nature I want to make a goal to try not to be as task oriented on this day and make a deliberate effort to make it of a day that I think God has intended it to be 4 On Day 181 the author talks about how his new Biblical alter ego Jacob starts taking over and says, Secular people are the freaks, not religious people How can you not think about the Big Questions all the time How can you put so much energy into caring about earthly matters, As long as I can remember I ve been a Big Question person I love having these types of conversations This book in many parts felt like I was having a good long discussion about the Big Questions The author writing style flowed so well that by the end I felt like A.J and his wife and kids were family friends 5 The author talked about a derisive term called, Cafeteria Christianity, where moderate Christians are accused of picking and choosing the parts of the Bible they would like to follow He talks of how we all do this to a certain extent I guess I could be described as a Cafeteria Mormon, some things I love so dearly that I ll have seconds please Other dishes yes, I will leave on the counter I really want to try to do all I can to try and have my own years of living Biblically by trying to take the best things from the Bible and the Book of Mormon and incorporate them into the person I would like to be I want to love my neighbor, and have a thankful heart, I want to have sincere prayers, and have compassion.6 My favorite part of this book came close to the end where the author attends his niece s bat mitzvah and has what I would describe as a spiritual experience He describes it in part by saying, My son s hands locked around my neck, his head pressed against my shoulder, I chose to accept the feeling and ride it to the end To surrender If I had to label it, I d say the feeling is part love, part gratefulness, part connectedness, part joy And that joy was like joy concentrate I loved these couple of pages where he used such great metaphors for describing experiences that are hard to put into words for anyone He goes on to say, Without my year, I wouldn t have been open to that feeling I got on the dance floor And for that alone, all the craziness and Handy Seats used to insure not sitting anywhere unclean and locusts and snakes might have been worth it This touched me to the core Sometimes I wonder why I do all I do with regards to being a member of the LDS Church But I have had a few spiritual epiphanies so rich and so joy filled that it makes it all worth it I have to say that unfortunately most of my religious life is filled with unremarkable moments But the times where I have really felt Heavenly Father s love for me are so powerful that it helps me to keep going through the times when I m feeling less connected I really appreciated the author s journey as well as my own Any book that can inspire me to evaluate my own life and can help me become spiritually connected, while still making me laugh and cry is definitely a Good Read From The Bestselling Author Of The Know It All Comes A Fascinating And Timely Exploration Of Religion And The BibleRaised In A Secular Family But Increasingly Interested In The Relevance Of Faith In Our Modern World, AJ 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 AdulterersThe 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 EyesJacobs S Quest Transforms His Life Even 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 ChagrinThroughout 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 BrainJacobs 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 It seems very authentically Jewish to write smart and funny social commentary about exploring spirituality through following obscure rules I don t know if such a thing as being authentically Jewish exists versus everyone who is inauthentically Jewish, right , and I hope I don t offend by that phrase, but what I m saying is that I don t think Moses and Isaiah and all the boys would kick A.J Jacobs out of their club In fact, I think Jacobs comes closer to meaningful Bible commentary than any contemporary Christian writers I have read I was worried when I started the book that it would be like my experience with the Will Farrell movie Blades of Glory without much substance beyond the weirdness of the concept Instead, The Year of Living Biblically was an adventure, and I feel it would be very thought provoking and entertaining for readers of any religion or spiritual persuasion Jacobs purpose in following the Bible as literally as possible is to prove that each of us, regardless of our specific beliefs, makes choices as to what constitutes Scripture or holiness, or what have you and what doesn t Specifically, Jacobs looks at interpretations of the Bible 2 3 Old Testament, 1 3 New Testament and tests how relevant, or even manageable, they are today He goes about this with the earnestness of a little kid memorizing statistics on his favorite baseball team or learning how to take apart a car, and I think that enthusiasm is what makes this book charming rather than obnoxious For example, when he finds two prevailing interpretations of how to live a biblical rule or principal, he does both He gives thanks both before and after a meal, and when deciding who he should stone, he looks for someone working on