on April 7, 2008
The book is Jacobs' journal of his attempt to follow the Bible as literally as possible. He documented more than 700 rules in the Hebrew and Christian bible. As a pastor you can imagine why I needed to read this. Jacobs starts his Biblical journey (as I started mine as reader) as a bit of a skeptic. He describes himself as a secular Jew but says "...I'm Jewish in the same way the Olive Garden is an Italian restaurant." A self-described agnostic - religion, the Bible and God had not taken up a lot of thought room in his life up to this point.
Jacob's research is very well done. He does not simply read the Bible but draws upon over a hundred Jewish and Christian resources as well as creating and regularly seeking the counsel of a spiritual advisory board made up of conservative and liberal rabbis, mainline and evangelical pastors. His bibliogrpahy is neither staunchly left or right but a mix of both and the middle. I especially appreciated a referance to Dennis Covington's fantastic book Salvation on Sand Mountain (which I have also read) and Jacobs' own visit to Appalachia. He also variously speaks to Tony Campolo, Ken Ham (Answers in Genesis), an Amish innkeeper, as well as visits Jerry Falwell's church, and several Bible study groups that cover the spectrum from conservative to liberal, etc. You get the idea.
The insights that Jacobs has into religion, the Bible, God and believers in general are quite incredible. Many of them are very affirming for me as a pastor and a Christ follower. As a believer, one cannot, no matter how hard one tries, fully put themselves into the shoes of a non-believer and see what they see or understand as they understand so the book does a great service in this sense.
Aside from the insights Jacobs' journey is incredibly humourous and at times quite poignant as well (the impact on his wife and family plays a major role). His openess and honesty are disarming and refreshing and his writing style is very approachable and easy to slip into. I won't tell you what the impact this experience had on Jacobs except to say it was definitely a perspective changer.
This book is a great read and will spark many a lively discussion (good book club material). I highly recommend it.
The title would lend one to believe the intention of the author was to make fun of fundamental Christians and Jews. In point of fact, this is an honest attempt by Mr. Jacobs to live not only in accord with a literal interpretation of the bible but also an attempt to follow its more general principals. He honestly begins his quest with the idea of gaining a better understanding of those who follow a literal interpretation of their religion and with that, through a process of "cognitive dissonance," become a better person himself. He spends most of the year wearing white, never trimming his beard, praying, avoiding clothing that combines the fabrics wool and linen, writing the commandments on the frame of his apartment door, visiting and accepting advice from leaders of both the fundamentalist and liberal churches. He even visits his "crazy" Uncle Gil living in Israel who he meets next to the Western Wall, the holiest site for Jews in Jerusalem, a place where his uncle likes to go and pray at 3:00 in the morning. The book is filled with humour and insights and one, I was surprised to have finished. I was sure it would be one of those gimmicky books that I "get" within the first two or three chapters. Here, there is nothing to "get" only the attempt by Mr. Jacobs to get in touch with his Jewish religion and gain a greater understanding of the Christian one. Well worth the read.
on December 29, 2007
AJ has written a remarkable book that transforms himself and the reader into a diverse perspective of strict religious life in a secular world of New York City. Similar to John Howard Griffin's Black Like Me,The Year of Living Biblically doesn't just observe a culture that he isn't part of but fully becomes part of that culture. The modern day saying, rules are made to be broken, don't apply here.
The Year of Living Biblically is written in a wonderful humours and intelligent style. Working on a subject that could have many cheap shots, AJ shows the read that he is a much better person and writer then that. Practicing biblical laws in today's world can be a difficult thing to do. Some are so bizarre one has to ask; 'What were they think of?' AJ and his panel of advisor's make a good case for their original uses and why they're practiced by many today.
The hard liner fundamentalist and atheist maybe disappointed in The Year of Living Biblically. There is no silver bullet for either side. Not to give the book away, but for me the open-minded person will come away with a stronger understanding of an ancient mind set and how and why it was applied their religion.
The reader may also come away with some new habits. I now put my right shoe on then my left, then tie my left then my right shoe. Read the book to find out why.
