Book Review: The Year of Living Biblically


“The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible” (A. J. Jacobs)

Could you, personally, keep every commandment in the Bible? Could you live without breaking any one of those commandments for an entire year?

In The Year of Living Biblically , A. J. Jacobs sets out to follow the BIble as literally as possible — or to do that as closely as one man can, since, as it turns out, living “by The Book” is not as simple as fundamentalists would have us believe.

“The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible” (A. J. Jacobs)

Could you, personally, keep every commandment in the Bible? Could you live without breaking any one of those commandments for an entire year?

In The Year of Living Biblically , A. J. Jacobs sets out to follow the BIble as literally as possible — or to do that as closely as one man can, since, as it turns out, living “by The Book” is not as simple as fundamentalists would have us believe.

What to do, for example, about all those Old Testament laws, including the holiness codes of Leviticus? We hear a lot about the presumed “abomination” of homosexuality … but what about the commandments dictating the execution of adulterers and sassy children? Or the ones forbidding the consumption of shrimp and lobster? Or the one demanding that workers be paid in cash at the end of every day? Or the one about men never touching women who are having their period? Or the one that requires men to never trim their beards and sideburns?

The Year of Living Biblically chronicles Jacobs’ year-long effort to follow these and other commandments. The stories relating his successes and failures are sometimes sobering and sometimes amusing — and always engaging, thanks to Jacobs’ warmth, wit, and deeply personal tone.

And there are surprises. Though I make real efforts to stay in touch with what my former fundamentalist fellows are up to, I hadn’t heard of a joint venture between Orthodox Jews and Christian Fundamentalists to breed a perfect red heifer (believed to be a sign of the birth of the True Messiah or the arrival AntiChrist, depending on one’s point of view).

I was also unaware of the dominionist movement — a band of super fundamentalists (Jacobs calls them “The American Taliban”) dead-set on converting America to a theocracy and reinstating public stoning for crimes of adultery or homosexuality. (With close ties to the Religious Right, they’ve got more social and political clout than you might think.)

At the end of the experiment, A.J. draws a conclusion about faith and practice that mirrors my own … but I will not do you a disservice by revealing that conclusion here.

Now that I’ve finished the book, I find myself missing my daily time with A.J., who turns out to be exactly the sort of guy I’d like to discuss faith and spirituality with on a regular basis. It’s a strange thing to miss someone I’ve never met … but that alone, I think, is a powerful testimony to the intimacy and immediacy of his remarkable story.

Mark McElroy

I'm a husband, mystic, writer, media producer, creative director, tinkerer, blogger, reader, gadget lover, and pizza fiend.

1 comment

  • I’ll be on the lookout for this one. If you’re missing A.J., try “The Know It All,” his tale of his quest to read the entire Encyclopedia Brittanica. I suspect that the roots of his current quest developed there…he muses in “The Know It All” on the meaning of acquiring knowledge but not wisdom.

Who Wrote This?

Mark McElroy

I'm a husband, mystic, writer, media producer, creative director, tinkerer, blogger, reader, gadget lover, and pizza fiend.

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