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

Both laugh out loud funny and enlightening…an entirely absorbing read. –People magazine (Four stars out of four)

As a man incapable of developing any facial hair aside from a really amazingly cruddy mustache, I would have bought this book for the astonishing big beard chronicle alone. That THE YEAR OF LIVING BIBLICALLY grows, beard-like, into a long, hilarious, tangled, and ultimately moving story of spiritual growth is all the more astonishing. But why should I continue to be surprised at what springs from AJ's head? He is a brilliantly hilarious writer who truly lives up to that oft-misused adverb/adjective combination, and then some. Plus: HE IS GOING TO HEAVEN. So how can you not afford to tithe your salary to his cause and but this book? –John Hodgman Daily Show correspondent and author of AREAS OF MY EXPERTISE

Delightful, self-deprecating…fascinating. –Seattle Times

Jacobs is a good guide and you'll find the trip rewarding. –The New York Post

Funny and educational for those who've been playing hooky from church. Even better you get to sleep in on the Sabbath. –Entertainment Weekly

A surprisingly moving memoir…This is a highly effective and affecting book. –Orlando Sentinel

At the risk of overreaching, I'm just going to say it: It's better than the Bible. Or not better, necessarily. But it is funnier, moves faster, and doesn't bog you down with any of those genealogies. –Matt Labash, Slate Magazine

Jacobs' book is highly entertaining but it touches on an age-old debate that centuries ago drove Martin Luther's reformation of the Christian church and gave birth to Protestantism. The issue that continues to divide Bible believers is the purpose of the Biblical rules, commonly referred to as the Law or ''good works,'' in one's spiritual justification or acceptance by God. –Salt Lake Tribune

Somewhere between growing his beard to Moses lengths, stoning an adulterer with a pebble and limiting his wardrobe to white garments, A.J. Jacobs had a spiritual awakening. –Miami Herald

A book that is at one and the same time delightfully readable and profoundly memorable is a wonder! The Year of Living Biblically is exactly that. A. J. Jacobs has perceived the distinction between the wisdom of the Bible and its absurdities.  It is shame that so many of both our clergy and our politicians seem incapable of making that distinction. –John Shelby Spong, Author of JESUS FOR THE NON-RELIGIOUS and former Episcopal bishop

Where his last book was a quest for smarts, this one is a quest for his spiritual roots. And it's very funny. –St. Louis Dispatch

Watching a man, particularly a man as funny and self-effacing as Jacobs, attempt to live under those principles can be highly entertaining... a darned entertaining read with some surprising revelations. –The Lima News (Ohio)