When I was younger, I used to wonder this: If some guy who had never had human contact was left on a deserted island with a Bible and studied it diligently on his own, free of outside influences, would he come to the same conclusions that were being taught to me by my church, which claimed to be Christianity in its purist form? I especially wondered if said man on said island would deduce that instrumental music was forbidden in worship by the New Testament. Because I had trouble getting that from the New Testament, and I wanted to know if it was just me.
Anyway, a resident of New York City, A.J. Jacobs hardly lives on a deserted island. But he took on the task of studying the Bible (and I mean seriously studying) and attempting to live by every single one of its commands for one year. The result is the book "The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible."
As an agnostic Jew (which makes sense, if you read the book), Jacobs was not free from outside influences going into this project. But he embraces this unique mission with a balance of humor and earnest sincerity. And, oh my goodness, did he do his research. I've been in church my whole life and I kept finding myself learning new stuff about the Bible from this guy. In addition to seriously studying every word of Scripture, he also frequently consulted religious leaders from all kinds of backgrounds--including his ex-uncle, a former cult leader.
Much of this book is funny. For example, Jacobs' wife's frustration at the OT laws regarding her menstrual cycle. For one week out of every month, Jacobs could have no physical contact whatsoever with his wife. He couldn't even sit on anything she had sat on during her time of "uncleanness," according to Jewish law. (One day, his wife sat on everything in their apartment so he would have no place to sit when he got home.) Jacobs also attempts to stone an adulterer at one point, which almost gets him beaten up.
But the book is also surprisingly moving. We see Jacobs develop a respect for people whose views he previously rejected as silly and uneducated. (Creationists, for example.) He takes a trip to Jerusalem, during which he is awed by the history and devout fervor of so many different religious groups. Through a string of experiences he encounters during this year of biblical living, Jacobs begins to view birth, life and death with a new perspective. One of my favorite parts of the book was Jacobs' twin sons' circumcision ceremony, during which he begins to realize the significance of his Jewish ancestry.
As a believer, I wanted Jacobs' year-long journey to end with a belief in God. He may not quite get there, but where he does wind up is inspiring. He makes me want to have a healthier respect for others' beliefs. I think that's something just about everyone could use.
Labels: A.J. Jacobs