The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible

The Year of Living Biblically is about my quest to live the ultimate biblical life. To follow every single rule in the Bible as literally as possible. I obey the famous ones:

  • The Ten Commandments
  • Love thy neighbor
  • Be fruitful and multiply

But also, the hundreds of oft-ignored ones.

  • Do not wear clothes of mixed fibers.
  • Do not shave your beard
  • Stone adulterers

Why? Well, I grew up in a very secular home (I’m officially Jewish but I’m Jewish in the same way the Olive Garden is an Italian restaurant). I’d always assumed religion would just wither away and we’d live in a neo-Enlightenment world. I was, of course, spectacularly wrong. So was I missing something essential to being a human? Or was half the world deluded?

I decided to dive in headfirst. To try to experience the Bible myself and find out what’s good in it, and what’s maybe not so relevant to the 21st century.

The resulting year was fascinating, entertaining and informative. It was equal parts irreverent and reverent. It was filled with surprising insights almost every day. (I know it’s not biblical to boast, so apologies for that).

The book that came out of the year has several layers.

  • An exploration of some of the Bible’s startlingly relevant rules. I tried not to covet, gossip, or lie for a year. I’m a journalist in New York. This was not easy.
  • An investigation of the rules that baffle the 21st century brain. How to justify the laws about stoning homosexuals? Or smashing idols? Or sacrificing oxen? And how do you follow those in modern-day Manhattan?
  • A look at various fascinating religious groups. I embedded myself among several groups that take the Bible literally in their own way, from creationists to snake handlers, Hasidim to the Amish.
  • A critique of fundamentalism. I became the ultra-fundamentalist. I found that fundamentalists may claim to take the Bible literally, but they actually just pick and choose certain rules to follow. By taking fundamentalism extreme, I found that literalism is not the best way to interpret the Bible.
  • A spiritual journey. As an agnostic, I’d never seriously explored such things as sacredness and revelation.
  • A memoir of my family’s eccentric religious history, including my ex-uncle Gil, who has been, among other things, a Hindu cult leader, an evangelical Christian and an Orthodox Jew.

 

The Year of Living Biblically has received praise from Publishers WeeklyKirkus Reviews, The New York Times Book Review, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today and others.

Reviews

Impressive and often tremendously amusing… The author's determination despite constant complications from his modern secular life (wife, job, family, NYC) underscores both the absurdity of his plight and its profundity. While debunking biblical literalism-with dinner party-ready scriptural quotes-Jacobs simultaneously finds his spirituality renewed…. A biblical travelogue-and far funnier than your standard King James. –Kirkus Reviews

Often very funny [but] it's ultimately a thoughtful and endearing study of the limits of biblical literalism and the possibilities of moral and spiritual self-improvement. –Houston Chronicle

The Year of Living Biblically is worth reading. It's a good book about the Good Book. –The Oregonian

A.J. Jacobs is so funny he can make watching his beard grow hilarious. The Year of Living Biblically is the most unexpectedly delightful - and consistently charming - book I've read in a long time. It will have you laughing out loud, nodding in disbelief, and rethinking what you believe about the Bible. It will also have you tallying your sins: I coveted his humor and envied his facial hair. And that's no lie. –Bruce Feiler, 
author of Waking the Bible 
and Where God was Born

Often laugh-out-loud funny, and nearly always painfully honest. A –The Onion A.V. Club

Jacobs recounts his year with intimacy, honesty and humor. He examines some truly odd aspects of religious life (visiting a new creationist museum, an Amish baseball game and a former cult leader ex-uncle who became haredi and lives in Jerusalem) but strives, always, to focus on the essence of Biblical literalism. –Jerusalem Post

A.J. Jacobs has written a -- how else to put it? -- Good Book. Let me take my review from the original, Psalm 2, verse 4: "He that sittith in the heavens shall laugh." And let me suggest that readers, whether they know their bible or not, get to know A.J. Jacobs. But not in a biblical sense, please. –PJ O'Rourke

If a writer lives who combines humor and life lessons any better than Jacobs, that writer is unknown to me. –St. Petersburg Times

Extremely funny. –Providence Journal

The Year of Living Biblically is an extremely compelling book, appropriately irreverent and highly entertaining. More significantly, it is a tale of an intense and intelligent spiritual search that will speak powerfully and instructively to a generation of seekers. –Rabbi David Ellenson,
 President Hebrew Union College

Jacobs has that rare ability to be sincere without being self-serious, to be laugh-aloud funny without being ridiculous...a thoughtful and thankfully humorous voice, on a subject that does not often enjoy much
of either. –Heeb Magazine

In the 21st Century few, if any, Christians truly attempt to follow the Bible in its literal entirety, even us evangelicals. In this year-long experiment A.J. Jacobs attempts just that, with disarmingly sincere, refreshingly humorous and unexpectedly insightful results. I commend this inspired narrative to anyone actively exploring the continued relevance of biblical living, religion's need for critical self-reflection and the timelessness of authentic faith. –Reverend Jim Wallis,
 author of God's Politics
 and President of Sojourners/Call to Renewal