both Saturday and Sunday failing to observe both the Jewish and Christian Sabbaths I mean, if you have to stone someone, it s better to cover your bases, right If it is not already obvious in what I have said thus far, A.J Jacobs is unabashedly weird I don t get the impression that the weirdness is a show, either, but that the show is some kind of natural part of his weirdness I think that makes this a compliment Regardless, his weirdness brings out the weirdness in others enough to make the cast of characters in The Year of Living Biblically as hilarious and horrifying as a Dickens novel The book is not a circus, though, and Jacobs treats all of his characters and their beliefs with respect, whether he agrees or disagrees with them He is very honest about his own skepticism and willing to say when something seems hateful or unlikely, but he is also very open to the views of others His blog is updated pretty frequently, and while scanning through it, I came across this selection, which gives a pretty good sample of his writing Tuesday, April 11, 2006 The Other Moses I got a note from a reader saying that I shouldn t ignore the hanging curveball thrown by Gwyneth, who just begat a new son named Moses It s a rich topic, to be sure Though as a guy whose real name is Arnold, I don t think I can really make fun of other people s names ButI will say that if the Paltrow Martins are trying to form some sort of Biblical theme Apple from Genesis, Moses from Exodus , they should know that most Biblical scholars do not think that the unnamed forbidden fruit was an apple The likely candidates, they say, include pomegranate, fig, apricot, wheat and grape One source said it was a banana tree, but that might just be crazy talk.I hope that people will not dismiss this book before they have read it It is possible that people on the right and will expect it to be hateful mockery and people on the left will expect it to be irrelevant I don t think it is either of those things, but rather, as I said, thoughtful and smart Often he discusses debates over Scripture similar to the passage above in that his ultimate conclusion is that the very nature of the debate is a little loony tunes I found his reflections on the value of faith and family, however, very insightful Hopefully, we can learn his profound lessons without having to forsake mixed fibers and carry a Handyseat for a year, but it is a comfort to have A.J Jacobs out there on the front lines of literalness, taking the bullet for the rest of us. G.K Chesterton once wrote, Christianity has not been tried and found wanting it has been found difficult and not tried In this book, A.J Jacobs not only tries Christianity, he tries out the whole Bible, both the Jewish and the Christian Scriptures.He does indeed find it difficult But he doesn t find it wanting In fact his year long quest to follow all of the commands of the Bible results in a most delightful and insightful read.It is delightful because Jacobs is such an engaging writer His style and approach are quite refreshing in this age of vitriolic attack Most books on religion these days are apologetic, trying to thrust an opinion onto the reader, often through dense prose or angry rhetoric that dismisses those who disagree Such books are one sided and narrow minded Jacobs, however, breaks free of the contemporary love for irony, sarcasm, and anger by being an open observer He dives into the world of Biblical rules without a preconceived dogma and because of this provides a most interesting assessment of what the Bible is about Even he does it with a wit and conversational style that draws the reader into his increasingly obscure discoveries.It is, I think, because of this openness to learn that Jacobs provides so many insights He s not burdened with the weight of having to support one cause or another Instead he approaches religion as it is so very rarely approached, with a sense of newness and curiosity, making it seem like Jacobs is as much a tour guide as a year long zealot.The Bible has many weird and difficult parts, but in The Year of Living Biblically A.J Jacobs looks beyond the weirdness to see what it means And what he finds is inspirational, encouraging, and downright enjoyable from beginning to end The Year of Living Biblically is one of the best books I ve read this year. The concept of The Year of Living Biblically is this the author would forgo his secular lifestyle for a year and embrace the Bible and its teachings as literally as possible The Year of Living Biblically didn t have the same success as his other works Jacobs, who is known for immersing himself in a project for a year and then writing about it, was warned by family that maybe this wasn t the best concept for a follow up to his popular Know It All book, and they may have been right Jacobs writes in his introduction that one of the reasons he chose this particular project is because he is an agnostic and wanted to be spiritual This is where I believe this book suffers its biggest failure While Jacobs writes in several places about the contradictions in the Bible, its his own contradictions in spirituality and approach to this project where I think it goes astray I can accept it when he identifies himself as agnostic Quite a few people in this country are, and even practice