So you've devoted an entire year to reading the Encyclopedia Britannica in its entirety and writing about the experience. What do you do for an encore? Sticking with the book theme, it seems almost natural to turn your attention to the most important book ever written. So it is that A.J. Jacob devotes another full year of his life to the Bible - not only does he set out to read the Good Book, he makes plans to follow its teachings as literally as possible. Raised in a secular Jewish family, he is curious to know if his year of living biblically will change him into a religious person. In my opinion, however, what he describes in this book is an intellectual journey, not a spiritual one.
Jacobs goes all out, trying to follow even the most obscure laws and prescriptions he can find in the Bible. It's a lot more work than just following the Ten Commandments. He chooses to follow the Old Testament for the first eight months, then devote the last four months to the New Testament. Apart from his own reading and research, he calls upon a number of different religious figures to help him understand all of the teachings and rituals. He grows a beard, takes to wearing white clothes consisting of no mixed fibers, blows a ram's horn at the start of each month, attaches fringes to his garments, paints words of scripture around his door frame, performs many more little rituals that have no real significance for him at all, etc. It causes many a hardship to him and his family (a wife, a two-year-old son, and as the months pass, a set of twins on the way) - especially his long-suffering wife (being treated as unclean the week following Aunt Flo's monthly visit is not too popular with the women these days, for example). Over the course of the year, he has a number of unique experiences, travels to Israel, and seeks out guidance from both liberal and conservative followers of Judaism and Christianity. He learns a lot about himself in the process, but the key question is whether or not he will emerge from this grand experiment a changed man.
Inevitably, one's views of this book will greatly depend upon one's own religious beliefs. Atheists and agnostics will probably delight in all of the crazy Old Testament instructions he follows, while Jews and Christians will have their own interpretations, running the gamut from liberalism to fundamentalism. As a fundamentalist Southern Baptist (one religious affiliation Jacobs did not consult), it bothers me that Jacobs and many other individuals paint religious conservatism with such a wide brush of pre-judgment. We're not monsters; we just happen to interpret the Bible literally rather than picking and choosing the things we find convenient for our lifestyles and habits. We're slandered for believing we alone are right in our beliefs, yet that faith is what defines us. I don't believe Jacobs was completely open-minded in his approach, having to some degree prejudged Christian fundamentalists from the start.
From my perspective, if Jacobs really wanted to find God, he went about it exactly the wrong way. He can follow every rule he finds in the Bible, but it avails him nothing in the end because he never really seeks a personal connection with God, even in his approach to prayer. That is why I do not consider his journey to be a spiritual one at all. Jacobs doesn't even attend church on a weekly basis, although he does spend time with a number of different religious groups and leaders. Furthermore, his four months spent following the New Testament are nowhere near as intensive as the eight months he spent immersed in the Old Testament. In modern terms, Jesus makes little more than a cameo appearance in these pages, and the heart of the Gospel message itself is rather neglected.
The Year of Living Biblically is certainly interesting and entertaining, but I do not consider it very enlightening. Jacobs does gain some understanding of the religious experiences and beliefs of several groups of believers (some of which surprise him), but he never makes an effort to approach God in a personal, soul-searching way. Instead, he adopts this technical image of a Biblical lifestyle, a decidedly outward approach, and periodically wonders if it is working any changes in his internal, spiritual life. On the whole, I find the whole thing little more than a sociology project, dealing primarily with the reactions of friends, family, and strangers to his project and, in turn, his reactions to their reactions. Jacobs learns a lot about himself over the course of the year, but I do not think he succeeded in finding anything remotely profound.
