by Yolande Clark-Jackson
The Year of Living Biblically is A.J. Jacob’s non-fiction book about his year at attempting to literally follow the rules given in the Bible as far as the law and his environment will allow. Although Jacobs is a self-professed “agnostic”, his book mostly focuses on the rules and practices given in the Old Testament since Judaism is the faith and tradition of his relatives, however, he does spend a small portion of the book on the teachings of Jesus Christ. This is a book about the Bible and whether it can be taken as the literal words of God, but it is also a book about the journey to find faith and find meaning in religious traditions.
Jacobs does a really nice job of selection. He chooses rules that are not commonly known and rules that seem to be really outdated so the reader is more engaged on how he will adhere to them in these days and times. For instance, Jacobs pins tassels to his clothes and attempts to stone adulterers with pebbles. He also shops online for a rod to discipline his child and buys a ten string harp off the internet. The story has a lot of situational comedy, especially when he has to navigate his new rules at home with his wife and son. He also selects the things that seem to cause some uncomfortable situations at home. The reader gets an inside look at how Jacob’s experiment impacts his relationships with his wife and family members. In many parts of the book, Jacobs pokes fun at many religious traditions. Yet, Jacobs lets on that he thinks that his biblical habits are improving him, especially his new attitude of gratitude. He said, “I’ve never before been so aware of the thousands of little good things, the thousands of things that go right every day” (269). His year leads him just outside of his agnostic views. He is now a “reverent agnostic.”
After Jacobs studies the different groups of religious literalists, he concludes that no one, not even the people that say they do, follow all the rules of the Bible literally. “The year showed me beyond a doubt that everyone practices cafeteria religion. It’s not just moderates. Fundamentalists do it too. They can’t heap everything on their plate”(328). He notes that if they did, the rights of women would be greatly impacted. He cites a rule in 1 Corinthians that does not allow women to speak in church, but there are many other rules that are included in the book that he proves are not followed or not observed as literal rules. People pick and choose what resonates with them.
The book does a few things at once by allowing memoir to work alongside biblical history lessons. He attempts to be fair by reading a variety of sources and consulting with many advisers, but the reader always knows where Jacobs stands at many different points in his journey which I think is important. He doesn’t just present information. He evaluates the information and tries to find meaning in the text and for himself. For readers interested in even more information than that given in the book, Jacobs provides seven pages of notes and six pages of bibliography.
Jacobs is a great humorist writer who knows how to balance humor with interesting content. The book is a fun and interesting read that allows for thought and reflection as well as a great laugh.