Jacobs, A. J. 2007. The year of living biblically: One man’s humble quest to follow the Bible as literally as possible. NY: Simon and Schuster Paperbacks.
Jacobs is an editor at Esquire magazine and also writes books for a living. Pictures in the book shows him sporting a prophet’s beard and clad in white garments, even holding a shepherd’s crook while visiting the Negev Desert.
Jacobs is the consummate participant observer, visiting the Amish, atheists, rabbis, pastors and evangelists, (including gays and Pat Robertson of the 700 club), a soup kitchen, and so on.
The title is somewhat misleading: there seems to be nothing “humble” about Jacobs’s book. His faith is best noted in his claim to be a “reverent agnostic”, something of an oxymoron, but the real point is to write in such a way as to sell his book. Judging from the gathered endorsements at the beginning of the book, he has been wildly successful.
Jacobs is exotic in his choice of following the Bible as literally as possible, choosing those parts that provide good copy to be funny and entertaining, and there is plenty of fodder. There is, for example, a lot to say about God and his unrealistic commandments but nothing about Jesus and grace, although the word does appear once when he is talking about blessing a meal. The words “repentance” and “salvation” never occur, although he claims to be examining the “evangelical” position. Rather, we read, among other things, about snake handling, Bob Jones University, the creationist museum and what Jesus said about homosexuality (nothing).
The fun parts are reading about his Jewish relatives and rabbis, the perfect red heifer, the Jubilee year, capital punishment, chickens, circumcision (including his own boys), his epiphanies, forbidden words and women, painting ‘blood’ on his doorposts, attempts to keep the ten commandments, wearing tassels and, especially, his uncle Gil. His destructions of idols, meeting with Jerry Falwell and the Jehovah Witnesses are less than enlightening and his observations about Old Testament laws and Hasidic traditions, such as their dances, beg for a fair amount of reverent agnosticism.
In short, it is a cool book to read, but is not to be taken any more seriously than Jacobs’s attempt to blow the shofar or sacrifice a lamb at Passover.
Following a long introduction describing his rationale for the book and his preparations, the chapters follow the months of the year, with certain days described in detail. There is also a selected bibliography, an interview with the author (for example, “Which were the hardest rules to follow?” Answer: gossiping. Lying, cheating, working on the Sabbath). There are also clues on how to enhance your book club by using his book and a masterful index, one that mentions A. J. Jacobs about 70 times, with a similar number for his wife Julie, but a lesser amount for other family members. If that is humility, how many entries would there be if he were proud?
In summary, the book is entertaining and well written, but will teach you little of a serious nature about the Bible.