what Jacobs calls cafeteria religion But Jacobs also makes a point of telling us that he is also technically a member of the Jewish faith, even tho he attended no Hebrew school, ate no matzoh, and later tells us that he was never bar mitzvahed So while he s never truly embraced his Jewish faith, he does identify himself enough with Judaism that it starts to get in the way For example, Jacobs struggles with following rules set forth in the New Testament because Judaism does not accept Jesus as the savior as Christianity does, or even accept him being one with God in the Trinity, and acknowledging Jesus teachings is incompatible with his Jewish faith Later he struggles with the idea of circumcising his twin sons While he knows from medical literature that routine infant circumcision is no longer recommended, he opts to do it because he is, after all, Jewish I am glad that deep down inside he is admitting he has some faith, but it is also a de facto admission that the concept of this book doesn t work For he cannot let himself, or his biblical alter ego Jacob, fully embrace the whole enchilada Instead, he wimps out on the New Testament by reconciling in his mind that while it wouldn t be acceptable to follow Jesus lessons literally, it would be acceptable to observe and interview specific members of the Christian faith for their take But the observations he makes are a cop out I m certainly not rooting for him to be saved in an Ann Coulter Christians are perfected Jews kind of way But as a reader, especially one that knows that there is religious conversion happening daily in this land from one religion to another, it seemed a half hearted effort Even his own ex uncle Gil went through phases of Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, and back to Judaism So we know that a spiritual journey is possible Therefore, it is this underlying contradiction that takes away from the parts of the book that truly are entertaining The perplexing laws Jacobs writes about, the tassels, the beard, the juxtaposition of literal interpretation of biblical laws in the 21st century, they are all amusing Jacobs has an adept way of taking a you had to be there moment or sight gag, and turning them into wry smiles for the reader But the fact that he starts this book as an agnostic, and finishes this book as a reverent agnostic, with nothing but contradiction in between, makes me feel somewhat cheated It s admirable that a cynical New Yorker has a new found belief in sacredness, but it seemed like the project was ill conceived and half heartedly executed, for there was really no payoff It by no means shakes my belief that Jacobs is a talented writer, with a flair for comedic observation and writing But this is one case where maybe he should have honored his mother and father and taken their advice about not attempting this project. It s mean of me to say so, because it s clear that writing it was a rather significant spiritual experience for Jacobs, but this book is just silly It s meant to be entertaining yet thought provoking, but I only found it mildly entertaining, and not at all thought provoking I actually found his wife funnier than him My favorite part by far was when she was temporarily unclean and it annoyed her to be thought of that way, so in revenge she sat on all the furniture so that A.J would have no place to sit when he got home Now that was funny. The Year of Living Biblically starts out pretty fine I chuckled I was interested to find out what would come of it all Halfway through, however, I d pretty much had enough Jacobs is a little too smug though he puts on the requisite veil of Oh, God I m so bad at this religion thing , he doesn t portray his wife or son too nicely she comes off as a humorless snot, though she s probably lovely in real life son Jasper sounds like a brat , and it s annoying how little Jacobs thinks of my memory me the reader, that is He introduces people over and over again, as if we couldn t possibly keep track of his marginal characters He also tells us over and over and over again that he works for Esquire, as if we would all of a sudden think, Whoa, get back, why is he in the Esquire offices I was probably most disappointed though, because I really expected the stuff he did to be way juicier Is it just me, or is the idea of writing the Ten Commandments on your doorframe in pencil just not that interesting This is what I call a snork book So funny in parts that if you are drinking coffee, its going to come spluttering out of your nose AJ Jacobs is a secular Jew me too and spends two thirds of this book researching biblical law and trying to live it The last third addresses the New Testament in the same way Living biblically for AJ means dressing in white robes, growing a ZZ Top beard and trying to literally fulfil each commandment even if terribly embarrassing Like buying the guy behind him in Starbucks a coffee, a guy he doesn t know to be generous To fulfil not lying, when his wife meets old school friends who say let s get together for a play date he tells them no, he s not interested in making new friends right now and so it goes Along the way, practising the laws in ridiculous ways or trying to understand ridiculous laws he points out the side benefits the peace and rest of the sabbath day, the