Magazine article Anglican Journal

Going by the Book (for a Year)

Magazine article Anglican Journal

Going by the Book (for a Year)

Article excerpt

The Year of Living Biblically One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible A. J. Jacobs Simon & Schuster 2007 ISBN-13: 978-0-7432-9147-7

A. J. JACOBS DESCRIBES himself as obsessive-compulsive, and proves it to be so by relating how he disinfects the playground swings before his toddler son uses them. He is also an accomplished practitioner of the literary genre of undertaking a weird project and writing a book about it. His previous best seller, The Know-It-All, described his experience of reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica. One might wonder if the former is a necessary quality to succeed at the latter.

Nonetheless The Year of Living Biblically is an interesting book. Part spiritual journal, part diary, highly introspective and a touch egocentric, it gives one the feeling that Mr. Jacobs will never need to write his autobiography: his readers will already know everything about him. Indeed he states, "I write memoirs for a living."

Mr. Jacobs, an extremely secular Jew and editor at large for Esquire magazine, decides to obey the Bible as literally as possible for one year. His intention is to follow, if possible, every rule no matter how minute. He includes in that the wisdom sayings from such books as Proverbs and Ecclesiastes and the oral law of the Talmud. Although officially a Jew he decides to include the Christian Scriptures while acknowledging that it is debatable whether they even have a legal code.

Such a task seems impossible but Mr. Jacobs does allow himself some leeway. He makes a distinction between literal and figurative passages declining, for example, to follow Origen into self-castration on the basis of Matthew 19:12: "There are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of heaven," a passage which, he decides wisely, is unquestionably figurative.

Other rules cannot be followed literally because cultural changes have made their fulfillment illegal, for example, having the city elders stone one's disobedient son. He deals with that difficulty by trying to find the original intent of the biblical rule or teaching and following that to the letter. But that raises the question of interpretation and he soon discovers that there are about as many interpretations as there are interpreters. Undeterred, he plows on, although his obsessive-compulsive nature sometimes leads to silliness, for example, walking through Central Park dropping pebbles on the shoes of those he deemed to be blasphemers in order to fulfill the injunctive to stone such persons, and then apologizing to them. …

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