Thursday, 23 August 2012

Book Review: The Year of Living Biblically

Genre:  Biographies & Memoirs
Author: A. J. Jacobs
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

This book is a comic tour de force, one of the funniest things I have read in years while remaining inoffensively irreverent and, in the end, heartwarming and engaging. It was hard to put down. It was one of those books that, when you are finished reading, you think, "I wish I had read this slower and on a rainy, Sunday afternoon." Absolutely first class. Jacobs is to be commended.

"Make no mistake: A.J. Jacobs is not a religious man. He describes himself as Jewish "in the same way the Olive Garden is an Italian restaurant." Yet his latest work, The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible, is an insightful and hilarious journey for readers of all faiths. Though no fatted calves were harmed in the making of this book, Jacobs chronicles 12 months living a remarkably strict Biblical life full of charity, chastity, and facial hair as impressive as anything found in The Lord of the Rings. Through it all, he manages to brilliantly keep things light, while avoiding the sinful eye of judgment." (Dave Callanan)
And:

"Jacobs, a New York Jewish agnostic, decides to follow the laws and rules of the Bible, beginning with the Old Testament, for one year. (He actually adds some bonus days and makes it a 381-day year.) He starts by growing a beard and we are with him through every itchy moment. Jacobs is borderline OCD, at least as he describes himself; obsessing over possible dangers to his son, germs, literal interpretation of Bible verses, etc. He enlists the aid of counselors along the way; Jewish rabbis, Christians of every stripe, friends and neighbors.

In an open-minded way he also visits with atheists, Evangelicals Concerned (a gay group), Jerry Falwell, snake handlers, Red Letter Christians--those who adhere to the red letters in the Bible, those words spoken by Jesus Himself, and even takes a trip to Israel and meets Samaritans. Through it all, he keeps a healthy skepticism, but continues to pray and is open to the flowering of real faith. Jacobs is a knowledge junky, to be sure. He enjoys the lore he picks up along the way as much as any other aspect of his experiment. One of the ongoing schticks is his meeting with the shatnez tester, Mr. Berkowitz. He is the one who determines whether or not your clothes are made of mixed fibers, in keeping with the Biblical injunction not to wear wool and linen together. The two become friends and prayer partners, in only one of the unexpected results of this year.

In the end, he says, "I'm now a reverent agnostic. Which isn't an oxymoron, I swear. I now believe that whether or not there's a God, there is such a thing as sacredness. Life is sacred." Not a bad outcome." (Valerie Ryan)
(Originally posted to Multiply September 27, 2009)

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