inner thanksgiving prayer calls forth and perhaps most important, the utter gratitude to anyone or no one just for having life and a family.Its a great fun book to read and this little bit of moralising is like the salt on your food, it would be nice without it but that extra savour makes it even enjoyable. My fiancee has been bugging me for months to read this book and I am oh so glad that I finally did Her enthusiasm for it was unflagging she brought home an advanced reader s copy from work as soon as she heard it was in the works She then bought at least two copies for friends during the holidays bought them, even though she works for the publisher and could have probably finagled a pair of free ones But I kept hesitating, despite her praise For one thing, it s non fiction, which I sometimes take to sneering at, mostly because I know that most readers would rather read a non fiction book about the history of Cod than a work of new fiction by some bright young author My fiancee, incidentally, works for a fairly strictly non fiction imprint, so she reads a ton of it now and so I feel it s my silent duty to even out the scales Finally I made the mistake she was waiting for I was set to embark upon a long flight, followed by a two day car trip, followed by another long plane trip She caught me staring at my shelf disappointedly, and I said, I don t have anything I feel like reading I d fallen right into her evil trap, of course, because no sooner did I blink and her advanced reader s copy of The Year of Living Biblically was resting in my hands Just to keep things balanced, I still read Vile Bodies first.Of course, she was right The Year of Living Biblically was fantastic The author, AJ Jacobs, Esquire writer and previous author of The Know It All which is about him reading the Encyclopedia Brittanica from A to Z , decides that he is going to try and live the Bible as literally as possible for one year This means not just the Ten Commandments, which would be difficult enough as it was, but as many of the hundreds of minor commandments that are scattered along the way between Genesis and Revelation My reading the book was certainly enhanced because I was coincidentally simultaneously concluding a sixteen week evening Introduction to Judaism course My fiancee, you won t be surprised to learn, was also the driving force behind the class But I digress, the point is, that the book is written such that even if you ve never set foot in a religious center or read a line of the Bible, you ll still be able to enjoy it immensely, aside from which you will also learn everything you never knew you wanted to know about the Bible.Jacobs begins his yearlong quest as an agnostic, non practicing Jew living in New York City with his wife Julie and a two year old son Jasper He dives in with earnestness and naivet , certain only that he is going to suffer immensely as he begins to work He compiles a list of commandments and tries to follow as many as he can as literally as possible Soon he discovers, as did his religious Jewish brethren long ago, that dozens are actually impossible to follow at all because they involve things like sacrificing animals at a Temple that was destroyed two thousand years or so ago But he grows his beard out, he wears all white, he builds a Sukkot in his living room He stops shaking hands with women for fear they may be impure which incidentally causes trouble with the aforementioned wife, Julie He stones an adulterer, eats locusts, gets a slave intern , writes out the Ten Commandments on his doorframe, and so on and so forth Of course he also tries to pray diligently, cease lying, cease coveting, and figure out how to better raise his son By the end he has certainly changed, although I won t ruin it by explaining exactly how He puts it well in his introduction if Present AJ were to have coffee with Year Ago AJ, they would both leave wondering what the hell was wrong with the other.When I was about halfway through the book I confessed to my fiancee that I loved it, and she d been right all along She smiled and said that the way he thinks just made her feel like she was in my head, which I took as a high compliment, even though I know she means both the parts where he is being soulful and brilliant and the parts where he is struggling with his own flaws She s got me pegged, though I d been having the exact same sensation in some places I felt like I was reading a transcript of thoughts I d been having over the past few months as I too debated God s existence as I delved into our Judaism class In the beginning, Jacobs makes a list of things he covets, and his first item is Jonathan Safran Foer s reading fee an alleged 15000 Now, I knew plenty of other writers in grad school who were insanely jealous of JSF s rise to fame and I was even one who held out and always claimed he was a truly great writer when others were hating him see earlier entry on JSF s 2nd book I suppose there may not be a writer under the age of 40 in New York that isn t somewhat jealous of him But it was wonderful to see it laid right out in print Jacobs also admits to Googling himself and checking his sales ranking every day, also bad habits I m surely forming Later, he is making a list of lies he told in just one day Numero Uno I lied to Julie about