October 18, 2007
Books: ‘The Year of Living Biblically’ includes a beard, snakes and peaches
(Page 2 - Previous Page)But as he lives his journey of the Bible, he can't remain 100 percent literal (be fruitful and multiply doesn't mean "loading up on peaches at Whole Foods Market" and "helping my niece with her algebra homework," he writes), and he certainly can't remain who he was when he began.
The book is divided by 12 months of the year and subdivided by biblical commandments, from the mainstream commandments not to kill, lie, cheat or steal to the more obscure ones of blowing the trumpet at the new moon, snake handling and stoning the sinners (for which he finds a self-proclaimed adulterer in the park to dribble pebbles at). He spends eight months on the Torah and four on the Christian Bible, amasses a list of 700 rules, spends a night with the Amish, dances with Chasidim on Simchat Torah, tours the Creation Museum in Kentucky and just for good measure goes to a meeting with the New York City Atheists.
But Jacobs doesn't only spend time with those on the fringes of religion (gay evangelicals, Samaritans and Red Letter Christians [literal adherence to Jesus' teachings]) and on the obscure laws. Somewhere along the way -- as he prays three times a day, gives thanks to God for every mundane occurrence, gives more charity, watches his words and stops working on the Sabbath -- he actually seems to become a better person: less self-involved, more caring, more emotional for sure and, at times, even spiritual. Some days he even believes in God. "I now believe that whether or not there's a God, there is such a thing as sacredness. Life is sacred," he says toward the end of the quest.
Does A.J. convert to his spiritual alter ego, Jacob? Will he wear dirty white garments for the rest of his life and let his beard take over his apartment? Of course not.
His project comes to an end -- the 12 months are up, his wife has just given birth, his book must be published -- but it's not clear there will be an end to his quest.
Because it's a human quest -- to find spirituality, to discover God, to figure out how to be in this world and how to raise one's children -- it's also an age-old Jewish quest -- searching for answers, questioning God, studying oneself (obsessively, humorously, sincerely and irreverently). Yup, all Jewish.
So while the book, which is categorized as "humor," may explain religion in a palatable way to the many secular rationalists in the Blue States who would never understand it from a religious person's point of view, "The Year of Living Biblically" can remind even the faithful, even those who "pick and choose" their levels of observance, why they do what they do. And that's not annoying.
A.J. Jacobs will be appearing at Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena on Saturday, Oct. 27, 4 p.m. For more information, visit http://www.vromansbookstore.com/NASApp/store/IndexJsp.
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