The Year of Living Biblically
AJ Jacobs’ book ‘The Year of Living Biblically’ is described in the blurb as ‘One man’s humble quest to follow the Bible as Literally as Possible’.
It chronicles the year of the author as he, raised as a secular Jew living in New York, discovers and tries to abide by the laws and rules contained in the Bible about how people should behave. To begin with, the author compiles a list of all the rules and laws as he reads both the old and new testaments. At the end of this he has some seven hundred or so laws, rules or directions.
Some of the laws seem pretty straight forwards, easy one about not killing for example, but his struggles with ‘coveting’ are a different matter. In a consumer based society and working for a mens fashion magazine means he is surrounded by comparative temptations constantly. Other issues such as how to stone adulterers or the minefield of multiple wives are addressed in funny and somewhat insightful ways. How to discipline you child gets the biblical treatment and other ancient customs such as obscure dietary restricts are addressed – apparently eating eagles is not allowed. Even telling the truth leads to some significant complications! Many of the laws are seemingly ridiculous by modern standards such as binding money to your hand, not shaving the edge of your beard or building a hut once a year.
Jacobs takes his role seriously from the start, adopting seemingly ancient dress and growing a Moses type beard as he explores the laws with the help of religious advisors. It is very clear that he approaches the idea of religion with significant scepticism or even indifference but this doesn’t translate into a patronising or judgemental monologue. Rather he seems to be open to the experiences and people he meets without ram-rodding his views into the narrative. It feels like a spiritual journey into the author’s religious heritage.
Some of the encounters and scenarios he has are pure comedy and reflect the seemingly ridiculousness of the biblical laws he seeks to follow, such as his efforts to obtain a birds egg in a nest, how he obtains a slave and efforts to wear clothes without mixed fibres.
This book is written very much from a Jewish perspective and, as a gentile reader, it provided a really fascinating insight into the world of the exceptionally religiously observant. The writing style isn’t patronising and it doesn’t have the moralising about modern standards of behaviour compared to those of the old testament writers.
Is it a literary masterpiece? No. Is it an entertaining and somewhat humorous book for people who are curious about religious issues? Absolutely Yes.
Link: Website of author: www.ajjacobs.com