What happens when the editor at large of Esquire magazine and New York Times best-selling author decides to live according to the Bible for a year? A. J. Jacobs, author of “The Know It All,” shares with us his journey in his new book, “The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally As Possible,” to be released in bookstores October 9th. This book is categorized as “Humor” but it could just as easily be categorized as a Spiritual/Religious Memoir. Jacobs, who self-identifies as an agnostic at the beginning of the book (while having Jewish roots), decides to devote a year of his life to following the Bible as literally as possible – he follows the Hebrew Scriptures for around 8 months, and then focuses on the New Testament for the remainder of his year.
Jacobs, Editor at Large for Esquire Magazine, husband and father of now three boys and resident of thoroughly secular NYC found that at times it was quite difficult to follow the Bible’s commandments. What happens when you have to interview an off-the-charts gorgeous movie star? Or you’re invited to a sexy fashion show? What happens when you decide to be painfully honest about everything you’re thinking with your wife and her friends? Jacobs makes it very clear that if one decides to follow as many Biblical laws as possible, it will disrupt and uproot all areas of your life.
Many Christians, specifically those of the Evangelical brand, believe that one must first make mental assent to certain truths and dogmas, and that once they give their life to Jesus and accept him as their personal Lord and Savior – then their lives will change: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Cor 5.17). However, there are others that believe that behavior and practices may be able to come before beliefs.
Though this was probably not his initial reason for beginning the project, Jacobs sets out to experience religion in just such a way. An agnostic at the beginning, he gives regular spiritual updates about his progress. He prays, observes Sabbath, worships and follows as many Biblical rules as one probably could. I don’t want to give away the end, but I think – and Jacobs would agree, I’m sure – that there is definitely a spiritual transformation that takes place in his life. Does he end up as an evangelical Christian or Orthodox Jew? No – but it does cause him to become much more mindful about his life, more rooted and connected with nature, with others, with his family and more tolerant and understanding about the variety of religious experiences available.
Here is one of his spiritual updates from the book:
Day 238. A spiritual update: I’m all over the place. My belief in God changes by the hour. I have three phases, about evenly split throughout the day. As I type this, I’m in phase two. But that could change by the time I finish the next paragraph.
First, there’s the comfortable old position: agnosticism. I haven’t erased that totally, and it especially pops up whenever I read about religious extremism.
The second phase is all about a newfound reverence for life. Life isn’t just a series of molecular reactions. There’s a divine spark in there. The official term is “vitalism.” I’d always though of vitalism as a nineteenth-century relic – in the same category as leeches and phrenology. But now I’m a believer, at least sometimes.
The third phase, the highest level, is when I believe in something more specific, a God who cares, who pays attention to my life, who loves. Why wouldn’t there be a God? It makes just as much sense as having no God. Otherwise, existence is just too random. ((A. J. Jacobs, “A Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible” (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007), 248.))
I can’t recommend this book any more highly – it is hilarious and thought-provoking. Have you ever wondered how difficult it might be to not wear clothes that have mixed fibers? Or how awkward/dangerous it might be to try and stone someone in today’s culture? Jacobs shares candidly about how all of these experiences change his outlook on life, interactions with others and his own spirituality. At the end of the book he writes:
I now believe that whether or not there’s a God, there is such a thing as sacredness. Life is sacred. The Sabbath can be a sacred day. Prayer can be a sacred ritual. There is something transcendent, beyond the everyday. It’s possible that humans created this sacredness ourselves, but that doesn’t take away from its power or importance. ((Ibid., 329.))
If you’re interested in learning more about A. J. or his book – here are some helpful links: