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18 of 39 people found the following review helpful
Few agnostics and atheists read the Bible. Surprisingly, not many more Christians have read the whole Bible. So obviously it's possible to be a person of faith without knowing all the details in the Bible. In addition, few religious leaders I know would suggest that a nonbeliever begin to gain faith solely by reading the Bible and applying all of its laws. For Christians, faith often begins after a time of having everything go wrong so that you come to know that your own resources aren't enough.

In this case, agnostic A.J. Jacobs, a nonobservant Jew by heritage who is riding high based on the success of his last book, decides to do a one-year experiment with following the Bible's ritual laws and commandments so he'll have a book to write. During the year, he follows as many of Old Testament laws and commandments as possible (in modern context) while adding a few of the New Testament commandments in the final four months. The book is conveyed as a blog might be, with individual entries for days when he picked a law and tried to apply it (often trying for the humorous and mundane rather than the serious and spiritual). For example, he "stones" people by tossing pebbles rather than killing them as the Old Testament requires for those who commit certain acts.

The result was that he found himself thinking a little more like a spiritual person than he did before, but that effect began to fade as he went back to secular practices. He was still an agnostic.

As I read this book I was reminded of the person who is tone-deaf, can't read music, and has a terrible singing voice who decides that practicing 10 hours a day will turn the person into a fine singer after a year. Not! Starting with faith in God is a much more productive way to expand spirituality by following laws and commandments.

As someone who is a Christian and has read the complete Bible in many different translations, the book's main value for me was in explaining the basis for many of the practices that Orthodox Jews follow (which Mr. Jacobs argues that Jesus said Christians should also follow -- I don't think Mr. Jacobs got that one right). For example, I had always wondered about those curls at the side of the face on the men, but didn't connect it to references in the Bible I'd read to not cutting the edges of the hair.

In the New Testament, Jesus commented that there were those who took great pride in following all of the laws, but that these people were not doing right because their heart wasn't in it. Mr. Jacobs refers to that Scripture, but nevertheless seems to be actually doing what Jesus suggested not be done . . . following rules for the sake of the rules and how others will perceive you.

Clearly, this religious observation and book had an agenda: To poke fun at following the Bible literally, to entertain readers who doubt the Bible, and to sell books for profit. Those are all fine objectives for Mr. Jacobs, but they don't cast much light on what happens if you are a believer and follow the Bible's commandments and laws. For that purpose, you would have to have another author, one who is a believer.

One value in the book is in demonstrating how hard it is to decide what the Bible means. One typical issue is that a passage may have a figurative meaning, but some might choose take that concept literally. In other cases, there is no exact, modern equivalent to what is being described about a society that existed 3,000 years ago.

I particularly felt sorry for Mr. Jacobs wife who often bore the brunt of his project. He didn't seem to want to put her needs first in most situations where he wanted to try some ritual or other. He seems to be a narcissist of the first order. A book written by her about his year would have been much funnier and more interesting.
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