For slightly over a year, Jacobs, an editor for Esquire magazine, embarked on a mission to learn how the teachings of the Bible applied to his life through daily living. Jacobs' driving desire was to determine if it were possible for him to literally live out as a practicing Jew a number of key biblical precepts so that God would become more relevant to his life. While there is little that was academically rigorous about Jacobs' noble aspirations, he certainly tried very hard to practice in an experimental way many of the Old Testament peculiar commandments. The ones I found most amusing were his coming to grips with the enjoinments about inviting stranger in one's house, stoning adulterers, and writing words of spiritual wisdom on the doorjambs. For the time that Jacobs spent living up to the strange and daunting expectations that Yahweh had of his ancient people, he regularly consulted with other Christian and non-Christian groups as to how they interpreted the Word. While there seemed to be no common agreement as to how far one would have to go to observe the Bible in order to recognize and appreciate truth, Jacobs found ways to personally conform to its spiritual demands. Each day produced an intellectual challenge to come to grips with how he should dress, what he should eat, how he should treat his fellow human, how he should raise his children, what he should do on the Sabbath, and how he should view sin. What Jacobs discovered at the end of his journey through the Bible is that Yahweh or God, as a divinity, really cares about His people and expects only the highest devotion in return. Everything God demands of humans is to prevent them from going their own way and abandoning their dependence upon Him. While not becoming a Christian or a Jew because of this extended experience of grappling with how to apply the Bible, Jacobs concedes that he became a significantly more sensitive person to spiriual issues. He certainly sees himself as a better person for having tried to observe these heavenly commands than just sitting around thinking about them. While some of his decisions were controversial - such as having his twins circumcised - they were born out of a sincere need to test why God would make such an odd requests. Read the book to find out what he learned on this point and others. A very pleasant read with plenty of witty moments.
on January 8, 2012
I'm an atheist, so I probably wouldn't have been offended if AJ had been harder on and more ridiculing of all the rules he had to follow. But I'm glad he didn't. After finishing this book, I hope I can be more understanding of Jewish and Christian tradition -- I certainly learned a LOT about those traditions! I can also see how mean, petty and actually hacky it is to just constantly pick on the faithful. I'll still watch Bill Maher but I'll think more and laugh less. Nonetheless, there is also lots to laugh at in this book. I could totally relate to AJ's struggles with coveting and anger (he gives the finger to an ATM, I once gave it to a bee. A definite sign of temper issues!). Good lessons here for all of us.
on February 6, 2008
hi A.J. I figured I could address this to you because you obviously read the amazon reviews. So I loved your book, but I have to say unless you are religious, or are seeking religion it may not be such a good idea to read this book in public and on the bus.
Although I am very happy that people are interested in your book, and that they ask me how I am liking it, many have tried to convert me or show me the way to religion, as an athesist this is a little unsettling, so I would recomend to those who enjoy your insight but not the interferring of others, read this book at home or where people are less likly to try and convert you.
on September 22, 2014
I won this book at a Religious study group's party. It is easy to read, it is not great literature, some funny fact and evens in it. Nice reading before sleep I would say. The subject seemed to me too big for such a book and sometime I felt that the author just filled some blank sheet of paper because he did not write for some days. I was touched though by his neighbor history. It made me think about my own lonely life and I wish I will not end as her.
on November 18, 2007
I bought this book for my husband's birthday. I waited one, two and then three days but he did not crack it open. He is passionately secular and likely figures I have a soulful journey planned for his humanist heart.
So I asked permission to steal it (therefore not violating a commandment!) and then started reading. I am in the middle of it right now, and negotiating with my 13-year-old son who has now started the book, so now we have one book, two bookmarks.
What I like is the writer's honesty and devotion to the journey.
May I be so bold as to say Amen?
on October 24, 2007
I was stuck in a rut of reading one atheist book after another. Become familiar with all the arguments, and was just looking for the right bible nut to really rail upon. I wanted to make a real fool out of some god botherer! Luckily before I did this I was given this book, and was delighted to read an interesting, whitty and seemingly objective approach to the idea of living biblically.
A. J. Jacobs approached the task of spending one year living by the rules of the bible with at once a sense of responsibility and ridicule. He also seemed to be searching for a missing spirituality that he appears to admire in others.
I found myself surprised by the revelations and understaning I gained of some religions, and some of the odder biblical references, and at the same time re-inforced in my own certainty that no creator of the universe is necessary. It did give me a greater appreciation for those who wrote, at least parts of the Bible and many other philosophers in human history who have shaped our sense of morality.
Sadly I was dissapointed by the authors decision (he expands very touchingly and humorously on his family life, as the year progresses) to allow is newly born twins to be circumcised. To my mind this is the most hideous form of religiously justified mutilation and sadly the author uses his culture as the crutch for the decision. He seemed so objective until that point.
The last chapters also lose enthusiasm as he explores the New Testament. He doesnt seem to apply the same focus or interest to them. Perhaps because he is Jewish (though not practising except for having his childrens genitalia mutilated) he could not raise the energy for Jesus. Its a shame because being born christian I was hoping for more clever insight. Read this book on vacation.