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

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

Engagingly written chronicle...a gracefully written book with a heart. In a world that tends to medicalize every peccadillo, Jacobs' straightforward and systematic efforts at biblically guided, moral self-purification are often surprisingly edifying. –Gordon Marino, The Los Angeles Times

A. J. Jacobs has written about the Bible in a manner that is brilliantly funny but unerringly respectful, learned but goofy, deeply personal yet highly relevant. I am covetous and wish him smited. –Mary Roach, 
bestselling author of Spook and Stiff

Setting out to explore the consequences of strict adherence to Biblical laws, A.J. Jacobs encounters a series of experiences that are as hilarious as they are thought-provoking.  Along the way he teaches us both the fallacies of modern day religious fundamentalism and the joys of discovering the transcendent and timeless truths of faith. –Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., Director, Human Genome Project, Author of The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief

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