how much internet access at Starbucks costs I told her 8 instead of 10 so she d be 20 percent less annoyed Yep I d do that.In the end the book may not make you want to go out and grab a Bible, but it might It at least got me to resolve to at least keep reading the weekly portions, as I ve been doing the past few months during my class More than anything I liked that the book made me think about what I m going to be like someday with my son, and to appreciate the fact that I have a fiancee like Julie in the book, who knows I ll love the book and will harass me to read it for months without fail And who reads books this insightful and honest and believes that s how I think. Unless you are a member of the clergy or a fundamentalist Christian, you probably don t know much about the Bible You might have heard the nice stories they tell in church, and how Jesus did many miracles, was killed, and then rose from the dead on the 3rd day Any of the not so nice stuff though Probably not Before going any further, I need to say If you are a clergy wo man without a sense of humor or you re a fundamentalist Christian, you might want to stop reading this review right here as there s a chance you ll be offended Everyone else, let s continue..First, have you ever been sitting around and thought, I really wish I knew the Bible better Maybe I should read it You probably belong to one of 2 groups Group A Why the hell would anyone want to do that or, Group B Well, yes, actually, I have Now, if you belong to the second group, you might have then gone and picked up a Bible and, being a Goodreads member and thus obviously someone who likes to read, devoured all 66 books in 12.5 hours Or, after reading some of the interesting parts of Genesis and Exodus, found Leviticus a little too weird with all those laws, and even if you managed to wade through them Numbers Well, you deserve a medal if you were disciplined enough to get through that book Yay, I get a medal So and so, son of So and so, begat So and so and then lived 364 years Repeat that sentence many times, changing the names and number of years And then onto, The Israelites left Ramses and camped at Succoth They left Succoth and camped at Etham They left Etham and camped at You get the picture I know, boring, right All those names of people and places is enough to drive all but the most religious into their own personal hell Then again, this is Goodreads and some of us would rather read that than nothing at all However, since most of us live near libraries or have other access to a plethura of books, both print and electronic, we need not force ourselves to read such tedious things But wait , you say, I still really wish I knew the Bible better What can I do Well, you can pick up a copy of The Year of Living Biblically by A.J Jacobs for one thing A.J Jacobs, a secular Jew, became curious about religion and decided he would take a year to learn the Bible better and to obey all its commandments as much as possible For some things, this is easy and makes other like you being kind and forgiving, sharing with others, helping them out, etc For others well, let s just say that following the Bible is going to make you look bat shit crazy Never shaving your beard, refusing to wear clothes made of two different fibers, tying money to your hand when you go out, handling venomous snakes, blowing from a horn on the first of the month, refusing to touch anything an unclean woman meaning one who has started her period in the last 7 days has touched, including sitting in the same seat she has And on and on and on Then what do you do about things that will get you thrown into prison in our modern times How do you stone someone because they committed adultery How do you kill your child because he hit you Mr Jacobs reads several versions of the Bible and speaks with leaders of many different types of Judaism and Christianity to get their interpretations If you don t already know the Bible, you will probably be quite shocked at some of the things that are in it There s a lot that Mr Jacobs does not mention like how wonderful it is to bash your enemies babies heads against the rocks, found in Psalms , but still, you ll be surprised and pleasantly amused Mr Jacobs writes wittily and often in a self depreciating way, as he takes us along on his Biblical year His poor wife I don t know how she stayed with him If you know the Bible, you might find some of this tedious, as I did, but it s still quite fun to read Of course, he doesn t go through each and every command in the Bible, but picks and chooses what to do and to write about However, isn t that what everyone does Pick and choose It s impossible to follow, or even attempt to follow, all the commands in the Bible Not only will it get you thrown in prison or a psychiatric hospital, it is full of contradictions, starting with the simple Thou shalt not kill In other places of the Bible, we re told to kill our enemies, kill people for various infractions, etc There s nothing easy in the Bible, and anyone who says they follow it is mistaken They are following what they want to follow, and ignoring a whole lot of other stuff 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 because I d have liked it even if I wasn t already aware of all those commands he tried to follow.