The Year of Living Biblically
One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible
Written By: A. J. Jacobs
Published By: Simon & Schuster
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
Remember that friend that sent me the crazy Christmas book? Well, she's done it again, sending me two books my author A. J. Jacobs. Now, if you aren't acquainted with this author's work, let me enlighten you. This is a man whose books come from year-long projects he starts. He once read the entire encyclopedia from A to Z for a year. Just looking at the cover of one of the A. J. Abrams books my friend sent was enough to make me think this guy was nuts. It was enough to make me want to open The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible and see just how crazy he really is.
As Abrams explains, he is Jewish, but not a practicing Jew. His parents aren't really practicing Jews and he has lived a rather secular life. It was only after the birth of his son that Abrams thought about religion at all. After all, what if his son was missing out on something important. Religion is extremely important in some people's lives, enough so to cause wars. So, Abrams decided to try to live biblically.
Believe me, this man has done his research, gathering up faith advisors from all walks, inviting Jehovah Witnesses into his home, visiting Evangelical Christian Churches, partaking in Orthodox Jewish traditions and more. He has read various versions of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, and various other religious publications. But most importantly, he decided to live his life as close to what the Bible refers to in its writings.
That means, he did not shave nor cut his hair. He made certain not to wear clothing of mixed fibers, even bringing in an Orthodox Jew to help him understand what clothing he could or could not wear. He wrote the Ten Commandments on his door post, opting for that instead of purchasing a Mezuzah. He bought a walking staff. He bought a special chair so he wouldn't violate the never touch an impure woman rule. He became a vegetarian for a short time to avoid eating flesh as did the people of the Bible before Noah.
Yes, those are some of the extreme things, but there are some not so extreme things that he did as well. He joined the staff of a soup kitchen and sent money to charity as a way of tithing and helping the poor among us. He learned how to discipline his son - still sparing the rod, but not spoiling the child. He learned how to be grateful for all he was blessed with. He learned forgiveness and found a certain inner peace.
As you are reading this review, you might wonder why this book is in the humor section rather than the theological section of the book store. That's because A. J. Abrams does things to the extreme. Imagine a man walking around the streets of New York City in white shepherd's robes, carrying a wooden staff and wearing sandals with long hair and a long flowing beard. Then there is the time that he decided he should follow the Bible's rules about stoning adulterers. Not being foolish and realizing that using actual stones might get him arrested, he carried pebbles. One day, a rude individual began yelling at him, remarking on his newly biblical look. A. J. Abrams decided to explain his project for the day, to which the man replied that he was an adulterer and he would like to see Abrams stone him. Abrams took out a pebble and dropped it on his foot. The man was so shocked and exasperated that he left without doing anything to Abrams, but you can see the hilarity in the visualization of such an event.
There are more funny moments - quite a few in fact as Abrams struggles to interpret some of the Bible's teachings and what rules he should follow to the letter. His quest to keep impure thoughts from entering his mind is quite funny as are the interactions with his wife who became pregnant with twins shortly after Abrams started this project. Then there are the parts in which he must eat insects - locusts to be exact, play a ten-string harp, his failed attempts to follow the no lying commandment, his taking on a slave and more.
But while there are some hilarious moments in this book that I felt the need to read aloud to other people, to me, this book is less about humor and more about provoking thought. Throughout his research, A. J. Abrams found that the Bible was subject to interpretation. Depending on the religious sect, various stories and rules set forth in the Bible can be taken literally or figuratively. There were many questions raised and all seemed to have multiple answers depending on the religious sect. The question of the right or wrong of homosexuality, polygamy, working on the Sabbath, revenge or turning the other cheek, all of these issues and more are touched upon, provoking thought from the reader and basically causing the reader to ask him/herself what they thought.
I wasn't sure about this book when I first opened the cover, but The Year of Living Biblically proved to be quite an interesting read. Both thought-provoking and laugh out loud funny, this is one of those books that can be enjoyed by someone looking for a funny book to curl up with and someone with an interest in the Bible itself.